Today Fantasy Literature welcomes Tim Hanley as he celebrates the release of his second book, Investigating Lois Lane: the Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter. (Jana, unsurprisingly, loved it.) Mr. Hanley was kind enough to chat about the Daily Planet’s most-decorated employee, his research methods, and his favorite tea. Plus, we’ve got a copy of Investigating Lois Lane to give away!
Jana Nyman: What was your initial impetus behind writing a comprehensive survey of Lois Lane as she appeared in various media like comic books, television, and film throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?
Tim Hanley: In part, I wanted to write about Lois just because she’s such a great character. I read a bunch of Lois comics for my first book, Wonder Woman Unbound, in which I used Lois as a sort of “woman on the street” comparison to the super-powered Wonder Woman, and I loved what a tough, fearless character she was from the get-go. She’s a force of nature, even in her more cringe-worthy Silver Age adventures; whether she’s chasing after a front page scoop or on a date with Superman, she’s endearingly relentless.
I also wanted to write about Lois because she’s been a part of the superhero genre from its very beginning in Action Comics #1, and has gone through all of the ups and downs the industry has faced. She’s a constant presence across a variety of media, but Superman is usually the one who gets all of the attention. I wanted to bring Lois into the spotlight and tell her history, as well as examine the world of superheroes from her unique perspective.
It’s obvious that you did an incredible amount of research for Investigating Lois Lane, and I have to ask: about how long did you spend working on this book, when taking into consideration planning, research, and writing? Was there any point at which it seemed like the project had taken on a life of its own?
It took about a year to research and write the first draft of the book. I read all the comics and watched all of the shows and movies first, doing my best to do so in chronological order, then I read a lot of histories and other secondary sources, and then dove into the writing. After that, it was another year or so of editing and revising drafts and all of the other things that go into putting a book together, but that was more intermittent.
There was definitely a point in the research where I felt like “This is so much stuff!” and I was starting to get a bit buried under all of the different aspects of Lois’ history and the ways I might want to take it. She’s been in so many things that it was hard to narrow the scope and figure out where to focus in. But that’s never a bad place to be, and I ended up putting in a sub-chapter after each main chapter that allowed me to dig into the more quirky, random aspects of her history. Once I figured out how to structure it so that I could follow the main historical narrative with lots of fun tangents in the mix, everything came together.
Was there a particular moment which you were most excited to write about? Was there anything in Lois Lane’s history that surprised or disappointed you?
I was most excited for Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, Lois’ solo series that ran from 1958 to 1974. The book started in a time when DC Comics treated Lois as a pest that was always bothering Superman, and he subjected her to patronizing lessons to try to straighten her out, but as the years passed the series evolved and became more relevant, with Lois even getting into women’s lib, quitting her job at the Daily Planet, and dumping Superman at one point. The series bridged the Silver and Bronze Ages of superhero comics, and showcased the best and worst of each era really well.
I was surprised at the vitriol often directed at Lois in the series’ letter column, though. Because Superman was everyone’s hero, in the early years of the book the young readers often sided with him and put down Lois; in fact, for over a year there was a campaign in the letter column for Lois to get a super-spanking to teach her a lesson. Then when Clark Kent’s childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang, became a regular part of the series, legions of fans decide that she was a better match for Superman than Lois, and the letters took on a fierce Team Lois/Team Lana vibe. The letter column was weirdly combative and regularly anti-Lois for years, but fascinatingly so.
The letters were definitely fascinating, in a horrifying kind of way!
You’ve mentioned admiration for the ways in which actresses like Phyllis Coates, Margot Kidder, and Amy Adams have approached their distinct portrayals of Lois Lane. Do you have a dream casting that you’d like to see in the future, whether in a live-action or animated setting?
Lois is a tricky character to get right, and we Lois fans are lucky to have seen so many great portrayals of her over the years. She has to be incisive but endearing, ambitious but altruistic, tough but kind. There are actually a few women I’d love to see take a shot at Lois. I’m a huge fan of Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson on Elementary, and the intelligence and tenacity she brings to that character makes me think she’d be a fantastic Lois. I also like how Anna Kendrick is simultaneously fierce and sweet, and I could see her snarking at Clark or playing coy with Superman before ditching either man to go chase a story. Finally, Rosario Dawson always exudes the confidence and charm I associate with Lois, and it’d be fun to see her going toe to toe with Lex Luthor (after taking down a squad of his goons, of course).
I’d love to see an actress like Rosario Dawson (or, my personal dream-casting, Rashida Jones) have the chance to showcase her talents in the role of Lois Lane.
You’ve written media-centric surveys of both Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, characters who have the potential to be remarkable in the hands of the right writers and artists. What aspects of their histories do you hope will inspire readers to become fans, or inspire future writers and artists to want to work on projects for those characters?
What I hope people, both fans and creators, take away from both books is an appreciation of the many facets of each character. Wonder Woman and Lois Lane have been around for decades and have had several incarnations, and while each character has a core that runs through her all of her portrayals, they both have varied histories and are much more than just the few iconic elements we typically associate with them. With Lois, I’d love for readers to see what a brave, relentless character she is and realize that she’s as much a superhero as Superman; she just doesn’t wear a cape or a costume. For creators, I hope that writers and artists discover that Lois is more than just Superman’s girlfriend or a damsel in distress, and that she should always be in the thick of the action rather than relegated to the Daily Planet offices or romantic interludes.
Are there any comics characters — from DC, Marvel, Image, or any other publishing house — that you’d like to get the chance to write about?
Absolutely. I’ve got a couple in mind for potential future books, so I’ll keep those to myself for now! But there are several characters who maybe haven’t been around long enough to merit a book, but who I’d love to write about in some capacity. Carol Danvers as Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel is a favourite of mine, as is the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. I’m a big fan of all of the Batgirls, but I’m particularly fond of Cassandra Cain and it would be fun to write about her and her bizarre publication history. Mary Marvel would be a cool subject as well; she’s one of just a few female characters who dates back to the early Golden Age and is still around today, and it’s always interesting to explore how a character like that changes over time.
For what it’s worth, I’d love to read your take on Carol Danvers — in particular, the transition through identities like Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warbird to Captain Marvel, and the changes her character (and her costume!) has undergone. Modern-day Captain Marvel is very different from her beginnings as Ms. Marvel!
Finally, at Fantasy Literature, we like to ask authors about a favorite drink — are there any beverages which remind you of Investigating Lois Lane, or which you drank to celebrate its publication?
I like a good cup of tea, especially when researching. It’s nice to have a cup of tea handy while I’m reading through scores of old comics. My go-to is a vanilla Earl Grey, though lately I’ve really been getting into Prince of Wales tea, but definitely for Investigating Lois Lane it was all vanilla Earl Grey. Any time you can be like Captain Picard, I think you should go for it.
I couldn’t agree more; “be like Captain Picard” is an excellent life goal. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Mr. Hanley!
Readers, comment below for a chance to win a copy of Investigating Lois Lane. U.S. or Canada-based addresses only, please.