Man of Steel: Lois Lane

The relationship between Lois Lane and Superman is one of the most famed and beloved in all the history of media, resonating in modern minds with the same power as Romeo and Juliette or Hero and Leander. Man of Steel depicts a cinematic rendition of the relationship started with John Byrne’s comic book reboot of Superman from the 80s. This is now known as the “post-Crisis Superman” who is still in existence, though somewhat modified by the New 52, Flashpoint, and Rebirth continuities in the comics.

This is a husband and wife relationship that lacks much of the confusion and longing of the earlier comics, though has also inspired the majority of cinema outside of the Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh continuities. Lois and Clark with with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher incorporated much of this dynamic, and it completely inspired the Superman and Lois series starring Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch. So while some of the longing and loss of the stories of Hero and Leander or Abelard and Heloise have not been present in more recent Superman portrayals, they have done much to celebrate the power of marriage in the minds of the public.

Rather than just talk about marriage, however, I want to talk about something a bit more profound, so I will lave to leave to rest talk of comics and movies for a moment and delve into some ideas from religion and philosophy. In biblical and kabbalistic tradition, the male is seen as representing divinity and the power thereof, while the female is seen as representing the creation and the splendor thereof. In the act of copulation, the male (divinity) enters the female (the creation), and life is created. The act of the creation of life is a painful one for the female (the creation) with the annoyances of pregnancy and the absolute agony of the female (again, the creation) during childbirth, though the male, the divine, bears his own sort of agony as he watches and commiserates with his beloved through her most terrible of tribulations in order to achieve the greatest of all rewards: a child.

The millennia of understanding the relationship of man and woman this way go back to a story about King Solomon desiring a wife and her longing for a husband as well. It’s called the Song of Solomon in the Bible. There, graphic illustrations of sexual passion and vivid physical descriptions of breasts like melons and other portrayals have baffled clergy for century after century at how such a carnal depiction could make its way into a “holy” collection of scriptures.

As for the agony of creation, there are numerous references in the Torah and prophets.

For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor, anguish as of one giving birth to her first child, the cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands, “Woe is me! I am fainting before murderers.”

Jeremiah 4:31

This verse talks of the nation of Israel being attacked by the nation of Babylon in terms of the pain of a woman in labor. The nation of Israel itself represents the people of the divine, regardless of who they may be, and Babylon represents the confusion of humanity gone astray. That is, this war between two nations, actual human history, is a story with meaning, and this bit of human history is described by a prophet as agonizing, like a woman in labor. The New Testament carries this illustration consistently, but adds a happy end:

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

John 16:21-22

In this specific context, Jesus likens our lives of difficulty on earth with the travails of labor, exactly as Jeremiah has done, adding that after our lives of travail, we will only see the pain of it as a distant bad memory, and instead we will live lives of complete joy at that time. This concept is also present in the Jewish literature, but right now I am going to have to remind you that you are reading a draft. And I will request that if you know any rabbis interested in digging up the primary sources with me, give them my number. But for now, you’ll have to take it from a Galilean carpenter.

But all of this has been a whole lot of theology. Let’s talk superheroes. In the literature of religion, we basically have the idea of the relationship between man and woman as indicative of the relationship between God and humanity. In the Superman mythos, we have a picture of a relationship between a woman and a man, very vulnerable and human in many respects, who nevertheless possesses infinite physical power and a host of other abilities. This makes that divine/human relationship much more clear, and allows Man of Steel to say many things about it.

Of note, everything that I am going to say about Lois Lane in Man of Steel is also found in the Bible and the Jewish literature, of which the New Testament is a controversial part. Due to space constraints, it’s impractical to reference everything at this time. With that in mind, though, let’s talk about the story of Lois Lane.

