Friday, January 14, 2011

Superman and Lois

Over at Superman Fan, blogger Nightwing posts a scathing review of a Silver Age Lois Lane story. He's particularly hard on the supposed romance between Lois and Superman:
Honestly, I don’t know why so many people talk up the Superman/Lois relationship as some kind of great romance, when most of the time he treats her as at best a pain in the neck and at worst some kind of crazed stalker.

And given the details of that story, it's hard to argue that is an unfair assessment of their relationship.

As it happens, right after reading that post, I was flipping through Superman #142, and found another zany Superman and Lois story, called Lois Lane's Secret Helper. One night, Krypto and Supergirl overhear Lois Lane pouring out her heart to sister Lucy:

So Krypto decides to play Cupid. He does some research around the world to find out what gets men in the mood to pop the question. In Venice, he observes a man proposing after the couple was serenaded by a gondolier. So he spreads some birdseed around where Lois and Superman are talking to attract a few songbirds and:

But it proves almost as easy to distract Superman, as the singing of the birds attracts some cats and:

Next Krypto observes some castaways who decide to marry after being rescued from their desert island. He manages to maroon Lois and Clark. At first Lois is scornful of her companion, but when he manages to get some coconuts she warms up quite a bit:

So Krypto causes an earthquake to throw them together, but Lois is disgusted when Clark remains prostrated on the ground:

Next, Krypto observes that seeing another couple in love can cause a man to lose his inhibitions. So when Lois finds a stray female dog, Krypto brings her a bunch of bones as a gift and:

But the arrival of all those dogs on the scene ruins the moment, and Krypto gives up on getting Superman to marry Lois. He's so peeved, in fact, that he decides to become Lois' pet. Which doesn't work out so well for her, as a cop issues her a citation because he doesn't have a license.

Comments: This story is played strictly for laughs, and it actually delivers, partly because of Superman's rather ridiculous behavior in a) falling for Krypto's romantic cues and b) promptly losing interest in proposing to Lois the minute something unexpected happens.

Exit question: I rather enjoy the snark in Nightwing's post about Superman and Lois. However, I usually grade these stories myself on the curve, recognizing that they were written for kids. Would you like to see a little more bite to my posts, or should I stick to poking fun when appropriate but gently?

18 comments:

David said...

Well I may be biased (seeing as how I'm the "Nightwing" in question), but I enjoy reading opinions and personal reflections on comics blogs. Whether you want to go "snarky" or not depends on your mood -- and the story -- but I'd like to see the "opinion" portion of your entries get more column space.

Obviously the comics were written for kids, but looking back I think it's fair to ask what a steady diet of this stuff might have done to our young minds, given how screwed up the characters could often be. If Superman/Lois comics were your only window onto adult male-female relationships, for example, you're lucky if you ever got up the nerve to date, much less marry.

Back on topic, I had this story in one of those tabloid-size "Limited Collector Editions"...I believe it was the first one to feature Superman...and I quite enjoyed it as an 8-year-old. Most likely it was my first exposure the artwork of Kurt Schaffenberger and I have to say it still looks wonderful today. Also I remember really wishing Clark would give in and at least make out with Lois. I was a romantic kid, I guess.

Whalehead King said...

Keep doing what you're doing.

Blaze said...

Honest opinion is always welcome, with snark if snark is called for, but with admiration and fondness if that is the name of the tune.

On the subject of Lois and Superman...well, I'm repeating myself from other comment columns, but...it was the times. Every sitcom on TV in the Silver Age featured this sort of relationship stuff. Women were full of whacky schemes to trick Mr. Right into their arms or fix up their "old maid" friends. All the relationships had this adversarial-love formula. The men were constantly sneaking out to go bowling or play poker. The women were looking to trap men to be mates or, if married, make them be fully respectable and dull fathers. And at the end of every episode, all was smooches and love.

