Here are some notes and images from Lois Lane, Girl Reporter, a pitch for a series of illustrated young adult novels I worked on a few years ago for DC Comics. Story by me, with considerable brainstorming help from my pal John Campbell, and art by Project: Rooftop fan favorite Daniel Krall.
My wonderful editor, Chris Cerasi, was a real champion of the series, which we codenamed “Project 77,” and while we had a great time working on it and finding this secret window into the DCU, it doesn’t look like the current leadership of DC is remotely interested in this kinda thing. I thought some Lois Lane fans here on the interwebs might at least like a look at what might have been…
A LITTLE BACKSTORY
Growing up with two younger sisters, I’ve often found myself attracted to cool female leads whose stories I could share with them (Nancy Drew, Veronica Mars, etc.), but while the superhero industry has always done good by me in providing excellent male heroes (chief among them, Batman and Superman), its treatment of their similarly iconic female heroes like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl has always been mixed at best. Too often these spandex-clad heroines have been marketed towards post-adolescent men rather than to their own gender. There’s room for this in the spectrum of superhero fiction, of course, but without a positive female role model for me to share with my sisters, that they could see themselves in, they both grew up with only a portion of my comics fandom. (Don’t get me wrong, they both still dig Batman!)
But then I found a secret window into the DCU that I don’t think anyone else knows about: Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Lois Lane…at eleven years old.
Lois Lane, Girl Reporterfollows the adventures of young Lois Lane. At eleven years old, Lois has discovered her calling: investigative journalism. She sets out to right wrongs and help out her friends. This series explores Lois’s character, reveals her surprising early influence on the future Man of Steel, and introduces fun new elements into this enduring character’s back story.
In each book, Lois will tackle a problem or mystery affecting the members of the community she finds herself in as she travels around the country. The investigations in this series will not be mystical or supernatural (though some characters may suspect such sources), but real world problems that Lois works to set right.
LOIS LANE is the bright, driven, daughter of Sam and Ellen Lane. Lois has dark, straight hair, pale violet eyes, and wears green when she has a choice. Lois carries a small messenger bag containing a tape recorder, a flashlight, a reporter-style notepad, and the military’s experimental S-Phone. Lois often refers to her friends by their last names and hometowns. Age: 11.
CLARK KENT is a farmboy and science-fiction fan growing up in Smallville, Kansas. Clark is kinda skinny and has black hair and the brightest blue eyes. He often wears blue ringer tees, blue jeans, and red tennis shoes. Clark doesn’t yet know of his alien heritage, but he is already developing quite a few of his super-abilities. Age: 12.
Lois has just been pulled out of her private school outside Metropolis (where her mother and sister, Lucy, still reside) for exposing, but not defeating, some long held corruptions in the administrative offices by including an incriminating article about them in the school paper. Lois goes to live on base with her father, Lt. Colonel Sam Lane. The series opens on their military convoy moving soldiers and equipment to a new base outside Kansas, rolling down an old route road that runs past a familiar farm, giving us a glimpse of the Kent family sitting on the porch as they roll by. Clark senses his parents’ heartrates jump. They’re afraid their fear of the government coming to take Clark away has finally, inevitably come true. But the convoy just rolls past.
In Dry Pond, Lois befriends Jane Jarrett, a tough girl from the base, and Mattie Connelly, a cute boy with asthma, whose slight cold takes a very sudden turn for the worse. Visiting her new friend in the local hospital a few days later, Lois picks up on a great deal of information, much of it troubling. Lois starts investigating.
Using various resources, and with a few false leads, Lois uncovers the truth. A respected pharmaceuticals representative, Brian Brisson, had cheated on his company’s safety tests in order to get a promotion and a raise. Because of Brisson’s actions, hundreds of doses of untested, unsafe asthma inhalers were released into Midwest markets.
With the help of her father, Lois is able to get this new information to Mattie’s doctors, and her story about the tainted medicine runs in the local paper. Her story is then picked up by the Associated Press, saving forty kids’ lives across the Midwest. Lois’s story is reprinted across the country, earning her the lifelong nickname, “Lois Lane, Girl Reporter.” (All previous instances of its use now rendered callbacks rather than sexist. BONUS.)
