Unless you’ve been on an extended vacation to the Planet Krypton, you’re probably aware that a new Superman movie is opening today. Man of Steel stars the dashing Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent and everyone’s favorite girl-next-door Amy Adams as Lois Lane. You can safely bet a large bucket of double buttered popcorn that I will have seen this movie before the end of the weekend.
For some time I’ve mistakenly considered myself a Superman fan. I say mistakenly because when you look at the facts, I’m really only a poseur. I have seen every Superman movie made, and I religiously watched every episode of both Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville. But I’ve never read a single Superman comic in my life.
To be honest, of all of the superheroes out there, I find Superman to be somewhat mundane. After all, he’s practically indestructible so there’s little risk to his personal safety when he undertakes his acts of derring-do. I never have any doubt he’ll save the day. He’s kind of a goody-goody. And I’ve never been fond of the gym-rat over-muscled physique. If pressed to name a favorite, my superhero of choice would be a toss up between Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man.
No, when it comes down to it, I’m a fan of the romance between Superman and Lois Lane. My favorite incarnations of the story are the ones in which Clark Kent is the real man, Superman is his hidden identity, and the focus is on his relationships with the ladies in his life rather than his efforts to save the world from destruction. When watching Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, I hit the fast forward button any time the action moves away from the will-they-or-won’t-they between Dean Cain’s Clark and Teri Hatcher’s Lois.
This realization about where my affection for Superman really lies actually makes a lot of sense given my love of all things romantic. While I think it’s safe to say that Superman as a form of genre entertainment would never be classified as a romance, it shamelessly exploits the tropes so often used in romance novels.
First, there’s the love triangle between Superman and Lois and Clark Kent. Ignoring for a minute the ridiculousness that is Superman’s Clark Kent disguise*, what a fantastic conflict. Lois loves Superman, who is really Clark Kent, who in turn loves Lois, who wants nothing to do with him. That’s right up there with brothers falling for the same girl as far as tragic circumstances.
*Seriously, Lois, you can’t tell the two men apart simply because Clark wears glasses whereas Superman doesn’t? This calls into question if not your intelligence at least your powers of perception, which leads me to wonder how you ever became such a world-renowned journalist.
A big portion of Lois and Superman’s love story revolves around Lois coming to terms with Superman’s super-ness. His job takes him away from home all of the time. His responsibilities are staggering. And let’s face it, how do you ever compete with a super-powered superhero and not end up with a major inferiority complex? Make Superman a Navy SEAL, a firefighter, a brain surgeon or a high powered business mogul and you could be reading about the hero in any number of contemporary Harlequin category lines.
And there’s the issue of the fact that, technically, Lois and Superman aren’t even the same species. He’s a Kryptonian. She’s a human. He’s got super strength and she doesn’t. If you’ve never read (or even heard of) the amusing 1971 essay by Larry Niven, Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, which discusses how the differences in physiology between Superman and Lois Lane makes consummation of their relationship almost impossible, it’s quite enlightening. Can you imagine the pure angst of Superman’s wanting so desperately to be with her but knowing that he can’t without endangering her very life? Move over Buffy and Angel, here is the doomed love for the ages.
So as much as the comic book fans and superhero purists might object, I say that we lovers of romance could very easily co-opt Superman and Lois Lane as examples of a romance genre super couple like Sam and Alyssa, Jamie and Claire, Eve and Rourke. We should feel no shame in admitting that we’re headed to the local Multi-Plex this weekend not because we want to see things get blown up, but because we want to know how smoking the chemistry will be between Henry Cavill and Amy Adams.
In the end, I feel it’s worth pointing out that for those who claim that the romance genre is a silly form of escapism entertainment only enjoyed by bored housewives and women with unfulfilled love lives, the very fact that Lois Lane exists at all is proof that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. From the very beginning – Action Comics #1, June 1938 – the creators of Superman gave him a woman to love, and every incarnation of the Superman story since then has included this romantic relationship. Supes and Lois have gotten married. They’ve mourned each other’s deaths. They’ve even had a child together.
Those are surely the makings of one fine romance novel.
– Jenna Harper