How Superwoman betrayed fans of Lois Lane

Several months ago, when DC Comics announced another soft relaunch of their continuity, I was actually pretty excited. I’ve only been a comics reader for a few years, not even long enough to remember a time before the New 52, but even I knew that there were things about this most recent DC Universe that weren’t quite working. As the year dragged on and announcements about this relaunch — now called Rebirth — continued, my excitement only grew. Dick Grayson was Nightwing again, Cass Cain and Stephanie Brown were back, Hope Larson had been hired to write Batgirl, and the title that had gotten me into comics was being relaunched as Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. They even announced a brand-new female superhero named Superwoman, and a few weeks later confirmed speculation that this new hero was in fact, a newly super Lois Lane. I have never been so excited by an announcement or felt so utterly betrayed by the result.

Superwoman: Rebirth was one of the first books I placed on my new subscription list when the titles were announced. I’d had to cut back on my monthly comics due to the expense, but I kept the essentials, and a solo Lois book was an essential. But when the August release of Issue #1 came around, the buzz on the internet made my heart sink. When I got out of work I drove to my comic shop, picked up my comics and read.

There are some very confusing things happening in the Rebirth storyline that you sort of have to just accept and get past if you aren’t reading ALL of the major books. In the case of Superwoman, the big points are that in the events preceding the first issue the New 52 Superman has been killed (there’s a second set of Superman/Lois Lane from before Flashpoint roaming around) and in that event Lois has been given his powers. The first issue of Superwoman finds Lois seeking help to understand and hone her new abilities from the person who helped Clark understand his: Lana Lang. This version of Lana is different than previous as well, having lost her entire family, and now Clark. 

The first red flag should have been the fact that the story is told from Lana’s point of view. The second should have been when it is revealed that Lois isn’t the only one who was given brand-new powers when Superman died. Lana also has powers, making her something a bit like Superman Red. 

The narrative flips between scenes of Lana and Lois training and Lana and Lois saving a boat and bridge full of innocents. Lana is reluctant to team up with Lois, who feels a sense of responsibility in her powers, but ultimately she gives into Lois’ insistence that they become Superwomen. The story was surprising, a little dark and cynical with a twinge of hope toward the end.

And then you turn the final page and Lois Lane is killed, disintegrating into a pile of ash.

At first, I was confused. Then I was angry.

I’ve been a Lois Lane fan for almost as long as I can remember, ages before I ever picked up a Superman comic book. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman premiered on ABC when I was 4 years old, with Teri Hatcher donning Lois’ pen and press pass. It’s been at least a decade since I revisited the show, and while I can’t remember the specifics of any individual episode, I remember looking up to Lois as a kid. When I told people I wanted to be a reporter (my “what I want to be when I grow up” changed almost monthly), it was Lois I wanted to emulate. She was fearless, and maybe a little too daring for her own good, but she stood her ground, got her story and helped people. Plus, she was friends with superheroes and she got to work with Jimmy Olsen, who was my childhood crush (nerds are hot, people).

Lois’ reputation for being a no-nonsense reporter out to get her scoop, consequences be damned, goes all the way back to her earliest beginnings in the very first issue of Action Comics in 1938. She fought her way to the front page of the Daily Planet and became a formidable character in the Superman titles for decades, but she was always second fiddle to the Man of Steel. Even when she got her own title, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, in 1958, the stories were still ultimately about Superman’s heroics.

Superman’s Girlfriend ended in 1974 and in the intervening 42 years Lois has never again been given her own solo title. She had a short-lived arc during the Flashpoint event, and a One Shot in both 1998 (as part of the Girlfrenzy series) and 2014, but a long-running Lois title has remained the elusive white whale of Lane fans.

Which brings us to August 2016, and to the utter betrayal I felt personally as a Lois fan staring at that final panel in Superwoman #1. Had they really just killed off Lois Lane? Obviously, they hadn’t killed off the Lois Lane because they’d made a point to have copies of both Superman and Lois roaming about in the world (probably expressly for this purpose), but I had been told by DC Comics that Superwoman was about Lois Lane. It was the reason I bought the book, the reason I was excited to read a brand new hero from DC Comics for the first time. Surely they hadn’t sold me a Lana Lang story by telling me I was buying a Lois story. That would just be cruel. 

Lois’ death was ambiguous enough in that final panel to give me hope enough to stick it out one more issue, just to see if somehow she wasn’t dead, that this would turn out to be a team book after all. But when Issue #2 came out, Lois did not rise up from those ashes. She blew away, taking any desire I had to continue reading the series along with her.

The fact that Superwoman feels, to me, like a terrible bait and switch played on fans of Lois Lane is only the tip of my disappointment iceberg when it comes to Superwoman. Perhaps the largest piece, hiding just under the surface of my fandom-induced rage, is that the first issue was good. Right up until the point where the entire reason I’d bought the comic was violently killed off, the actual concept of the story was interesting, perhaps even more so than a straight Lois-as-superhero book. Lois and Lana have had a long and unfortunate history. Lana was created to be Lois’ romantic rival, and they’ve been such for decades. Superwoman presented us with an opportunity to see these two characters, who still didn’t really like each other very much, work together. Their relationship in just the first issue was so compelling that I was actually excited for the book to focus on more than just Lois. I was on board for a book about Lois and Lana teaming up to smash through the boxes they’ve been trapped in since the 50s. I didn’t sign up for a solo story about Lana Lang, as much as she’s been underserved in the past.

And therein is the problem DC is likely to face with this book going forward. Fans who came to the book looking for a Lois Lane solo series are likely to stop reading it now that the character has been killed off, especially since the second issue wasn’t nearly as compelling a story as the first. Due to the ongoing weirdness of the Rebirth storylines, there’s always the chance that they plan to bring Lois back at some point, but by that point, Lois fans won’t be around to see it, and it will be hard to get them back.

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