When reading Lois Lane, the question arises time and time again: Why is Greg Rucka writing a Lois Lane Maxi-Series in 2019? The meaning of that question changes as the series goes on. The first time the question is asked is before you begin reading it and you wonder why Greg Rucka is writing it. It’s not that Rucka is a bad author; He’s a bit too fond of the US Military for my tastes, I got tired of Lazurus after a couple of volumes, and “Candor” is quite bluntly the worst thing everyone involved ever wrote. But he’s written some stuff I’ve quite liked: Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, “Severance Package,” and the Question/Montoya bits of 52 to name a few.
This is the first major series for the character of Lois Lane since 1974. Why is Greg Rucka and not, say, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marguerite Bennett, or Magdalene Visaggio working on this title? It’s quite possible that Rucka really wanted to write a Lois Lane book and, after the kerfuffle surrounding his Wonder Woman: Earth One book, maybe this was a means of making it up to him. Yet, Lois Lane isn’t one of his traditional spy/criminal/soldier/cop protagonists. She’s a reporter who is often at odds with her militaristic family. Why would Rucka gravitate to such a character?
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By the end of the first issue, the answer to this question becomes apparent. Midway through the issue, Renee Montoya appears to assist Lois with investigating the “suicide” of a fellow journalist who just so happened to be investigating the Kremlin. During their conversation, Lois notes the similarities between espionage and investigation.
Issue two would further emphasize this point by having Lois note the distinction of who did it. With a cop, you’re looking for a specific suspect who caused a murder whereas journalists look at the whole organization. The individual cogs in the machine aren’t as important to a journalist as the machine itself. The best journalists don’t stop with Joe Chill killed the Waynes. They go on to uncover the life he lived to cause their deaths, both on a personal and sociological level. Most machines aren’t built to be easily destroyed by a missing cog after all.
This is highlighted with a sequence at the end of the first issue wherein the titular Lois Lane confronts the press secretary of the White House about ICE’s policy of “monetizing the separation of children from their families.” You see this scene all the time on tumblr. It is a very popular fantasy to play out; that if one can only discover the truth and expose it to the world, then they can overthrow the cruel order pulling the strings. It’s especially popular in an era where it seems like things have gone horribly, disastrously wrong. Indeed, many influential and fascinating comics follow this trend, including Transmetropolitan, Doonesbury, and The Department of Truth.
It’s with issue four, however, where things start to become unstuck again, this time with the emphasis on “Maxi-Series.” In truth, it starts with issue three, wherein Clark asks Lois some questions about things going on in his own book relating to a period where Lois and their son, Jon, disappeared with Jor-El (who was brought back from the dead for reasons that were supposed to be explained in one of the drafts of Doomsday Clock instead of what we actually got).
But it’s especially a problem here because the entire series just stops dead in its tracks to tie into Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman/Legion of Superheroes runs. Additionally, issue 6 acts as a follow-up to the event comics series Event Leviathan that also stops the plot completely to explore the life and relationship of Lois and her departed father, their complex, often antagonistic family bond that never got the closure it deserved. And while this wouldn’t be a problem in an ongoing series, it is a problem here because there’s only 12 issues to use as space to tell the story. This is, after all, a story of journalism being able to take down the cruel systems which stomp down upon us, right? A murder mystery with international implications that could tear down governments.
Except, that’s not what this comic is about. See, with issue 3, we were left with the cliffhanger of deuteragonist Renee Montoya being confronted with her long thought dead predecessor, Vic Sage. In turn, issue 4 provides us with an interlude involving a woman who thinks she’s going to be erased from the universe, with a panel directly tying into Event Leviathan. (Said event comic had absolutely nothing to do with the multiverse, but that’s neither here nor there.) Subsequently, Vic leaves the comic with barely a look back at his presence, only acting as a vague gesture towards what’s going on. The main thrust of the comic isn’t a murder mystery of political importance, the duty of journalism in a post-Truth world, or even the relationship between Lois and Clark. Rather… it’s an explanation for how the DC Universe actually works.
What’s more, it’s an explanation of the DC Universe that hinges on Renee Montoya. It’s not that Lois is completely written out of the book by issue 9. She does have a, for lack of a better term, plot about trying to get her maid out of an ICE facility after being reported by a supervillain. But the maid is more a prop than an actual character and the main thrust of the narrative is Renee Montoya and the various other women involved in multiversial shenanigans.