The story ends by another appearance by twelve year old Clark Kent, who helps the people of Smallville in secret, but never openly, due to his parents’ fears of his being discovered. But Clark reads Lois’s article reprinted in the Smallville Star, laying on his stomach on the living room rug. He looks over his shoulder, smiling at Martha and says, “Golly, that’s some girl, huh, Ma?” Here’s this girl fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way with no superpowers and no secret identity. Clark enrolls in his school’s journalism class the next day. That’s why Clark Kent is a reporter. Lois Lane is his hero.
[Throughout the rest of the series, we’d have seen that whenever Lois encounters power, it has corrupted its wielder. The government, corporations, the military (poor Gen. Lane), they’re abusing their power. Until she meets the most powerful being on Earth. And he’s incorruptible. Superman’s therefore the most attractive man she’s ever met. Someone she can believe in, who fights her same fight with flights and tights.]
BRUCE WAYNE is a troubled boy with dark hair and blue-gray eyes. Bruce was orphaned five years ago when his wealthy, philanthropic parents were senselessly killed by a mugger. Bruce has been traveling around the world, learning everything he thinks he needs to become the world’s perfect crime-fighter. He rarely engages in social activities. Bruce wears expensive gray and black clothes and travels with his compassionate and witty valet, Alfred Pennyworth. Age: 13.
Due to her fifteen minutes of fame, a prestigious Gotham City academy, the Robinson School, has offered Lois a scholarship to their exclusive summer program. At Robinson, Lois encounters a boy billionaire named Bruce Wayne, who seems too distracted by his own goals to make friends or enemies. Lois misses her pals in Dry Pond, but finds herself enjoying the high quality of her classes, and makes a few new friends.
Lois is especially taken with a student named Sara Thomason, who Lois only sees between classes and at lunch, even though she claims to share the same subjects. Investigating, Lois discovers that Sara isn’t a student at Robinson at all. After confronting Sara, Lois learns the truth, that her scholarship wasn’t awarded fairly, but given to her in the hopes of receiving favorable standing with Lois’s mother, Ellen Lane, whose political and social circles were quite powerful. Sara was the rightful scholarship recipient, and has been skipping her own public school to sneak around Robinson, wearing her favorite yellow sweater, dyed gray to almost match the school’s uniform code. Investigating further, Lois uncovers years of similar choices by the scholarship committee, bringing children of celebrities, politicians, and businesspeople to Robinson rather than the intended recipients, Gotham City’s best and brightest.
Lois also uncovers the anonymous donors who established the scholarship, Thomas and Martha Wayne, who made the donation in celebration of Bruce’s birth, to the school that taught them to put others first, and work for the good of all. Lois shares this information with their son, who is grateful for the new connection to his lost parents.
BAD WILL HUNTING
Starting in book three, we’d have started revealing the secrets to Lex Luthor’s rise to power, starting as misunderstood hypergenius in Smallville, then moving to Metropolis’s Suicide Slum, where he takes over criminal activity through intermediaries, amassing a small fortune. Using that money, 18 year old Lex forges family crests and historical documents, making his surname into a seemingly lesser-known moneyed American mainstay. He pulls a Count of Monte Cristo, inviting the elite of Metropolis to a fancypants party, where he charms the cufflinks off the CEO of OverCorp, who hires him on the spot as a financial advisor and R&D director.
With a seven-figure salary and a virtually unlimited development budget, Lex uses the OverCorp resources to build new technologies, like the S-Phone, a communicator that works using quantum entanglement, which he secretly monitors, gathering intel for his future plans. He designs their high-speed rail line for a government contract to run from Metropolis to Coast City, but secretly buys ALL the real estate that runs that route through shell companies (using bizarre intimidation tactics, secret goons, and OverCorp tech to run people off their land), so when he gets his commission and the government purchases that land, he becomes a billionaire overnight. He buys out OverCorp, rebranding their damaged name (his fault) LuthorCorp. He’s now the youngest, most popular CEO in America.
