“Comics today are too violent! They don’t make any sense! Give me the good ol’ Silver Age days when comic books were just simple, uplifting easy to understand entertainment!” If you’re a comic book fan and you’ve spent any time online over the past couple of decades, then you’ve undoubtedly seen this type of argument from aging fanboys such as myself. But have you ever looked for yourself? Nostalgia can be an insidious mistress. She loves to mess with one’s mind and make the past look rosier than it ever really was. In nearly EVERY case.
Let’s take a look at a typical Silver Age story, shall we? Just a random story from...let’s say, late 1969. Oh! Here’s one now! LOIS LANE # 98, the January 1970 issue. Hmm...Okay, there are TWO stories in this issue. The first one is the cover story. Why don’t WE concentrate on the second one?
Entitled, “Tomorrow I Die,” the 2/3-page splash panel shows our heroine—Superman’s longtime girlfriend for those not familiar with her since she’s not exactly given much respect these days in comics or movies. Ahem!—in a cute little bob haircut with stylish sideflips. But she’s crying! Wha’s a matter, baybeeee? Hmm? I see. I see. She’s marking off the days of November of ’69 (when this book was on the stands) on her calendar, thinking to herself that she has only one day left to live.
In comic book parlance, What th..?!
Okay, let’s go back a ways and find out what the heck is going on. For the record, that splash we just talked about never once appears in the story that follows. It was just representative of what happens, you see. Just to draw us in.
Our story proper starts with Daily Planet editor Perry White “taunting” his three best (and perhaps only, as we rarely saw anyone else there in the Silver Age!) reporters for missing a major scoop that’s right under their noses! It seems that the following Saturday will mark 1000 days that Lois has been volunteering at the local hospital as a volunteer nurse! OMG! How did they MISS that? What a scoop! Quick, let’s...Wait. Umm...first of all, 1000 days is, like three years. We’ve never seen any indication of this little side job before. And besides, when would she find the time with all the wacky stuff that was always happening in her title?
Ah, I see. She doesn’t sleep. After her “hectic day as a reporter,” she shows up at said hospital to work the night shift. Seems that for some reason—just like Perry—everyone there has also been keeping track of exactly how many days she’s worked there as a volunteer nurse so they’re throwing her a banquet that weekend, with a bronze plaque and “solid gold nurse’s insignia!” Wowee!
But wait! She’s not just a VOLUNTEER volunteer, emptying bedpans and changing bandages like a candy striper or whatever they call them nowadays. She’s actually a volunteer NURSE! In fact, another treat to celebrate her 1000-day benchmark comes when the head of the hospital gives her a special, secret patient—Dr. Albert Einstein! Well, no. Dr. “Walter Stern.” But he’s a ringer for Einstein and he’s described as a very important scientist. So Lois—a reporter by trade, you’ll recall, and rarely one to pass up a scoop—is assigned to give him radium treatments over the following weeks for...whatever the heck illness he has. It’s never said. It isn’t important. He seems just fine, and the two have no real interaction anyway. After the fourth day of the radium treatments, however, the Man of Steel himself shows up and tells her he’s heard about her upcoming banquet. Betcha that Clark Kent put it in the paper. That snitch!
Anyway, Ol’ Supes has brought her a present now since he won’t be able to be at the party. Why? We don’t know. He never says. Maybe he’s got a JLA poker game or something. In the box, though, is a “special model space suit,” apparently so-called because unlike everyone’s perception of big, bulky space suits at that time—this was during the Moon landing years, remember—Lois’s is thin, sleek and form-fitting, like it was designed for a “special model.” Twiggy perhaps.
But the suit isn’t the present! Oh, no. Superman flies Lois to a brand new asteroid he’s discovered because he needs her help naming it. When they get there, though, it seems there’s an atmosphere so she can ditch the helmet. It also enables her to drink nectar from a big blue flower she finds because, of course, all asteroids are simply loaded with flora! While she’s downing her drink, her big blue boyfriend comes up with a name on his own! EUREKA! He calls it...wait for it... “Lois.” Then he flies her home. Very fast apparently! On the way, she attempts to make out with him but is reminded that you can’t kiss with a space helmet on! Silly Lois.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, it’s time for the doc’s radium treatment again. Remember! She is NOT an accredited nurse. She is JUST a volunteer! A long standing one as we keep being reminded but still just a volunteer!
Soon afterwards, she finds herself in a lampless supply closet and realizes that she now glows in the dark! YIKES! Luckily, she is right there in a hospital where she can quickly have someone check her out! Whew! No. Wait! Lois! You’re going the wrong...Lois! Hey!
Apparently, in spite of working around them for the last 998 days, she doesn’t trust doctors as far as she can throw them! Instead, she rushes to the hospital library in those pre-Net days to self-diagnose. Radium Poisoning! No cure! Dying! AARRGGHH!
She hurries home witout telling anyone so she can make out a will. Apparently she’s also a volunteer lawyer. She decides to leave everything to the Lois Lane Foundation for Volunteer Nurses, the Superman Fresh Air Fund and the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club. Well, not QUITE everything. Next we see her giving away all her clothes to black folks and Hispanics down in “the slums.” “Mil Gracias!” Then it’s home to bed where the light keeps her awake—the light from her own glow!
The next day is the banquet but Lois freaks out and runs out just before receiving her plaque! She’s determined to go out in a “blaze of glory” by getting the biggest and most dangerous scoop of her career! That’s right! Lois Lane will get an interview with...an old man who lives in a cave outside of town. I’m serious. “The Hermit of Haunted Cave!” No one has ever gone to interview him and returned alive!