So, there you have Lois, Lana, et al trying constantly to trap their man. Stopping the high-flying superhero from "bowling" and turn him into a lawn-mowing, diaper-changing, nine-to-five drip.

In the end, we weren't warped by comics. Comic books were a fringe of the entertainment ocean were swimming in.

Commander Benson said...

My suggestion---as it seems the rest of these fellows' are---is to keep doing it the way you're doing it, Pat.

Each one of us who posts regularly on the Silver Age (or any sort of column or blog, for that matter) has his own voice, his own take on the material, his own perspective.

That's why I read a number of Silver-Age-related blogs. If I simply wanted information, I wouldn't have to read any, but just rely on my own knowledge. But hearing other peoples' voices, seeing their perspectives---even if I don't necessarily agree---broadens my understanding of that era.

I do agree with Nightwing on enlarging your "opinion" portion. Not that I was disappointed in it before. But, to me, the writer's opinions and analysis of a given story or issue is the most entertaining part.

Nearly all of the stories covered by you, and Nightwing, and the other Silver-Age-related columns, I have read before. Give me a quick reminder of the plot or significant details and I am on board with that portion of it. The part that's fun is reading your take on the issue, warts and all.

That's what makes a column interactive with your audience: that I can read it and think, "Hey, Pat noticed that, too!" or "Hey, I never noticed that before!" or "Yeah, he's spot-on with that evaluation," or "Man, that Curley has got it all wrong."

While the opinions on Silver-Age material of those who came later may have some merit, what guys who were there at the time---like you and Nightwing and me---have to say can be taken with the knowledge that it is with an understanding of the era. The perspective is more comprehensive.

If you change your style or approach, it should be because you feel the material calls for it.

Aldous said...

I vote for "gentle". David's (Nightwing's) clever reviews have been "snarky" to the max lately. If something warrants fair and sharp criticism (in context), that is one thing. But -- reading some reviewers of the old comics we loved as kids, I can't help thinking, "Man, what are you so ANGRY about?"

Reading a few Lois/Superman comics would have an infinitesimal effect on your own male-female relationships when compared with observing your own parents growing up. You're putting too much importance on these things.

I will say, I enjoy Nightwing's reviews, and it's fun to pick apart the comics and delve into the twisted psychology of the characters -- and no one has more twisted psychology than the Man of Steel, starting right at the beginning with the Clark Kent-Superman relationship. I’ve enjoyed debating this stuff for years (much of it with David) and long may it continue.

I do think, however, that if -- for example -- you post a comic in its entirety, only to mercilessly pan it, and defend the “snark” against all comers, you have to ask what your own motivation is.

David said...

At the risk of hijacking the discussion, Aldous, I want to respond to the "motivation" question.

My motivation at the blog is to entertain, where possible, and to try and fit individual stories into the larger context of the legend. But the full name of the site is "Confessions of a Superman Fan," so I try to keep the tone personal and...well, confessional (as opposed to strictly academic). And often my "true confession" is that a story didn't work for me, that things I accepted in childhood don't appeal now (or vice-versa) and ultimately, the one I'm having trouble confessing even to myself, maybe devoting a whole site to Superman wasn't the brightest idea I ever had. Like any long-running character, Superman has a number of great stories sprinkled among gobs of mediocrity and even dreck. And if my "humor" takes on a harsh edge at times, it could be because familiarity is breeding contempt.

Pat certainly has the better idea, broadening his scope to the entire Silver Age, so it's easier to spread out the "good stuff" and avoid burning out on one character.

But again to answer the question posed, I vote for personal opinion here at the blog. It needn't be "snarky," and nothing's harder to write or read than "humor" that comes out of a sense of obligation or formula rather than inspiration and true sentiment. But there's plenty of comics histories out there to report "just the facts"...what interests me are how various stories impressed, impacted, inspired or disturbed readers, and why. I like hearing people's opinions on what comics mean to them, good or bad.

frasersherman said...

