When Obsessions Collide
It is not an exaggeration to say that I have loved Superman all my life. In fact, Superman seems to go beyond my cognitive memory. He was always there and I have no recollection of learning about him, no more than most of us remember learning about a table or chair, but as a child, Superman was just as real to me as that table and chair.
Every Superman fan has a first Superman and George Reeves was mine. Yes, I’m an old fart. I was a kid in the 1960s and a teen in the early 1970s, but the Adventures of Superman debuted before I was born so I was thankful reruns existed even in the Stone Age of my childhood. I was glued to my TV set listening to the long harp glissando intro as the camera zoomed past unnamed planets and a comet exploded spelling out the title of the show.
Like the other kids in the neighborhood I wore a towel around my neck and “flew” across the front yard with my arms outstretched. Sometimes I’d stumble over one of my mom’s rose bushes as a reminder that not only was I not flying, but I wasn’t invulnerable either.Even though Superman was my hero and who I pretended to be, the character I actually identified with as a child was Jimmy Olsen, but not because he was the youngest character. Let’s face it, when you’re 8 years old a guy in his 20s who can drive a car and has a job is an adult. It was Jimmy’s innocence, or lack of maturity if you prefer, that made me identify with him. He had the good sense to be afraid of ghosts after all and he also had the proper hero worship of Superman that a kid audience could identify with.
Perry White was the father figure who treated all of his reporters like children, but particularly Jimmy. Clark Kent was the guy who winked at us from time to time because we were in on his secret. We knew he was really Superman. Lois Lane … I didn’t know what to make of her as a kid.
All the other women on TV at the time were moms, teachers, nurses, waitresses, secretaries and on sitcoms there were lots of mothers-in-law, but no one like Lois. She worked with, and often competed against men. This was not a “girl power” epiphany for me by any means since my perspective was strictly from a child’s point of view. I actually designated Phyllis Coates’ Lois Lane as “the mean Lois Lane” because she was so strident and seemed angry most of the time. Of course Noel Neill was “the nice Lois Lane” because she smiled a lot and got in trouble with Jimmy Olsen.
As an adult, however, I revisited the series and realized just how good Phyllis Coates was in the role. She was a total pistol. She was a tough cookie with a quick wit and a good right hook. She was there only during the show’s first season, which had a decidedly film noir flavor and contained the majority of what I considered the “spooky episodes” as a child.
Of course this was a discovery I would make much later. In the meantime I had my adolescence to suffer through, but it was during that period of teen turmoil that I experienced firsthand why the word fan was derived from fanatic.
“To Boldly Go”
One night I was watching TV, but my parents’ cable suddenly went out. That left me at the mercy of only three local channels, which were all showing news at the time. I picked up the remote and began aimlessly clicking through them, but noticed I was picking up a fourth channel. Since the night was cold and dry our old rooftop antenna was picking up a channel from a city about 40 miles away. That channel was showing a rerun of Star Trek.
Star Trek, like Adventures of Superman, was not a show I had seen during its original run. I knew of it, but had never seen an episode until that night. Ironically it was the pilot episode, or rather the second pilot episode, ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before.’ I was as jaded as any other teenager when it came to television and so viewed it with a jaundiced eye.
In the episode a friend of the lead character Captain Kirk became overtaken by some type of ESP power which caused his eyes to look metallic and made him super brainy and gave him telekinetic abilities. It wasn’t long before he saw himself as god-like by comparison to his shipmates. Kirk, with urging from a guy with pointed ears, decided to maroon his friend on a planet where he could not harm anyone.
A final battle ensued between Kirk and his friend. At one point the god-like crewman’s eyes turned back to normal and I, the jaded teenager, nodded and said to myself, “yeah, I knew it. They’ll be friends again and sail off on another adventure,” but I was wrong. His eyes went right back to the metallic color and Kirk actually had to kill him. Well, nothing works wonders for a teenager more than the ability to be surprised by something.
