The Three Wives of Superman

In celebration of Valentine's Day, let's look at Superman's happy marriage to the woman of his dreams in Lois Lane #51 (Aug. 1964).

Um...except that it's not one but three marriages. To three women. And they all end in tragedy. But this is no time to be nit-picky, not with love in the air.

We begin at the Daily Planet, where Lois Lane barges on a meeting between Superman and Perry White to ask the Man of Steel to marry her. "Have you no pride," asks Superman, "proposing to me?"

Lois answers that she's waited for years for him to propose, but now that it's leap year, it's her turn to ask. Good thing, too, as it turns out the only thing keeping Superman from proposing long ago was a lack of initiative.

Superman says "since you're brave enough to face the risks, I'd be proud to have you for my bride!" (Was that ever the issue? I thought she was always willing to risk it, it's just that he wasn't).

The wedding is broadcast via satellite, with Jimmy Olsen as best man and Lana Lang a dejected bridesmaid. The happy newlyweds settle in at the Fortress of Solitude (it always needed a woman's touch, anyway) and begin a blissful union.

When Lois visits Metropolis, however, she learns the downside of being Mrs. Superman as crooks make repeated attempts on her life. Superman redoubles his efforts to find a way to protect her and soon comes up with a serum that gives her invulnerability, super-strength and other powers, albeit only for a few months at a time.

Lois still wants the rest of Superman's powers and works on a serum for super vision, but Superman forbids her to play around in his laboratory, as there are many dangers there she may not be invulnerable to.

When the super-serum wears off, Lois experiences terrible pains and senses something is very wrong. Shrinking herself and entering the bottle city of Kandor, she seeks the advice of a Kryptonian physician, and learns a side-effect of the super-serum will kill her in about eight days. She swears the doctor to secrecy, knowing Superman would never forgive himself if he learned his "blunder" led to Lois' death.

Lois puts a brave face on things and acts like all is normal, but in her private moments she records her true thoughts in a journal she plans to destroy. On her last day of life, she makes it appear she's accidentally killed herself by tampering with chemicals in Superman's lab, and as she expires her last thoughts are of her true love.

Heartbroken, Superman declares he's quitting Earth forever and leaving Supergirl to carry on for him. Some time later, however, he locates Lois' secret diary and learns she was really killed by his serum. "She must have pretended her own experiment destroyed her," he correctly guesses, "because she wanted to spare me any feelings of guilt!"

On the basis of this revelation, Superman decides Lois would have wanted him to continue his career, so that's what he does. Personally, I think it's just as likely he'd have been so wracked by guilt over his mistake that he'd be even more convinced to leave Earth, but then the story would be over, wouldn't it?

At the same time Superman comes out of retirement, Lex Luthor gives up his life of crime, giving the world an "astounding cure for heart disease." In an interview with Lana Lang, he reveals all he wants in life now is to settle down with a wife and kids, and Lana feels the first pangs of attraction to the former criminal mastermind. After a few dates, she accepts his proposal of marriage, having taken Superman at his word that he'll never marry again.

At the wedding, the minister delivers the usual "speak now, or forever hold your peace" line, and Superman shocks everyone by yelling, "Stop the wedding!"

Lana accepts Superman's proposal and the ceremony continues...only with a new groom! Not too surprisingly Luthor -- who never was very good at letting this sort of thing slide -- vows he's going back to crime and making it a priority to revenge himself on the both of them. For now, though, he leaves Earth to become a space-pirate.

After the wedding, Superman reveals his Clark Kent identity to Lana, who has a question for him.

Nice try, Clark, but the seeds have been sown. Mere hours after the wedding, and the green-eyed monster has already reared its ugly head. As the days and weeks wear on, Lana's imagination runs away with her, making her more and more convinced Superman is still hung up on first wife Lois. A low point comes when they visit Kandor and Superman is greeted with a kiss on the lips from Sylvia, Lois' Kandorian lookalike and wife to Superman's lookalike Van-Zee. With this mental image working on her brain, Lana snoops around the Fortress for evidence to support her paranoia and comes across a safe in Superman's lab. Opening it, she finds photos of Lois and gasps, "The skunk! While pretending to love me more than anything in the Universe, he sneaks in here and moons over these photographs of her!"

