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Superman Returns & The Question of Consent…

March is Superman month here at the m0vie blog, what with the release of the animated adaptation of Grant Morrison’s superb All-Star Superman. We’ll be reviewing a Superman-related book/story arc every Wednesday this month, so check on back – and we might have a surprise or two along the way. I figured that, today, I’d take a look at Superman-related movies.

As I was watched Superman Returns again for the first time in what seemed like years, a question occurred to me. It wasn’t exactly one that the plot addressed, but it was probably one of those idle little thoughts which is best reserved for the late hours, as one enjoys a pre-bed snack, or fodder for a wandering mind on a long bus journey. The title of this post kinda gives the game away, but read on for more.

A super night...

Note: This article contains fairly basic spoilers for Superman Returns, but I think you probably already know what I’m going to talk about.

One of the more controversial elements of Superman Returns was to make Superman a father. Granted, a father who fled into space to find the remains of his long-dead planet rather than involving himself in any way in the life of his child, but a father nonetheless. As I was watching Singer’s film, however, I did find myself pondering when exactly Superman had gotten Lois Lane pregnant. I mean, she still doesn’t know that he’s Clark, so the ethics of shacking up with her seem a little dodgy for a small town country boy like Clark Kent.

The movies share a sort of a rough chronology with the original two Superman films. Ignoring the meta-references, like quoted dialogue and such, or the presence of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, there’s a clear indication that the film continues on from the first film at least. There’s also a suggestion that the movie takes place in the same fictional universe (or “loose continuity”) as Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II. Clearly, for example, Lex Luthor remembers the events of the second film. When he takes his hired goons to the Fortress of Solitude, his henchwoman remarks, “you act like you’ve been here before.”

Lois breaks Superman's icy exterior...

So, let’s assume that Lois and Superman “do the deed” at some point during those two movies, which take place within a relatively short period of time. Singer’s movie implies that Lois got it on with the superhero while writing her celebrated article My Night With Superman, which would be the piece she wrote during the first film. Aside from the suggestive title, though, Lois denies the assertion. And, to be honest, I like to think that Lois doesn’t sleep with her subjects – that’s one of the cornerstones of journalistic ethics, and I like to think Lois is professional enough to adhere to them.

However, there is one “intimate” scene between Lois and Clark in the first two films. In the second film, Lois uses her investigative chutzpah to deduce that Clark Kent is Superman. Clark uses the occasion to profess his love for her and whisk her off to the Fortress of Solitude. He treats her to dinner and decides to give up everything (including his superpowers) in order to be with her. And, that night – with Clark and Lois both human – the consumate their relationship. It’s a beautiful moment, if only because (at the time) we’d never seen a version of Superman who trusted Lois enough to reveal his secret identity.

If I could turn back time...

Of course, Clark ultimately ends up becoming Superman again, and then turns back time to erase Lois’ memory of his secret identity. Which is just a bit of a douche move. However, the effect of Superman’s “time warp” as portrayed in both of Donner’s films has always been a bit dodgy. For example, in the first movie, Jimmy remembers being saved by Superman, even though it didn’t happen in that timeline. Lex Luthor remembers the Fortress of Solitude, even though he was never there once Superman turned back time. There’s a whole bunch of problems presented by the “diner” scene at the end of the second movie (though they’re more pronounced in the original version).

So, by this logic, it’s quite possible that Clark slept with Lois, got her pregnant and she somehow remained pregnant after Clark had turned back time. After all, Larry Niven’s interesting (but perhaps too carefully thought out) essay Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, on the possibility of relations between Lois and Clark suggests that Superman might cause her severe bodily harm in the bedroom – a train of thought continued in pop culture in films like Mallrats. Let’s not dwell on it too much, but I think that it’s more than likely Clark got Lois pregnant while he was depowered (but still passing on some (latent) Kryptonian genes to the kid). The fact that Clark was depowered during conception might explain why baby Clark was able to lift a truck over his head, while this kid develops his piano-throwing skills later in life.

It's Superboy!

Now, if Superman turns back time and erases Lois’ memory of events, while laving her pregnant, that explains a lot of things. Well, for one, it makes the child as close to an “immaculate conception” as humanly (or inhumanly) possible, if bordering on ridiculously tasteless – keeping with Singer and Donner’s themes about Superman’s divinity. It also explains why Lois doesn’t tell Superman he’s a father – as awkward as that conversation might be, it’s still the proper thing to do. In fact, it isn’t until Lex points out the incredibly obvious that Lois seems to question the identity of the child’s father. It makes it much better than simply not telling Superman and generally acting like a bit of a horrible woman to him.

