Last month, comic book publishing giant DC Comics caused a small media uproar when Superman renounced his U.S. citizenship in the Action Comics #900 issue. At the time, Newsarama wondered how long the change would even be relevant, since a major summer comic series called "Flashpoint" was promising to change the DC Universe, the publisher's fictional world.
The controversy regarding the status of Superman's citizenship may indeed be short-lived, as the question of the Man of Steel's marital status seems poised to take center stage this fall.
While DC hasn't confirmed or commented on the situation at the time of publication, questions are beginning to emerge within the comics community as to whether Clark Kent and Lois Lane's 15-year marriage will survive the publisher's post-"Flashpoint" revamp of their core comic book line in September.
As announced last week, DC is promising major changes in the fall, relaunching all its comic book titles with new #1 titles, including Superman's historic original title "Action Comics,' as well as revamping the iconic characters to make them appear younger, fresher and more modern, all in an effort to attract new readers.
Young and fresh
According to DC, the new #1 titles that launch in September feature characters who are younger than the current stories that DC is telling.
"We really want to inject new life in our characters and line," DC co-publisher Dan DiDio told USA Today of the initiative last week. "This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience." [Read: 'Justice League' Heroes Find Big Changes in Revamped Universe]
DC has released only one image of the new, revamped Superman to the public so far, on the cover of the new "Justice League #1" that DC is launching in September. And the character does appear to be younger, although DC hasn't clarified that he has, in fact, changed.
Scott Beatty, author of "Superman: The Ultimate Guide to the Man of Steel" (DK Children, 2002) and "The Superman Handbook" (Quirk, 2006), said that when publishers are going for a more modern take on their heroes, they like to make swift changes.
"I know the temptation with the genre is to negate certain character aspects or turn back the clock in order to 'stir the pot' and keep things lively in a reboot/reset minded culture with limited attention spans," Beatty said.
And the language of the relaunch certainly sounds like the publisher is making those types of changes.
"We really want to bring a new energy and excitement to our books," DiDio said.
"It's part of our jobs to make sure that these characters stay dynamic and relevant," DC co-publisher Jim Lee said.
Last year, DC released the graphic novel "Superman Earth One" by J. Michael Straczynski, the writer behind "Babylon 5" and the story of the "Thor" film. The book, which was mainly targeted toward bookstores, dominated best-seller lists in late 2010.
And in the hit book, Superman is not married.
Straczynski, who is working with artist Shane Davis on a second volume of "Superman Earth One," said he thinks a relaunch is an acceptable way to revise the marriage, as opposed to trying to come up with a story-based reason for the marriage to disappear.
"I think the term most people, myself included, object to is the 'unmarried' thing. If you want to relaunch or reboot them single, great that's the optimum time and place and means for unmarrying someone, in the sense that they were never married," he said. "In 'Superman Earth One,' I'm writing a young Clark Kent before he gets involved with Lois, so he can have other relationships."
DC also saw success with the publication of an out-of-continuity comic called "All-Star Superman," by superstar writer Grant Morrison, who is rumored to writing one of the core "Superman" titles beginning in September. The series, which was essentially Morrison's ideal version of the character, was one of DC's best-selling and best-received titles during its run, and was recently adapted into an animated original movie for DVD by Warner Bros.
And in "All-Star Superman," Morrison also explored stories about Lois and Clark's relationship as an unmarried couple.
Very strong character engine
Writer Kurt Busiek, who guided the character during recent runs on "Justice League," "Superman" and "Action Comics," as well as 2004's "Superman: Secret Identity," an out-of-continuity story in which Clark Kent is a normal man who lives in a world where Superman is just a superhero in a comic book, said the basic concept of the character is damaged with the marriage in place.
"[The marriage] made for a very nice story, but it eliminated an important part of the Superman mythos: the struggle between the two halves of Superman his publicly known face, admired by millions, and his human side, meek and emotionally vulnerable," Busiek said. "There's some value to be had in exploring their married life, but I'm not sure that's something that couldn't be gotten from exploring some other hero's married life, and I don't think it outweighs the value of that great dichotomy that was always at the heart of Superman, the idea of Superman as the symbol of adulthood and power, and Clark as the inner, less-respected adolescent self-image. That made Superman appeal to younger readers for decades, and made a very strong character engine.
"Writing them as a married couple is fun, because I like that romantic, supportive banter," Busiek added, "but it does soften the concept."
Other writers have asked for the marriage to end, including the well-known proposal called "Superman 2000," which was pitched to DC by top comics writers Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar and Tom Peyer.
In that proposal, the marriage was eliminated magically, and the four writers were completely supportive of the change.
"Everyone's in agreement that the marriage and the emphasis on soap opera no longer seems to be working as well in the current market as it once did," the proposal stated.
Busiek said the marriage also makes dramatic stories a little harder to accomplish when writing Superman. "It's harder for Clark to be in a bind at work if he's got someone there covering for him. And of course, it's harder to do stories where he explores the idea of romance, or of finding a place to belong that isn't necessarily with Lois. It makes him feel less like an outsider, more like a homebody," he said. "Which is nice for those of us who like those things in our own lives, but it's not as dramatic. And while there's drama in marriage, it's not always easy to bring that kind of drama to the kind of sweeping action-adventure story that's usually Superman's wheelhouse.
