Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Superman's Girlfriend ... Lana Lang Guest Post By Mart Gray

Welcome to a guest post by my friend Martin Gray of the great Too Dangerous For A Girl comic review blog.

Martin and I had a friendly discussion on Twitter a couple of months back, guessing on which Superman character with L.L. for initials were Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder going to bring back. I guessed Lana Lang. Mart guessed Lori Lemaris. Artist Aaron Kuder thought we should place a bet on the matter and we did. But there are no losers as the stakes were simple – a post for each other’s site based on the character the other guessed.  Head to his site to read me review of Lori Lemaris' origins. 

And enjoy Mart's treatise on Lana Lang right here.

Whatever happened to Lana Lang?

When I was growing up as a Superman fan, there was one big question - Lois or Lana? Back then, Lois had her own comic book and for much of the run, Lana was her rival, forever vying with Lois for Superman's heart. An out-and-out catfight wasn't a rare occurrence, but more often than not, the pair wound up united in frustration, as Superman gave them both the kiss-off.

And when the next story came along, they were feuding over Superman once more - liberated times, these were not. But it was all good fun, and if my nine-year-old self needed proof that Metropolis's top 'newshen' and its number one TV reporter were pals really, it was right there at the top of the lettercol: Letters to Lois and Lana. There they were, smiling at one another, sharing their fanmail.

In the last few years, one image of Lana Lang has dominated the media - the weepy, pouty soul played by Kristin Kreuk on the Smallville TV show. That's not my Lana Lang. My Lana is the feisty redhead who was a supporting character in the Superboy, Superman and Lois Lane strips throughout the Silver and Bronze Ages.

What's that? You know that gal, and she was nothing more than a ginger version of Lois at her worst? A nosey reporter who thought revealing Superman's identity was the way to win his heart?

Well, yes, that's one Lana. She began snooping around Smallville, trying to prove Clark Kent was Superboy, shortly after her 1950 debut. It was as if the DC writers and editors thought a Super-strip needed a Lois Lane figure as part of the dynamics. And certainly Lana's personality, behaviour and experiences were much like those of the adult Lois - she worked on the school newspaper, got into all kinds of attention-seeking scrapes and wound up with temporary super-powers more than a few times (even gaining reserve membership of the Legion of Super-Heroes as the formidable, but icky Insect Queen).

With Lois being the alpha female of the Superman Legend, was there really any point to Lana?
I think so. Because while Lois would reject Superman, fall for other men, even change jobs, her status quo was always restored by the end of the story. The biggest change to Lois in those years was when she quit the Daily Planet to go freelance, but even then she promised to give Perry White her best scoops - and she was back at her old desk within a year or two.

Lana, though, could go places. Specifically, around the time Lois quit the Planet in the early Seventies, Lana quit Metropolis entirely. Tired of running alongside Superman and Lois on a treadmill of frustration, the TV reporter took an assignment in Europe.

And she wasn't seen for six years. When she returned to Metropolis, she didn't go into detail about what she'd been up to - everyone simply assumed Lana had been off having fun adventures; certainly her flighty, flirty personality, and 'European' affectations didn't invite people to get close.

She settled into her new job as Clark's co-anchor on the WGBS nightly news, and was soon regularly getting kidnapped by the likes of Titano the Super-Ape, just like in the old days. But she quickly knocked the old habit of vying for Superman's attention on the head, surmising that no woman could ever have a true relationship with someone with Superman's responsibilities...

In fact, she fell for another man, an ordinary guy by the name of Vernon O'Valeron - who turned out to be Superman's friend Vartox, greatest superhero of another world; once again, longterm romance wasn't on the cards.

Gradually, though, she fell in love again - with Clark Kent, at a time Superman wasn't dating Lois. It was a genuine romance, with Lana and Clark truly relaxing around one another. But the relationship was knocked on the head by creative changes as DC headed towards the continuity crumbling Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Around that time, though, in the excellent Lois Lane two-issue 'micro-series' by Mindy Newell and Gray Morrow, Lana had one last hurrah, her characterisation deepening as we learned, finally, what had happened in Europe. She had met and married a wealthy man, and they had a son.