THE LANES NOT TAKEN
There were lots of other goodies in the five books I worked out under Chris’s guidance, like Lucy Lane’s middle school Banksy impression and Carroll Ferris’s “Coast City Creature.” Oh, and they wanted me to have Clark and Lois meet at one point, which I thought was insane, but then came up with a bit I liked where Clark goes to help Lois, who’s in greater danger than she realizes, undercover at an OverCorp student outreach week. Clark has to use his developing powers (entering the soon-to-be demolished building by leaving a boy-shaped hole in the wall), so he grabs Lois’s red scarf and wraps it around his head like a mask. But Lois won’t trust anyone wearing a mask. That’s why Superman doesn’t wear one.
But the above stuff was the best bits, the stuff I’ve been bummed no one knows about. I feel like I visited the DCU for real while working on this stuff, and just reported back with some things I saw. I saw Clark Kent say “Up, up, and away” for the first time. I know why Bruce Wayne’s limo is so old. It was a real privilege to spend so much time with these characters, though, and I hope you enjoy what I found out.
And here’s a tiny sample of the prose style. This is from the introduction, which John Campbell and I wrote together, early on.
A dust storm kicked up over the horizon, and Clark stopped to watch. Out of the cloud of dirt shot a line of camouflaged jeeps, trucks and humvees, all barreling down the little country road. Clark walked to the side of his father’s rusty pickup truck.
“You see this, Pa?” said Clark. Jonathan Kent leaned out the window of the truck, and looked past his son, but it was at least a minute before he saw the convoy on the road at the edge of their property. The jeeps churned up puffs of dust, and some of the bigger trucks threw chunks of earth out from under their wheels and into the air.
“Well, that’s something, isn’t it? I wonder what the Army’s doing out here.” Jonathan motioned to the bale of hay in Clark’s hands. “You gonna put that last one away, or are you gonna stare a while?” Clark had been finishing their load while his dad got the truck started.
“Well the thing is,” Clark said while he walked back around the truck, “There’s a grasshopper right where this bale should go, and I don’t wanna squish him.” Sure enough, in the last space among the bales, a big green grasshopper stared up at him. “You better get outta there,” said Clark.
“Just start putting the bale in, that bug’ll move if it’s got an ounce of sense!” yelled Jonathan, while the truck started with a roar. Clark dropped one side of the bale in first, and the grasshopper took off flying. Relieved, Clark fit the bale in, and ran to hop in the truck. “Hurry it up son,” said Jonathan. He drove as fast as he could down the dirt path that ran along the fields to their home on the other side of the property.
"We’re not gonna drop these off at the barn?" said Clark. His father nodded and kept driving. They kept pace with the convoy as it moved along the perimeter of their property. Jonathan wanted to get home to Martha. When they pulled up to the house, she was already outside, with a dish rag in her hands. Jonathan stopped the truck and got out to meet her. Clark followed.
“They better not turn this way,” Martha said to Jonathan. In the distance, the convoy approached the fork in the road. One way led onto the Kent farm, and the other continued to the highway. Clark could hear his parents’ heart rates quicken, but did not know why. He pulled a crumpled science fiction comic out of his back pocket, and sat down to read a little, like he did during any break in farm work. Martha wiped her hands with her dish rag absentmindedly, and Jonathan put his arm around her.
They had found Clark thirteen years prior. He had fallen from the sky. They didn’t know where he came from and they didn’t care either. But they worried someday someone might try to take their son away.
Clark heard a sigh of relief from his mother, so he looked up to see the convoy continuing past the turn, moving towards the highway. A grasshopper flying along the horizon caught his eye, and he watched it disappear into a patch of tall grass. Jonathan took Martha’s dish rag and wiped his brow. They both laughed a little.
“Must be pretty important people in those trucks,” said Clark, “for all this fuss.”
Lois Lane held out her map as the jeep bounced along the rough dirt road. She tried her best to read the tiny shaking numbers of the next county road on the map. “The next turn is highway 39…no, 38!” said Lois, “It’s the first big road after that little town, so it’s coming up soon.” Her father, Major Sam Lane, took a hand off the wheel and grabbed his radio.
