The Lois Lane Effect

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That’s why Lois Lane is so perfect for him. She’s the perfect blend of firebrand, intelligent opponent and total doormat. And she’s hot.– Lois Lane as defined by “Jimmy Olsen”

Writing is hard. One of the hardest aspects of writing is evoking drama in a made-up story. Who really gives a shit if Mark Hamill has to sit in a fake plane in order to make a toy ball explode? This is where emotion comes into play: if the audience can relate to a conflict, even if it is contrived, they will be invested in that toy ball exploding. And of course, the easiest way to go about doing this is to shove into plots the greatest of all contrived conflicts: the quest for sweet, sweet nookie.

Fred Durst approves

Fred Durst approves

As i mentioned in another post of mine, modern Romantic fiction (and not just guy meets girl stories) was codified during the Middle Ages of Europe, with much of the coda coming from the Chivalric code. A man fights through everything from other men to Hell itself in order to prove himself worthy of his lady. It was supposedly as true for real life knights as it was for Lancelot himself. As such, this basic tenet of manliness passed on till modern times, where pretty much any “real man” in fiction has to kick ass and get laid (in either order). This sequence is especially important in the superhero genre.

           Action Comics #1 (June 1938)

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The golden standard for superhero love interests is Superman’s longtime girlfriend Lois Lane. Debuting in the very first issue of Action Comics, (where Superman first appeared) Lois is as old as the hero himself. Given that these were stories meant for children, their relationship was no more complex than ” Clark wants Lois. Lois wants Superman. Conflict. Ironically, she was actually more progressive than the characters she inspired in her Golden Age 1930’s-40’s appearances, being assertive and only occasionally used for “save the girl” plots.

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The Fleischer Superman cartoons even had her fighting in World War 2 as a covert agent.

And the ” Baddest Bitch ” award goes to…

This characterization ceased during the “Get Back In The Kitchen!” 50’s and the rise of the Comics Code Authority, which literally had doctrines such as “The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage“. This led to the Lois Lane who became a bane upon Superman and comics and general. She was reduced to an annoying hanger-on who’s only concern was marrying Superman.

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The biggest loss for the franchise was that she ceased to even have a reason to be around anymore. Golden Age Lois served as a challenge for Clark since he had to win her over without being Superman. She was a badass character in her own right which justified her astronomical standards. Reducing her to a satellite love interest nullified that romantic conflict and replaced it with a series of ” zany ” marriage schemes. You’d think she needed a green card or something. What was even worse is that as she became more arbitrary, her prevalence in media increased, to the point where she got a whole series dedicated to her desire to bone Superman.

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Lois was never good with linear reasoning

Batman #157 (August 1963)

Vicki Vale CompetitionGiven that Superman is the quintessential superhero, several other franchises had a Lois Lane equivalent just to keep up with the Joneses. Batman had Vicki Vale (played by Kim Basinger in the film) who was a reporter who wrote about Batman, intending to find out his identity and bone him (in either order). Oh, and she didn’t like Bruce Wayne that much. Sounds familiar? Barry Allen aka The Flash got his own model in Iris West, yet another “intrepid reporter” who couldn’t figure out his secret identity until they were already married. “Intrepid” must be old timey slang for “idiot”.

Marvel Comics dealt with this trope better in the 60’s, but still with a few Lois Lane influences. Before the arrival of plot tumor Mary Jane, Peter Parker started off with Betty Brant, who was sort of like a deconstruction of 50’s Lois Lane. She was also clingy and jealous, but instead of being played entirely for laughs, it was actually a serious relationship problem which caused him quite some grief.

The Amazing Spider-Man #15 (August 1964)

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He then went on to court Gwen Stacy, who began as actually quite vain, being interested in Peter literally because he had the nerve to not try boning her.

The Amazing Spider-Man #31 ( December 1965 )

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Once their relationship became settled, however, she started to become yet another satellite love interest. So much so that Marvel editors thought the most interesting thing they could do with the character is kill her off.

      Journey Into Mystery

Nurse Jane Foster Dreaming of Thor

Marvel’s other flagship hero, Thor, had a love interest in Jane Foster (who was carried over into the films but more on that later) back in his ” secret identity ” days. A doctor’s assistant in his mortal form’s (Donald Blake) practice, Foster and Blake were mutually attracted, but he thought she only pitied him due to his handicap (he couldn’t walk without a cane). This was exacerbated by the fact that she was (you guessed it) also attracted to Thor, but they couldn’t consummate due to Odin’s plot-drama doctrine of “don’t let mortals know about your secret identity”. To be fair, this dynamic was interesting at times because it injected a bit of classical myth: human/god coupling is an issue in almost every religion. Nevertheless, it was dropped once Thor stopped being a part-time human all-together and rationally decided to have sex with hot god babes instead.

