As you may have already noticed, today is Valentine’s Day, and I’ve found myself reflecting on the many great romances we’ve seen in pop culture over the years, in an effort to determine which I consider the best.
From the outset, it became clear that this would be no easy task.
After all, there’s been Lucy and Ricky, Harry and Sally, Homer and Marge (who I ranked a very close second in the end; I do adore Mr and Mrs Simpson!), Rachael and Ross, Carrie and Big and countless other heart-warming love affairs since the dawn of modern popular entertainment. How on earth was I going to narrow it down?
In the end, I listened to my heart (natch) which kept screaming out the same two names at me louder than all the rest: Superman and Lois Lane. No matter how many fictional love birds came into my mind, the 77 years of romance between the Man of Steel and the woman from Earth who won his heart trumps them all.
A surprisingly relatable romance
For starters, what makes this relationship so great is that, for all the fantastical trappings that come with a superhero love story, it’s actually grounded in something very realistic, sophisticated and emotionally uplifting.
Just like most couples, Superman and Lois didn’t fall in love at first sight, although there was clearly a strong mutual attraction between them from the off.
Even when they did become aware of their feelings for each other, they mirrored a lot of real life turtle doves as they struggled to get their act together on the dating front, and they even saw other people from time to time.
I’ve spoken before about the crazy-wonderful story from 1960 where Superman went back in time and got engaged to a famous actress on his home planet, but did I mention he also nearly moved in with a mermaid once too? On the downside, most of poor Lois’s flings tended to be with suitors who turned out to be weird aliens, robots, criminals or worse…
Ultimately though, Superman and Lois have always found themselves returning to each others’ arms, and the rationale behind why they do so is where the sophistication and warmth I mentioned earlier come into play.
More than meets the eye
You see, the reason why Lois is interested in Superman seems fairly obvious on a superficial level; after all, he’s a tall, good-looking guy in uniform (even if that uniform isn’t exactly your typical Navy whites) who can fly. Similarly, Superman’s affection for Lois makes sense on the surface: she’s attractive, successful and sassy.
But as with all enduring relationships, what’s more important than these top level trivialities is what motivates the attraction on a core level. Luckily, for these two, what makes them work together is that they are both passionate about exposing the truth and standing up for the little guy.
That they both do so side-by-side as journalists also adds the icing on top of their relationship, as means they respect each other on a professional level as well (which, let’s be honest, can be really important!).
If that’s the complexity aspect covered, you might be wondering how the uplifting one comes into play? Well, let me just ask you to take a step back and view this relationship for what it is: the story of a man from the stars with the power of a god, who fell head over heels in love with a plucky girl from Earth. Getting that “awww” factor yet?
The other aspect of SupLo (as no one has called this union, ever) that puts it at the top of my best romances list is that, like a real relationship, it has developed, grown and matured since the Man of Steel and Lois first met way back in 1938.
Of course, the real-world reason for this evolution is because of the influences upon these fictional characters by numerous writers and artists over the years, as well as changes in the status quo around the role of women in society and relationships.
This is, quite frankly, a rather boring truth, so let’s go ahead and run with the idea that Superman and Lois have had one long, tumultuous courtship spanning more than three quarters of a century instead!
When we first met…
During the Golden Age of comics (the 1930s – 1950s) when she first appeared, Lois was the ultimate proto-feminist – a courageous and self-sufficient reporter able to keep up with (and outpace) her male rivals. At the same time, Superman was a rough around the edges, two-fisted adventurer applying his righteous brand of ruckus to local working class problems and international war zones alike, so it makes a certain amount of sense that sparks would fly when these two thrill seekers finally met.
Let’s not also forget the other wrinkle in this relationship that emerges around this time, which is that it soon becomes a love triangle between two people! As everyone knows, Superman is in reality Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter and colleague of Lois. As Clark, Superman has an unrequited crush for Lois, who only has eyes for Superman, who wants to be loved for both his vulnerable side as well as his macho one (he’s deeper than just a pair of “more powerful than a locomotive” arms, ok?).
This dynamic further adds to the sophistication characterising this relationship that we discussed earlier, and shows why these two found it hard to chart the already treacherous waters of the ocean that is dating.
It boiled down to this: you can’t have a relationship built around deceit, and if Superman wanted Lois to be his bae, he’d need to confess his secret identity to her, which of course he cannot do without endangering her life (this logic doesn’t really hold up to even modest scrutiny, but has somehow managed to be the male superhero commitment loophole for nearly a century).
Legendary comics writer Grant Morrison (author of All-Star Superman – more to come on that later) put it best when he said in an interview for Newsarama:
“[It’s] that brilliant central paradox in the Superman/Lois relationship. The perfect man who never tells a lie has to lie to the woman he loves to keep her safe. And he lives with that every day. It’s that little human kink that really drives their relationship.”