Determined not to play second fiddle to a dead woman, Lana takes a spaceship from the Fortress and runs away. Unfortunately she comes within range of Luthor's other-worldly base and is caught by his tractor beam. He reveals his plans to destroy Superman with Gold Kryptonite fired from his "Astro-Cannon," and sure enough Superman soon comes along looking for his missing wife. Lana, desperate to save her husband, blunders into a death trap:

Bonus points to Lex for putting the "mean face" on the death ray projector, with the ray coming out of its "mouth" like a lethal case of halitosis. Points off, however, for wearing those "prison grays" even when he's no longer a convict, or even living on Earth.

Lana succeeds in deflecting the Gold-K, but lies mortally wounded. Superman returns her to Earth but is unable to save her life. When he asks why she left in the first place, Lana tells him about the pictures in the safe, and gets a final shock.

D'Oh! And so Lana dies for nothing. But trust me, Superman, it's just as well. If she's really so insecure she won't even let you keep around pictures of your first wife, the marriage never would have worked, anyway.

Another month, another funeral. Meanwhile, Lori Lemaris, the mermaid is out with her husband Ronal trying to save whales from hunters when Ronal is fatally struck by a harpoon. On his deathbed, he reveals his wish that Lori resume her romance with Superman, if it will bring her happiness. Having been burned twice already, Superman is reluctant to endanger Lori's life, but they consult an Atlantean computer that predicts their marriage will be "long, happy and unmarred by tragedy." As if to underscore this forecast, a pair of nearby electric eels "glow brilliantly" in a way Lori says they only do "in the presence of two people who are truly in love!"

And here we go again.

All is well until one day when Superman is on patrol and the Phantom Zone villains use their mental powers to compel Lori to open a box containing an "unknown space element," the radiations of which leave her dead as a mackerel.

Grief-stricken (again), Superman decides he must know why the computer was wrong in its prediction, and so he feeds it the same data a second time. This time, it answers "If you marry, Lori will soon die." Superman realizes that the electric eels which lit up near the computer the first time caused it to malfunction and give an incorrect answer. Double D'Oh!

Continuing to experiment with his super-serum, Superman eventually adds a "Chemical X" which may make it work correctly. He dares not try it on human subjects, but when his pet "Metal Eater" escapes from the Fortress' Interplanetary Zoo, it eats the metal box containing the serum and gains super-powers. A year later, it's still alive and super on an alien world, proving the serum is a success.

The reader is asked "which of his three wives do you think Superman would have saved if he could save only one?" Kind of a strange way to end a story, and a little on the hard-hearted side, but as a "puzzle" it's a no-brainer. Of course he'd save Lois; then there wouldn't have been a reason for the other two to die, either.

The identity of this story's writer seems to have been lost to time, but the art is unmistakably that of Kurt Schaffenberger (he removes all doubt by signing the splash page to Part 2). It's some of his best work ever, in my opinion, with all three wives looking extremely beautiful throughout. There's quite a few of his trademark "borderless panels" with white backgrounds -- two of which I've included above -- and I'm always a sucker for those. What's more, Kurt's Superman gets a lot more "screen time" than usual for a Lois story, and he, too, looks fantastic.

Though I neglected to mention it earlier, you can hardly have failed to guess this one is an "Imaginary Tale." It racks up an impressive body count by Silver Age standards, but then girls always did enjoy a good tear-jerker. Actually, I suppose it serves as proof that comics readers have always found death a compelling subject in any "age," albeit for different reasons, and as depicted in very different ways.

And so in the space of one issue, Superman piles up three dead spouses, a feat that puts even the men of the Ponderosa to shame. Never let it be said the Man of Steel did anything in half-measures.

So anyway, it's Valentine's Day! Be very afraid.