I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about Lucifer. (I swear this will get to Superman, just bear with me for a moment.) I used to watch Lucifer regularly but found myself losing interest when it became clear that the driving narrative behind the show was Lucifer’s romance with Chloe Decker. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good love story as much as anyone, but I find close, platonic relationships between men and women to be more interesting than romantic ones—especially because Hollywood writers often can’t resist turning the former into the latter. I realize this puts me in the minority when it comes to Lucifer viewers, but I’d much rather the show focus on Lucifer’s issues with his father and his predetermined role as the lord of hell, or even his odd fascination with helping the LAPD solve murders rather than the whole will-they-or-won’t-they thing with Chloe. Especially because we all know that they will.
Before I tie all of this in with the most recent issue of Superman, it might help for you to also know a bit about me. I’m a man, but most of my close friends happen to be women. Some of my tightest “comic book friends” are women, the “Best Man” at my wedding was a woman, heck, even the friend I was having the Lucifer chat with is a woman. All of these relationships are entirely platonic. I have one romantic relationship in my life. And yet, almost every close male/female relationship I see in TV and movies seems to be a romantic one. There are plenty of reasons for this—as well as many exceptions, I know—but it seems weird to me that it’s so unbalanced and it’s left me hungry for more platonic opposite-sex friendships in my entertainment.
Which brings me to Superman #25. The solicitation and all of the marketing around the issue trumpets the arrival of Synmar, an extraterrestrial baddie who promises to spell trouble for the Man of Steel over the months ahead. However, I found myself far more excited by the reemergence of Lana Lang.
This isn’t the first time that Superman’s childhood crush has appeared since Brian Michael Bendis took over writing the Super-books. However, it is the first time she’s interacted directly with Clark Kent. Sent by the Daily Star to interview him about his role as Superman and about the controversy over the Daily Planet’s ownership, Lana Lang finds herself straying from the subject of the interview to reminisce with her old friend.
The truth is that Lana is a horrible choice to objectively interview Clark, they share far too much history together. But I’m not writing about journalistic ethics here, I’m writing about friendship, and it makes me very happy to see these two old opposite-sex friends back together. You see, one thing about Clark that isn’t often discussed—one thing that’s true about most superheroes, actually—is that he doesn’t actually have many straight-up friends. Yes, I know he has people in his life like Bruce, Diana and the rest of the Justice Leaguers, as well as his “best pal” Jimmy Olsen. They’re all really important and add support, affirmation, love and everything else to his life that you look for in a friend, but they’re also all essentially work friends. That means they understand Clark’s professional life, either as a reporter or as a superhero, intimately, but it also means they’re not unbiased. The same even goes for Lois—it’s why all of us who are married still maintain friendships outside of our relationships. You need that outside perspective every now and then.
That’s what Lana provides for Clark. She doesn’t work with him (one could argue that professionally she’s actually a competitor, but I think her long relationship and obvious affection for Clark overrules that) and she’s not a superhero. However, she understands superheroes. As Bendis alludes to in his script, she grew up with Superboy as a local Smallville hero and Lana even was herself a superhero briefly.
Acknowledging Lana’s past as Superwoman creates a strange anomaly in all of this, but it’s one that I feel actually may make her an even better friend to Clark. Lana’s Superwoman powers were derived from the death of the New 52 Superman, meaning that the Clark she knew as a child isn’t actually this one. Likewise, this Clark’s childhood Lana no longer exists. Yet, as Superwoman, Lana was able to develop a relationship with this unknown-to-her Man of Steel. In a sense, her unique perspective and experiences have allowed her to become friends with both Clark Kent and Kal-El as separate individuals. As for Superman, over the course of his life, he’s built friendships with Lana Lang on two separate Earths. That neither Clark or Lana seem to see this as an issue—that this isn’t their friend from the past—indicates that there’s truly something about who they are that is drawn to one another, regardless of what Earth they’re from.
And yet, despite their childhood infatuation with each other, there’s no romance between Clark and Lana. They’re genuinely just friends. For a hero like Superman—who does what’s right for humankind, but must always avoid convincing himself that he alone knows what’s right—that’s truly essential. He needs human friends who aren’t involved in the daily battles for the safety of humanity and who aren’t so close to him as to potentially not call out bad behavior. He has precious few of them.
So yes, I’m totally here for Lana Lang’s return to Superman and genuinely hope it’s not a one-or-two-issue thing. In the upcoming battle with Synmar, the Man of Steel will undoubtedly need all of his powers to win. But it’s his relationships with people like Lana that will remind him of who he is and what it means to be human. In other words, the very things he’s fighting for.
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, writes our monthly Superman column, “Super Here For…”, and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column.