Thursday, February 28, 2013

Unlikely Romance - Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane in "I Am Curious (Black)!"


Today I have for you a story that I have been wanting to share for some time -- "I Am Curious (Black)!" from Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #106 (November 1970). Written by Bob Kanigher, and illustrated by Werner Roth and Vince Colletta, it is truly a story that only the 1970s could have birthed! And, perfect for both this last day of Black History Month and on the tail of the 75th anniversary of Superman. And yes, though Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane isn't a romance title per se, as you may remember from my 2010 booklet The Look of Love, many of the Lois Lane stories contain romance comic-like qualities. And as you will see in this issue, Lois's concern with Superman's love for her ultimately makes it a romance story.

The title of this story is a play on the name of
the 1967 Swedish film, I Am Curious (Yellow)

Lois, reporter extraordinaire, is given the chance to write an article on "Little Africa" -- Metropolis's African-American community. Completely stoked about the possible career changing opportunity, Lois vows to tell it like it really is, "nitty-gritty" and all. Superman (err, Clark Kent) is wary of her ambitions and decides to check in on Lois.


Lois soon finds that her enthusiasm for her article subject is not matched by the people living in Little Africa. She is dodged by everyone -- schoolchildren, teens, mothers, and even a blind elderly woman who detects Lois's "whiteness" when she goes to explain her project. 


When she comes upon a public demonstration, Lois is made an example of by the man lecturing and reminds his audience, "But never forget -- she's Whitey!" Though Lois knows she doesn't share any of the same sentiments that the man accuses her of, she does realizes the prejudices do exist for many.


Lois is frustrated by her inability to connect with the community of Little Africa. Luckily Superman swings by to check on her. Lois asks him to help her by turning her into a woman of color. A reluctant Superman brings her to his Fortress of Solitude and completes the dramatic transformation with his Plastimold machine.


Before she sets back out to continue her investigation, Superman reminds Lois that she will only be black for one day before her skin returns to its natural state. After a quick clothes change back in Metropolis into an Afrocentric outfit (one kinda wonders here why Lois didn't go shopping at a boutique in Little Africa to support the local economy!) Lois attempts to catch a cab back to Little Africa, but quickly learns after failing at that and a subsequent ride on the subway, that life as the Other isn't so easy.
 

Lois wanders into an ill-kept apartment building and has a cup of coffee with a woman who appears to be constantly battling the crumbling environment around her. Lois is touched when despite the woman's obvious hardships, she asks Lois what she can do to help her.


Soon after, Lois stumbles upon a man leading an impromptu class for children. While watching the exchange between teacher and students, Lois is approached by a man by the name of Dave Stevens who claims to recognize her. She recognizes him alright -- he is none other than the man who called her "Whitey." But, before she can say anything, Dave sees a group of teenage dropouts up to no good.


Lois follows Dave into the alley as he pursues the teens. The kids are dropping off a pile of loot to a couple of gangsters, and as Dave goes to stop them, he is shot by one of them. Superman quickly makes it to the scene before they can do further damage, and he quickly brings Lois and the weak Dave to a nearby hospital. The doctors inform them that Dave needs a blood transfusion, but they do not have his blood type (the rare O-) in stock due to lack of funding. Luckily, Lois knows she is a match so she volunteers to be Dave's donor.


As Lois and Dave lay side by side on hospital beds, connected to one another via tubes, Lois pleads for the injured man to wake up. Finally, much to her relief, Dave opens his eyes.


After the transfusion, Lois approaches Superman about an always touchy subject -- marriage. As she looks in the mirror at her altered self, she asks him if he would marry her even if she was black.


Though Superman briefly touches on the racial implications of her question and how he too is an outsider, he gives Lois the same answer he always does -- marriage between them could never happen. His enemies would kill Lois to hurt him. And before Lois can say anything else, she begins the transformation back -- ahead of schedule. A shocked nurse comes in to tell Lois that Dave has been asking for her. Lois panics and worries over Dave's reception of her in her current state. Superman tells Lois that she must see him or she will never know.


The last page of the story contains no dialogue, but the final panel says everything it needs to. There is hope for peace in the world after all. 


This is definitely one of those comic book stories that could be dismissed as overly goofy from today's perspective. But taken in context of the time it was published, the socially-relevant message that underneath it all, we are all the same, must have been pretty powerful for young and old readers alike.

19 comments:

  1. Great choice for a post, Jacque. As you say, at the time this was published it had a strong point to make, one that is actually not entirely irrelevant today. Bob Kanigher wrote most of the DC comics that addressed racial issues back in the 60s and 70s. Some day I think he will be widely recognized for that contribution.

