Black Women of the Daily Planet

Hey, here’s another one of the classic characters who have appeared in various Superman comics over the years:

Oh wait, my mistake. As those names suggest, this is four different characters. Remember how I talked a bit about the attempts to make the Daily Planet cast more diverse back when I discussed Ron Troupe? Well that’s not the end of it by any means. There has been, since the 70s at least, frequent attempts to add a black woman to the cast of reporters appearing in the Superman franchise. I consider this a good thing. I don’t think, however, they’ve gone about it quite right so far.

Melba Manton, on the left, was the first. When she came into play they pushed her as a real potential addition to the cast. She not only got an active role in Superman and Lois Lane stories, she even got to headline the occasional story of her own. The next two can not make that claim. Fran Johnson and Jackee Winters, appearing in the 90s and the 2010s respectively. They were not characters. They were set dressing. The only thing of note which Johnson ever did was appear as a bridesmaid in the wedding of Lois and Clark. Winters doesn’t even have that. It actually took years for me to find one instance of Jackee’s name being spoken so that I could find out who the woman always standing around Planet briefings was.

Finally, in spite of my including her here, Robinson Goode, the currently-appearing Black-Woman-of-the-Daily-Planet is actually an active participant in the story, but it’s helpful to show the contrast. I won’t get into specifics, for spoiler reasons, but she seems to actually have a purpose beyond being furniture in the Planet offices. That’s nice. Interestingly, Goode is also the first of them to not be introduced as a friend or ally of Lois. She’s come into the Planet at a time when Lois isn’t even working there. That is probably to her benefit, but we’ll see how things play out in the long run.

These four are not the only examples by any means. On the animated series of the 90s there was a television reporter called Angela Chen (half black, half Asian) who was used more than the bad examples, but still never got to really shine. I’m confident there’s also another example in the comics of the early 2000s but I can’t be bothered to research it right now, as I think I’ve enough evidence for this post’s scope.

So what’s the problem with having more than one black woman working at the Daily Planet? Well, obviously that wouldn’t be a problem, but each of these women come in as a new addition in spite of the others, not alongside them. Even Goode, who has only been around for a couple months, seems to have completely erased Winters from the timeline. The problem as I see it, is that every new writer who comes onto the book and wants to add a black woman to the cast, does so as if they’re the first to do it. Whether they lack knowledge of the earlier women, or they just want to put their own stamp on things, the result of this is that none of these characters have ever made it to the big leagues.

There are “iconic” supporting cast members in the Superman franchise. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White are this for the franchise. The secondary tier of supporting cast members (among the reporters, I mean) include Ron Troupe, Steve Lombard, and Cat Grant. If, say, the writers from the 1990s to the 2010s had foregone their desire to create a new character and used, say, Melba Mantan, she would now be alongside that secondary tier. Instead what we have is a handful of characters who have made no real impact. It could be better.

What would I, the guy obsessed with perfecting the franchise, do with all this? Well, the only way to actually get one to stick is to use them prominently for a while as much as possible. Someone, an editor or something, really needs to pick one and commit finally. Just don’t abandon them when the next one comes along.

Bibbo Is The Boss

Today’s topic is Bibbo Bibbowski. Bibbo is usually depicted as one of Superman’s biggest fans. When Bibbo first became a fan of Superman, he did so because Superman was the strongest. That was what Bibbo valued: strength. Thus, things weren’t always great for Bibbo when stronger villains came along to beat up Superman.

But, like Jimmy Olsen, Bibbo’s arc is one of being improved by learning from Superman. Over time Bibbo came to realize that it isn’t Superman’s strength that makes him great. It’s what he does with it. We live in a society where, unfortunately, people with power don’t often enough use that power for the benefit of others. Superman needs to show why that’s the wrong way to use one’s powers, whatever they happen to be. And Bibbo can be a great example of that in the stories.

In the original comics where he appeared, Bibbo was very poor until he won the lottery and went on to buy a bar down by the docks. This gave some of the characters a place to hang out apart from the Daily Planet, which is great. In other media he has occasionally be depicted as owning the bar without starting off poor, but I like the idea that he has suffered and come through. I also like that he is nearly always depicted as a “low-class” sort. He’s been a punch-drunk alcoholic boxer, a dumb dock-worker, and an lowlife informant for Lois Lane. I like that he can be all these things and still be, ultimately, a good guy. It’s a good message to send that you don’t have to be a hoity-toity type to be a friend of Superman.

What To Do With Lana Lang?

Lana Lang was basically a derivative of Lois Lane. I mean, when they decided they wanted to tell stories about Superman in his youth, they introduced another love interest to complicate his life, who had the same initials. Lana did eventually come to be her own character though, and became one of Clark’s closest childhood friends, alongside Pete Ross. That makes her a handy character to have when flashing back to his upbringing or whatever, but what can we do with Lana in the modern day?

I consider it telling that there is no iconic version of Lana Lang’s adult life. In the Pre-Crisis comics she became a television reporter and worked with Lois and Clark. Post-Crisis she married Pete Ross. In the movies, she stayed back in Smallville until Clark brought her to Metropolis. On the 90s cartoon she got into the fashion industry. On the show Smallville, she got powers and left town or something. In more recent comics, she actually became the hero Superwoman. Basically, there is no consensus on how to use Lana after Clark is grown and Lois comes into the picture.

