What in the name of Rao’s green Krypton did Superman ever see in her?
Lois Lane was petty, conniving, jealous, prying, and two-faced. It doesn’t matter which Silver-Age issue of Lois Lane you read; most, if not all, of those traits would have been on display.
She claimed to be in love with Superman. Yet, she spent much of her time trying to ferret out his most private secret---his other identity. A secret which, if exposed, would completely upend his life and cause him no end of distress. And in trying to do this, Lois violated Superman’s trust; she violated common decency; and she violated any number of local criminal statutes regarding breaking-and-entering and burglary.
When Lois wasn’t doing that, she was preöccupied with luring Superman to the altar. There, no scheme was too underhanded. She deceived him, hoaxed him, manipulated him. She toyed with other men’s affections simply to make the Man of Steel jealous. Any cruel trick was fair game, if it resulted in her becoming “Mrs. Superman”.
Oh, sure, every now and then there would be a story showing Lois doing something heroic or selfless. But that was only to keep Superman from looking like a total nimrod for having her as his girl friend.
Occasionally, he would get sufficiently peeved with Lois to teach her a well-deserved lesson, but in the end, no matter how unflattering things came out, the nosy newshen could always count on Superman remaining her adoring suitor.
She might not have felt so secure, had she known that the Man of Steel was simply going through the motions. Superman no doubt remembered the women who had so captured his heart that his relationship with the lady reporter back home dissolved into “Lois---who?” And it was only the intervention of harsh fate that ruined the Caped Kryptonian’s chance for happiness each time . . . .
Lois never really had a chance, for Superman met the first love of his life back in his college days, as Clark Kent. We learn about “The Girl in Superman’s Past” in Superman # 129 (May, 1959). While attending a football game at his alma mater, Metropolis University, Clark’s thoughts drift back to the day during his senior year when he spotted a brunette in a wheelchair pushing herself down a steep path. When the chair’s brake fails, sending the girl careering madly down the slope, Clark comes to the rescue by secretly using his heat vision to melt the wheels. The chair lurches to a halt, pitching the young woman airborne. Clark catches her on the fly and sets her back in the chair gently.
Before he can come up with some lame excuse for why the rubber wheels melted, the girl provides an explanation on her own. Their eyes lock, as if she had read his mind. Even more intriguing to Clark is her exotic beauty and hint of a foreign accent. She introduces herself as Lori Lemaris, an exchange student, and she’s equally taken with the reserved, unassuming Clark.
It’s a magical semester for Clark. He and Lori see each other every chance they can, between their studies and Kent’s duties as Superman. Then, at the end of the term, Lori tells him that she must return to her homeland. This brings him to a momentous decision.
“I love her! She’s the kind of girl I’ve always dreamed of marrying---a girl of rare beauty and courage! I’m going to ask her to be my wife!”
As if that’s not drastic enough, Clark realises that his career as Superman would endanger the woman he took as his wife, should criminals learn his secret identity. So there’s only one thing to do---he’ll reveal his true identity to Lori and then abandon his Superman career!
Meeting Lori at an isolated spot along the seashore, Clark proposes to her. Lori confides that she loves him, as well, and also that she already knows that he is Superman. His surprise is followed by devastation, when she tells him that she cannot marry him. Don’t ask why, she entreats him, just accept it.
Clark searches for the answers to Lori’s rejection and uncovers the incredible truth---Lori Lemaris is a mermaid! It’s confirmed when a near-by dam ruptures and Lori joins Superman to aid the stricken victims. Afterward, she tells him of her home, the underwater civilisation of Atlantis. She is one of their race, who adapted to the depths by becoming mermen, communicating by telepathy.
Once a century, an Atlantean is sent to the surface world to learn of its progress, and on this occasion, Lori was chosen. She hadn’t expected to fall in love in the bargain. But she has her duty to return to her people, just as Clark has his duty as Superman. Reluctantly, the Man of Steel agrees.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Years after his college days, Superman would encounter his first love again, and old passions would flame anew.