It’s Renee, not Lois who is actively working on the investigation of the mystery. Sure, we see Lois Lane interview some people here and there, but we don’t see her actively going out to uncover information. We don’t see how she makes her contacts list, uncovers documentation that the powers that be wouldn’t want her to see. We don’t see any reason why she’s the titular Enemy of the State other than she can swear up a storm. Hell, she has to have Renee ask Batman for help uncovering the identity of an assassin (an assassin who, it’s revealed in the penultimate issue for those of us who haven’t read a Renee Montoya comic, has a personal connection with Montoya). And not even the secret identity, but her supervillain identity.
And what’s worse is that the multiverse aspect of the comic is utter pants. While it doesn’t come completely out of left field, it nevertheless feels out of place with a political thriller where ICE, Russian Collusion, and White House corruption are in play. The full explanation feels more like it’s a plot dump put in there because Rucka was bored of the Lois story and wanted to do literally anything else than a natural outgrowth of what came before. It’s explained to us with little to no hint of what it’s leading to, merely dropping the general outline of a mystery that’s only a mystery to one character. Indeed, two characters who, up until that point, had absolutely nothing to do with the Lois Lane story suddenly know enough about Lois Lane to go to her apartment to ask her what’s going on with the multiverse. There’s no care for the implications of the multiverse, it’s just something that’s causing weird stuff to happen because “things just happen, what the hell.”
Not helping matters is Mike Perkins’ art. While not bad art (though, in some cases, it can get a bit too smudgy for its own good), Perkins’ semi-realistic style is not the best match for the strange, bizarre multiversial implications Rucka’s script is going for. It lacks the pop to make Lori Lermaris, Pirate Batman, or any of the interesting versions of Wonder Woman that Perkins doesn’t even try for shine. You need someone like Nick Derington or Tula Lotay working alongside a colorist willing to mix up their colors to make a sequence like this work with the tone of the rest of the comic.
But the worst part of the comic, ultimately, is the final issue where one is forced to confront the very notion of this being a comic made in 2019-2020. Here, one would expect the plot threads to converge and coalesce into something… coherent. However, the murder mystery that opened the story is relegated to a narration balloon, the multiversal weirdness gets center stage without actually doing anything with its implications, and then there’s the ICE subplot. Though, to call it a subplot would be generous. It’s more accurate to call it a detour.
The ICE segment of the book brings to mind the point of doing a book about Lois Lane speaking truth to power. Even a cursory glimpse on twitter will highlight that ICE facilities are, at best, concentration camps designed to kill people deemed too foreign by the White Supremacist government. Putting aside that the presence of ICE in a world where Superman exists makes the Man of Tomorrow a f***ing putz, it’s wrong to treat ICE as a means to an end for a supervillain rather than as the main antagonist who are LITERALLY SEPARATING CHILDREN FROM THEIR PARENTS. (Said supervillain, incidentally, ends the comic by hooking up with Lois Lane’s protagonist, Renee Montoya.)
There are other political snafus in this comic from a rather awkward sequence where Superman hangs out with a bunch of cops for a bit to Lois lambasting Renee for torturing a guy on the grounds that it’s not useful for her investigation instead of, you know, torture being kind of evil and wrong. But the ICE moments are by far the most glaring. Even the final scene where Lois Lane is lauded by the Latinix family she got out of an ICE facility while Superman proudly stands behind them not ten feet away from an ICE facility. It’s not as vile as, say, Superman punching a literal refugee child in the face in order to protect President Donald Trump from a horde of foreigners led by a scary black man. But the best this comic can imagine someone like Lois Lane doing in the face of ICE is saving one family instead of tearing the whole thing down. But then, such fantasies might be too unrealistic for a comic about multiverse theory with witches, skull faced women, and men who dance atop clouds.
At the end of the day, Lois Lane is not a good book. There are a great number of reasons for this from the, at times, smudgy artwork going against the style of the book to the political confusion at the heart of the story to the inability to pick one thing to be about and have that one thing feature Lois Lane actively involved with it. But, in a final analysis, the reason why Lois Lane failed was because it couldn’t answer one single question in every sense imaginable:
Why does this book exist?
Here I am just another shout into the dark
You would think, we’d be loud enough, to cause a spark
But half the world cover their ears and cry
So we’re screaming at no one
Screaming at no one
-dodie, a song i wrote about twitter
I am glad I am not the only one who found this book confusing and messy (from both a plot and art perspective). I loved the first couple of issues, but as soon as the multiversal shenanigans started I began to really wonder what they were doing in this book. At some point I just gave up trying to get the plot to make sense and just focused on the dialogue and characterization (which I found quite good). I have found this problem in other Rucka books too. I admit I’m not the best at following political intrigue plots (despite being very political) so maybe some of that is my problem, but I always get the feeling that a lot of the less good dialogue in a Rucka story is characters talking about things I feel like I should know about, but don’t for some reason.