Superman III 4.13: The Girl Who Waited

She catches his eye, and for a moment, all Creation holds its breath. There’s a pretty girl in the room, and against all odds, she’s actually happy to lay eyes on Clark Kent.

A divorced mother scraping by as a secretary, friendly but lonely, pretty and vivacious and just mildly out of synch with the rest of the world, she stands out from the crowd of Smallville lifers. She dreams of the day when she can break out of this burg, and go be a divorced mother scraping by as a secretary in the big city.

She’s a fun character played by an adorable actress, and I have just one question: Who is this dame supposed to be, anyway? Because they keep calling her Lana Lang, and that can’t be right, because Lana Lang was Superman’s first and most formidable supervillain.

I’ll show you what I mean. Here’s her bone-chilling introduction the first time she appeared in the comics, in a 1950 issue of Superboy:

One of Superman’s biggest headaches today is Lois Lane, the girl reporter who always gets in his way, threatening to find out and reveal his secret identity as Clark Kent! But don’t think that, as a youth, Superboy didn’t have the same problem!

Yes, this little lass with a fatal curiosity is as pretty as Lois Lane… as inquisitive as Lois Lane… as harassing as Lois Lane… and even has the same initials as Lois Lane! She’s Lana Lang, young Clark’s next-door neighbor, who manages to get in the Boy of Steel’s hair wherever he turns, and whom you will get to know as… The Girl in Superboy’s Life!

So there you have it. Before Lex Luthor, before Brainiac, before the Toyman and the Prankster and the Ultra-Humanite — there was the Girl. In the early 50s, Superboy didn’t run into a lot of top-shelf villainy; he mostly dealt with chiselers and racketeers and practical jokers. The only baddie that posed an existential threat was his prying, scheming next-door neighbor, who had hair-getting-in powers like you wouldn’t believe.

If you’re going to give Superboy a solo title — essentially the 1950s comic-book equivalent of Muppet Babies — then it’s only a matter of time before you introduce the child version of Lois Lane. The character is an incredibly productive story-engine: smart, independent, entirely immune to warnings and obstacles. Add Lois to any Superman story, and it becomes more complex and interesting, especially if he needs to keep her from finding out that he’s Clark Kent.

So that’s what we’ve got here: a young Lois-figure, who lives next door and spends her days and nights plotting the downfall of Superboy.

In those early days, Lana found lots of ways to tangle herself into Superboy’s life. Her parents were African explorers, which is a thing that people used to be for a living, and she stayed at the Kents’ place sometimes while her parents were away, peering into corners and setting traps for Clark. She would be the victim of armed robbery, and the only thing that mattered to her was noting that Clark disappeared at the moment that Superboy rescued her. Making Clark’s life harder was her life’s ambition.

And when Lois got her own comic, it was only a matter of time before Lana showed up to ruin that too. Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane launched in 1958, and exactly a year later, a grown-up Lana moved to Metropolis to raise hell. Her first order of business — literally, the top of page 2 — was to blab about a special ring that Superboy gave her back in the day, just to screw with Lois.

Lana apparently became a TV newscaster in Metropolis, not that we ever saw her TV newscasting, because her real job was to make Lois worried and jealous. Lana got temporary super-powers on three different occasions over the next year, and the only thing she wanted to do with them was marry Superman. She swooped in when Lois turned into a baby, and swooped again when Lois was turned into an old woman. Lois could hardly turn into anything without dumb ol’ Lana Lang standing by to reap the rewards.

And then there was the time when Lana stole the Phantom Zone projector from the Fortress of Solitude, and trapped Lois in a shadowy invisible half-life prison with a bunch of Kryptonian criminals and Mon-El, apparently forever. Then she did the same thing to Superman’s mermaid friend, and finally held Superman himself at ray-gunpoint, ordering him to marry her.

Sure, it turned out that she was under the influence of a blue space metal that turns people evil when they touch it, but in my opinion it was, like, ninety percent Lana and ten percent blue space metal.

Really, the only way to deal with Lana was to give her another Superman to date, which they did in 1979. She had a relationship with a dude from another planet with magic powers named Vartox, who was based on Sean Connery’s costume in the 1974 film Zardoz.

Just to make sure that everyone got the point, in the story that first brought them together, Vartox was disguised as a human being who worked with Lana at the TV station. He had to go and patrol his own planet in the Sombrero Galaxy, but he came back about once a year in the Superman title to continue his romance with Lana, although she also had an ongoing let’s-go-to-dinner relationship with Clark at the same time.