In “Superman’s Mermaid Sweetheart”, from Superman # 135 (Feb., 1960), Clark Kent investigates a whaler’s account of a mermaid interfering with his catches. The sailor’s description of her reminds Kent of Lori, awakening the memories of his first romance. That night, seized with the desire to see her again, Kent stands on the rocky seacoast and mentally calls to Lori---“eagerly, every fiber of his being atingle with hope . . . .”
To his amazement, Lori responds, and the two lovers reunite. After a dazzling night on the town, Clark changes to Superman and returns Lori to the sea. Marry me, he asks her, and he’ll quit the surface world forever to live with her in Atlantis. Lori’s heart says yes, but she tells the Man of Steel that she’ll have to get permission from the elders of Atlantis first. She’ll return in twenty-four hours with their answer.
The next night, an ebullient Lori tells Superman the elders’ answer is “yes!” Atlantis will be proud to have him as a citizen.
Joy turns to disaster, however, an instant later. The whaler, blaming Lori for his lost catches, has tracked her down. In vengeance, the seaman hurls his harpoon at Lori’s pet dolphin. In moving to save the animal, Lori breaks her neck on a stony outcropping. She’s left paralysed and near death. Only the need to rush her to medical help prevents an enraged Superman from tearing the whaler limb from limb.
“If the woman I love dies,” he tells the sailor in cold fury, “there will be no corner in the universe where you can hide!”
The Man of Steel super-speeds the stricken mermaid to Atlantis. Sadly, its physicians report, there’s nothing Atlantean medicine can do for her. Desperately, Superman scours the galaxy in search of a surgeon who can save his dying love. After a hundred disappointments, he locates a water-covered world with a race of merman similar to the Atlanteans. Their greatest surgeon, Ronal, believes he can help.
Superman brings the merman to Earth and the surgery begins. The impatient hero waits nearly a week to learn the results. But it’s worth it. The operation was a success, and Lori is well and whole, again. Superman is ecstatic---until he accidentally discovers with his super-senses that Lori has fallen in love with Ronal.
For an instant, Superman is blind with jealousy over the injustice of it. Then, accepting the reality of the situation, he takes the high ground and leaves Lori with his best wishes.
Lori Lemaris would become a regular character in the Superman family magazines. The readers weren’t privy to Lori’s feelings on the matter, but their frequent encounters often stirred the Man of Steel’s feelings for her. Not a good thing, as far as his relationship with Lois went.
In the landmark “Superman’s Return to Krypton”, from Superman # 141 (Nov., 1960), Our Hero is accidently thrust back in time, to the world of his birth before its destruction. He makes the acquaintance of his parents, the newly married Jor-El and Lara, and posing as a science student, he works feverishly with his father to find a way to save Krypton’s people.
To explain his costume, Superman has taken a job as an extra for a science-fiction movie. He discovers that the leading lady of the film, Lyla Lerrol, is a stunning beauty. He can’t take his eyes off her. He’s delighted when, later, Jor-El and Lara throw a dinner party, and Lyla appears as one of the guests. The Man of Steel is captivated by her gracious, unaffected manner and her sincere interest in him, even though he is a “lowly” bit-player.
As the plans to save Krypton collapse one after the other, Kal-El is even more determined to keep Lyla at arm’s length. Though, try as he might, he cannot put the lovely actress out of his thoughts. He can’t keep her out of his life either, for Lyla has grown positively enchanted with him. She finds more excuses to visit the House of El and the stranger who barely speaks to her. One afternoon, on a visit to the local zoo, an escaped beast threatens Lyla. Jor-El and Superman manage to capture the animal, and the Man of Steel rushes to Lyla’s side. In that moment, their mutual feelings burst free and they embrace in a passionate kiss.
In the days that follow, Superman and Lyla take in the sights of their world---the Jewel Mountains, the Rainbow Canyon, the Hall of Worlds---and their romance blooms. Only Superman’s hidden knowledge of the imminent death of Krypton haunts their budding love.
When the last chance for survival---the space-ark, lost when the evil space-pirate Brainiac abducts the city of Kandor---fails, Jor-El tells Lyla of what is to come. Instead of dismay, she seizes the brooding Man of Steel and encourages him to live whatever time they have left together to the fullest. Inspired by her courage and love, Superman comes to a realisation.