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    1. Wouldn't a collection of these Kanigher stories be fantastic?

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  2. Thanks for sharing this unusually progressive Lois Lane story.

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    1. Nice..i miss Lois n Superman. Thanks to Zack Synder , superman n Lois love continues..Hate the fact that the new writers are pairing WW n Supes now..thats sucks!!!

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  3. Jacque, first I have to say kudos for the wonderful site--though I think this is my first time commenting, SC has been in my RSS feed forever. Or since 2009, which in internet time feels like forever.

    This story has been a long-time personal favorite since I was a kid, and it's the perfect one to have cross-posted with Brad Ricca.

    In addition to the I am Curious (Yellow) callout, the comic also appears to be inspired by the 1970 Columbia Pictures film Watermelon Man, in which a white insurance agent wakes up black and experiences life from the other perspective, much like Lois Lane. Behind the scenes, director Melvin van Peebles struggled with corporate control. Although he ended up getting offered a multi-picture deal, he turned it down and instead used the Watermelon Man money (along with a loan from Bill Cosby) to fund his pioneering indie film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which paved the way for the indie African American film-maker renaissance in the late 1970s/1980s.

    One can only imagine what the comics industry would have been like if Siegel and Shuster had received enough from Doctor Occult and Federal Men to launch Superman as an independent comic.

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    1. I wasn't familiar with Watermelon Man, Jeff. Thank you for that important connection, as it sounds like it probably was (as you point out) an inspiration!

      Thank you for being a reader all these years -- hard to believe Sequential Crush has been around since 2009!

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  4. Jacque,

    I recall reading this story when it first came out and it held my attention as a child and made me think. I also agree with Jeff that Kanigher may have been inspired by Watermelon Man. The artwork by Werner Roth, nicely inked by Vince Colletta also deserves comment. Roth did a wonderful job conveying character and emotion, which was so important to Kanigher's story. Roth is very underrated but did fine work throughout his career.

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    1. It is cool to hear that you remember reading it when it came out, even all these years later. It really is one of those stories that seems hard to forget.

      Hopefully you enjoy today's follow-up post on Roth!

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  5. Jacque - great review!

    I also have fond memories of this tale. In addition to the inspirations already cited, you'd also have to give some credit to the hugely influential O'Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series that was running at the time of this story.

    By the way, it's not well known but Mr. Kanigher began crusading against racial prejudice way back in 1950! There's a story called "Johnny Thunder, Indian Chief" that was published in All-American Western #113, that dealt with a young Native American named Swift Deer being ostracized by the Mesa City school children.

    It was illustrated by the great Alex Toth, and you can find excerpts posted over here:

    http://marvelmasterworksfansite.yuku.com/topic/17391/Unsung-Heroes-and-Stories-from-the-1950s#.UTNooVfLkSU

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    1. Good call Osgood on the GL/GA stories -- definitely the beginning of the Bronze Age inclination towards real world relevance. I don't know much about Kanigher's personal life and/or his motivations for writing the socially on target stories he did. A full book-length biography sure would be fascinating!

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  6. Fantastic story, and brilliantly executed, with some nicely done nuances and facets to it. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Great stuff Jacque -- everyone always references this story but no one seems to have actually read it (me raising hand sheepishly because I didn't remember the end). I cross-posted you below -- thanks pal -- glad to have you 'back.'

      http://brad-ricca.com/?p=1135

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    2. No problem, Chaarles!

      Brad: Thank you, and thank you for the awesome opportunity for the cross-post. Be sure to check it out, everyone!

      http://brad-ricca.com/?p=1135

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  7. I was thinking Watermelon Man, too--and also how THIS is how the Superman movies should have been done...with Margot Kidder being replaced by Pam Grier! I just love your blog, Jacque.

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    1. Now that would have been interesting! Thanks for reading, Donna!!!

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  8. Excellent story, really touches upon the suject well. And I especially like the seed of hope at the end, the scene with Lois and Dave. Glad I read it even if it were an abridged vesion.

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  9. I'm a little late to this party, but I thought I'd try to share something else about this landmark issue: the response to it as seen in the editor's letters a couple of months later. Here's a link to my tumblr post on it:

    http://slsblog.tumblr.com/post/64414112627/the-pbs-documentary-airing-this-week

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    1. Thank you for this fantastic contribution! I am going to post the link on the Sequential Crush Facebook page and my Twitter. Such an important letter!

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