Following suit with Thor, most superhero franchises drifted away from the generic love interest formula moving into the next few decades. Dimensions were added to pre-existing and new love interests. Many became (with varying levels of quality) “tougher” to compensate for previous portrayals. Lois Lane, the progenitor herself, was one of the first to get her metaphorical balls back.

                                                      Man of Steel

Maybe a little too much balls...

Or maybe her literal balls…

Some ladies went the Jane Foster route and were just phased out of focus; Hal Jordan/Green Lantern’s first love Carol Ferris became more important for becoming a hero/villain (it’s complicated) in her own right. Their love affair became just one of many flings for the bachelor hero. On the darker side of the spectrum, some were used as macabre drama fodder, such the aforementioned death of Gwen Stacy. Comic writer Gail Simone dubbed this trope “Women In Refrigerators“, referencing a controversial Green Lantern story where the hero’s girlfriend was brutally murdered and…well you could probably guess…

Green Lantern #54 (1994)

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“WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!?”

Obviously a fucked up trope it is in it’s own right, many writers consider this equally terrible (if not worse) as just having a living shallow love interest.

For the most part, the role of superhero girlfriend had a decent reinvention in mainstream comics. The days where love interests bogged down superhero tales were going away…until fucking Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002).

Keep in mind this is the official poster

Keep in mind this was the official poster

What Richard Donner’s Superman films were in the 70’s, Spider-Man was to the current generation. It reinvigorated the comic film and also set the stage for how these films will be adapted. This included how love interests would be integrated. And boy was it an awful model for it, since Mary Jane pretty much eclipses EVERYTHING in the film series. The film’s events unfold as such:

1. Peter takes a picture of MJ and gets bitten while he’s distracted

2. Peter becomes a wrestler with his new powers because he wants to buy a car to impress MJ (leading to his life-defining negligence)

3. Peter incorporates red into his costume because it’s her hair color (fuck patriotism, I guess)

4. Peter’s relationship with Harry is strained due to a love triangle with MJ

5. Norman Osborn goes on a homicidal rampage because Peter hooked up with MJ

And that’s not counting all of the damsel-in-distress nonsense. Fuck Norman Osborn; SHE’S clearly the antagonist of the film. The second film takes this even further by beginning with Peter’s voice over stating that ” She looks at me everyday. Mary Jane Watson. Oh boy! If she only knew how I felt about her “. The film basically establishes it’s premise as ” It’s all about MJ! “. Forget nuclear armageddon guys; how’s Petey going to go to MJ’s play? Is MJ going to marry that astronaut guy who we’ve never seen before? Pressing issues indeed.

While i wouldn’t say that these films necessarily caused an insistence on superhero love interests, it wouldn’t be too wild to assume that film producers, always eager to emulate the success of hit movies, saw this as an affirmation of the Lois Lane formula. This meant that every hero who had some canonical squeeze had a love story shoehorned into his film.

Keep in mind this was ALSO the official poster

Keep in mind this was ALSO the official poster

As mentioned before, Thor and Jane Foster’s coupling was an artifact of his secret identity days when his human persona already had a longstanding relationship with her. Yet, she’s placed in the film (albeit with a different job) as the woman he falls in love with in about three days.  Once again: Asgard. Hot god babes. C’mon.

Ditto

Seriously guys?

For the Iron Man films, they took Pepper Potts who he only occasionally fucks when he’s not fucking super-models or super-heroes or anything with a hole in it, and turned her a convenient satellite love interest. In contrast, in the comics she eventually married Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau’s character) until he died, so it wasn’t even like her and Tony had that serious of a relationship. And as for Nolan’s Batman films, I had no issues with the character of Rachel Dawes (who was a pretty good moral compass)…buuut then he forced in a last minute hookup with Selina Kyle that was as plausible as the end of John Hughes’ Career Opportunities (and no, I don’t expect you to get that reference).

Good thing he isn't world-famous or anything...

