Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Lois Lane and the Circus of Crime: two short posts, combined

“Half a Superman” in Action #290 (writer unknown, art by Curt Swan) demonstrates that as much as the Silver Age liked to humiliate and mock Lois Lane, she was never “galactically stupid.”

Lois’s endless unsuccessful efforts to prove Clark Kent was Superman never worked out well for her: Superman always outwitted Lois and left her doubting her instincts. The stories are written for humor, with Lois always the butt of the joke. But as others have pointed out over the years, the stories also show what a good, smart reporter Lois is. Jimmy and Perry, in this issue and others, think it’s just hi-larious that Lois imagines Clark could be Superman. Chicks and their crazy ideas, amiright? Only they’re wrong and Lois is dead right.

In this story, Lois doubts her instincts after she sees Clark show up with a scratch on the left side of his neck— if he’s Superman, how would that be possible? Then she notices that Superman is going out of his way to avoid doing anything super with the left side of his body. Doesn’t lift anything. Doesn’t touch red-hot metal. Hmm, is it possible he’s become — half a Superman?

Superman, of course, convinces Lois she’s completely wrong. The fact remains, she put it together when nobody else did. And before long, she’ll overcome her doubts and be back on the scent. No matter how hard the writers worked to make her look silly, the smart, unstoppable reporter was always there, unacknowledged.

***

I reread 1962’s “Half a Superman” as part of my ongoing reread of the Silver Age. Reaching 1962 means I’ve reached the point at which Stan Lee returned superheroes to Marvel and transformed the industry. It’s been a bit of a disappointment. Not that I turn up my nose at Fantastic Four or Spider-Man (Hulk and Ant-Man, maybe), it’s just that I can’t feel the seismic impact they had when they were fresh. Marvel’s storytelling style is so familiar now that the Silver Age stuff no longer feels groundbreaking. That’s what happens to a lot of trailblazers, of course, so it’s not Lee and Kirby’s fault.

One thing that does jump out at me checking out Marvel’s 1962 monthly output at Mike’s Amazing World is that Stan really was overworked. John Morrow’s Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said details how Stan Lee seized on the Marvel method because Martin Goodman kept staff costs as small as possible. That meant Lee had to write more than he could handle; his solution was to get the artists to do as much of the plotting as necessary. On top of which Lee recycled ideas rapidly. For instance in July 1962, the Hulk battled the Ringmaster and his criminal circus——while Kid Colt battled another criminal circus the same month. This one actually beat the Ringmaster to using Circus of Crime as a name (the Kid also fought a third Circus of Crime a couple of years later).In August, Tales of Suspense brought us the story of the man who accepted the challenge of Zarkorr—And the following month Thor faced Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man. No double R on the end, who’s going to notice the similarity? Not that this detracts from Lee’s accomplishments, but I still find it amusing.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Curt Swan, others by Jack Kirby.

7 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, that’s a good perspective/point about Lois. She was right all along, but was constantly being gaslighted by Clark/Superman – something we readers were/are supposed to think is funny, I guess.

    As for Marvel in the early ’60s, what you’re talking about really underscores how seat-of-the-pants the whole operation was. Lee was overstretched, so he came up with a way to cope with it and ensure that there was material to send to the printer on time – and then it was all mythologized later by Lee himself and others with the stories about the ‘Marvel method’, etc. (And, of course, on the other side, Lee was/is vilified by critics for his supposedly devious exploitation of the art staff…)

    1. Tim Hanley’s Investigating Lois Lane does a good job discussing how sexist the Silver Age creators were towards Lois. And yes, it was supposed to be funny.

      By the time I was aware of the Marvel method Lee was solidly in myth-making mode. It’s surprising to read earlier statements and see how open he was about the desperation aspect.

      While it wasn’t devious, the artists did get a raw deal — Marie Severin and the Hulk Annual for instance (https://www.cbr.com/hulk-annual-marie-severin-jim-steranko/)

        1. Brian Cronin keeps discussing the oddities of the Marvel method in his issue by issue reread of the Avengers, particularly when Don Heck (who never liked not having a script to work from) was the artist.
          The equivalent at DC is the “cover first story later” approach — sometimes it’s obvious the only reason for one scene is to justify the cover.

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