As Blaze points out, Lois/Superman wasn't out of line for the era.
I'd probably opt more for gentle--there's no shortage of scathing out there.

Mykal said...

I'd like neither bite nor gentle sarcasm when reviewing comics. Save petty snark for a medium not meant as throwaway entertainment for kids. Isn't that a bit like shooting some very innocent fish in a very small barrel? Intelligent adults should find a more suitable target if they're able.

I love David's assertion that comics corrupt kid's minds. Jesus, what a narrow, pompous view. I haven’t heard such a silly opinion since Seduction of the Innocent.

Aldous said...

Well, he didn't say "corrupt"... It's merely an example of his quirky humour and hyperbole (which I have come to find quite endearing...... I think!).

Now, of course, Superman is not having an adult relationship with Lois at all, but a boy's one.

David said...

Sorry you think I'm out to denigrate the comics of my youth, Mykal. That's not my intention at all. What I am interested in doing is understanding why they appealed to the audience of their day, what went on in the minds of their creators, what the stories might say about their era (if anything) and what affect they had on me, growing up. If it comes off ugly, it's certainly not my intent. I confess to trying to be funny, and humor is always a subjective thing.

I'll still argue that I'm much more interested in seeing comics blogs related from a personal point of view, but maybe you have the better approach just reprinting entire stories with a minimum of comment. Less work, anyway, if a lot more questionable ethically. And a great resource for cheapskates like me, at least until the C&D letters show up.

Pat said...

It's fair to poke fun at some of the stories, Mykal, while recognizing that this was, as you pointed out, throwaway entertainment for kids. How can anyone avoid laughing at that bit where Superman tells Supergirl that he'd marry her if only it wasn't for that Kryptonian custom against marrying your cousin?

Mykal said...

David: You've raised the specter of C&D. My friend, that is a real no no. You should know better. And "questionable ethically"? I think of the many artists of the stuff I've posted who have contacted me with thanks, not to mention struggling, talented artists who have emailed to tell me my blogs are (ahem) an inspiration to them in their quest for publication; and I just don't feel unethical. Instead, I feel deeply humbled and profoundly surprised that I have been able to feature some of the most beautiful art ever produced and had it often mean something to the artists involved. Still, I'm secretly pleased you think I'm unethical. It puts a nice patina on my somewhat stodgy image. You know how the ladies love the bad boys. Perhaps I can now cash in, maybe get a black leather coat and a cool haircut.

And as for your blog being more work than my blog(s); with respect to all the hard work I am sure goes into your writing, I think you vastly underestimate the time involved in scanning and digitally enhancing comic book pages and 2) You underestimate as well the hours I spend in researching the comic book stories I post (particularly on my kids' blog) with regard to artistic credits. The entire purpose of my unethical blogs is to archive, preserve, and feature the work of the magnificent artists that have worked in the comic book field; so giving credit where credit is sooo due is paramount. This often involves sending emails to various comic book historians, most far more knowledgeable than I; and/or then contacting the artists themselves (when possible) to gain posting approval and occasionally (if very lucky) their thoughts on the work.

David, I do know what you mean about comics shedding a light on their times - being worthy of study from that approach. I try to capture the flavor of the comic's era myself when I post the ads from an issue. I just wish sometimes you came at your posts about comic books with a bit more love and a bit less acid.

But petty squabbles aside; I notice you have (at least for now) listed many of my unethical blogs on your blog list, and I say "Thanks, buddy!"

Pat: C'mon, amigo; a gentle poke at the sometimes unintended humor of a story is one thing (even that is a bit like smacking someone when they're not looking, considering the time of publication and intended audience of these comics. I've done it myself on very rare occasion, and always felt like a stupid, schoolyard bully afterward) but "a scathing review?" Really, can't we save that sort of burning insight for adult material, like the crap that is the current state of Broadway Theater or perhaps the horribly misguided Jonah Hex (the film)?

