Why Lois Lane Is The Most Important Supporting Character in Superhero Fiction

Midway through Superman’s first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics #1, Lois Lane needs help. A brute called Butch Matson has captured Lois and shoved her in his car, furious that she turned down his demand for a dance. But just as Butch boasts to his buddy about beating up Lois’s “yellow” boyfriend, who should appear but Superman himself. Superman smashes the car, sending the thugs flying while he gently sets Lois down in safety. 

Scenes like this would be repeated again and again in the decades of superhero fiction that followed. Most of the heroes who followed in the wake of Action #1 would come along with their own love interests, from Captain America and Betty Ross or the Flash and Joan Williams in the 1940s, all the way to the second Superman, Jon Kent, and his boyfriend, Jay Nakamura, today. Love interests immediately became a standard part of the genre, just as common as secret identities and evil arch-nemeses. 

While Lois Lane set the mold that so many others have followed, she was never restrained by it, a fact evident in her very first story, written by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. When Butch first storms onto the scene, he sees Lois dancing with Clark Kent at a fancy restaurant and demands a dance. In his guise as a mild-mannered reporter, Clark begs Lois to agree, but she’s not having it. “Why you!” she snaps and socks Butch on the chin before storming away. 

“Good for you, Lois,” whispers Clark under his breath. Before being called in for a spectacular rescue, before revealing his legendary shield insignia and billowing red cape, Superman is wowed by Lois Lane. She’s not just the pretty face who falls for this charming perfect man. She’s his hero, the type of person he hopes he would be if he didn’t have all these amazing powers. 

From Superman’s Girlfriend to Superman’s Inspiration

This relationship has been the defining feature of Lois Lane's stories, even when they fell into unfortunate tropes. Lois received her own ongoing comic in 1958 with Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, running for 139 issues up through 1974. 

At first glance, most of the stories in the book follow retrograde romance tropes, with Lois downplaying her status as a respected reporter and making marriage to Superman her life’s goal. She tussled with her rival, Clark’s high school girlfriend Lana Lang, and embarked on ridiculous plots to win Superman’s hand in marriage, only to be outsmarted at the last second. 

But even there, Lois Lane was the driver of her stories. She knew what she wanted and went for it, with confidence and determination. 

That quality has been the defining element of Lois’s interactions with Superman, especially in other media. In the first Superman movie Superman and the Mole Man (1951), Lois (Phyllis Coates) courageously stands beside the bed of an injured alien, seeing through his recovery while Superman deals with the angry mob outside. In the current television series Superman & Lois, Bitsie Tulloch’s Lois boldly investigates Intergang leader Bruno Mannheim, unconcerned about the danger it presents to herself. 

superman and lois lane
Image Credit: Lippert Pictures.

Of course, many of these escapades end with Lois getting into deep trouble and needing rescue. In fact, so common were these rescue plots that the finale episode of the 90s romantic sitcom Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman featured an adoption agency that refused to give them a child, citing Lois’s frequent scrapes with death. 

Funny as it is, the plot development reveals a key aspect of Lois’s relationship with Superman. She doesn’t wait around for him to save her, nor does she sit back after he flies in to fix everything. She keeps fighting the good fight, doing the right thing with even more bravery because of her powerful ally. Lois remains an active participant in these stories, never a damsel in distress. 

This Looks Like a Job for… Lois Lane

Because of this active quality, writers can tell stories about Lois that can rarely be told about other types of supporting characters, namely tales in which she saves Superman. In addition to countless examples of Lois saving the day in the comics, we see this in Superman: The Animated Series, where Dana Delany voices a fiery Lois who solves the apparent murder of Clark Kent, something Superman couldn’t do without exposing his identity. For all of the mockery it (rightly) earns, the “Why did you say that name?” scene in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice builds to Lois (Amy Adams) stopping the fight between the titular heroes, thus thwarting Lex Luthor’s plan.

amy adams batman v superman lois lane
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

As impressive as all of these performances certainly are, none embody these characteristics better than Margot Kidder, who played the definitive Lois Lane in four movies starring Christopher Reeve as Superman. Reeve earns praise for his dual performance as the powerful Superman and the fumbling Clark Kent, and with good reason. But it’s Kidder’s Lois who makes you believe that the man who has everything, this all-powerful alien, would fall for a city reporter. 

We see that chemistry in the duo’s first real scene together, midway through 1978’s Superman. Rushing out to get a story about Air Force One, Lois boards a chopper that immediately malfunctions, leaving her dangling over the side of a building. As soon as she loses grip and starts to fall, Superman arrives and plucks her out of the air. 

“Don’t worry, miss, I’ve got you,” he confidently says. 

“You’ve got me?” Lois asks in disbelief. “Who’s got you?”

As delightful as this sequence certainly is, it’s more important for change in the movie's tone. Until now, we’ve watched Clark growing up in Smallville, hiding his powers to avoid scaring others. But after seeing Lois’s bravery in action, Clark no longer hides. After rescuing Lois, Superman goes on a series of good deeds, from stopping a robbery to rescuing a kitten, all set to John Williams’s triumphant score. 

In this scene, as in so many others, Lois Lane gives Superman the strength to be a hero. By bravely waging her own never-ending battle for truth and justice without the benefits of super-strength or invulnerability, Lois Lane inspires Superman to fight his own.