“Lyla’s right! If I’m to die here on Krypton, I’d be a fool to waste our last days being miserable! We’ll face the end bravely . . . together!”
But, as with Lori, fate has other plans.
Days later, on the set of the science-fiction film, Superman takes his place in the nose of a “space craft”, in preparation for the final blast-off scene. In a tragic turn of events, a mishap with the firing process turns it into a genuine launch. Helpless to do anything to halt it, the Man of Steel, inside the prop rocket, is blasted out of Krypton’s atmosphere, into the depths of outer space.
Lyla can only watch in horror.
Before Superman succumbs to the vacuum of space, the rocket enters a yellow-sun solar system, and his super-powers return. He cannot return to Krypton---he would die in space the instant its red sun sapped his powers---yet, he thinks of Lyla and, for a moment, considers it. With no other choice, he speeds through the time-barrier, back to his own time.
As he approaches Earth, he fights back tears when he spots a passing swarm of green-kryptonite meteors, reminding him of the death of his home world, and his parents. And Lyla.
“Superman’s Super-Courtship”, from Action Comics # 289 (Jun., 1962), opens with Linda (Supergirl) Danvers enjoying a quiet evening of television at home with her foster-parents. The tearjerking ending of a romance picture (undoubtedly, the Danvers women outvoted the man of the house on that one) sets Linda to thinking about her cousin, Superman. Surely, she concludes, her cousin is miserable in his lonely life as a bachelor.
Just maybe, though, she could play Cupid, and find the right girl for the Man of Steel, so he wouldn’t have to go through life as an unhappy bachelor. Notably, she immediately discards Lois Lane and Lana Lang as likely prospects. However, when she confides her idea to her parents, they dash it with the cold water of reason . . . .
“Don’t interfere in Superman’s personal life, Linda,” warns Fred Danvers. “Every man prefers to pick out his own wife!”
“Your father’s right,” says Edna. “Now forget this nonsense!”
But, like all teen-agers everywhere, Linda figures her parents don’t know what they’re talking about, and as soon as they’re asleep, she changes to Supergirl and puts her plan into motion.
In fact, she’ll succeed beyond all expectations, and in the process, discover that she should have listened to her mom and dad all along.
Keeping her intentions a secret, the Girl of Steel lures Superman into romantic situations with, first, Helen of Troy, and then with Saturn Woman, of the adult Legion of Super-Heroes. Both attempts bomb big time, resulting in major embarrassments for the Man of Steel.
In the Fortress of Solitude, a contrite Supergirl admits her matchmaking subterfuge to her cousin. Instead of being tremendously peeved at her meddling, as most fellows would be, Superman is touched by her concern and makes a confession of his own.
If he ever did marry, says the Man of Steel, it would be to someone like Supergirl herself. He’s quick to point out that, on Krypton, it was illegal for cousins to marry, but still there’s a creepiness factor going on there. Nevertheless, Supergirl isn’t put off by it; in fact, it gives her an idea.
She programs his ultra-sophisticated computer---most likely, the super-ultivac---with all of her own physical and personality traits. Just to keep things from being too gross, she adds fifteen years or so in age, then sets the device to “Google” the universe for a match.
The computer comes up with just one hit---a super-woman named Luma Lynai, on the planet Staryl.
Faster than you can say “Kryptonian babooch”, Superman is zipping his way across interstellar space to the orange-sun system of the planet Staryl. Arriving on the planet, he wastes no time looking up Luma Lynai. She’s a dead ringer for his cousin Kara, as she’ll be in ten or fifteen years, as Superwoman.
It’s a whirlwind romance all right, because only two panels later, when Kara checks up on things with her super-vision, she finds Superman and Luma in a warm embrace. She’s even more thrilled when her super-hearing overhears that Luma has consented to return to Earth with her cousin and get married.
Supergirl is still peeking with her telescopic vision when she sees the happy couple enter our solar system. Both she and Superman are mystified when Luma suddenly doubles over in agony and her super-powers fade away.
The Man of Steel rushes Luma back to Staryl, where she recovers immediately. She’s puzzled, but Our Hero pieces together the answer.