Mykal said...

Aldus: "Well, he didn't say "corrupt." Well, he kinda, sorta did, unless of course you thought by wondering "what a steady diet of this stuff might have done to our young minds," David was implying a positive, healthy effect on our adult psyches. David sounds exactly like Frederick Wetham here, even uses the same language as the headshrinker - and, just like the infamous psychiatrist, sees tons of sexual and socialogical subtext in kids' comics; all of which would make the button-down, conservative men and women that created this stuff go "Huh?"

But of course, this might be David's "quirky humor," which you find, maybe, endearing (sort of, you think).

Dude, fall off that fence. Just tell David you hate his guts and be done with it. You know you want to.

Aldous said...

“Aldus”? It’s “Aldous”.

“Corrupt”? He didn’t say “corrupt”. You did.

“Wetham”? It’s Wertham. And Fredric. As in “Fredric Wertham”.

“Socialogical”? It’s “sociological”.

Who let this drunken ignoramus in here?

***

David:

- “I'll still argue that I'm much more interested in seeing comics blogs related from a personal point of view”

I’m with you on that.

David said...

Mykal:

Trust me, I know it's a lot of work scanning in comics, and even more work making sure they look good. And as you've noticed, whatever reservations I may have about your "ethics" haven't insulted my own enough to keep me from reading -- and even recommending -- your site. So in the end it's all a question of degree.

I guess I just feel like providing some "valued added" to my blog, not just to keep the lawyers away (under the "fair comment" rule) but also so I'm offering something more (or at least different) than a reader can get from just seeking out the back issues. Plus, there is the little matter of staying true to my blog title, which is "Confessions of..." and not "Scans From..." or "Library of..."

It's cool you're having fun playing "pirate," but if you're really quaking at my mere utterance of "C&D" here in a comments thread, then you know you're on shaky ground.

On the subject of "scathing reviews:" I'm sure that for every scan you've published, there's probably another five or ten stories you read and decided weren't worth the effort. Because they sucked. I figure about 80-90% of the material produced for ANY medium in any era is dreadful, which is why we remember the good stuff. But while your goal (presumably) is to preserve the good stuff only (because the bad stuff isn't worth the hard work), my goal is to wade through my collection and give my thoughts on all of it, good or bad. The next review might bring effusive praise.

Finally, playing the "Wertham card" is a lazy move. Not every query into the effect of comics on people's minds is a call for them to be banned, or burned. And the truth is everything you read, especially when you're young, has the potential to shape your world view. Look at all the people who cite Superman and other heroes as their inspiration for altruistic acts or careers of public service. You can't have it both ways; if comics affect us positively, they can affect us negatively, as well. And anyway, I wasn't talking in the abstract, I was referring to myself. Growing up, I had a very unhealthy view of females as alien creatures; unapproachable, unrelatable, fickle and treacherous, that can be accounted for partially but not totally by actual experience. I think it's reasonable to ask if some of my negative interactions were "pre-loaded" in a sense because of my prejudices, and if so where did they come from? ALL popular media can create unhealthy fantasies in the area of male-female relations, which is one reason why so many marriages in this country fail. When all we have to go on is notions of "true love" or "never-ending passion" as fed to us by TV and movies, it's no wonder we're so quick to jettison a spouse the moment the "romance" or "thrill" starts to fade.

Anyway, that's a whole other rant. The point is, I'm not condemning comics as the ruination of America's youth. If they were, I'm admitting I'm ruined, which I'm not ready to do. And I'm not on a crusade to keep comics from ruining today's youth, as today's youth have decided on their own not to read them, anyway. Wertham was a publicity hound who said whatever he needed to get attention; I'm just a fan sharing my thoughts for a weekly audience of around 600 visitors, less than ten of which respond and half of those to argue with me. Aside from the fact that we're both lousy psychologists and devout crackpots, there's no comparison.

Mykal said...