"Next turn right in a couple minutes," said Sam loudly into the radio. He clipped the radio back into the dash and asked his daughter, "Did we pass a town?"
“Yeah! It was barely there though. Just a main street and a lot of farmland around.” Lois pulled the map close. “It was…Smallville.” She laughed a little. “Well, that fits anyway. They could’ve called it Nowhere.”
“Oh, I think Nowhere’s a few counties over,” said Sam, smirking. “Check the map,” he joked.
Lois smiled. “How long until we get there?”
“Well, you tell me,” said her dad.
Lois stuck her finger on the map and traced the red line to their destination. Then she put her thumb on Smallville and moved her hand down to the bottom of the map to compare it with the key. She looked up to her dad and held out the distance between her fingers. “We’re still about a hundred miles miles away,” she said.
“Oh, it’ll be a couple hours more,” said Sam. “But at least we’re getting off this dirt.” He turned the jeep onto the paved highway and watched in his rear view mirrors as the rest of the convoy followed. Lois got out her notepad and started writing. “What are you working on now?” Sam asked.
Lois stuck a period on the end of a sentence and answered, “Same as before, I’m working on ideas for my next article.” She went back to writing.
“Well, try to wait until we leave town to get your new school shut down, okay? I’m pretty sure Dry Pond’s only got one school, so you’re gonna need to go to it for a while,” said Sam. “But if you find something like you did at your last school,” Sam said, “you do what needs to be done.” Back in Metropolis, Lois had discovered the top administration of Midvale Academy falsifying grades for favored students.
Lois scribbled with her pen but the ink had given out. She shook it and tried again. “As soon as we get on a road smooth enough to write on, my pen dies.” She fiddled with the tip and tried again, but it still refused to write. “Do you have a pen, Dad?”
“I don’t write much while I’m driving I guess,” said Sam. Lois searched her bag, and felt underneath her seat.
“I really ought to use pencils,” said Lois. She started looking through the glove box, and Sam got on the radio.
“Sergeant Beaton, you have a pen in your truck?” said Sam. An affirmative crackled over the radio, and Sam continued, “Well pull up to the front with us here.” A humvee a few cars behind them pulled out of line and moved alongside their jeep. “Lois, I don’t think I can stop this whole convoy for a pen, but I bet you can figure out a way for them to get it to you.” Lois chewed on her broken pen and squinted.
"Okay. I’m going to roll down the window," said Lois. Her dad gave a thumbs up, so she rolled the window down and leaned her head out of the jeep. The humvee next to them lowered their back window and a clean cut soldier waved a blue pen. "Hey!" yelled Lois, "Do you think you can throw it to me?"
The soldier nodded and the humvee pulled a little closer. He started to throw it and Lois waved her hands. “Don’t throw it straight at me! Throw it at the front of the jeep a little so the wind won’t make you miss!”
The soldier whipped the pen between the cars and Lois caught it with her right hand. “All right! Thank you!” She waved to the humvee as it retreated to its place in the convoy, and then rolled up her window.
"Nice catch!" said Sam. Lois took her new pen’s cap off with her teeth and scribbled in her notepad.
"Whew. That’s better," Lois said. "I sure hope Dry Pond’s got something interesting to write about. That name sounds as boring as Smallville."
"Well, it’s a good thing they’re getting you then," said her dad. "You’re about the most interesting person I ever met. And I told you I met the President, right?"
"Haha, yeah, dad. Just a million times."
GOODBYE, LOIS LANE
Thanks for reading this! Here’s hoping one day DC gives someone a shot to write Lois Lane right. It won’t be me, but maybe some of these ideas will find their way back into the DCU, or even better, into the hearts of some fellow LL fans.
To close this out, here are some more sketches for LL:GR, from my pals Jemma Salume and Ming Doyle, who were to have drawn the back-up comics for books one and two.
Jemma Salume's Clark Kent, age 12.
Ming Doyle's Bruce Wayne, age 13.