I began watching it from that point forward and got hooked. I even started sending for any merchandise advertised like the chest insignias, models of the Enterprise and bought every book that came out. It was all a bit disconcerting for me since I never felt that taken over by a TV show before. It became like my private addiction. I didn’t tell my friends or family about it because I was sure they’d think me crazy for such an all inclusive obsession. Had the internet existed at the time, I’d have known right away I was not alone.
The truth is, Star Trek’s power over me came from it being just about the only character-driven drama at the time, or more accurately an evolutionary link between plot-driven and character-driven formats. Most dramas of the era were strictly plot-driven and that meant you didn’t really get to know much about the characters and they certainly didn’t evolve because the plot was king and could override anything you knew about a character at any time. If, for example, the plot called for a confirmed bachelor to fall in love, get married and become a widower all in one episode, believe it or not, that’s what would happen. The writers might even have him flirting with some new woman in the very next episode and his one-shot marriage would never be mentioned again on the series.
To be honest Star Trek wasn’t entirely immune to this melodramatic writing style either since Kirk certainly had his share of doomed romances that he bounced back from quite handily, but it was how he and those around him handled the event that marked the difference. For the most part the writers suggested a situation and then figured out how the characters, with their very individual personalities, philosophies and gifts, would tackle the problem. It was rarely just about the danger at hand, whether it was a doomsday machine, a giant amoeba, or even tribbles. It didn’t matter because it was about the characters’ interaction and what they took away from the experience. It was this unique approach to characterization and character evolution that ensured the adventures of this crew would continue long after the series went off the air.
Adding to Star Trek’s uniqueness was an international and interracial crew, which might be common now, but thirty years ago it was unheard of. Not to mention a female officer. Lieutenant Uhura, who worked on the bridge with male officers, was sort of a callback to Lois Lane. However it was Mr. Spock who was tailor-made for me as a teenager to identify with. He was something of an outsider and his logic and emotions were constantly at war with each other. That is a teenager in a nutshell.
Spock was part of a triumvirate with Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk. McCoy was the conscience of the trio. If Spock’s logic or Kirk’s bravado got in the way of sane decision making, “Bones” generally was the voice of reason who stepped in and chided either or both of them for losing perspective.
As for Captain Kirk, he was brash, a rule-breaker, combative, impulsive, pig-headed, a smart-ass, confrontational and yet he was also a brilliant tactician and was compassionate. Very soon I would make a connection to him with the woman from my childhood who I did not understand at the time.
“You will believe a man can fly”
As my Star Trek obsession continued to hum along, an old friend reappeared. Superman arrived on the big screen and I went opening day. It didn’t take long for the movie to rekindle my affection for my first hero. I even bought one of the Superman rings the theater was selling in the lobby. And while I was too old as a twenty-something to fly around the yard, I was old enough to appreciate the romance that had only been very vaguely hinted at in the old series.
I have to admit, though, I did miss my childhood version of Clark Kent who had actually been quite charming. In the movie all Clark was missing was a “kick me” sign taped to his back to complete his totally dorky persona. But thankfully Christopher Reeve’s Superman was everything he should be and he fell head over heels for Lois Lane.
Margot Kidder portrayed a feisty Lois Lane who, like the Phyllis Coates version, was all about getting the story by any means necessary, yet completely smitten with Superman, as was more typical of Noel Neill’s Lois Lane. Bolstered by the women’s movement of the 1970s and no longer fettered by gray tweed suits, this Lois Lane took ever greater and crazier chances to get a story, which was particularly true in the sequel.
In Superman II Lois made a beeline for the Eiffel Tower. Not for the view or the romance, but because terrorists were holding hostages and had a nuclear bomb stashed at the famous landmark. Now that’s Lois Lane. After her inevitable rescue by Superman, she and Clark were assigned to uncover a honeymoon scam at Niagara Falls. Perhaps bored with the assignment and being forced to work with Clark more closely than usual, Lois began to suspect her dorky partner was really Superman.