"None of this is to say those challenges are insurmountable," Busiek added. "I wrote a married Superman and had very little difficulty with it. But the one pre-marriage story I wrote felt even sharper, livelier in the Clark/Lois relationship. It can definitely work either way, but I think there's more immediate juice in having their relationship unresolved, more competitive and subject to change."
But Beatty wonders if the marriage isn't actually a chance to explore something new, instead of simply exploring the old "love triangle" created by clueless Lois Lane, Superman, and bumbling Clark Kent.
"I think the main benefit of having Clark and Lois married is that it grounds Superman in a very human and adult experience," he said. "We've seen the Man of Steel struggle to balance the life of Clark Kent... with the role of superhero. And the romantic triangle has been played out for nearly three-quarters of a century."
Marvel did it
In 2008, Marvel rocked the comic book-reading audience by magically eliminating the marriage between Peter Parker and his wife, Mary Jane. Through a story originally written by Straczynski in "Amazing Spider-Man" then famously rewritten by Marvel executives a magic character made it so that Spidey's marriage never existed.
Yet Straczynski isn't a big fan of eliminating a character's marriage, despite being involved in the Spider-Man revamp. "This is an argument we had over and over at Marvel about Spider-Man, and there really isn't a good answer to it," he said. "You can tell good stories with them married, and good stories with them single. It's really a function of what the company wants to do with them, and the image they want to present.
"I enjoy writing strong relationships, and I liked writing both of those relationships [with Spider-Man and Superman] as marriages," he said. "I was happy leaving the Parkers married, and in terms of Clark and Lois, again it can play fine either way.
"Really, the only difference between the two is that if they're single, they can fool around with other folks," he said. "But if it's a monogamous relationship, and they're never going to date others, then there's really not a compelling argument not to have them married."
Yet the fact that Marvel did put an end to Peter Parker's marriage, and has maintained the character's single status since, points to a precedent that may interest DC.
DC has come in second to Marvel every year since 2002 in market share, according to Diamond Comics Distributors, which maintains sales numbers for the comic book industry. With its September revamp, DC is hoping to close that gap.
Flashpoint Lois Lane
Lois Lane has gotten new attention in "Flashpoint," being given her own series, "Lois Lane and the Resistance."
In the three-issue story, Lois Lane is single. She's never met Superman, and she never reported about his existence.
"Lois is exactly the character we know and love, except just remove from her equation the fact that she's ever met Superman," said Dan Abnett, co-writer of the "Flashpoint" tie-in series with his collaborator, Andy Lanning. "She's the spunky, snarky reporter she always was, who hasn't necessarily had the breaks she's had in the DC [Universe], because she never got that star scoop story of Superman."
The story centers on Lois as a reporter who becomes stuck in the middle of a war zone, and she eventually gets caught up in the local resistance movement.
The end of the main "Flashpoint" series, which will be released on Aug. 31, is supposed to be the precursor for the big changes DC is making in September. But it's the tie-in story of single reporter Lois Lane that opens the door for the character to be single even longer.
Superman in other media
The marriage of Lois Lane and Clark Kent originally occurred in comics to coincide with the characters' marriage on television. At the time, Warner Bros. was supporting the hit TV show "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," starring Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain.
In 1996, the two television characters got married. So DC Comics timed the comic book wedding to happen at the same time.
But now, Warner is concentrating on its movie universe, with the release of "Green Lantern" this year and the "Man of Steel" film next year.
Starring Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane, the movie will tell the origin story of Clark Kent, leading up to the early days of his life as Superman. [Read: Where Was Lois Lane's Apartment in 'Superman: The Movie'? ]
In other words, his unmarried life.
Despite the success of former "Superman" movies, this film will reboot the story, relaunching the franchise for what is expected to be more than one movie. Along with other characters, Superman will also be part of DC's current plans for a "Justice League" film.
And if the marriage was used to align the comics with other media, it would stand to reason that the marriage might be ended to align the comics with the new Man of Steel.
Publishing is a business, and this fact is behind everything DC does. And it's all about selling comics. So one of the most obvious reasons to make a big change to Superman's marital status is to not only give the character a clean slate for new readers "outside" the normal comic reading audience, but also attract the attention of the "mainstream" media, to help reach those potential readers.
Giving Superman an effective 'divorce' accomplishes both with one stone.
"If we can convince the people here we're doing something brand-new and fresh, we have a good chance to really get the people outside on board," DC co-publisher DiDio said.
Comic books, which are primarily sold through small, local comic shops, have experienced a drop in sales over the two years. DC's revamp announcement included efforts to add digital customers to its distribution, but the real issue for DC's characters is the fact they have 76 years of history behind them.
"We're allowing people who have never bought a comic book in their lives to download them on portable media devices and take a look," co-publisher Jim Lee said.
The attention the end of the marriage would likely receive + new, curious readers learning about it on the same device they can download the story = a combination DC might not be able to resist.