What does Superman see in Lois Lane?
Well, let’s set aside the obvious, to begin with - that’s she’s intelligent, beautiful and driven. Lois Lane is fiery and passionate, but compassionate and big-hearted, committed to her ideals, fearless, accomplished and brave. She’s wry, witty, sarcastic and clever, she takes no guff and she doesn’t acknowledge obstacles, she’s classy, brassy, bold and ultimately kind. She is, in short, enough for any hundred men.
But, yes, let’s set those aside, because as rare and exceptional a woman as Lois Lane is, surely she’s not the only one in the world. Superman has the universe at his disposal, and you have to ask what makes Lois Lane stand out among the beauties of a thousand planets, undersea kingdoms, alternate dimensions and limitless far-flung time periods. Why, in short, with all the women in a hundred universes to catch his eye, does he fall in love with the girl who works two desks over?
The relationship between Superman and Lois Lane changes every decade or so. When I was growing up in the post-Ordinary People years of constant self-analysis, they were as often estranged as they were an item, asking all those difficult questions people in long-term relationships were expected to ask themselves. This was a far cry from the by-turns white-hot and ice-cold triangle Lois, Clark and Superman maintained in the early days of the book, or the I Love Lucy hijinx which were the notorious mainstay of Lois Lane’s own comic in the early Sixties.
Still, the relationship changed from decade to decade - even stopped dead now and again - but they never parted. It’s always writ that Lois Lane is the girl for Superman. So … why?
Imagine this: Clark Kent - shy, awkward, fragile Clark Kent - works in an office with dozens of women. There are hundreds - and probably even thousands - of women working in his office building. There are millions of women in his city, who read his column, who know him from television, who bump up against him on the subway or see him the supermarket buying eggs.
And of all these women in their dozens and thousands and millions, only one - one - has ever looked at Clark Kent - with his bad posture and lack of confidence, with his shellaced-back hair and VFW donation eyeglass frames, his ugly red tie, his orthopedic shoes, his meek demeanor - and thought to herself “HE … might be Superman.”
Don’t underestimate the power of someone seeing through the worst in you and seeing only the best. Superman, after all, only truly exists because two kind, unassuming and deeply good people found him in the wild plains of Kansas and - rather than seeing him as an alien, or a dangerous unknown, or a plastic hassle - saw a beautiful son with tremendous powers who would do only good. And so he became.
And, of course, that’s how Superman sees everyone else; even the worst of us, even his greatest enemies, he sees past their weakness and sees only the best in them (Which is, to my mind, his greatest power, although that’s perhaps for another discussion).
So, in Clark Kent - or, at least, in the Clark Kent disguise he crafted to hide his dual identity - Superman has laid out all of his weaknesses, self-doubts and fears for everyone to see. It’s as if he were saying to the world “I’m so scared of being left alone that I make lousy excuses to keep everyone at a distance. I try to always help others at my own expense, but I’m worried that others see that as spinelessness. I am reluctant to assert myself for fear of scaring people off, so I cave in,” and so on and so on, and while everyone else only sees all the failings of Clark Kent, Lois Lane still looks at him and says, no nonsense, “No, you’re Superman, we both know it.”
You may conceivably interpret this as a selfish way of looking at love, I concede, if you look at it as though I’m suggesting that you fall most strongly in love with the person who most flatters you. To my mind, though, it’s not about flattery. Rather, it’s about the power of having someone acknowledge the worst in you, but believe in you to rise above it and love you all the more strongly for it - to even despise the worst in you but love the best in you all the more fiercely. It’s about the strength you get from that.
For the sake of full disclosure, let me share this with you: I have been married, as of today, for 11 years, 9 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. I did not have to look up that number, I always know exactly how long I’ve been married. I know this because marriage has been wonderful, and I don’t want to miss a day. And it has been wonderful because of this - I am not a catch. There’s a LOT wrong with me. I am no Brad Pitt, as they say.
And yet, despite that, every now and again over the last 11 years, 9 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, I wake up in the morning to find my girl wide awake and looking at me, beaming, her eyes bright, and I come to my senses and realize that she’s not seeing my fat, bald head or dumb, cranky face, but is seeing something in me that is better than I ever expected I could be, and which gives me strength of a fashion that is essential and impossible to describe.
So imagine Clark Kent sitting there, hunched over his desk, mustard on his tie and grimly awaiting Steve Lombard dropping a firecracker under his chair, and he steals a glance at that sharp-eyed brunette he’s had the hots for forever, and he’s never told her his biggest secret but she’s giving him a look that plainly says “I bet he’s wearing the costume right now, isn’t he?”
Imagine Superman, and all his responsibilities, and the danger and pressures and the temptations, and the deep well of strength it requires to have all that power and yet to do only good for others, and imagine where it comes from: It comes from the woman he loves believing - knowing - that he has that strength, despite everything else.
Superman is totally a love story.