Aldous kindly asks: “Who let this drunken ignoramus in here?”

Dude, it’s hardly an exclusive club (particularly here where Pat, apparently, allows name-calling. I’m a bit disappointed, Pat). Aldous, my friend, I will just say this: Any blogger that cites spelling mistakes as evidence of a superior intelligence or a winning argument is bereft of both; and the name calling is hardly indicative of good character.

David: Two points – The reference to C&D in your comment was not just a “mere utterance.” This would not have concerned me. You accused me of having compromised ethics. This is insulting and poor form and does concern me, particularly coming from a fellow blogger that posts about the subject of comic books (I suspect you feel insulated from such accusation of copyright violation due to your partial content and “value added,” but, rest assured, had your blog in the exact same format been titled “Confessions of a Mickey Mouse Fan,” you might have found Disney not as compliant or unaware as DC, and not in agreement with the definition of “fair use.”)

I am not playing at being a pirate, David. As I mentioned before, I take care with postings to contact living artists or the entities that own the material not in public domain. So far, the dozens of living artists I have contacted have been very happy to have their work posted. As for the companies or families owning rights, many simply don’t care, don’t respond to my queries, or are happy that a loved one’s work is being featured. I have made efforts to contact appropriate parties when a contact can be found. For example, Dark Horse (who owns the rights to several titles which appear on my Gold Key blog), have commented favorably on my postings.

I mention all this because it is offensive, considering the care I go through to honor not only copyright but the artists involved, to be accused of ethical impropriates and being a copyright pirate in such an offhand, uniformed way - regardless of - as you say - any “question of degree.” It was an unfair, cheap shot and poorly conceived into the bargain. I do not fear the issue, as you suggest, because I honor it and comply with any copyright holders' request.

Secondly, I don’t consider the Wertham comparison unfair here and certainly not “lazy.” Of course, not all questions regarding the effects of comics are Wertham worthy, buy yours certainly is. Like Wertham, you place far too great a potential for influence in the reading of comic book stories, and you place that influence in a sexual arena. You mention in a confessional mode that growing up you viewed women as “alien creatures; unapproachable, unreliable, fickle and treacherous.” To account for these feelings as the result, even in the tiniest part, of reading Superman stories seems to give an extreme weight to the cause considering the effect. Of all the massive social influences that shape a man’s view of women, I don’t feel the behavior of a comic book character is primary enough to warrant the attention you give it. Like Wertham, you are blaming a butterfly for a tornado.

I have taken the time to read several of your posts, going back to the beginning, and I see a certain increase in the level of vitriol in your posts, culminating in recent reviews. Earlier, your posts had a pleasant, gentle humor – able to poke fun in at least a friendly way. Recently, your posts don’t seem good spirited at all. They are, in fact, mean spirited and lacking in anything like affection for subject.

It is probably best at this point to agree to disagree. I sense that nothing will sway you from your sense of correctness, and the same can probably be said for me. I wish you luck, fair travels; and goodbye.

David said...

So, Pat, to sum up: Mykal votes that straight reproductions or synopses of stories are okay, but having opinions is not.

Unless, of course, your opinion is that another commenter's views are "narrow and pompous" and on par with the industry's own personal Hitler, Frederic Wertham. In which case you can indeed utter your opinion, then decry the "ugly tone" which has somehow mysteriously entered the conversation, and run away. Sort of an internet version of the "flaming bag of poop" gag. Oldie but a goodie.

My vote is: say what you want, it's your blog.

Bet you're sorry you asked, now. See where democracy gets you? :-)

Aldous said...

It gives me the creeps when people like that address me as “My friend…”

And I am leery of people who praise their own research skills yet completely misspell the names of famous people – or even the names of people that are right there on the same page.

I feel like having a bath after sharing a comments section with that “dude”.

***

- “…and half of those to argue with me.”

David, it's a thankless job, but someone has to do it. :-)