Just as a yellow sun gives Superman his powers, the orange sun of Staryl makes Luma super. And where a red sun erases the Action Ace’s mighty abilities, the yellow sun of our world does the same to Luma, only it’s worse. A lot worse. A yellow sun is actually deadly to Luna, the same way kryptonite is to Superman.
She can never live on Earth.
No matter, says Superman, without reservation. He loves Luma, and he’ll abandon Earth to live with her on Staryl. No, insists Luma.
In so short a time, she knows Superman better than he knows himself. His sense of responsibility is too strong. Earth needs him, and she won’t force him to make the terrible choice between love and duty.
It’s an inconsolable Man of Steel that returns to Earth, and Supergirl realises that her meddling only resulted in her cousin’s heartbreak. She should have left well enough alone.
So far, Silver-Age fans had seen an enamoured Superman ready to divulge his secret identity, to give up his career as a super-hero, to abandon Earth completely---drastic choices made unswervingly for the sake of love.
It’s difficult to tell just how much Lois did know about his romances with Lori and Lyla and Luma. According to Lois Lane # 97 (Nov., 1969), she was aware of his three past loves, but probably not how much the Man of Steel had been willing to sacrifice for them. Even so, she was no doubt gladdened by the fact that all three were denied to Superman’s heart. Lori was a mermaid and married to Ronal. Lyla had perished when Krypton exploded some thirty years before. And Luma Lynai could never come to Earth.
Lois did not know about Sally Selwyn. She never would know about Sally, and the reason behind that, more than anything else, reveals how Superman could never be truly serious about Lois Lane.
The star-crossed story of Sally Selwyn began in Superman # 165 (Nov., 1963). “The Sweetheart Superman Forgot” opens on a hot summer day, on a routine mission for the Man of Steel when he is exposed to red kryptonite. Knowing that he is likely about to undergo some bizarre transformation, Our Hero streaks to a remote part of the countryside to await its developments.
The red k takes hold of Superman in stages. First comes the irresistible impulse to change to his Clark Kent identity. Then he is compelled to bury his costume, his wallet, and everything else on his person that would identify him as Superman or Clark.
Next, as the summer heat beats down on him, making him perspire, Clark realises that the red k has robbed him of his super-powers. Before he can take the full measure of that, the last effect kicks in---amnesia!
As dedicated Superman fans knew, the effects of red kryptonite usually lasted no longer than forty-eight hours. But in this case, an editor’s footnote informs us, Clark was exposed to a freak form of the stuff. Its effects will last not days, but weeks.
For hours, Clark wanders down a lonely country road, under the blazing sun, until he arrives at a farmhouse. He barely has time to beg for a drink from a blonde girl milking a cow before passing out from heat exhaustion.
Clark awakens in bed, at the sumptuous mansion of Digby Selwyn. The pretty blonde he mistook for a farmhand is Selwyn’s daughter, Sally. A self-made millionaire, Selwyn is sympathetic towards Clark, whom they believe to be a down-on-his-luck itinerant. When asked, the amnesiac Clark gives his name as “Jim White”, from subconscious memories of his friends Jimmy Olsen and Perry White.
In a couple of days, “Jim” is well enough to get out of bed, and the Selwyns give him a tour of the estate. When a sudden lightning storm threatens to explode a cache of dynamite set aside for blasting a drainage ditch, Clark heroically risks his life to move the explosives out of harm’s way, saving everyone else. In gratitude, Mr. Selwyn gives Clark a job with his logging company.
This puts Clark under the oversight of Bart Benson, the company’s knuckle-dragging foreman and general all-around bully. Benson has designs on marrying the boss’s daughter and doesn’t like the way Sally is already making eyes at Kent. He rides “Jim” mercilessly, in hopes of making him quit, but Clark bears up under the harassment, impressing Sally further.
As days turn into weeks, the readers see a unique perspective on the Man of Steel. As ordinary, memoryless Jim White, we see him as the kind of man he would have been had he not grown up with super-powers or the need to pose as a mild-mannered Clark Kent. He’s manly and brave, yet kind and caring. He and Sally spend more and more time together---much to Bart Benson’s irritation.