Well, I’m on board with her becoming a superhero. Lana, like most of the cast, spent a large portion of the Silver Age gaining temporary super powers, but unlike the rest of the cast, she doesn’t have a defined role elsewhere in the mythos, so there’s no shame in latching onto that. If I’m saying that Jimmy is a representative in the story of someone being inspired by Superman to help the world, Lana is that in the past tense. She’s been inspired and, through whichever contrived means, has also gained superhuman powers. Time to get to work.

In the hypothetical run I’m creating, in which the rest of the DC Universe doesn’t exist, we’re going to want other heroes around to help out during the big events. Lana can be that.

It’s worth noting that, in her recent book, she was in a romantic relationship with Steel. I don’t have enough interest in that relationship to care yet if it stays or it goes, but at the very least it would help keep Steel around.

The Black Men of the Daily Planet

Last week I covered Ron Troupe, who has a bit of a reputation for being “the black guy” of the Daily Planet. And certainly if a named black man is going to show up in a scene at the Planet these days, it’s probably gonna be Ron. But he’s not the first nor the only. (This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, it’s just me rambling on a topic, same as always.)

The earliest attempt to add a black man to the cast of the Daily Planet that I know of happened in the 70s with a man named Dave Stevens. He had about a dozen appearances in those days, but was forgotten. I do actually think the character should return, but I’d write him as a politician, not a reporter, and that’s something I’ll write about some other day when I’m more willing to give away actual plot ideas that I have.

More significant than another reporter is the owner of the paper. There have been many depicted owners of the Daily Planet, most either actively criminal or complete nonentities. To me, Franklin Stern is the most interesting of them. Like Ron, Stern came to be in the 90s, when the books were consciously working on their diversity. He has had less longevity than Ron, but he was played by James Earl Jones on the Lois and Clark show and that counts for something.

In the comics, Perry and Franklin were long-time friends (though that isn’t true on the show from which I’ve taken the image) but they disagreed on a lot of things, including sometimes, how the Daily Planet should be run. As I’ve said, I want the journalism to be a focus of the Superman books, and I also think it is a cliche when the Planet is bought out by a villain (Luthor, usually) just for cheap drama. I want my drama more nuanced. Stern is a good man, but he can still disagree with the main cast and provide obstacles for them. Let’s use that.

The attempts to add a black woman to the Daily Planet cast have had less long-term success and are, I think, potentially more interesting. I intend to cover that more fully some day, when I’ve got more research done.

Bring Back Ron Troupe

Hey, here’s a few characters who have appeared in various Superman comics and shows:

Oh wait, my mistake. In spite of how different they appear, those are all takes on the same character: Ronald Troupe. For those who can’t tell by the one physical feature that is a constant, Ron is basically the franchise’s most prominent black guy (not counting Steel, of course, but I’ll get to him later).

Ron is underused, but he’s also tenacious. Since first appearing in the early 90s, he’s not managed to become an indispensable part of the franchise, but he’s managed to always be around, even if only as a named extra in scenes set in the Daily Planet. Ron made it into the 90s animated show, where he did nothing but appear in the background and occasionally say a sentence. He had an appearance on Smallville that amounted to a cameo. He’s been an unimportant character in arcs like the Death and Return of Superman and All-Star Superman, which guarantee that people who seek out only the most famous Superman stories are technically able to see him. Even, the very week I write this, is there a man in a single panel of Superman’s latest comic who I am sure is meant to be Ron. He sticks around, but nobody notices.

It wasn’t always thus. In the 90s comics, when the supporting cast was at its most valued, we got stories in which Ron did things or was even the point of focus. Over the course of a decade, he went from an aspiring reporter to a successful one working at the Planet. He began a relationship with Lucy Lane, Lois’s sister, and they ended up married and had a child (Sam) together*. But, cameos and background appearances aside, nobody seems to care about Ron anymore. That’s a shame because I can still see a place for him in the franchise.

One complaint I’ve seen tossed Ronward is that he’s “boring”. As someone who proudly considers himself boring, I don’t see the problem. Boring people deserve representation in comics as much as anyone. If only to mock us.

As should be evidenced by my previous Superman Thoughts posts, I’d want to bring focus back to the journalism in the book and that means more Jimmy Olsen. Well, if Jimmy’s idiotic and overeager attempts at being a journalist by running toward danger are back, then why not have level-headed Ron there as his foil. Jimmy and Ron are a natural comedy team. There have been small hints at this in the comics already, but I say we go full-throttle into this. If there’s ever a new Jimmy Olsen book and Ron isn’t his co-star, they don’t know what they’re doing.

Apart from Jimmy, Ron has also been shown to have a rivalry with the Planet’s sports reporter Steve Lombard. Steve, whom I’ll cover one day, has been doing well for appearances in the last decade and the friction between him and Ron gives them both something to do.

Basically, I don’t think I’m saying anything revolutionary about Ron Troupe. I think that most writers who know he exists see how he fits into the Planet’s group dynamics. It basically only matters if that writer cares enough to write about the Planet, or if they’re just writing toward the next DC Universe event and don’t have time for the supporting cast.

* Just think: There was a time when Lois and Clark had a mixed-race nephew. There are people who would be so pissed off by that and those are the exact people who deserve it. Also, little Sam Troupe would give little Jon Kent someone to play with who isn’t a Batman character. That’s a plus in my books. The Ron/Lucy relationship is definitely something I’d want back.