This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on November 10, 2016.
Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. At least, that’s what normally happens. This week one of this cantankerous duos best friends, comics critic and all-around awesome person Ray Sonne steps in with a question of her own. She’ not planning to take it easy on Chase either and is setting him up with a question that is anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
Why are Clark Kent and Lois Lane the best couple in superhero comics?
You really didn’t want to go easy on me with this guest spot, did you? As anyone who knows me is already well aware, my favorite couple in all of comics (not just superhero ones) is Mister Miracle and Big Barda. They present a model relationship, have some of the best designs and adventures in comics, and reflect the wonderful marriage of Jack and Roz Kirby in many ways. Reading about those two is like comfort food to me. Whether it’s a great day or a terrible one, seeing Miracle and Barda is bound to make it better.
But even if they are the best couple in comics, maybe they aren’t the best couple in superhero comics. Kirby’s Mister Miracle is definitely part superhero comic, but it could just as easily be categorized as adventure or space opera. They’re a couple that, like much Kirby’s work, transcends the boundaries and trappings of genre. If we want to get to the nitty gritty and talk about who the best couple in superhero comics is, then we should evaluate the question based upon what the genre is about.
I’ve said before that the core theme of the superhero genre is power. Who has it? Who doesn’t? What do you do with? How does it affect others? These are the great questions at the center of the earliest, foundation superhero stories and that bubble in most of the “great texts” of the genre. So if we’re going to look at the best couple, it seems to me we should be examining the power dynamics within superhero relationships.
When you frame the question that way, it’s pretty clear who the greatest couple in all of superhero comics is; it’s not even a debate, really. Clark Kent and Lois Lane simultaneously possess the most and least even power dynamic of any pairing in these stories.
The “least” half of that equation is easy to solve. Superman is the definitive superpowered hero. While there have been times, like Morrison’s Action Comics run, where his power-level was lowered, Superman is typically exactly as powerful as he needs to be. While he can be slowed down, more often than not he is capable of flying across space and occasionally pushing planets around. What he accomplished in Action Comics #1 was far more than almost any comparable characters could at the time, and his physical power has only grown to scale since that moment.
Lois Lane is typically an ordinary human in regards to her physical strength and endurance. She is not able to leap tall buildings or outrace speeding bullets. In this genre where so much is determined by violence and physical conflicts, Lois does not have a lot going for. Unless she is provided with a deus ex machina like Kryptonite, she is unable to stand up to Superman in the typical fashion of the genre.
That’s part of what makes their relationship so incredibly important and endearing though. By the rules of the superhero genre, Superman would be much better suited to someone like Wonder Woman or Big Barda. In practice though, Lois Lane turns out to be his best possible partner and it’s because of how they subvert and redefine this aspect of the superhero genre together.
They possess the most even power dynamic in comics because of their understanding of and respect for one another. The issue of Superman’s physical power isn’t a problem because Lois is ignorant of it or that Superman can somehow turn it off. It’s not an issue because Lois is completely aware of who Clark Kent is and therefore knows that he would never attempt to overpower or control her. In turn, that’s because that is true of Clark Kent. He is not the sort of person who would exert control over anyone, much less his partner in life, and respects these sort of boundaries.
While the physicality of this scenario shouldn’t be that important, because no healthy couple should ever really have to wonder about who could overpower who, it is elevated by the nature of the genre. The concept of throwing someone over your shoulder without asking and taking a trip to the stars sounds like it’s right up Hal Jordan’s alley. But that guy is a skeez.
The respect and understanding between these two extends far beyond that element though. It is about their intelligence, insight, willpower, and other key characteristics. Nowhere is this more clear than in their shared workplace. Both of them are journalists at The Daily Planet and that setting allows them to work as peers, since Lois isn’t inclined to put on a cape and engage in Clark’s hobby all that often.
When we see them both functioning as journalists, it’s clear why they work so well together. They take dramatically different approaches to the job. Lois is an incredibly strong-willed reporter, ready to take every advantage and opportunity she can find in order discover the truth and get the story. There are few people in the DC Universe quite as determined as her, and anyone that encounters her knows it. Clark tends to find his opportunities by encouraging others to underestimate. His Midwestern politeness and soft spoken nature allow him to dig because nobody considers him a threat (something everyone knows about Lois).
These different strategies on reporting play to the strengths of both characters. While they’re dramatically different, they both get results and reveal similar values. That sort of career in superhero comics also tends to get people in trouble. While Clark’s out is pretty obvious, Lois regularly manages to extricate herself from rock-hard place scenarios as well. She just as willfully charges into the lion’s den, even though she knows that her skin is bulletproof.
You know who gets a supersonic wrist watch to alert Superman about trouble? It’s Jimmy Olsen. That’s because Jimmy regularly has to lean on Superman. The big blue boy scout is his friend, but he’s also his mentor and guardian. The relationship Superman and Lois share is very different. There’s no need for a watch because Superman never doubts that Lois is capable of taking care of herself, even if he still worries.
Clark Kent and Lois Lane are like the parallel bars of a basic two-pole tent. On their own they are strong, but that strength is additive. Together they help to support one another, even at a distance, and also create a space that will support others. Some might suggest that Superman is more like a tree trunk, while Lois is a standard pole in this metaphor, but they would be incredibly wrong. To suggest that physical dominance makes Superman stronger is to miss the point of his entire relationship with Lois. He loves her because he knows she is his equal, and she loves him because she knows the same. Differences, whether they are superpower or aspects of personality, don’t make them unequal, they make them stronger together.
That’s the takeaway for those of us who love this couple too. You know as well as I do that the power dynamics of any relationship are incredibly important to the health of that connection. No matter who you are with, there will always be differences in matters like personality and skills. These are contrasts that can both strengthen or harm a relationship. Acknowledging them, understanding them, and utilizing them are key to building a better connection. Understanding what your partner is capable of and respecting them as your equal, and receiving that same understanding and respect in turn is foundational.
It’s those aspects of understanding, respect, and love that make Lois Lane and Clark Kent the greatest couple in superhero comics. That’s where they find their power.