On the other hand, this potential explanation does make Superman look like even more of dick. If Superman wined and dined Lois, turned back time so she forgot, and then got the hell out of town – does that remove her consent? She slept with Superman knowing his identity, and he took that knowledge away from her, while leaving her to face the consequences. It’s a bit of dick move – even more so than (a.) turning back time so his girlfriend forgets his identity, (b.) leaving the planet without telling her. Still, it isn’t exactly out of character for Singer’s take on the Man of Steel. It reminds me of that joke from Family Guy, where Superman uses his X-Ray vision to discover she’s pregnant before leaving the planet for years in the missing Superman V: The Broken Condom.

"On second thought, I got something I have to do back on Krypton..."

Hell, it throws the whole issue of Lois’ consent into doubt, as well as being one hell of a chump move on Superman’s part. He basically makes a woman forget she had sex with him, which is an absolutely horrible thing to do to anyone. In fairness, as Justin points out below, that ending of the Richard Donner cut (where Superman turns back time for the entire world) does make him seem like less of a douche bag than the ending of Richard Lester’s version of the film (where he uses a “magic kiss” to just wipe Lois’ mind). Either way, it still makes him out to be just a bit of a dick – even if he doesn’t know about the pregnancy (which is quite possible).

I don’t know. I think I’m just rambling. I guess it’s kinda worrying that this is what I was thinking while watching Singer’s adaptation. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the theory fits the facts too well – which just adds to the character’s “super-dickery.”

6 Responses

  1. Doesn’t Superman only travel back in time in the first movie? I thought he just wiped Lois’ memory by kissing her. This would allow her to still be pregnant while remembering nothing.

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with the idea that he simply didn’t know that she was pregnant when he left. Is it too hard to believe that he just didn’t check?

    • In fairness, you’re probably right – it’s more than likely he didn’t check. I just think the child makes wiping his girlfriend’s memory seem extra douchy (and then not checking if you got her pregnant after you’ve made sure she’s forgotten you had sex seems almost reckless). I mean, the Donner Superman seems like a bit of a dick for telling her everything, sleeping with her and then wiping her memory when his “I’m going to be normal” thing didn’t quite work out – but throwing a child into the mix just makes that even more apparent. I don’t think Lois even suspected Richard wasn’t her baby daddy until Lex suggested it (and was one of the better Lex moments of the franchise, figuring something out before the good guys).

      Wiping her memory is, admittedly a very “Silver Age” thing for Superman to do, when he used to do crazy stuff klike burn presents from Jimmy for the laugh or tease Aquaman with water in the desert. However, that doesn’t come across too well today.

      As for the kiss. I think that’s in the Richard Lester cut. The Donner version had him turn back the world again. Though it makes a lot more sense for her to remain pregnant after the kiss, I think Singer was explicitly following Donner’s version of the story.

  2. It seems unlikely that Lois would remain pregnant after time had been turned back. The fact that she published a story about her “Night” with him would suggest she would have to remember it. Is there a possibility that they shared another night, without her knowing him to be Clark (an even shittier move)?

    • I think they point to the “night” article in the film, but I’m not convinced that Lois would sleep with Superman while he was her subject of a profile piece. But yep, even if he didn’t wipe her memory, you’d imagine telling her your secret identity would be high on the list of things to share with your partner (unless you’re planning on running out – to another (dead) planet – the morning after).

  3. Well, what’s there in the movie to show that Lois slept with Richard White, other than an unclear glimpse within the bedroom in Lois’ home ( with possibly two separate beds)?

    Lois conceives a child when she sleeps with Superman; thus, wouldn’t she have more supposing she had subsequently slept with others? If you put up using protection during sex with Richard as an argument, the counter argument would be: why use protection against the man who Lois believes she could share her future with, until marriage unites them whole-heartedly? Moreover she’s already a mom and would welcome additions to her family.

    Countering that view of her supposedly sleeping with Richard is the fact that she’s unsure of the fate of this relationship and her commitment to it. This is apparent by her reluctance to commit to it and her postponing of the union of marriage. I

    • I don’t know. i think you make a lot of presuppositions. Still, there’s no indication that even Lois is aware of her child’s father until Lex himself asks the question. Look at her reaction – she’s caught off guard by it. It isn’t something she’s long considered and thus knows to conceal from the guy who has tried to kill Superman at least twice at this stage. It’s a moment which just shocks her, as if she knows it makes sense, but never really thought of it before.

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