When her suspicions were confirmed, she confessed her love to him and off they flew to the Fortress of Solitude. They had a long chat and after dinner Superman went where no Superman had gone before … to bed with Lois Lane. Unfortunately Clark had to lose his powers in order for this to take place and I knew right there that it would all be undone somehow because Superman was not going to retire. Sure enough, Clark restored his powers and the much hated mind-wipe kiss took place and Lois forgot everything.
The franchise had two horrible sequels after that and limped off movie screens in 1987. Even the Star Trek movie franchise ended in 1991, at least the franchise involving the original crew. However, a year earlier I caught the evening news and there was a story about Clark Kent and Lois Lane becoming engaged for real in the comics. Apparently while I was busy Trekking at movie theaters, the Superman story was revamped by John Byrne. Most things remained the same, but one key element was altered. Clark Kent was now the real person and Superman was the disguise.
“A triangle built for two”
Three years after the news reported the historic engagement in the comics, Lois and Clark The New Adventures of Superman debuted on network television. It’s probably needless of me to say I became obsessed with this show much as I had with the original Star Trek. It was character-driven, it was about the evolution of a relationship and it was Superman. I was doomed.
Having Clark Kent as the real person allowed the series to achieve a love triangle consisting of Clark, Lois, and Superman, which wasn’t really possible in many earlier versions where Clark Kent was merely an act. Ironically Dean Cain’s Clark Kent had more in common with George Reeves’ version from the 1950s than he did with Clark Kent in the movies from the 70s and 80s.
This not only allowed for a realistic evolution of Lois and Clark’s relationship, but also Clark’s relationship with his alter-ego Superman. Over time Clark became more and more confident in the role and Superman ceased being just a disguise, he became a true extension of Clark himself. It was that fact which led to Lois Lane’s epiphany that the qualities she found attractive in Superman were qualities that Clark Kent had possessed all along.
This led to a conflict in Lois’s heart. She gradually began to discover that the man she had once labeled a “hack from Nowheresville,” had become a man she could not live without. Even though she still loved Superman, in the end it came down to which man she believed needed her more and she chose Clark Kent.
Teri Hatcher’s portrayal of Lois Lane naturally had the most in depth look at the intrepid reporter since Lois was a title character in this version. Her Lois Lane was also the most scrutinized by her co-worker Clark Kent. When Clark had to describe Lois to his parents, he said she was “complicated, domineering, uncompromising, pig-headed … brilliant.” And Lois described herself as having a habit of “diving in without checking the water level first.” Without changing a word, all of that describes Captain Kirk.
Lois was also very competitive, impulsive, hated to lose and would use her obvious sex appeal to get a story or gain entry into areas that were otherwise off limits. She would also break the rules like publishing false information in her stories in hopes of drawing out the bad guys.
Alas, all good things come to an end and Lois & Clark ended its run in 1997, but it did prove that a man could not only fly, he could fall in love and not have it reset by a mind-wipe … at least not permanently. It also proved that 20 million people, who probably never thought they would watch a Superman show, would tune in if it had something unique to say and an empathetic way to say it.
Debuting in 1996 was Superman, the animated series. Like Lois & Clark, it was based on the John Byrne revamp from the comics. Unlike Lois & Clark, however, this series really didn’t explore a romance between the two characters. That was addressed in the Justice League animated series, which debuted in 2001.
Lois guest starred in ten episodes of Justice League and as mentioned she was given a bit of romance, but with Superman, not Clark Kent. In the episode ‘Question Authority’ she and Superman shared a date, but despite her romantic feelings for him, Lois expressed her concerns that he and the League were crossing the line using too much force.
These animated series were directed at an older audience than previous cartoon renditions, and though there’s no direct correlation I can draw between this Lois Lane and Captain Kirk, other than she had qualities consistent with previous Lois Lanes, her very gung-ho approach to achieving a goal was very familiar.
