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Like any other comic book character, Lois Lane has been invented, re-invented, killed, resurrected, a superhero, a mortal, and will continue to be all of these things for time untold. She has existed since the very first issue of Action Comics released in 1938, so you can't blame a girl for trying new things over a span of 70 years!
Lois' evolution as a character is an interesting one. As a written personality, she changed just as American ideals, expectations, and gender roles changed throughout the 20th century and into today. Lois Lane reflects the history of women's rights and the continued fight for equality in the workplace and in "traditional" relationship/marital roles. Of course, her changes also have a benign side, and it is simply fun to see how Superman writers and directors have interpreted her over and over and over again in almost every form of media imaginable.
Superman might be the shining star, but standing right beside him is Lois Lane, a super woman in her own right.
Lois was introduced in the very first issue of Action Comics, right alongside Superman and Clark Kent, forever solidifying the ubiquitous love triangle theme in Superman comics. From the start, Lois was shown as being a hard-nosed journalist, even though she was not respected as much as the men, including Clark Kent. She became competitive with Clark as a journalist, and disliked that he was given preferential treatment as a reporter.
Joe Shuster famously based Lois' appearance on model Joanne Siegel (who later married Jerry Siegel, Superman's co-creator). The hair style and clothing style reflects the late 30s and early 40s trends, with shorter, swept back hair, and a blouse that emphasizes shoulder width.
Silver Age: 1950s - 1970s
The silver age was less kind to Lois Lane as a dimensional character than perhaps the golden age. During the silver age, Lois was a competent working woman, though the storylines often found one way or another for her to fall into trouble while out trying to get a journalistic scoop. One could say that Lois was constantly put in a situation that undermined her ambitions, because whenever she tried to excel, she ended up needing salvation from Superman. This eventually reduced into Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane (1958-1974), a strange and long-running series that took Lois to new heights, but more so, new lows.
It's almost hard to take the sexism of these comics seriously simply because the stories are just so absurd. Lois was sort of given her own world to exist in, with very little Superman involved. But without a prevalent Superman, Lois then had to be the star of her own interesting stories, but with specific demographic considerations. The comic culture was shifting towards action, this being the cowboy era after all, so DC didn't just let Lois Lane drop off, but rather reinvented her over and over again in tales of magical realism and high fantasy.
Just like in the 40s, Lois Lane kept in style with the women of the 50s and 60s, that is, when she was wearing normal clothes and not a leopard skin or a Native American outfit. In the cover below from 1963, the look is reminiscent of June Cleaver from the popular Leave it to Beaver television show. Lois, of course, changed quite a bit during this series as it spanned nearly two decades.
Starting in the 1980s, Lois began to take on that early golden age attitude of independence, with career-driven action. Gone were the damsel-in-distress days, as Lois was often able to get herself out of danger or avoid it altogether with quick wit, bravery, and excellent problem-solving skills. After that ancillary diversion in the 70s, she got back into that prominent role as Superman's lover and these are where the storylines began to be more adult, emphasizing the difficulties and realities of their relationship.
Style has changed since the 80s (thank goodness) and so has Lois. Above, Lois is in her professional, pink dress, fashionable at the time that the Man of Steel comic book miniseries was released, which could also be the first true incarnation of the 'new' Lois, as well. The other image above also shows her in a contemporary, khaki outfit perfectly suitable for a journalist on assignment.
When DC re-launched their entire universe yet again, Action Comics started over along with everything else, bringing the long running series back to issue number one. With the origin story re-written, Lois and Clark were also re-written and their relationship rolled back to square one, reflecting the 1938 rejection for a new generation.
Lois was voiced by three different voice actresses, first starting with Rolly Bester, who did not voice the character long, and was soon replaced with Helen Choate. Perhaps the most memorable of the women to voice Lois Lane during this period was Joan Alexander, who would later go on to voice Lois in the Fleischer cartoons.
The next animated Lois incarnation came in the 1966 show The New Adventures of Superman produced by Filmation. She was voiced by both Joan Alexander and Julie Bennett.
Lois also appeared on various episodes of Super Friends, which ran from 1973 to 1986. With this long running series also running through the varying ebb and flow of fashion, Lois had many different styles that evolved along with the times.
After Super Friends, Lois appeared in the 1988 Ruby Spears cartoon called Superman. This well-animated show had an unfortunately short run of only one season, but featured Lois as a main character. She was voiced by Ginny McSwain. Ginny went on to be a very successful voice director working in Hollywood.
Lois was animated many times throughout the years, but perhaps her next most salient animated counterpart came on Superman: The Animated Series. The Bruce Timm style made Lois into an angular, sloping character with a sly disposition. She was voiced by Dana Delany. The DC Animated Universe was really just getting started at that point, and continues to be popular with new shows spanning all the popular characters. In Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, Lois made various appearances as the Daily Planet star reporter. As always, her look stayed contemporary and confident while keeping with the unique style of the animated DC universe.
Superman: The Movie was released in 1978 and successfully reinvented Superman for a whole new audience. The big budget film, directed by Richard Donner, went on to be massively successful and once again reintroduced Lois Lane, this time played by actress Margot Kidder, who would play the role in three subsequent sequels.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was unique in that it featured Lois as a main character, not taking a secondary role to Superman, but perhaps even sharing the spotlight with Clark Kent. Obvious from the title, the show focused on the relationship between Lois and Clark in a contemporary setting, which eventually culminated in their marriage. The marriage even spurred the comics to tie-in with the event, where their comic book doppelgangers got hitched, too. Lois was famously played by Teri Hatcher, who went on to many other successful roles in television.
Smallville ran for a whopping ten seasons, making it the most consistent television version of Superman to date. This series initially focused on a young Clark Kent as in a high school setting with the town of Smallville as the rural backdrop. Lana Lang was the initial love interest for Clark, and during season four, Lois Lane finally made her appearance in Smallville. The series concluded in 2011. Lois was played by Erica Durance.
Superman Returns was released in 2006 with director Bryan Singer taking his turn at the helm, attempting to reboot the Superman film franchise. Critical reception was mixed, with most criticism reserved for actors Brandon Routh as Superman/Clark Kent and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. The two were said to have been a bit stiff and frigid to bring enough interest and pathos into the characters. Either way, Kate Bosworth got her shot as Lois Lane and thus joined the small group of actresses to take on the role.
At the time of this writing, Man of Steel is in production, with Amy Adams playing Lois Lane. She is an accomplished and likable actress, and could very well bring a new attitude and new take on the character. Man of Steel is scheduled to release in 2013.
This article was written by Chris Harder, who works for a T-shirts company that sells a wide variety of comic book and superhero T-shirts.