So it’s not really possible to talk about the pre-Crisis Lana Lang as an individual character, because she was always defined by her similarities with Lois. As a child, she was the Lois-substitute, and as an adult, she was basically a mirror for Lois’ impulses and insecurities.

And then there’s the Lana Lang of Superman III, who is nothing like the comic book character. She’s pretty, she has red hair, and she knew Clark when he was growing up in Smallville, and that is the entire resemblance between them.

In the movie continuity, Clark didn’t gain his costume and superhero identity until he left Smallville; it’s presented as his rite of passage, which creates the boundary between teenager and adult. That means movie Lana doesn’t have any childhood relationship with Superboy, which was basically the comic book Lana’s entire personality.

And far from the suspicious and harassing Lana of old, movie Lana is entirely free from any notions that Clark and Superman might be the same person. Clark returns to Smallville for the first time in decades and all of a sudden there are Superman sightings; they even both show up to her picnic. But Lana pays no attention at all, and is happy to offer lunch to whichever dark-haired man from Metropolis happens to turn up at the time.

She’s not suspicious, she doesn’t scheme, and she doesn’t send anybody to the Phantom Zone — why, it’s almost like the movie has decided that women are not inherently villainous just by existing. I can’t imagine where they got that idea.

Tomorrow:
What about Brad?
4.14: King of the Prom


Footnotes:

This post makes reference to the following comic book stories:

  • Superboy #10 (Sept/Oct 1950): “The Girl in Superboy’s Life!”
  • Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #7 (Feb 1959): “The Girl Who Stole Superman”
  • Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #33 (May 1962): “The Phantom Lois Lane!”
  • Superman #150 (Jan 1962): “The Duel Over Superman!”
  • Action Comics #499 (Sept 1979): “As the World Turns… for the Last Time!”

Tomorrow:
What about Brad?
4.14: King of the Prom

Chapters

— Danny Horn

12 thoughts on “Superman III 4.13: The Girl Who Waited

  1. Wow, being the Girl Next Door used to take a lot more work! You had to stamp an S on your crush’s hand and lock him in a greenhouse that was designed to go up to two hundred degrees and kill all the plant life therein and then grow up and relentlessly harass a woman who has the temerity to date YOUR SUPERMAN. I mean, that is an investment–no wonder you barely saw her “career.” This woman does not have a career, she has a calling.

    And as a total aside, the bit where she sends Lois off to the Phantom Zone suddenly made me realize–Krypton may not exist, but the Kryptonians are not a lost race! There’s dozens of ’em hanging out in the Phantom Zone–it’s like outer space Australia. I bet any second now they start demanding autonomy and their own parliament!

    Liked by 8 people

  2. And how can we neglect Lana’s adventures as Insect Queen? She was given a ring by an alien she saved that would allow her to change into freaky human-insect hybrids. She even got honorary membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes because of it.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. The version of Lana Lang that I grew up seeing in the ’80s/’90s was a career woman who got out of Smallville through her own smarts and hard work and barely even thinks of her old friend Clark anymore. She usually enters the story almost by accident when she decides to say hi while passing through Metropolis, or even totally by accident when Superman runs into her while saving the day. I kind of like the idea of a trickster Lana who devotes all her brainpower to messing with Superboy/man and Lois, though this role leaves no room for being sympathetic or genuinely likeable (only ironically likeable, in the same sense that someone might like Mr. Mxyzptlk).

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I don’t remember Lana Lang every being a junior Lois Lane or being very interesting, for that matter, but I do remember she was retconned into a schoolmate who had a crush on him and learned about Clark having powers the day he left town.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I always wonder how much impact the films had on the post-COIE Superman books. As mentioned above, “Man of Steel” retconned Lana into a victim of some unintentional trauma inflicted by Clark when he revealed “hey, I’m a space god, I could have loved you, but now I gotta run”. And then she saw him years later as Superman while she was stuck in Smallville. I don’t think you get from Silver-Age Lana to this take without O’Toole playing a normal person and the creators pondering what knowing Superman – being his first love – would be like. Like all the eras of these characters, you kind of have to enjoy knowing all of them exist, and I kind of like obsessive-Lana and wish they’d folded *some* of that into Smallville.

    Liked by 2 people

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