Tragically, the child was kidnapped by terrorists, and ultimately murdered... It was one heck of a revelation, and while it can easily be viewed as simply a melodramatic moment that serves the story of Lois investigating missing children, it also helped explain why Lana didn't recommit, on her return to Metropolis, to the pursuit of Superman; she'd finally found love, and heartbreak followed. When she needed Superman, he'd not been around to help. Dazzled dalliance with Vartox apart, it was years before she opened her heart once again, and then it was for the unshowy, reliable, ordinary guy Clark who, in his own way, had always been there for her.

Of course, having been written and drawn by so many creators, Lana's personality hasn't been consistent, but overall, over the course of the Silver and Bronze Ages, she grew. Introduced as a Superboy minx, and shifted over into the Superman stories as a rival for Lois, she gradually matured, becoming her own woman. She left town to get out of a rut, became a wife and mother, and when - to understate - that didn't work out, she returned to old haunts but without backsliding completely. Sure, the old Superman crush occasionally re-emerged, but that's easily explained as Lana falling back into comfortingly familiar areas of her emotions rather than facing up to her loss. But face it she finally did, and the trajectory of her emotional life afterwards was upward. She made peace with Superman, made a genuine connection with Lois, and was well on her way to winning Superman's heart without even realising, her suspicions about Clark being Superman having long been set aside.

I love Lois Lane to bits. She went from super-pest to partner, and the change stuck for many years. But I'll always defend Lana to those who say that only Lois is worthy of Superman's heart. Because Lana is the girlfriend who grew up first; while her role was often similar to Lois', she wasn't bound to the status quo - by the end of the Bronze Age we'd seen her character deepen and blossom. She shared qualities with Lois - bravery, loyalty, empathy, curiosity - but she'd suffered as Lois hadn't. She'd had her blinkers removed, yet was still ready to embrace life.

I've no doubt Lana could make Superman every bit as happy as did Lois, but she doesn't need the role of girlfriend to be an enjoyable part of the Superman Family.

And currently, in the pages of Action Comics, that's exactly what's being proven. Lana is undergoing a resurgence under the creative attentions of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder. In the new continuity she still has a soft spot for Clark, who has long since revealed his powers to her, but isn't scheming to trap him into marriage. She knows she's already in his affections, and if she wants to impress Clark - never Superman - it's more about showing what she's made of than showing she'd make a first-rate mate. Check out her current adventures, which began just a few months back in #25.

Long live Lana!

Read all of Martin's insightful comic reviews over at Too Dangerous For A Girl! I head there all the time to see what's happening around the comic world and what I should pick up!


Anj said...

Thanks for the great post Mart. I did not know the whole 'tragedy in France' part of her backstory.

I have always had a soft spot for Lana so really enjoyed this. I love that she has become something more than the woman vying for Superman's love in recent years.

Martin Gray said...

Europe - we're just one big tragedy!

Anonymous said...

Eagerly awaiting your Red/Green Lanterns flipbook review.

Personally, I think it was even worse than I expected, with Kara yet again used as the poster girl for "Tier Two" DC characters. We've complained about her use as a damsel, victim and plot device before, but I don't think we've ever seen her sink so long as to become a literal physical object for others to hand around and talk about. Way to go DC, you managed to make her appear even more useless and weak than before she got the ring :P

Jay said...

Yeah, Lana is really benefitting right now under Greg Pak. She's an excellent and compelling character right now. The only writers whose really done anything decent with Lois in the New 52, in my opinion, is Perez, whose characterization didn't last, and Snyder, but that's in a book I don't like.

So here's hoping she gets written better in the future but in the meantime, Lana is awesomeo.

Count Drunkula said...

Great job, Martin and Anj! I really enjoyed reading this post on Lana as well as Anj's post on Lori over at Mart's site. Insightful and a whole lot of fun!