Moving into the Silver Age (1950s – 1970s), SupLo entered into a new phase of their relationship. Lois getting into danger and Superman swooping in to the rescue just wasn’t doing it for them, and as neither was keen to commit to anything serious (they were still quite young, why settle down?), they decided to take flirting into the kind of strange places that only superpowers can lead you to.
A lot of what went on during this period is considered by most fans to range from loveably goofy through to down right effed up (roleplay, cuckolding and deception; all this and more was involved), but then of course it did. Relationships that are still at that flirty stage always seem strange to outsiders who aren’t in on the fun.
Also a positive around this time was the thawing of Lois and Clark’s relationship, which allowed Lois to unwittingly lay a stepping stone towards a future long term thing with Superman (because as we know, loving Clark is a key part of loving Superman too).
That said, Lois also started sending mixed messages about wanting to be Superman’s housewife, and between that and her appearances on The Adventures of Superman TV show (where, as played by Noel Niell, she’s practically begging George Reeves’s Man of Steel to put a ring on it), Ms. Lane not only put the relationship in jeopardy, but also betrayed her feminist ideals in the process.
Keeping things from going stale
Just as things changed at the end of the 50s, this phase of the relationship petered out by the late 70s, with interactions between Superman and Lois reverting to something a bit more traditional (although the pair were still firmly against putting labels on things).
Lois would fortunately rediscover the tough-as-nails spirit that first attracted Superman to her at this time, and things between the pair had never been better. Nowhere was this more evident than in Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman, where the scenes of Margot Kidder’s Lois and Christopher Reeve’s Superman sparkled thanks to the chemistry between their characters, which was equal parts playful and heartfelt (and Clark and Lois also rubbed along fine too).
Things would stay pretty much the same until the late 80s, when the relationship grew stagnant. A fresh approach was needed, and Superman decided to incorporate more elements of his heroic persona into his Clark-self.
(In actuality, this was because DC Comics relaunched the Superman comics from scratch in order to revitalise the property; part of this would be making Superman the “disguise” and Clark the “real” person)
This completely redefined the SupLo dynamic, and by the mid-90s, it was now Clark and Lois that were the item! Overcoming his fear of commitment, Superman at long last revealed his identity to Lois, who showed how big of a person she is by forgiving the last several decades of daily lying by her soulmate, and agreed to marry him.
Not only was this documented in the comics, but also in the Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman TV series with Dean Cain as Superman and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane (yeah, this show has aged terribly, but Cain and Hatcher gelled well together at the time).
An animated couple
One channel through which news of the SupLo wedding didn’t transmit was via Superman: The Animated Series, which still portrayed the pair as being back in the early days of their courtship (think of it as a walk down memory lane, and an enjoyable one at that, given the quality of the show).
The years that followed, from the mid-90s to the mid-00s were good ones for Mr and Mrs Superman, if mostly unremarkable ones. Those moments that do stand out were mostly penned by Grant Morrison, partly in works like Superman Beyond (where Superman literally does the impossible to bring Lois back from a near-death state), but most prominently in All-Star Superman, which is most likely the best Superman story ever told.
In this mini-series, Superman and Lois celebrated her birthday in literally the best of all possible ways (Superman gives her 24 hours of superpowers), began to plan for the future (it was time to talk kids, and more importantly, whether they could physically have any), and finally declared in full their unending love for each other (any other writer-artist team but Morrison and Frank Quitely would not have been able to turn “I love you, Lois Lane. Until the end of time” into such a moving farewell – and it’s true: Superman will go on loving Lois, for as long as their story keeps being told).
Around this time we also had Superman Returns, which unintentionally tarnished SupLo by making him look like a stalker and her like manipulative wench; oh, and I guess Smallville was still coming out, but that show was never my cup of tea, so I really can’t comment on what Superman and Lois were getting up to on that front (and it was set before Clark had properly become Superman, so it’s a moot point anyway).
Continuity: the enemy of true love
That just about brings us up to the present, where things have gotten a little rockier for the Superman-Lois romance. Despite both parties continuing to enjoy married life, the pair decided it was best that they sought an annulment, specifically, the kind where your wedding is erased from existence.
(As with the last major shake-up, what really happened was that DC Comics reset the clock on Superman and Lois’s stories again, which means that SupLo never walked down the aisle; it does make a degree of sense – happily ever after is very hard to sustain from a storytelling perspective, as the romantic tension between your leads has already been resolved).
Both Lois and Superman are free agents now, although they did reconnect for a brief hook up in 2013’s Man of Steel, which felt a bit hollow, like a relationship missing the core emotional elements.
With their relationship officially on ice, you might think I’d be worried about the future of Superman and Lois Lane as a couple, but the truth is, I’m confident that after over 75 years of romance, they’ll find their way back to each other in no time, and that’s why they’re the best romance in all of pop culture!
(Plus, back in the 90s, Morrison and Val Semeiks produced DC One Million, which was set in the distant future where an immortal Superman is reunited with his newly resurrected wife Lois, so pretty sure it’s all going work out fine!)
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter!