Superman II 2.15: The Symposium

Okay, so we’ve currently got Clark Kent and Lois Lane locked up in a fuzzy pink honeymoon box, and we’re planning to keep them there until they make some progress on their relationship. It’s tough love, for sure, but they’ve spent more than forty years avoiding the obvious, and unless we do something about it, Lois is going to start throwing herself off of things again.

But this is a major turning point in the Superman/Lois relationship, and you can’t take that step lightly. In fact, in 1977 — a year before the first Superman movie was released — a panel of Superman writers, artists and editors were assembled to take part in a Super-Symposium.

It was such a big deal that they gave it four text pages in DC Special #5, asking the question: “SHOULD SUPERMAN MARRY LOIS LANE?”

On the whole, the answer was no. Of the ten people involved, only two of them said yes, and they happened to be the only women who participated, so that should give you some idea of how this is going to play out.

I’d say the most representative response comes from writer Len Wein:

Should Superman marry Lois Lane? I mulled the question over in my mind for quite a while, and the answer came back a resounding NO! After all, would the Lone Ranger marry Tonto? Would Starsky marry Hutch? Would Charlie Chan marry his number one Son? Of course not, at least not without destroying the very precepts each series is based on. Marry Superman to Lois Lane, and you take away almost 40 years of the great American mythos.

So that’s what happens when Len Wein mulls things over for a while; he thinks about gay incestuous Chinese love affairs. But this response gets right to the heart of the question: Is change inherently destructive? To Wein, changing the status quo after four decades would take years of the mythos and destroy the very precepts, which if I understood what that meant, I would probably disagree with it.

And he was far from alone. Here’s Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s response:

I don’t think it would be good for the longevity of the Superman comic books. Once the novelty of such a unique change in format wore off, we would be stuck with too drastic an alteration from the original and successful premise.

Now, I have to admit that “why mess with success” is a reasonable point of view — the current configuration of Superman, Lois, Perry and Jimmy had been successful in the comic book, the radio show and the television show, reaching a peak of popularity in the late 50s, and you screw with that kind of thing at your peril.

Still, over those four decades, they’d introduced a lot of lasting changes to the original premise, including Superboy, Supergirl, the Phantom Zone, the Fortress of Solitude and the Bottle City of Kandor, the development of Lex Luthor and other supervillains, and so on. In fact, during the 1970s, they made some highly-publicized changes like moving Clark and Lois from the Daily Planet to a TV station, and neutralizing Kryptonite (sort of). The 70s production team was open to making changes to the status quo… but not this one.

In fact, Denny O’Neil — the writer who came up with the “Kryptonite Nevermore” story arc — suddenly turned conservative when he was asked about marriage:

Superman marry Lois Lane? This is asked in jest, I hope. Look, Dante didn’t marry Beatrice and Cyrano didn’t marry Roxane and Troilus didn’t marry Cressida and that’s all to the good. Marriage has never been a part of the really major romances except for that of Othello and Desdemona, and as soon as they said the vows they began to have such troubles as you wouldn’t believe. Unrequited loves are the big crowd pleasers: they’re so wonderfully pristine and unmessy.

This appreciation of the unmessy is striking, because it’s the opposite of what a writer ought to want. If you have to generate four comic book stories about Superman plus multiple spin-offs every month until the end of human civilization, “messy” is exactly what you need more of. Mess generates story.

O’Neil’s comment about Othello and Desdemona is especially peculiar: “as soon as they said the vows they began to have such trouble as you wouldn’t believe.” That “trouble” that he refers to is called Othello; it’s the entire substance of the play. He seems to be concerned about whether the characters are happy or unhappy inside the story, which is not how this works.

Writer Gerry Conway had a similar worry, which he expressed in a confusing way that I don’t actually understand.

Let’s face it, if ever a relationship was doomed to failure, it’s the Clark-Lois-Superman triangle. The girl is just too suspicious, pushy and critical; ordinarily, in your average hysterical relationship, these traits might be an asset, but when you’re dealing with an orphan Kryptonian unsure of his own place in the world — forget it.

I mean, I probably understand the point that he’s trying to get across, which is that they’d be unhappy, but after the semicolon, I don’t understand a word that he’s saying. Being critical wouldn’t be an asset for dealing with an unsure orphan Kryptonian?

Len Wein got a bit cryptic as well: “Lois Lane married to Superman would very likely become Nancy and Sluggo in long blue underwear.” No clue.

But the main concern is that marriage is boring, and that being in a relationship with a woman reduces your masculine power. Two out of the ten respondents mention taking out the garbage as a mundane task that Superman couldn’t be expected to perform, and four of them specifically worried about a powerful alpha male raising children.

Here’s Siegel again, sneaking plot points from The Honeymooners:

Instead of Superman being primarily concerned with using his almost limitless abilities to help a troubled world, he would be diverted into worrying about such matters as if his baby needed to have its diaper changed, and hoping that his super-memory wouldn’t falter so that, God forbid, he might forget the wedding anniversary of Lois and himself.

And a new writer, Elizabeth Smith:

His world-saving propensities don’t allow scope for such mundane details as taking garbage out, remembering to buy stamps so that Lois can pay the bills, or even rising at 2 A.M. to feed the kid.

Artist Curt Swan also worries about the wedded state’s constraints on male freedom:

Marriage conjures up visions of domesticity, children, installment buying, mortage, etc. — rather mundane complications that are all too familiar to most of us. Better Superman/Clark Kent should have the freedom to swing around the world and the universe. And how nice to relate to the opposite sex without the shackles of marital vows!

So, obviously, this is about sexism. A man who gets shackled by marital vows has to interact with lady stuff like anniversaries and babies, which is demeaning and mundane, and dilutes his power.

For his part, former editor Mort Weisinger heads straight for the sad old maid stereotype, as (not actually) embodied by the Mary Tyler Moore show.

What does the future hold for Lois if we let her follow the Mary Tyler Moore spinster syndrome? Is she doomed to seeing all her girl friends getting married off, eating TV dinners by herself and watching the late show?

Weisinger proposes a separate Mr. and Mrs. Superman comic that presumably would take place on a parallel Earth, but when he talks about the core continuity, he doubles down on the tragic spinster joke:

Those opposed to this concept can continue reading the current group of magazines, where they can enjoy the sight of gradually seeing Lois’ looks fade, wrinkles crevice her face, using spectacles to help her vision and guzzling Geritol to give her vim. They can also look forward to seeing Lois pull out her grey hair when she recalls all the dreamboat suitors she jilted while waiting in vain for that super-bum to propose.

So that’s depressing. But hey, I think Curt Swan might be on to something:

Now, if Superman/Clark Kent appeared on a TV soap opera, there would be no problem! You could dissolve the relationship in any number of ways without incurring the wrath of many “good” people.

I mean, once again, I have no idea what that second sentence means; this topic seems to shake these professional writers to such an extent that they lose control of their syntax.

But the idea that Superman is taking part in a soap opera is actually the correct answer. Superman comics are an example of long-running serialized narrative, and they’ve been most successful when the creators have stopped trying to constantly reset the status quo at the end of every issue, and just let plot points accrue.

Lois and Clark did eventually get married in 1996, and it turns out that the idea of Superman raising a child has been incredibly story-productive. Since the Convergence storyline started in 2015, they’ve generated years of story about Jonathan Kent’s childhood and teenage years, and now — thanks to the magic of soap opera rapid aging syndrome — he’s old enough to star in his own book.

Far from destroying the foundation of the Superman story, giving the characters room to grow actually enriches the franchise, and keeps the story from getting stuck in plot structures and societal attitudes from the 1940s. If this is going to remain a meaningful story, then meaningful things need to happen.

So that’s the uncertain place that Superman II inhabits. The movie isn’t tied to the comic book continuity, and the filmmakers are free to mess with the very precepts, if they want to. The choices that they’re going to make over the next sixty minutes about Superman and Lois’ relationship will have a huge impact on the future of the Superman movies, and the history of superhero movies as a whole. To find out what happens, tune in next week for another thrilling episode!

Monday:
Lois gets a clue in
2.16: The Fall of Man


Footnotes:

If you’re curious, here’s how the symposium turned out:

  • Jerry Siegel: No, because it’s too drastic a change.
  • Martin Pasko: No, because Lois told him that she doesn’t want to.
  • Mort Weisinger: Yes, but only in a new comic set in a different universe.
  • Denny O’Neil: Hard pass, because of Troilus and Cressida.
  • Len Wein: Resounding NO!
  • Cary Bates: Sarcastic joke about Hell freezing over.
  • Elizabeth M. Smith: Yes, but only if it’s Clark and not Superman.
  • Gerry Conway: Hard no, because of Lois’ personality.
  • Curt Swan: Firm negative.
  • Beth Montelone (prolific letter writer): Yes, the time has come.

Then the piece ends, “Wouldn’t you know a woman would have the last word on the subject?” which is so depressing that I can’t even deal with it.

Monday:
Lois gets a clue in
2.16: The Fall of Man

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

29 thoughts on “Superman II 2.15: The Symposium

  1. A year after the Super-Symposium, Mort Weisinger’s idea was brought to fruition with the marriage of the Earth-2 Superman and Lois, who then went on to star in the strip “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” in THE SUPERMAN FAMILY for the next few years.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. A Superman question for the ages!
    Before the original Crisis, weren’t the Earth 2 (Golden Age) Superman and Lois married (and possibly trying to coax the Earth 1 into doing the same? 🤔

    Liked by 3 people

      1. And for the second part of your question, the GA Superman did indeed try to talk “our” Superman into doing the same. I think it happened in DC Comics Presents Annual #1, but it might have been at a JLA/JSA team-up. Or possibly multiple times.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. The success the comics have had in recent decades with stories about Lois and Clark/ Superman/ Kal-El being married to each other may not tell us much about what decisions they should have made in 1977. In those days, DC was still aiming its superhero books squarely at an audience of boys aged 8-13. I really can’t imagine that readership taking any more interest in stories about married life than they would in stories about Charlie Chan sexually abusing Number One Son.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Superman was DC’s lead character so were they more worried about his marriage to an icky girl than they were about the other characters? What was their thinking about other married heroes? By this time, you had Flash and Iris, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Aquaman and Mera, Elongated Man and Sue, and Atom and Jean, if not more, who were all married. Was it okay because they were second- or third-stringers?

      Over at Marvel there were Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, who certainly still had their share of romantic drama even with a kid. But maybe because they were already the “dad and mom” of the FF, it made more sense?

      I guess the best analogy was when Spider-Man married Mary Jane with all the resistance to Marvel’s lead character getting tied down. It just seems if you’re going to have romantic relationships in comics and expect the boys to be interested, would they be that less interested in it culminating in marriage?

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I’d say those characters being second or third stringers was key. Not only doesn’t it matter so much if you have to retire him for a year or two to reset from a mistake, but if the longest story you’re going to have him lead is an eight page backup you can easily drop any elements the fans don’t like.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think it’s basically that, plus, traditionally, stories always end with marriage. They Lived Happily Ever After, Shut Up, basically.

        As the comics multiplied and storylines got more sophisticated, the writers realized what soap creators, as Danny points out, had always known–you can’t tease forever. Either a couple gets married or one of them has to die (and come back later during sweeps, of course.) It’s easier to do a love story with second stringers because you can dip in and out of their story line without making the audience feel like you’re stalling, and when you wrap things up with a wedding, okay, fine. You just drop them for a while and maybe bring them back a year later for some big “we all must face this threat together” type thing.

        But with Superman, especially, it’s tough. He’s a both the virgin and the god, and losing the former means losing the latter (ironically, that’s the position usually occupied by women in mythology.) He, clearly in this symposium’s eyes, would be reduced to less than nothing by marriage.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. THE FANTASTIC FOUR was a major seller (probably more popular than Superman by this point) and Reed and Sue were married.

      I thought Peter Parker getting married wasn’t story productive because he often had lots of different girlfriends. (However, MJ has become his sort of “Lois Lane,” certainly in the eyes of the public.)

      Superman didn’t seriously date other women other than Lois Lane so you didn’t cut off any story opportunities if they were married. Also, Clark and Lois were rarely written as traditional 20somethings (even though John Byrne, for instance, insisted that they were under 30).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. But by the early 60s, Marvel’s growth was already among teenagers and girls, while DC was still tightly focused on turning out a product that tween boys would enjoy. They would try to broaden their appeal as the years went on, but Superman was still meant primarily for boys aged 8-13 right up to the Crisis.

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  4. I fell off my chair laughing at the opening paragraph. I can’t wait to see your therapeutic guidance for other superhero families, Danny!

    “the only women who participated”
    I’m sure the feminist-minded symposium organizers got a good sample here, with both a dame and a broad.

    “over those four decades, they’d introduced a lot of lasting changes”
    Yes, but a Super-fellow can put up with anything at work. Now we’re talking about messing with his personal life. Can’t a hard working guy fly home to his girlfriend, without any of that nagging pressure every 40 years about Where Is This Going, Honey?

    “after the semicolon, I don’t understand a word that he’s saying.”
    It’s a straight thing, don’t worry about it.

    I see that Lois is a girl who wants all the usual traditions. Cut the cake, adopt a secret identity, sign a pledge with Mephistopheles.

    “taking out the garbage”
    Um, he’ll just incinerate it, y’know?
    Anyway, they won’t need a super-mortgage. Between three generations of the G.I. Bill for helping the Army, plus the down payment credit for immigrant orphans of lost planets, plus squeezing some diamonds now and then, the place will paid off before you know it.

    “Superman is taking part in a soap opera”
    Sure! There are enough buses out of Metropolis to get rid of any characters you don’t need any more.

    Both Donnor and Lester versions of this movie show that Lois is nobody’s fool. Now that’s the kind of respectful, equality of the sexes treatment we like, for our girl reporters with moxie.

    Like

    1. Hey, I saw your message but I don’t have your email address, so I’m responding here. I think your posts automatically go into the moderation queue because they’re so long 🙂 — not a problem for me, but if I forget to clear the queue then it might take a minute.

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  5. One thing we learned from the Dark Shadows blog is that you must keep tinkering with your serial narrative if you want to survive. You can always hit the reset button for unpopular changes; it’s even easier in comics than in soaps because it doesn’t have to be remotely plausible.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Would it have helped the relationship if it were revealed that Lois Lane was, in fact, a secret identity for a superhero(ine)?
    I’ll assume that since I thought of that, it had already been written as a storyline… probably in Lois Lane comics?
    Personally, I just don’t see their marriage working out. Too many things could go wrong; I mean look at the trouble Lois gets up to with them NOT married!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks to the other commenters for helping me take a closer look at this. Gotta wonder about the people making stories for 8-13 year old boys, whose first thoughts when asked about marriage turn to gay incestous Chinese love affairs…

    or epic, enduring mythology stories like their comic books sure ain’t…
    assumptions that MOST relationships feature hysterical, pushy, critical women, and that’s a good thing…

    that being a good family provider and caring Daddy emasculates a man…
    how many “good” people would prefer to see a marriage between hero and heroine broken up any number of ways…

    critique that Mary Tyler Moore is about the unhappiness of spinsterism…
    “knowing” that a mere woman can’t be trusted with a big man’s big secret. (No, not what’s under his superhero suit; that he has it under his business suit.).

    All of this decades before there was any Manosphere.
    And this is for what’s supposed to be the wholesome, innocent stories!

    Maybe the Comics Code Authority was right, these wackos have gotta be reigned in before they’re too corrupting on the youth.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think the answer depends on your intended audience. If it was 8 to 13 year old boys, then they probably couldn’t have cared less. If they wanted to attract more female readers, I think the answer should have been to give Lois superpowers too. Surely she could have gotten herself bitten by a radioactive snake or pelted by some kind of ray while investigating a mad scientist or something. I was (marginally) more interested in the Fantastic Four because there was a woman in the group, even if Thing was the most interesting character.
    For tv and movies the will they/won’t they trope has fueled probably thousands of stories and probably always will. Mostly, settling that question is the kiss of death for a series. A happy married life is lovely to live but not interesting to watch. “Lois and Clark” ended the season they wed. “Superman and Lois” has gotten around that by giving them teenage sons so there’s drama without having to break up Lois and Superman. As far as the comic, if I had still been a teenage girl in 1977, I probably would have loved to hear that Lois and Clark were getting married (finally!) but it wouldn’t have made me buy the issue.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Interesting how clearly these participants saw marriage as a slow, grinding rut to the grave–nothing but diapers and taking out the trash. It never occurs to them that a partnership with Superman and Lois could be anything but a renunciation, on both their parts, of everything that makes life worth reading about in a comic book.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Right!! Exactly! Those symposium guys who are talking about Superman worrying about changing diapers and forgetting their wedding anniversary… OH FOR HEAVEN;’S SAKE, YOU IDIOTS. Obviously Superman would change diapers at super-speed, hurl the garbage (except recyclables) into the sun to avoid contributing to landfills, and retain his super-memory about everything related to his and Lois’s love. These foolish men are assuming comic-book marriage can only take the form of the comic stereotypes.

    I wanna read all the stories tantalizing me in the illustrations!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. It’s been so long since I’ve read Nancy that I barely remember the dynamic with Sluggo. But I’m not sure how a childhood romance applies….

    Maybe the writers had to grow up a bit past the sexism of the 70s to get the dynamic right, making marriage and a kid a plot driver instead of the moment Superman jumped the shark. In the “olden” days, getting a couple together seemed to ruin all the plot tension–so Sam never ended up with Diane, etc. etc.

    Incidentally, I just went looking for some images from the 50s Superman TV show. I remember watching that back in the 70s. Lois and Superman both seemed very old for the characters–middle-aged, really. I wondered if that’s because I was under 10 and everybody above 20 looked ancient. Well…Their Wikipedia pages say they were all about 30ish (even Jimmy), but they still looked significantly older than that. Was it they way they did their hair and makeup? The old fashioned filming effects?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nyssa, as a kid I also thought that the 1950’s TV show had a Superman in his mid 40’s. He seemed well established in his dual careers as a reporter and as Superman, with a cast well past “young adult.”

      Just now looked it up. George Reeves as Superman was in his mid 40’s (born 1914), Noel Neill as Lois in her early 30’s (born 1920), Phyllis Coates as the original Lois a few years younger (born 1927). John Hamilton (born 1887) as Perry White in his mid 60’s, I would have guessed he was a bit younger than that. Jack Larson’s Jimmy in his mid 20’s (born 1928), so out of college with a few years at the Planet before the show. “The kid” in the newsroom, but well past “office boy/cub reporter” status.

      The Wikipedia entry for “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” makes me glad Lester didn’t do anything with Jimmy. Weird wacky stuff, selling half a million copies each month!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wasn’t it Jerry Siegel who made Superman – in a critical situation – tell Lois Lane his secret and propose? And after that telling the editor that it was time to end the comic?

    Editor said no and the story was changed.

    I have atleast read this in a serious magazine for comic fans.
    If it was Jerry Siegel, it wasnt strange that he’d changed his mind in the 70s.

    Like

  13. I liked the idea of the married Lois being able to cover with an excuse when Clark suddenly runs off. Especially when she can make it embarrassing like the time when she told everyone that Clark needed the bathroom and had to rush home because he hated public toilets.

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  14. I became a Superman fan in the 2000s and to me, the fact that Clark and Lois *are* married to each other is a pretty essential part of what makes Superman Superman. There partnership is a lot of fun to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Re: taking out the trash, I’m baffled by what the writers thought Clark Kent already was doing when his garbage piled up. If bachelors don’t have to take the trash out and do other mundane things like mowing the lawn, it’s news to me! Fortunately, Superman seems to live in a city apartment with no lawn, so at least he only has to worry about such mundane chores as buying groceries, sweeping the floor, paying bills, shopping for clothes… you know, all the stuff that a wife would help him do if he was married. But heaven forbid he get married, that would only drag him down!

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