I first read Lois Lane Nos 99 and 100 a
month and a half ago two months ago (I am still a procrastinator, you guys), and I was amazed. Here was Silver Age comic plotting at its finest and most befuddling, to the extent that it was my go-to topic whenever conversation flagged at dinner or parties.
Now, quite aside from the fact that I’m severely out of writing practice and (as mentioned) a master procrastinator, I’ve been putting off writing about this story for one reason: it is a mystery. Further, it is a mystery that kind of, maybe tries to play fair with its audience? More on this later. Point being, I was very concerned that I present it in the right way, and now I think that I have hit upon it: I summarize all but the very end of the story, and then we will review the evidence. Once you have all had a chance to solve the mystery, we will conclude.
We open on Lois Lane, renowned reporter, being invited to speak on a television show on the subject of “National Superman Day”, which is natural since she is a professional and an expert on the guy. Only: surprise! She and Lana Lang have actually been tricked onto a sleazy gossip show wherein the host and the audience debate which of them is a better match for Superman.
Now, this story was published in 1970, which is a tricky period for our herioines, who were both successful careerwomen, but retained their near-psychopathic romantic devotion to Superman. Case in point: Lois and Lana were lured onto the TV show under the pretense of being experts on Superman, but the mere suggestion that one or the other of them might be a better match for him causes a catfight to break out over dinner. Happily, the seed of the Lois-who-will-be is present, and Lois eventually takes Lana for a drive in order to apologize. But then:
… a rainy bridge! A car plunges into Gotham river!
Lois Lane is the only one to emerge from the water! In a state of shock, Lois hitches a ride to Gotham and checks into a hotel. From which, one hour later, she is whisked back to Gotham Bridge by Superman, there to witness her car and the corpse of Lana Lang being pulled from the depths.
Lois is arrested and sent to prison, but soon receives a visitor: Bruce Wayne! He informs her that he believes in her innocence, and that he has ensured that she will receive the very best legal counsel. Namely…
Batman for the defense! But why hasn't Superman (who is also a lawyer, natch) come to see Lois yet? Welp, that could be a bit awkward, seeing as how this happened:
That’s right, it’s a Superman v. Batman legal battle! If only they had gone all the way and made Green Lantern the judge, this would be the most perfect artifact of the late Silver Age that I could imagine.
Superman immediately goes a bit overboard in his lawyerly duties:
His goal? To prove conclusively whether or not a well-conditioned, well-trained swimmer like Lois Lane could effect an escape from a crashed car while still rescuing their passenger. He concludes that they could, while ignoring that Lois might not have been as mentally well-off in the same situation, having not seen the crash coming and also needing to breathe and not being invulnerable (Batman also misses this crucial detail, perhaps because he has forgotten what it is to be a mortal man).
The trial is mostly unremarkable, other than the identities of the lawyers involved, and the fact that Batman essentially accuses Superman of being a fancy city lawyer in his closing statements.
Just before the jury returns and Batman bursts in with a surprise piece of evidence, let’s review the evidence:
FACT: Lois and Lana had a fight.
FACT: They were in the car together when it drove off of a bridge on a rainy night.
FACT: Superman can hold his breathe forever and is unafraid of car crashes.
FACT: Lois failed a lie detector test (inadmissible).
So, aside from noting that all of the evidence is circumstantial or bullshit or both, what amazing and unorthodox tactic did Batman come up with to get the evidence he needed to keep Lois Lane from the death house?
In a shock twist, he examined the corpse, and thereby discovered that it was missing its left thumb, had an internal temperature of 104 degrees, and was, in fact, an android.
I was going to make a big deal out of the fact that a cursory medical examination to determine cause of death (let alone an autopsy) should have turned up these facts, but then I realized that Lana was probably taken to the Gotham Medical Examiner, and it’s reasonable to assume that everyone there is murdered, mind controlled or replaced by three penguins in a lab coat on at least a biweekly basis, so I’m prepared to cut them some slack.
(DC Comics: Dr Birdbrain is just one of the many fascinating characters that would star in my proposed CSI-style Gotham Central reboot. Call me!)
We'll pause for a second so that all of you can assess the evidence and solve the mystery, just as Batman has. Do you have it? Of course not! I lied! This mystery absolutely does not play fair!
And so, on Page 31 of 33 total, Superman flies to Tunisia(!?), there to find a group of alien androids, playing an inscrutable game of human chess. These androids punished one of their number for cheating by killing her and substituting her corpse for Lana, then framing Lois for the murder! And maybe that was part of the game?
So: Lana is saved from the aliens (oh yeah, long-running character Lana Lang was not in fact killed off in 1970, kids), Lois is set free, the alien androids are kicked off of the planet, and everything goes back to normal. Like, weirdly so. Still, I guess we're at least a decade away from Everything is Different Forever-style comics, so.
In conclusion, I kind of think that either the original ending to this was scrapped at some point or that most of it was finished before someone realized that they need one of those newfangled 'ending' things to wrap it all up, because, well, that's what a crazy left turn into "aliens did it" at the end of any mystery will make me think. Still, better that than [joke about dumb plot twist in oft-referenced popular-yet-terrible series], right?