Good thing he isn’t world-famous or anything…

As much as i’ve grown to be wary of love interests in comics, i’d be bereft to call them necessarily a bad thing. As i mentioned in the beginning, this trope’s defining nature is its relatability. Love is the most ubiquitious real-life concern; it’s something most people want and desire. And not everyone is necessarily smart about it. People do get obsessed with relationships and often put aside other important things in order to focus on them. And in the hands of a good writer, a love story can elevate a hero. With that being said, it’s a trope that needs moderation. If there’s a narrative point in a relationship, so be it, but it shouldn’t be a necessity for every hero. Those unfortunate stories with Lois Lane were made during a time when the country was trying to avoid certain truths. No one wanted to admit women could be independent. No one wanted to admit marriage wasn’t as great as we all believed. To some extent, we’re still thinking that way. But things are changing. And as we change, our heroes (and heroines) should too.

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For more posts on Superman and DC Comics:

Superman As Defined By Lex Luthor

Flash: The Quintessential Superhero

Bat In The Belfry: Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Superstitious And Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption In Gotham City

Ben Affleck As Batman: Why So Serious?

Three Forms Of Comedy As Seen Through Justice League

For more posts on Marvel Comics:

Spidey Tackles The Human Torch: Spider-Man As A Classic Anti-Hero

Journey of Peter Parker from Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Iron Man 3 Review

Thor: The Dark World Review

For more posts on Romance in fiction:

The Unfortunate Undeath of Chivalry: The Implication Of Romance In Hollywood

Don Jon Review

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Thor: The Dark World Review

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Thor is the Dos Equis guy of Marvel. Whereas Peter Parker cries about dead uncles and Tony Stark can’t put down that bottle of Jack Daniels, Thor fights rock giants and beds valkyries with a grin on his face and sledge in his hand. He’s omnipotent. He’s noble. He’s boring as shit. One of the reasons it took soooo long for Marvel to even create a film about one of it’s most significant characters was because he’s extremely difficult to adapt into a compelling protagonist. With that in mind, i saw the first Thor ( 2011 ) with apprehension and came out…neutrally. It’s about as good of an adaptation as one could do, but it’s not a good film in its own right. As mentioned, Thor was severely lags behind his Avengers kin in terms of character in the film. In addition, a large portion of the film ( by necessity i understand ) happens on Earth for the sole purpose of:

a) connecting the franchise with the awkwardly integrated S.H.I.E.L.D.

b ) connecting him with humanity despite the fact that it was established IN THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM that the Asgardians had already interacted with humans several times in the past

c ) forcing a relationship with all the chemistry of peanut butter and salami

With that being said, i thought it was well cast, which allowed for fairly boring characters to be interesting ( especially Loki ). In addition, i’ve grown to appreciate the artistic direction of the series in regards to its Asgard ( which i’ll touch upon later ). But enough about the first film, what do i think about it’s illustrious sequel?

Honestly? It’s better. Still not good, but better. And not for necessarily the best reasons.

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The plot: After the events of the first film, Thor has been busy maintaining order in the ( poorly defined ) nine realms of the universe. Back on Midgard / Earth, Padme and that busty CBS waitress happen to find a rip in the fabric of reality ( which happens sometimes ). It turns out that one of these rips leads to a macguffin known as “dark aether” which was previously a plot point in an ancient war between the Asgardians and the oddly-technologically-advanced Dark Elves, who want to use it to spread the daaaahkness across the realms.

The Dark Elves

The Dark Elves

One of the biggest problems i had with the first film was it’s scenes on Earth and this one more than makes up for it. The majority of the film takes place on Asgard and occasionally the titular dark world. As such, we get the sheer scope of the world of Thor. This is helped by another narrated “historical lecture” by Anthony Hopkins as Odin in the beginning. Though he’s clearly a little checked out in this film, Hopkins as always manages to get across the gravitas that a film featuring Norse myth should have. Speaking of which, one of the most under-appreciated aspects of these films is the art direction. And i don’t mean flashy Hollywood CGI ( which is still good, i’ll admit ) , i mean the actual aesthetic choices. The film furthers a sort of “magitech” feeling for the Asgardians and their technology. When Loki is imprisoned, his force field cell looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in Star Trek if it weren’t for those stock “fantasy runes”. Choices like this keeps Asgard from feeling like a generic Dungeons and Dragons locale and also makes it fit in a world where Iron Men and Heli-carriers abound. The villainous Dark Elves take this even further by using weapons straight out of Halo such as energy rifles and grenades. Overall, like the last film, The Dark World has a very strong aesthetic goal and concept that makes for compelling visuals…

