As Flash said to Batman after his Knightmare in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, “Lois is the key” – and Justice League shows us why. The relationship between Lois Lane and Superman has been one of the few truly consistent elements of the DCEU. It’s the only core aspect of the DC cinematic universe that’s been present since its inception, having been a major part of both 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. And whatever you may think of those movies, the emphasis they placed on DC’s first couple is neither misjudged nor misplaced, honoring the 70-odd years of history the two share by making their bond a fundamental element going into the first live-action Justice League film. So much so is Lois ingrained in Superman’s DCEU story that without her influence and compassion, the Last Son would be the arbiter of earth’s destruction rather than its sworn protector.
Going back to Man of Steel, the couple seemed all but destined to cross paths. Clark, a manual laborer in the Canadian Arctic, is part of a group sent to accompany Lois as she investigates a crashed Kryptonian spacecraft for the Daily Planet. After she incidentally activates the ship’s security system, Clark saves Lois using his superpowers, before donning the red-and-blue suit and cape for the first time and taking it for a spin. They become indelibly linked from that moment on, intertwined with Clark as the Superman and Lois as the only one who knows his true identity. Lane even accompanies him as he surrenders himself to the invading General Zod, placing her smack dab in the middle of the aliens as they wage war with each other over the fate of the earth, destroying half of Metropolis in the process.
Lois in the DCEU remains true to her comic ideal. As a reporter she’s feisty and unscrupulous, willing to chase a story as much as necessary, and, before Superman, skeptical bordering on cynical. One of the most over-bearing themes of Zack Snyder’s DC films is that they’re attempting to introduce a distinctly more contemporary world-view to the canon they’re adapting. Being a reporter for a newspaper in the 2010s is a different job to what it was pre-internet. There’s less job security than ever and finding the right headline that’ll shift papers can be exhausting. The media landscape cares more about profit than it does about the truth, a morose climate for a journalist with deeply embedded ethics like Lois Lane.
For little farm-boy Clark Kent, growing up with a milieu of superhuman abilities is a difficult, traumatic experience before he fights out about his roots as Kal-El, son of Kryton, and dons the cape and ‘S’ insignia to stand as the Godlike defender of the innocent. A message from his Kryptonian father Jor-El teaches him that he has a high purpose, that the human race, as misguided as we are, have incredible potential that deserves to be protected and admired. He and Lois develop a deep bond in how they inspire each other spiritually. One’s the writer who seeks to find the justice in truth and deliver it unflinchingly, the other as close as we’ll ever see to a God on earth, who kills the only other surviving member of his race to safeguard human beings because we’re worth preserving.
In Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, both their missions become inseparable as humanity reckons with the presence of the Superman. Lois starts following the trail of a weapons deals that nobody wants to talk about, and Clark struggles with saving a planet that hasn’t yet decided if it really wants him, despite desperately needing him. Conflict emerges with other “meta-humans” and protectors who believe so much power in one individual is too much of a liability. Mortal men like Lex Luthor start to grow envious of what Superman is capable of and begin meddling in ways to match his strength. The mounting tension traps both Superman and Lois in a battle against the (literal) doomsday, Superman being forced to sacrifice himself for the greater good leaving Lois and the world to mourn his death.
As an unfortunate side-effect of the heavy rejigging Justice League has undergone since the negative reception of Batman V Superman, how all of this would pay off in direct narrative conclusion is lost to re-write after re-write to the planned outline. Fortunately, Lois as a living monument to what makes humanity good survived the cut, talking a resurrected and deranged Superman down from a rampage against the League.
What the planned outline was when Justice League first started shooting is anyone’s guess, but the obvious answer is that Superman was originally a stronger opposing force in the film. This is the outcome teased in the famed Knightmare scene, the nightmare sequence where Bruce Wayne is captured by parademons on a dystopian version of earth to be tortured by Superman. Immediately following the Knightmare, we got the Flash cameo as Barry Allen tells Bruce that “he was right him, she’s the key”, him being Superman, she being Lois Lane. The setup, albeit slightly esoterically at the time, was that Superman would go rogue, causing an apparent apocalypse, and Lois was the only one who could prevent that from happening.
Justice League contains all the plot-points that lead to Master Wayne’s dream sequence; Steppenwolf, an alien overlord, tries to colonize Earth using his army of parademons and three relics of immense energy called Mother Boxes. The League use a Mother Box to bring Superman back, who in his confused state sees them as antagonists. It looks like the Mad Max-esque hellscape of the Knightmare would be because Superman fought alongside Steppenwolf instead of against him. Instead, Bruce conveniently brought Lois along to the rebirth, so it’s not long before Clark and she are off back to Kansas.
And even though this leaves the through-line of Lois’ symbolism more an object of convenience rather than whatever Snyder had planned, she’s still crucial to Kal-El’s story. In fact, it almost adds a meta-layer to the fundamental, enduring love the two share that even a complete meltdown involving two directors, however many writers and who knows how much re-shoots couldn’t uproot their significance to one another. One a demigod who fights for truth and justice, the other who mercilessly seeks them out for the world to see.
Superman can and has been many things, but one thing the DCEU got completely right is that there’s only one key to the real Kal-El, and that’s Lois Lane.
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