Superman Is Cool, Pt. 4: Alien Love Triangle

Whoa. It’s been a while since I mentioned this topic. Forgive me. It was difficult to find the right voice for an article that deals with Lois Lane, the love of Superman’s life with her firecracker personality and legs that go on for miles (except when she’s Margot Kidder in 1978).

The previous article in this series gave me an opportunity to cover the human drama in the Superman saga. I wrote at some length of Superman’s personal tragedy with regards to his three-part identity, and what it says about the Man of Steel’s personality. Spinning directly out of those identity issues come his romantic troubles. The idea that the perfect man might actually suffer through any romantic tensions may seem absurd at first, but just like the Man of Steel has to consider his own self esteem and sense of identity sometimes, he also has to think long and hard (down, perverts) about Lois Lane.

In pretty much every incarnation of Superman’s story, Lois inevitably assumes the role of his major love interest. Sure, there’s Lana Lang and Lori Lemaris (who’s a freakin’ mermaid), but no one ever seems to fill that Krypton-shaped void in his heart quite like the Daily Planet’s star reporter. It’s been that way almost since Day 1, and the comics took that ball and carried it all the way to the chapel. A married Superman, some may argue, lacks the same dramatic tension of a single one. This could be true, but really, how long could the love triangle dynamic last (50+ years, apparently) before it got old; besides that, there really never was another girl for Krypton’s Last Son.

The classic love triangle, by the way, is as complex in motion as it is simple to explain: Lois loves Superman (who wouldn’t?), while Clark loves Lois, who rebuffs him in favor of the Man of Steel. If you’ve been paying attention, the complexities of such a relationship are apparent at face value. Superman is confident in himself and self-aware enough to understand the perfection that he projects. As I’ve discussed, he’s basically gone out of his way to illustrate this in his behaviour. Therefore, he’s largely unsurprised that Lois is in love with him. And believe me, he loves her as well. Unfortunately, his attempts at maintaining what he (most likely mistakenly) perceives as his humanity lies in the form of the insecure Clark Kent, who Lois cannot love because she’s constantly comparing him to Superman. Thus, Superman sort of unfairly tests the depths to which Lois loves him by playing her up against his two opposing identities.

This may make him something of a dick, but really, it reveals more of his morose, Hamlet-like humanity.

In All Star Superman, Morrison and Quitely find an interesting middle ground in which to play up the alien love triangle. Here, Lois loves Superman, but not at Clark’s expense. She treats Mr. Kent with a degree of respect and there’s a strange friendship there that he seems to overlook in favour of his insecurities. Instead, Superman spends his time pining after Lois’ affections as Clark, and testing her romantic mettle when he’s in the tights. [One of the more interesting suggestions that Morrison provided during interviews prior to #1’s release was that there is no suggestion in All Star Superman that Lois and Clark have never been married before we pick up on their relationship in the first chapter.]

All Star’s Lois Lane, meanwhile, forces herself into a state of blissful oblivion. She’s one of the world’s greatest investigative journalists; she knows that Superman is Clark somewhere deep inside. She even mentions having spent years trying to prove it, only for Superman to misdirect her; misdirections which she gladly accepts in favour of the alternative. She just can’t admit any of this to herself without also admitting that she loves Superman and might not be able to love Clark. It’s easy to love a fantastical projection of someone; a fiction you’ve built up in your head, but somewhat difficult to accept the reality of a person as they really are. Superman’s flaws are not easily apparent through his projection of the perfectly actualized self. Not unless you spend some time looking for them. This is why readers find him so hard to swallow, and yet it’s what draws people to him at the same time. Lois, like us, loves him for his seeming flawlessness and perfection – he is a true escapist fantasy for her and for us. But Lois is also afraid and ashamed of his humanity, the same way we are afraid and ashamed of our own.

Kal-El only wants Lois to see past his square jaw and confident strides to the man underneath, and be willing to accept a man does exist, at cost to neither of them. But seeing a man looking for acceptance means Lois will have to admit she still maintains her own flaws, and her own desire for acceptance. It’s a harsh reality.

Superman attempts to find a way around their love triangle in All Star Superman Chapter 3. He develops a formula that can give her his abilities for 24 hours, making them equals. After all, if she’s as bulletproof as he is, surely she’ll be able to accept everything else about him too. Lois’ oblivious projections of Clark’s impotence, however, resurface when the couple encounter mythic time travelling heroes Samson and Atlas. Lois pits Superman, a living myth, against these two in a silly flirtatious battle for her heart. Superman is rendered as inert as Clark Kent, having to prove himself in the face of these “superior” men. He wins, of course, but Lois fails to recognize her fatal flaw, while Superman doesn’t need his x-ray vision to see through the problems in their relationship.

If anything, Lois’ actions only cement Kal-El’s loneliness, and strengthen the reasons that an adult, dying Superman might have to abandon his quest for humanity and seek out a path of action. Indeed, Samson confronts Superman with a message of his own demise from the future, and suggests the possible folk tales of what his last few months alive have in store for him. But even if Lois has pushed Superman into making his decision to abandon their love triangle, he can’t leave yet. Not until he’s completed his greatest task on Earth: saving Lex Luthor.

Next: Luthor Superior

3 Responses to “Superman Is Cool, Pt. 4: Alien Love Triangle”
  1. Phreakster says:

    Enjoyed that, nice work!

  2. Waleed says:

    Very cool. Question though, something I picked up in All Star, is Kal-El’s real persona Clark Kent or Superman?

    It seemed that despite his goofiness, and his spectacle disguise Kal-el would rather Lois love the country bred version of himself than the lonely Kryptonian.

  3. Nas says:

    Waleed: Your comments were coming up as spam. That’s why I’m only getting to them now. As far as Superman’s persona is concerned, I think he’s a bit of both and he’s also neither. You’re right about Lois, but he’s also not willing to compromise his relationship with her as it stands, so it’s partially his fault that things are the way they are. Poor sod.

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