6) Lose the Love Story
In classic iterations, the relationship between Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Superman was relatively tangential to the larger adventure. The point of a Superman story was to showcase his battle for truth, justice, and the American way, not to linger on his frustrated sexuality. While certainly delivering the most earnest and believable portrayal of Superman on film, Richard Donnor also started an unfortunate trend in the character’s lore by focusing heavily on romance in 1978’s Superman.
It wasn’t downright terrible in that first film, which only devoted a couple of scenes to romance and otherwise remained focused on Superman’s crusade. However, Superman II dialed it up significantly, making romance the centerpiece of the narrative. At least then, it was leveraged properly to frame a conflict. Clark’s desire to abandon his role as Superman in order to take up with Lois collided against the clear and present danger of Kryptonian super-villains. He could not both have his love and protect her world. He had to choose. That was at least relevant to the genre.
However, future iterations took the loving too far. ABC’s weekly hour-long Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman conscientiously focused on romance in an attempt to net female viewers. It was far more of a soap opera than a super-hero tale, culminating in perhaps the second-worst decision in Superman’s narrative history (we’ll talk about the absolute worst later), the marriage of Lois and Clark. Unsurprisingly, the series didn’t last long beyond that union’s consummation. It turns out people liked the chase a lot more than the catch.
Surprisingly, the comics followed suit, marrying Lois and Clark mere months before his untimely “death” at the hands of a marauding juggernaut called Doomsday. But clearly, the comic writers regarded the marriage as a context in which to tell stories, not the story in and of itself.
Back on television, the long-running Smallville followed in the footsteps of Lois and Clark, focusing largely on a frustrated high school romance with Lana Lang. Romance was such a central aspect of the show that fans came to reference Clark and Lana collectively as Clana.
The worst offender came on the big screen in the form of Superman Returns. The film had no excuse to fail. Building off the established Donnor mythos and starting from an inspired premise, Singer’s tale of a Superman five years removed from his adopted home never delivered on its promise. The opportunity to explore why the world does or does not need a Superman was wholly squandered to wring hands over Lois’s new boyfriend, lay face in palm upon the reveal of a bastard child, and put down a run-of-the-mill cartoonish plot by the recently liberated Lex Luthor.
The problem with all this romance is not only that we don’t care. Superman shouldn’t either. He’s got better things to do. It is not a duty which drags him from what he wants, but the rational choice to pursue a greater value than romantic love. Ultimately, he can best serve Lois by keeping their relationship in the proper context. Want her? Yes. Yearn for her? Sure. But giving in to love as Superman is not an option. It’s like a teacher getting involved with a student or a therapist with his patient. Superman cannot properly be Superman and maintain that kind of relationship.
Losing the love story frees Lois up to be much more than a sexual prize. She becomes what she was in the old serials, an attractive journalistic rival working aloof alongside the story of the century. To Clark, she is both a threat and a temptation. To Superman, she is the personification of humanity at large — flawed, ambitious, courageous, and vulnerable. What he has to teach, she is often unwilling to learn. He loves her, not by succumbing to romantic impulse, but by continuing to patiently inspire.