The first date between Clark Kent and Lois Lane goes all the way back to the debut of Superman himself in the pages of Action Comics #1. About midway through the story, shortly after Clark lands a job at the Daily Star, Lois is unceremoniously introduced. All in a single panel, a stuttering, seemingly nervous Kent asks a His Girl Friday type, “W-what do you say to a – er – date tonight, Lois?” with the bullpen belle replying, “I suppose I’ll give you a break… for a change.” The implication is that, mere weeks or even days into his tenure at the Star, Clark has proven persistent in pestering her for a romantic evening out, his success more due to attrition than any attraction on Lois’ part. The very next panel skips directly to their date, progressing poorly by all indications. Schuster’s art is crude, limited by the paper quality and printing technology of the time, but even so the panel evidences a wistful look in Lois eyes, glancing away to avoid Clark’s, wishing to be anywhere else but beside the bespectacled bore. Clark inquires why she seems to avoid him at the office, and she curtly retorts, “I’ve been scribbling ‘sob-stories’ all day long. Don’t ask me dish to out another.”
Action Comics #973 (DC Comics)
What follows is the prototypal tale from which all love triangles involving superheroes and their own secret identities would soon follow. In a scene reminiscent of the Charles Atlas ads that would one day litter the back covers of comics, a large, lumbering lout parts the secretly-guised strongman from his would-be paramour. In order to maintain his double life, Clark cuckishly consents to this interjection, leaving Lois to fend off the brutish Butch herself. With that, the first date of comics’ first couple is quickly called off as Lois storms out on Clark. Predictably, Butch abducts Lois, jawing “What burns me is that I let her yellow boy friend off so easy.” When an accomplice suggests the two may meet again, he potently pronounces, “Then I hope it will be soon,” even as Superman awaits him in the very next panel, doing what Clark cannot by coming dramatically to the rescue. Thus the paradigm is set of Clark pining for Lois and Lois for Superman, ironically unawares a la Much Ado About Nothing. Per Morrison’s Supergods, “As both Siegel and Shuster had learned, to their cost, some girls prefer bounding heroic warriors to skinny men who wrote or drew pretty pictures.”
Rarely was this two-person love triangle ever as engaging as the early Golden Age dynamic shared by Lois and Clark. Come the Silver Age, their relationship had devolved into a series of outlandish shenanigans revolving around Lois single-mindedly focused on exposing Superman’s secret identity and Clark concerned only with maintaining a dual life that served little purpose in the face of Lois’ constant accusations. By the Modern Age, Byrne had reconciled Lois and Clark, the latter sharing his secret at last, with the two wed soon after. The early years of the Postmodern Age further removed readers from the fun of that first melodramatic ménage à trois, making them mere colleagues, content to remain friends and nothing more. But as superfluous as the New 52 rendered Lois’ role in Superman stories – nothing more than a heterosocial Jimmy Olsen – Convergence was even more of a death knell for any real romance between them, besetting upon them matrimony and parenthood.
Thus, as critical as I’ve been regarding the rest of Jurgens’ run on Action Comics, I nevertheless need to credit him as truly revitalizing the interplay between the characters of Lois and Clark/Superman in a novel and fascinating manner. Whereas the reader knew from the first pages of Action Comics #1 that Clark was merely Superman in disguise, Jurgens has kept fans in suspense over the true identity of the current Clark Kent for over fifteen issues now, with the mystery only deepening with this latest installment. By making what was a two-person love triangle into a three person one all while keeping only the same characters involved, Jurgens recaptures the thick ironies which made the Golden Age dynamic work so well. Lois ought to be attracted the man propositioning her for a date, given that he’s an exact match for the man she does love, right down to the fingerprints and retinal pattern, but at the same time it’s the uncanniness of such semblance she finds so unsettling. Like Lois in the late ‘30s, she’s loathe to accept a date from Clark, but for entirely opposite reasons. If her colleague at the Daily Star reminded her too little of Superman, her coworker at the Daily Planet reminds her of him too much.
The prospect of Lois and Clark having the second first date – a mere 973 issues after their seminal first first date – imbibes Jurgens’ Action run with some much-needed excitement. His recent “Men of Steel” arc was instantly forgettable, but the continuing saga of the seemingly human second Clark Kent is a contribution to the Superman mythos that is genuinely inspired and sure to leave a lasting legacy.