The Justice League series ended in 2006 and Superman Returns debuted at the box-office the same year. Unfortunately the movie seemed to be dipped in a melancholy batter and deep fried in Donner flashback oil.
It was clear director Bryan Singer chose Brandon Routh to play Superman because of his uncanny resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve, but his choice of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane was a total misfire. One critic described her as “the essence of vanilla on screen” and that was one of the kinder remarks.
In fairness to Ms Bosworth, she was not helped at all by the bland writing of her character. It was as if the writers had never seen any previous interpretation of Lois Lane before in their lives, or Singer decided to reinvent her with disastrous results. There was no sass, snap or moxie, and since the actress was just four years out of high school, she looked far too young for the role.
Naturally there was no parallel between this Lois Lane and Captain Kirk, but two years before this movie hit theaters, a new Lois Lane hit the small screen.
It’s a Smallville After All
Smallville, the story of a young Clark Kent growing up in his fabled small Kansas hometown debuted on the WB network in 2001. Filled with darkness and angst, it could almost serve as a template for the ill conceived Superman Returns. No one was happy on this series, not for long anyway. It seemed a very curious take on a myth traditionally filled with light and hope.
In 2004 Lois Lane entered this kingdom of gloom, and as many critics noted Erica Durance’s portrayal of Lois Lane was a breath of fresh air. Every inch a general’s daughter, she is tomboyish, reckless, often foolishly brave, and won’t stand down even when the odds are against her. Durance’s Lois Lane is probably the closest match to Captain Kirk.
I’ve never used the word “roguish” to describe a woman, but it actually suits Smallville’s Lois. Raised more like a son than a daughter, Lois is less likely than the other female characters on the series to coddle the often moody Clark Kent. In fact she delights in pointing out when he’s having a self indulgent pity party.
By telling Clark to trust his gut and basically lighten up, she’s had a surprising effect on Clark. He is very different when around Lois than when interacting with the other characters. He’s more confident, perhaps because he has noticed she finds that attractive in men. This season Lois began to have romantic feelings for Clark, feelings she confessed “snuck up” on her and that she finds confusing. It was also this year that old friends with new faces snuck up on me.
You can go home again
Nearly 20 years after the movie franchise left the big screen and more than 40 years since it graced the small screen, the original crew of the Enterprise returned to theaters. Star Trek has now achieved true mythic status. The characters, their attitudes and catch phrases have become so familiar in our culture that new actors are able to take on their legendary roles and bring them back to life.
Director J.J. Abrams said he wanted to create a movie that would make people want to get right back in line to buy another ticket after seeing Star Trek for the first time. For tens of thousands of movie-goers, myself included, he did just that. Of course there are some hard line Trekkers who felt he tampered too much with back story continuity and made certain canon stories impossible in the future, but for those like me, it has always been about the characters. When you get them right, everything else falls into place.
I truly loved this movie. The crew began forming from scratch and meeting each other in entertaining ways, but the main focus was on the leader of the pack, James T. Kirk. He entered the world barely escaping death and from that moment on he leaped from precipice to precipice throughout the movie like a one-man cliffhanger. This tied into a line delivered by Captain Pike earlier in the movie where he said Kirk had spent his entire life leaping without looking and we come full circle back to Lois diving in without checking the water level first.
Lois Lane and Captain Kirk, two A-type personalities who span several generations, but never go out of style. They’ve seen me through losing baby teeth to getting too many gray hairs. I find it comforting that they’ve always been there and always will.
And as a final note, Smallville could learn something from the Star Trek movie. There is a big audience of people out there who like the emphasis on the heroes, not the villains, who prefer uplifting characterization, humor and romance over moody self-indulgent pity, melodrama and angst. Smallville has been moved to Friday night, probably in an effort to rotate it out of the CW’s lineup and so next season may be its last chance to be heroic, uplifting and to take advantage of a romance set in place decades ago between Clark Kent/Superman and ‘Captain’ Lois Lane.
Tags: Lois Lane Captain Kirk