Lois Lane...Dead...Yet Alive

Imaginary Stories are a great way of exploring really cool ideas that, for one reason or other, you can't pull off in official continuity. For example, have you ever thought how cool it would be if Superman married Lois Lane only to see her murdered right in front of him in their family home? Have you ever wished you could see a grieving Man of Steel pushed to the limits of his sanity, having a make-out session with a robot, trolling beauty contests for Lois lookalikes and tricking a woman into marrying him under the pretense of being someone else? If so, then Superman #215 (Apr 1969) has the story you've been looking for.

Writer Otto Binder gives us this story "which never happened, but might happen in the future." We open at Lois Lane's funeral, where mourners including Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lana Lang and Lucy Lane gather to support widower Superman and his now-motherless (and super-powered) pre-school daughter Laney (spelled "Lanie" on the cover, but nowhere else). As drawn by Curt Swan and Jack Abel, Superman explains that the "burial" is merely symbolic due to the nature of Lois' demise.

Don't you just love how the Dimension Master just walks right up to the open window and leans in with his weapon? And the way Superman looks up, bored, from his paper to ask, "Still trying to take over the Earth, eh?" ("Honey, you remember Dimension Master. He's the one who sent us the timebomb for Christmas.")

Anyway, the casket's empty since Lois disappeared into a fine mist (notice her last word was "Shhhh!", making wives everywhere proud as she leaves this world telling her husband to be quiet). Lucy Lane (who, as Perry is nice enough to tell Jimmy, is Lois' sister...as if Jimmy hadn't dated her for 20 years) offers to take little Laney home with her, but Superman says the logical place for a single super-parent and his super-daughter to reside is the Fortress of Solitude, so that's where they go.

Laney is given the run of the Fortress, except for one door she's forbidden to ever open. Just to make sure she doesn't try it, Superman posts a robot sentry at the door 24/7.

Back in Metropolis, a gloomy Clark Kent mopes at the Daily Planet offices. Perry and Jimmy are all sympathy, noting that "You were pretty sweet on [Lois] yourself! Even though she was married to Superman, we know her death hit you pretty hard!"

To cheer Clark up, Perry gives him the assignment of assembling "a scrapbook of headlines about [Superman's] courtship of Lois! You pick the best ones!" Clark puts his best face on, but inside "my heart is cracking in two!" Of course Perry can't know what he's doing to Clark, but why he thinks this "gift" will do anything but depress Superman is beyond me.

One year later, on the anniversary of Lois' death, Superman unveils a special surprise for Laney:

After Laney's asleep, the Lois robot takes Superman by the hand and leads him "up to the roof" (the Fortress has a roof?) for "a stroll in the moonlight." Overwhelmed by her beauty and his longing, Superman makes out with the robot, apparently in the belief she's the real Lois.

Back inside the Fortress, he thumbs through that scrapbook from Perry, and is shocked back to reality when he reaches the headline about Lois' death. (Thanks for sticking that one in there, Perry. You're all heart.) As if on cue, the battery in the Lois robot runs out of power and she slumps to the floor.

A few days later, Superman is tapped to judge the Miss Metropolis beauty contest, ostensibly designed to pick the city's loveliest female, though everyone seems to be focused on another objective. "Who knows?" says Perry, "Maybe he'll find another girl he likes...and re-marry!" and one contestant muses, "If Superman's looking for another wife, I hope he picks ME!"

To everyone's surprise, one contestant looks exactly like Lois Lane, and when Superman checks her with his x-ray vision, he spots a fracture in her arm that matches perfectly an old injury suffered by Lois, "This IS my wife!" he exclaims joyfully.

Unfortunately, it's actually Chameleon Queen, the evil wife of the Dimension Master who's capable of assuming any form. She and her husband have arranged this little masquerade to inflict mental torture on Superman, but as they laugh about their cruel prank, they're hit by a ray fired from a spaceship and knocked dead. The occupants of the ship remove their masks to reveal their surprising identities.

That's right, Superman, we want you dead, but we can't stand to see you suffer. So we committed murder right in front of you as a favor. You know; for old time's sake. "Gee, thanks, fellas. See ya 'round!"

Back at the Fortress, Laney's curiosity has gotten the better of her; distracting the sentry robot with a laboratory fire, she smashes through the door of the mystery room and is accdentally exposed to a stockpile of Red Kryptonite. As Superman arrives and watches in horror, Laney fades to nothingness in much the same way Lois did, leaving the Man of Steel to conclude that "the combined radiations of all those Red K specimens destroyed her!"

However, upon consulting his super-computer, Superman finds Laney was not killed, but rather transported to a parallel Earth. Turning the Red-K on himself, he follows Laney across the dimensional barrier and, on locating her, tucks her safely away in the parallel Earth's Fortress of Solitude, which he finds to be slightly different from his own.

For her newest assignment, parallel-Lois takes a "gill serum" which allows her to breathe underwater, but runs into trouble when she's attacked by a giant octopus. Superman saves her and takes her to a hospital, where he's overcome with emotion and rashly pops the question, leading to some awkward moments when he meets the Superman of this parallel Earth:

Superman's solution to this dilemma is to marry the parallel-Earth Lois as promised, pretending to be the Superman she knows and loves. After the ceremony, he takes her to the parallel-Earth Fortress, where she meets Laney...

That's right, no need to burden your wife with the truth. What better way to start off a life of wedded bliss than with a few lies and secrets, right? Meanwhile the parallel Superman returns to our Earth to take over for our Superman. "I'm glad I thought of changing worlds with my double," he thinks. "He has a wife...his daughter has a mother...and I needn't get married. Unless...hmm...I wonder if there's a Lana Lang on this Earth?"

And on the parallel Earth...

Yes, I'll never forget my first wife, who I shall honor by marrying this lookalike who makes it seem like Wife #1 never died at all. And to honor Wife #2, I will never mention I was married before...to a woman who looked, sounded and acted exactly like her. Because then she'd think I was a weirdo, and there's no need to burden her with the truth such thoughts.

Wow, I like Otto Binder and all, but this story is MESSED. UP. Am I alone in being concerned that the most powerful man alive builds a robot, then a couple of hours later forgets it's a robot and makes out with it? That he watches Brainiac and Luthor kill two people and because he really, really doesn't like the victims, turns a blind eye while they haul off the bodies (and even says, "Thanks")? That he would lie to a woman about his very identity just to get her to marry him? That the foundation of his abiding, all-consuming "love" for Lois seems based entirely on what she looks and sounds like? And that he's willing to live the rest of his life in a marriage where he's lying not only to his wife but to his daughter as well? Frankly, the only Superman who comes off well here is the parallel version, who's "too busy" for women.

This is the kind of story that makes you want to take a shower. Things get creepy fast and stay that way to the very last panel, where Superman gloats, "That's what she thinks!" It's a sordid, ugly mess. Well, maybe not ugly, as even with the bland inks of Jack Abel, Curt Swan still turns in a great art job, one that makes Lois in some panels so beautiful you can almost understand Superman's psychosis. Almost.

At least at the end, we see Superman's learned one lesson. He's set up the new family home inside the Fortress of Solitude, which is a little harder for most enemies to reach. And there's no windows.