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…which doesn’t do much for uncompelling plot. Thor: The Dark World suffers from the same condition as Iron Man 2 ( 2010 ) by being an uninspired franchise sequel. By the end of Thor, Thor goes from being a cocky guy who cares little for his enemies to being a cocky guy who cares a little for his enemies. That’s it. That’s the only psychology you could milk out of that asshole. As hard as it is to believe, there’s LESS characterization in this film. The only driving aspect of the character is, of course, his arbitrary love for Jane Foster ( Natalie Portman ).Once they’re reunited, that becomes the only thing we get out of the guy emotionally. Even when a MUCH more terrible event occurs during the film, he barely has emotional reaction. This is why Thor is such a god-awful film protagonist: no matter how charismatic Hemsworth is, he can’t make up for a character with absolutely no pathos. There’s nothing for him to grow into at this point, his narrative journey ended in the first film. This makes the scenes on Earth more painful than they were in the first film, since they literally have no bearing on anything. Ironically, the film’s choice to use Earth comedically actually undercuts most of the point of the first film. The first scene with Jane Foster shows her on a date with the affable Chris O’Dowd ( Bridesmaids ) who looking like this…

Chris O'Dowd At Jameson Done In 60 Seconds Media Day

…pales in comparison the dreamy Thor. During the scene, Darcy ( Kat Dennings ) shows up and basically cuts the poor sod off, while Jane purposely ignores him, which is funny because…it’s actually not that funny. It underscores the biggest problem with this film and the challenge of Thor as a superhero. Once all of the “character development” of Thor was finished, humans became punchlines to the film’s jokes. “Look at this limey loser! He ain’t shit compared to Asgardians!”. Even Jane ends up being portrayed as more of a commoner during her brief stay on Asgard, where she can barely has any screen presence when compared to her godly costars. So with all that in mind: how do you then justify Thor’s interest in Earth? Asgardians and whatever the fuck Hogun is are essentially humans but better. Why the fuck was it important for him to be a hero on Earth? The film seems to forget it has to even establish that reasoning. This lack of motivation stretches an already stretched-thin excuse plot.

Speaking of plot, it’s actually the opposite of Iron Man 2 in terms of complexity. Which is a bad thing. Obviously, no one really cared about writing a good story for Iron Man 2. So instead, they have a quick plot that needs little explanation AND could be conveniently wrapped up succinctly. The Dark World takes a fairly uninteresting macguffin plot and actually makes it hard to understand through a whole shit load of plot elements. This is where the ” magitech” elements work against the film, since we’re given obscure technobabble for almost every aspect of the climax. I dare any viewer to honestly tell me how exactly Thor defeats the Elves by the end. In terms of subplot, the only one of note is the hinted at Jane / Sif rivalry. I’ll just tell ya, it’s not that big of a deal. See it for yourself and you’ll probably agree.

One of the most criminal sins for the more passive viewer is the fact that, once again, Thor barely fights. I get it, i really do. Thor is a god. Because of this, showing him in combat often would kind of diminish the majesty of his might. This is the reason why this is one of the few elements that didn’t bother me. As i said, Thor just ain’t interesting. There’s no way for him to lose and he has no personal struggles to overcome. This film manages to spend just enough time away from Thor in order to actually be somewhat compelling. We get more screen time with his mother Frigga ( Rene Russo ) who has some tense moments. As per fan-girl request ( literally ), we get plenty of Loki as well. While it’s obvious he’s a bit tacked on to the plot, i’ll admit Hiddleston plays his role well as usual as Thor’s untrustworthy sidekick. Personally, i think the time could have been better spent with supporting characters Thor actually LIKES like, i don’t know, the four fucking badass warriors who would follow him to death. But as a non-fifteen year old white girl, i am clearly not part of Thor’s fanbase.

Thor: The Dark World film still

Final Verdict

This film is the lowest form of ‘ok’ to me. The first act is impressive and really ties you into the Norse mythos the film creates. The best parts for me were when they didn’t focus on Thor or Jane and instead had us soaring around this world. The actors make due with what they got, but it ain’t much. Not to mention the plot is almost pointless. See this film if you liked the first one, appreciate the talents of the cast, or have the money for IMAX 3D. Don’t see this film if you didn’t like the first, actually want character development, or want an interesting story.

For more posts on Marvel heroes:

Iron Man 3 Review

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Journey of Peter Parker from Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man Tackles The Torch: Spider-Man as a Classic Anti-Hero

The Lois Lane Effect