“Jim” and Sally begin to talk of a future together, and Sally offers him a place running all of the Selwyn operations after her father retires. No, Clark insists. He wants to make his own way in the world. He loves Sally, but with nothing to his name, not even memories of his past, he hasn’t the right to ask her to marry him.
Sally doesn’t care. She’s in love with Jim, not any wealth or prestige he might gain. Yes, she’ll marry him!
The next day, Clark enters a rodeo contest, with the hopes of winning the five-thousand-dollar grand prize as a stake for starting his own business. But a jealous Bart Benson feeds loco weed to the bronco Clark is slated to ride. During the event, Kent is thrown violently and lands hard, damaging his spine.
Clark wheels himself out to a bluff overlooking a rushing river, to be alone with his thoughts. From hiding, the malevolent Benson shoves a boulder Clark’s way, to scare him. Instead, the hurling rock takes a wild bounce and overturns the wheelchair, pitching Kent into the raging waters below. Unable to swim, water fills Clark’s lungs and he blacks out.
When Sally and her father find Clark’s wheelchair lying at the cliff’s edge, they come to the conclusion that Jim threw himself into the water on purpose. Sally is grief stricken.
As for Clark, he regains consciousness a week later, in Atlantis. Lori Lemaris explains to him that Aquaman had discovered him struggling in the water and brought him to her people before he could drown. Clark has spent the last seven days in an air-filled respiration chamber, seized with delirium.
As Clark begins to explain to Lori, the effects of the red kryptonite finally wear off. His super-powers return, along with his memories. Except he has no recollexion of what had happened to him over the past several weeks, while he was under the red-k influence.
He doesn’t remember being Jim White. And he doesn’t remember Sally.
Clark returns to his old life. At work, a chance comment from a journalism student causes him to ponder the fact that, as Superman, he’ll never know if a woman loves him for himself, or for his fame and powers.
Bittersweet as it was, it would have been much kinder to the Man of Steel if the story of Sally Selwyn had ended there. But that was not to be.
The events that led to “The Man Who Stole Superman’s Secret Life”, from Superman # 169 (May, 1964), began years earlier, during Superman’s boyhood. Smallville teen-ager Ned Barnes nearly died in a house fire before being rescued by Superboy. Though the boy's face was disfigured by the disaster, plastic surgery could restore his features. Ned pleaded with the surgeon to alter his face to look like his idol, Superboy.
The operation succeeded beyond Ned’s wildest dreams. His face was a perfect match for the Boy of Steel’s. Inspired, Ned determined to be as much like his hero as possible. “I’ll be kind and helpful to others . . . unselfish!”
It didn’t turn out that way. Ned may have looked like Superboy, but his best attempts to emulate him resulted in dismal failure. The other kids taunted him mercilessly and bullies beat him. Young Ned’s idealism was pounded out of him, to be replaced by an irrational hatred for the hero whose face he wore. He left Smallville to become a punk thug, and the punk thug grew up to be a hardened criminal.
Now an adult, Barnes works for the mob. Donning a Superman costume, his resemblance to the Man of Steel gets him accepted as the genuine article at a top secret military installation. With a hidden camera, he photographs the classified plans to a new missile. However, his impersonation is exposed when he bangs his arm against a metal post and yelps in pain.
To get away from the pursuing guards, Barnes waylays a passing motorist and dons the man’s suit and eyeglasses. Unknowingly, he is now a double for Clark Kent.
To elude capture, Barnes takes the country roads, only to have his getaway halted when some wandering cows block the roadway. Ranchhands arrive to recover the animals, while Ned waits impatiently. Suddenly, one of the riders calls out excitedly, “Jim!”
The cows are Selwyn cattle, and the rider is Sally Selwyn! She leaps into Ned’s arms and kisses him passionately. To her, this is the man she knew as Jim White.
Barnes doesn’t have to say a word. Sally babbles out her own explanation for how “Jim” survived and regained the use of his legs. It doesn’t make a bit of sense, even by comic-book standards, but she’s so overcome with joy, she doesn’t care. She takes Ned back home, and the hoodlum plays along, realising that the Selwyn estate makes an excellent hide-out from the law.