Lois Lane is not afraid to look at things others don’t pay attention to and find the story in it. She actually went above the arctic circle looking for some kind of a mystery man, tracking a phantom stranger through Alaska and the Canadian north, and finally muzzling her way into a super-secret military base where soldiers were investigating an enigmatic structure buried deep under the ice. That’s how important discovering the truth was for her. When you read this, ask yourself, how important is finding God to you?

Lois Lane is a lot like Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s partner, in being a superhero who not only has no superpowers (Batman doesn’t have those either), but doesn’t even have gadgets, weapons, or a costume (which Batman has a lot of). She is a superhero that we can all all very easily aspire to be. She just won’t stop until she knows the truth. That in itself is almost a superpower, as most of us really have no time or energy or dedication to do such a thing. But Lois was absolutely intrigued by the possibility of the reality of some mysterious power from on high. For our part, we might think it is not too much to ask of someone who is interested in knowing about the divine to put some effort in.

Lois’ next superpower is one of rational perspective and keen insight that transcends initial and irrational instincts. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at how the two meet in Man of Steel. Now it is true that the first time Lois actually sees Superman, he is some random dude getting her bags off of a helicopter and carrying them behind her, seemingly not worthy of her attention. She doesn’t notice him precisely because he is just so normal. Likewise, when we actually encounter the divine, we don’t see the divine because we have been looking at it all along, but we never recognized the divinity of it. God is indistinguishable from a bellhop, essentially. But it’s not Lois’ first sight of Superman that is the most remarkable thing about their meeting. It’s his first words to her:

It’s alright! It’s alright! It’s alright! You’re hemorrhaging internally…and if I don’t cauterize the bleeding…I can do things other people can’t…now hold my hand. This is gonna hurt.

Kal-El, Man of Steel 40:52

The next thing that happens is that he burns holes into her abdomen with lasers from his eyes. Not only is this not the kind of thing we expect another human to say or do, but it’s also not what we expect God to say or do to us. We wouldn’t expect a human to say or do that because humans can’t fire laser beams from their eyes. We wouldn’t expect God to do that because, as we discussed in the chapter about Jonathan Kent and the Problem of Evil, we just have a hard time with an omnipotent and all-loving God hurting us.

However, Lois HAD seen Superman before. This was the helicopter bellhop who carried her bags. He didn’t harm her then, why would he now? He just told her he was going to stop her internal bleeding. This must be a good guy. That’s what we hear about God and think about God and expect from God. And Lois had faith. She trusted him when he said she was having problems, and she trusted him when he said he could fix them. Surely some advanced medical procedure was available. We think that too. If we get far enough to admit we have problems that need fixing, the next step is to trust God to fix them. What then with all the pain and suffering that comes afterward? What about those lasers from them there eyes burning into my flesh, dear God?

That’s quite a question. When talking about Jonathan Kent we said these things were necessary and that the deliverance from them can only come in the right way and at the right time if it is going to have maximum effect. Here I want to accent another point.

If we are to live forever as perfect beings in a perfect world, we must know what pain and suffering are, so that we have the experience required to be able to avoid anything that would cause pain and suffering in the next world. And further, we must develop the confidence that just because bad things happened in the past, this doesn’t mean that bad things have to happen in the future. We have to have faith that God can do nothing but good to us there, even after allowing bad things to happen to us here.

Lois had the ability to trust that Superman was going to make her okay, even though her deliverance came in a very painful way that she did not expect. She developed the confidence that what Superman was doing was for her benefit, even though sometimes it hurt.

It isn’t because of a flashy costume or a set of superpowers that we recognize that Lois is a superhero. We recognize this because she wouldn’t let anything stop her from seeking the truth, and she was able to recognize the good, even when hurting, and even when the good was burning holes into her flesh in order to save her.

One of Man of Steel’s unique contributions to the Superman canon of Lois Lane is in the uncanny resemblance of her initial encounter with Superman to the confusing, miserable, and painful first encounter that we have with the divine that we must see through and understand if we are to see the beauty of the truth that we are seeking.

Leave a Reply