Baby’s First Sleuth
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this our first Sleuth Thursday, which will be happening every month as part of a set with Gothic Tuesdays, up until Unspoken is published.
She was my first reporter.
Lois Lane. I’m sure she was a lot of people’s first sassy reporter lady, as Lois Lane has been around since 1938. But I have never been a big comics fan–so many pictures, not enough words! I’m told I missed out on crucial bits of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman by skipping the pictures, oh well!
This total lack of comics knowledge has afforded my father, a big comics buff in his day, much amusement.
SARAH: *watches a different Superman take, Smallville*
FATHER: Have Lex Luthor and Superman had their baby yet?
SARAH: *spits out drink*
FATHER: Comics are beautiful art forms!
SARAH: *choking, dying*
FATHER: You enjoy your TV.
The total lack of comics knowledge also meant that when I was about twelve, Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane was a revelation.
I was at an awkward age–mind you, many of my ages were awkward ages–after I had realised that a bowl cut and the ends of my tracksuit bottoms tucked into my socks were perhaps not the look for me, before I started dressing like season one Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Fifteen years old, nose constantly in a book, wore a dress made entirely of fishnet. Never let it be said that personal dignity influenced any of my decisions!) I don’t think I was sure who I was planning to be at twelve, and I didn’t think a cheesy TV show I happened on one day was going to help me decide.
But I knew I really liked Lois of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman a lot. I didn’t get that the title was a pun on Lewis and Clark the explorers–dudes, I was twelve and Irish, I had no idea who they were–I just thought Lois came first because she was the most important one. He had super powers, but she was the one in charge.
Lois: Let’s get something straight, I did not work my buns off to become an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet just to baby-sit some hack from Nowheresville! And another thing, you are not working with me, you are working for me. I call the shots, I ask the questions.
Clark Kent was cool with it. Why would he not be? And Lois Lane wouldn’t have cared if he wasn’t. Lois Lane knew what was important–she wanted to tell stories. Not just any stories, but the right stories.
Lois Lane: I’m really glad you’re here. But why are you here?
Superman: To help.
Lois Lane: To help. I need a little bit more of a quote than that. Something like, “I have not yet begun to fight,” or, “Damn the torpedoes.”
When she had adventures, she wasn’t In the Wrong Place At The Wrong Time (But Thankfully Wearing the Right Fetching Nightgown). She meant to be there, doing her job–she was walking into adventures with both eyes open, ahead of anyone else.
Lois: Excuse me, Lois Lane here. Remember me? Award-winning investigative reporter, emphasis on investigative, specializing in covert break-ins.
She thought she was awesome, and it was okay for her to think that. Other people thought so too. It was kind of a well-known fact.
Superman: You know what’s great about you?
Lois: Sure, but you could repeat it.
Lois Lane refused to be put in a box!
Lois Lane: Why do men always assume that women have nail files with them?
Clark Kent: I’m sorry, but do you have a nail file?
Lois Lane: Actually, I do, but only because it’s part of my pocket knife.
Her attitude towards boys was pretty excellent.
Dr. Klein: [reading a note from Superman] “Lois, it’s too dangerous. Stay put until you hear from me”.
Lois: Aw, he always says that. And I never listen.
It didn’t matter what she wore (cardigans under giant polkadots! SURE! It was the nineties!)–I thought she was soooooooo pretty.
The show even had an episode where Clark was all ‘So, my manly flower has yet to be plucked’ and Lois was like ‘Soooo. Not the case with me! No indeed. Gosh. Well I respect your decision Clark and you are a super patient person! Me not so much. We cool? Cool!’
The show also had stuff like, uh, amnesia and mysterious flying babies, and Lois had to be rescued a ton, I do not mean to say that it is the most quality television. But in retrospect, Lois Lane may have been responsible for the fact that I thought I wanted to be a reporter for a little while. Even though I know so little about politics, I thought Che Guevara was a goalkeeper.
I loved Lois Lane so much, I watched several seasons of Desperate Housewives. If Lois was in it, I wanted it in my eyes!
I loved Lois Lane so much, I actually did research about her. Not that I read the comics: no to that, put your pictures into words, people! But I watched all the movies, and I read up on Lois Lane and what inspired her: partly the fact that in 1930s films girls were allowed to be ‘competent, wise-cracking reporter-sleuths.’ (quote from Craig and Cadogan’s The Lady Investigates.) It was a job, after all, and a decorous one (lady writing stuff! Indoors! Kind of okay!). But it was an exciting one, too.
Lois Lane was also partly based on a real-life sassy reporter lady called Nellie Bly. Guys, I cannot even tell you about Nellie Bly, but I will attempt.
NELLIE BLY: *writes letter about how a newspaper article is sexist. Nellie is just reporting the facts*
EDITOR OF NEWSPAPER: What amazingly intelligent dude wrote that letter? I should like to hire him to report for this fine paper of news!
NELLIE BLY: I am not a dude! But I am amazingly intelligent.
EDITOR OF NEWSPAPER: Er… the thing is, it’s 1884, so…
NELLIE BLY: I command you with the force of my awesomeness to hire me.
EDITOR OF NEWSPAPER: … yeah, okay.
EDITOR OF NEWSPAPER: You had better report about lady things! Shoes and so forth.
NELLIE BLY: GONE TO MEXICO TO REPORT ON DICTATORSHIP STOP. MY ARREST MAY BE IMMINENT STOP.
EDITOR OF NEWSPAPER: I think I may swoon.
NELLIE BLY: Once again given sucky reporter jobs. Wait… I have a brilliant idea. I am going to pretend to be insane.
NELLIE BLY: You like my crazy faces? I’ve been practising them in the mirror!
JUDGE: Please tell me your name, unfortunate crazy lady.
NELLIE BLY: I am the walrus. Coo coo cachoo.
DOCTORS: … Yes, she is definitely crazy.
NELLIE BLY: I’m not crazy, you’re all crazy. You’re all totally coco bananas. Have I mentioned that I am a banana?
MEDIA: Has anyone noticed something quite important?… This crazy lady is crazy hot.
NELLIE BLY: *sultry crazy face*
MAD-HOUSE: Come on in, crazy lady.
NELLIE BLY: Release from asylum followed by hard-hitting journalism about what it is like on the inside, followed by massive social reform!
JUDGE, DOCTORS, MEDIA AND MAD-HOUSE: … That went differently in our heads.
NELLIE BLY: You know that book Around the World in Eighty Days? Awesome book. Totally going to go make fiction a REALITY.
EDITOR: Nellie, wait…
NELLIE BLY: MET JULES VERNE IN FRANCE SEEMS SUPER NICE GUY STOP.
EDITOR: Nellie, stop…
NELLIE BLY: IN SINGAPORE STOP. JUST BOUGHT TOTALLY COOL MONKEY STOP.
EDITOR: *swoons and refuses to get up*
Nellie Bly, 1864-1922, epitaph ‘COME AT ME BRO.’ (Note: probably not Nellie Bly’s actual epitaph.) So concludes my awesome history lesson.
The tradition of sleuthin’ ladies is almost as old as Gothic mysteries. In fact, there have been a few amateur sleuths in Gothic fiction. (You guys are going to be hearing about Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White, I promise.) But it seemed clear to me, in a Gothic mystery, the lady reporter is who you want. She has a reason to investigate the noise in the attic. She’s going to get it done.
I’m really glad twelve year old Sarah found Lois Lane, even though Lois may be to blame for a polka-dot jumper I owned and actually wore outside the house. We will speak no more of that.
Of lady sleuths, there is more to come.