Back at the Daily Planet Building, a teletype newsflash alerts the real Clark Kent to the incident at the top secret lab. Investigating as Superman, he is troubled by the reports that the spy was his exact double. As he dogs his impostor’s trail, the Man of Steel decides, though it will be slower going, he will be less conspicuous as Clark Kent.
Meanwhile, Ned Barnes is enjoying the fruits of being “Jim White”. Sally’s love for him, or rather the man she thinks he is, is pure and genuine. It’s the first real affection Ned has known in his life and he finds himself wanting to be more like the real Jim. He decides to give up his life of crime. But first, he must dispose of the evidence of his final criminal act. He sneaks off into the woods to bury the Superman costume and the camera holding the photographs he took.
By chance, Clark Kent has followed Barnes’s trail to the Selwyn ranch, just as Sally arrives to check on the herd. Clark is taken aback when she greets him with a kiss. Instinctively, he kisses her back, and as they embrace, suddenly the memories of his previous life as Jim White flood back into his mind.
Despite being awestruck at his discovery, Clark keeps his head long enough to realise that someone else had been posing as Jim earlier. That person could only be the same man who posed as Superman at the lab. With his super-vision, he locates Ned Barnes, deep in the woods, burying the evidence.
Making an excuse to Sally, Clark slips away to think things through. It doesn’t take long for him to make up his mind.
“Now that I’ve found her, I don’t want to lose her again, ever! I’ll marry her! Why not? I love her and she loves me—and I may never again find a girl who truly loves me for myself!”
First, though, he’ll deal with that Superman impostor.
Out in the woods, Ned Barnes has had time to think things out, as well. His newfound conscience won’t let him go on deceiving Sally. She deserves the real Jim White and not a phoney like him. Ned decides to leave before his resolve to do the right thing weakens.
Before he can do so, he is surprised by two of the mob’s triggermen. Since Ned failed to show up with the spy photos, his gangland bosses concluded that he double-crossed them. The two hitmen were sent to kill Ned. And to drive the lesson home, they’re going to kill Sally first. One of the assassins raises a rifle and focuses on Sally with its telescopic sight.
Desperately, Ned tackles the gunmen. The struggle takes them to the edge of a rocky precipice. Loose rock gives way and all three of them plunge into the ravine below.
Seconds later, Superman arrives. A quick check with his x-ray vision tells him the two hitmen are dead and Ned Barnes, nearly so. With his last breaths, Ned tells Superman the whole story.
With genuine regret, the Man of Steel tells the dying man, “I’m sorry that changing your features to look like mine brought such unhappiness to you . . . .”
A second later, Ned Barnes is gone. Superman is free to tell Sally the truth---that he is Jim White, that he loves her with all his heart, and he wants her to be his wife.
Instead, he does the most difficult thing he has ever done in his remarkable life.
The Man of Steel flies to the Selwyn home and tells Sally, “Jim was killed while saving you from gun-happy prowlers.”
The mobsters’ attempt to kill Sally drove home the terrible understanding that he has held all of his life---that any girl he married would be a target for his enemies. The wife of Superman would always be in danger.
Yes, it’s the same reason he gives for not marrying Lois Lane, but it’s not the same thing. Lois Lane is known to be Superman’s girl friend, and Superman’s girl friend is scarcely less of a target for a criminal’s revenge than Superman’s wife. With Lois, it’s a handy excuse for dodging the altar.
But with Sally, the threat is grimly real. The incident with Ned Barnes and the gunmen was a chilling reminder.
With Sally, there could be no games of girl friend-but-not-wife. With Sally, he could not risk her having any association with Superman. He couldn’t chance even marrying her as Clark Kent. Too many of his foes, such as the Phantom Zone villains and the Superman Revenge Squad, knew that Clark Kent was Superman.
The only way to ensure the safety of the woman he loved was to keep her completely out of his life.
Of all of Superman’s lost loves, Sally Selwyn had to be the most agonising. She wasn’t long dead or married to another. She was within reach.
Maybe that’s why Superman put up with all of Lois Lane’s shenanigans. It kept his mind off of what was so close, yet so far.