Maybe that’s because of the seemingly giant four-headed rattlesnake he shares the cave with. But plucky Lois moves ever onward! In fact, she scares the snake into leaving, allowing her to find the body of the seemingly only recently deceased hermit, whom she determines to have died (Surprise!) of snakebites. Oh, well. No story there after all, darn it! Call the cops and the morgue when she gets back to town and that’s it.
Driving back, she decides that she wants to die in the place she was happiest—a tropical island where she “spent many happy hours with Superman during a recent vacation.” Huh? Superman gets vacations? And he takes ‘em with Lois? Together??? Why, I NEVER! Did the Comics Code know about this? And how could she take a long vacation anyway when she was clearly indispensible at the hospital! But there he is, right there in her flashback, lying on the ground gazing longingly at Lois who’s attired in a fashionably teensy black bikini! And she’s using his cape like a beach towel to sit on! “Wait, Lois! My superhearing tells me that Brainiac is shrinking Gotham City!” “Ah-ah-ah! You’re on vacation, darling!” “Oh, right! Hahahaha!”
So, “after phoning in the story of the hermit’s death, Lois races to Metropolis airport.” Wait a sec...Did she only have one dime or what? I mean, she just called the Planet with the story and that was it?? But...! Oh, and did she even say goodbye to Perry and Jimmy and, Shh!, Clark?
Of course not. Instead, she catches up to her mini-skirted stewardess sister and begs her to get her on a flight to that island. Never occurs to her to just BUY a ticket like everybody else. Sigh. Cheapskate. That sneaky Lucy, though, calls the Daily Planet where Clark is as suspicious as she is and says—as he often does—that he’ll get in touch with Superman.
While he’s presumably doing that...,umm...Lois’s flight gets hijacked to Havana, Cuba. For you younger readers, this was an event that was happening so often in those days that it amazingly became fodder for TV comedy sketches. For their part, Cuba would always just send the plane back and usually no one was even hurt. Just annoyed.
In this case, though, the hijacker grabs Lucy and has a ticking bomb with him, threatening all and sundry. Once more, with nothing to lose, Lois directly confronts him. He replies by telling her to “Eat this TNT” and throwing the bomb right at her! Luckily, the ticking stops and it doesn’t blow up. Coincidentally, Superman shows up at what might have been just a moment too late and uses his superbreath to blow down the would-be hijacker. How he got into a plane in flight, though, is left to our imagination.
He and Lois apparently exit the same way, though, whatever way it was, as Supes flies her to his secret Arctic Fortress of Solitude to share with her the new exhibit he’s just built in his kind of creepy Lois Lane Room. Why, it’s The Lois Lane Honeymoon Cottage! We know this because he’s hung a sign saying just exactly that right above the front door. Knowing that she’ll never actually honeymoon there makes Lois quite sad but she’s roused from her melancholy by a giant scaly, ape-like creature tearing off the roof and grabbing her in its claws!
Turns out the beast is from Krypton, too...err...somehow. Thus, it also has superpowers and Superman can’t defeat it. Oh, no! The end is near for BOTH our heroes!
Not to worry! Just at that exact moment, Humphrey Bogart shows up and zaps the monster with a ray gun! With a nod to the Comics Code, Lois asks how the stranger turned the thing into a skeleton, rather than saying. “You KILLED it!”
Tra-Gob is his name. That’s Bogart spelled backwards. Bogart was big that year with posters of him popular on college campuses and his old movies being revived in major cities nearly 15 years after his death. Turns out this guy is yet another Kryptonian—a villain, in fact, who’d been minding his own business in the Phantom Zone when it just sort of opened up and dropped him into the fortress a couple minutes earlier. So why did Bogart...I mean, Tra-Gob, save our happy couple if he’s a villain? Well, it seems that that busy little Kryptonian bee, Jor-El, Kal’s late father, once saved Tra-Gob’s life back on the home world so he felt obliged to save his SON’S life in return...Oh, and Lois’s while he was at it.
Wow. Thanks, Bogie. Okay, back to the Phantom Zone for you, pal. Then Superman says, “Oh, by the way, Lois, you DO know you’ve been glowing in the dark lately, right? Just some harmless residual radiation from that nectar you drank on that asteroid before I could stop you, y’know? Just enough to, like, scare a snake and diffuse a bomb and accidentally tear a rift in the Phantom Zone. Nothing serious, of course. It’s wearing off about now anyway”
What, what, what? Wait! But that means...Lois ISN’T actually dying of radium poisoning! Forgetting for a moment that she’s given away all her clothes and apparently left her car outside the main airport entrance, she sobs and tells Superman how happy she is. He tells her rather condescendingly to let it all out and have a good cry and then he’ll rebuild that ol’ honeymoon cottage! Oh, yeah, right! Like she’s gonna let you get to ANY base now that she know the Phantom Zone villains are watching them! And besides, she has to get back to the hospital, dammit!
Oh, wait...that’s never mentioned again...nor is the honeymoon cottage. Not even the Lois Lane Foundation for Volunteer Nurses! It’s like none of it ever happened.
This story was written, by the way, by Robert Kanigher, one of THE great Silver Age writers...although not on LOIS LANE! Kanigher’s forte was DC’s war stories, of which he wrote and edited them for a couple decades in conjunction with Joe Kubert. 1969 was a big year for recreational and mind-altering drugs in America. With stories like this, it’s obvious that Kanigher didn’t need ‘em!