Martha Washington, Jackie Kennedy and Lana Lang. What do all three of these women have in common? Believe it or not, they were all First Ladies of the United States.
That’s right, Lana Lang was once a First Lady. She has also been a Legionnaire, a Manhunter sleeper agent, a countess and an award-winning news anchor. If you’ve been watching Superman & Lois, then you know that Lana also just got elected as the new mayor of Smallville. That’s quite a resume for one person, but Superman’s first love has always been one of a kind.
The Other Woman in Superman's Life
Readers first met Lana Lang in 1950’s Superboy #10. The story was penciled by John Sikela and written by Bill Finger. Yes, THAT Bill Finger. The title page introduces the readers to Lana by comparing her to Lois: “As pretty as Lois Lane. As inquisitive as Lois Lane. As harassing as Lois Lane.” (Yeah, we’re just going to chalk that last one up to it being a different, less tolerant time.)
Her first appearance set up her status quo for most of her Superboy appearances. She lived next door to the Kents, she had a crush on Superboy and worked tirelessly to prove that he was secretly Clark Kent. On a few occasions, Lana would develop temporary superpowers, sometimes with crazy B-movie results. In Superboy #124, Lana discovers a visiting alien trapped under a tree and when she frees him, he gives her a special ring that has the power to transform her into various insects, thus making her…THE INSECT QUEEN. It almost sounds like Hal Jordan’s origin, except with more bugs.
What’s great is that this wasn’t a one-off. Lana would continue to use the ring off and on throughout the Silver Age. In fact, her abilities proved so useful that in Adventure Comics #355 she was accepted into the Legion of Super-Heroes as a reserve member.
In 1952’s Superman #78, Lana appears as an adult for the first time. In the story, she heads to Metropolis, becomes a reporter, rooms with Lois Lane, and begins to compete with Lois over Superman’s heart. (Look, we said she appeared as an adult, not that she acted like one.) This story was followed by another appearance in Showcase #9 where Lana journeys to Metropolis, becomes a reporter, moves in with Lois, and competes with her for Superman’s heart. Then in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #7, Lana comes to Metropolis, becomes a reporter, begins rooming with Lois, and competes with her for Superman’s heart.
Look, we’re not here to tell those hard-working Silver Age writers how to do their job, but if a story doesn’t work the first time, or the second, then maaaaybe you might want to think twice before going for the trifecta. In any case, after her appearance in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #7, the adult version of Lana remained in Metropolis and became a regular supporting character in the various Superman titles. That means that at the time, readers could pick up Lana’s teenage adventures in Superboy and Adventure Comics, while also reading about her grownup exploits in titles like Superman, Action Comics and Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane.
Many of these stories focused on Lois and Lana’s rivalry in their quest to marry Superman. But while their competition got fierce on many occasions, the two women came to genuinely respect one another and were able to separate their rivalry from their friendship. Then in 1971’s Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #109, Lana decided to start a new life in Europe after realizing that Superman only had eyes for Lois. Aside from a brief visit in Superman #284, Lana was absent for six years before returning in 1978’s Superman #317. However, it would be even longer before the shocking truth about her time in Europe was revealed.
In 1986’s Lois Lane #2, Lana had an emotional breakdown during a press conference about missing children. This caused her to confide in Lois that during Lana’s time in Europe, she had married an Italian noble and had a child. Horrifying, a group of terrorists kidnapped and murdered Lana’s child, sending her the baby’s severed ear. Lois was shocked to learn that her dear friend Lana had been silently carrying this emotional burden for years.
A Post-Crisis Presidency
After the reality altering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Lana was revamped along with much of Superman’s supporting cast in 1986’s The Man of Steel limited series. Lana was established as Clark’s childhood friend, but it was always clear that he could never return the feelings she had for him. After learning of his abilities, Lana was the first person Clark confided in before he left Smallville to wander the world. Lana never got over her feelings for Clark, but made peace with the fact that they would never be a couple.
This revamp changed the character of Lana in a few ways. Now she was in on Superman’s secret, something her pre-Crisis counterpart never had the privilege of knowing. This dynamic gave a new level of intimacy to her friendship with Clark. The Man of Steel also tied Lana more closely with Smallville, making her the smalltown farmgirl to contrast with the more worldly Lois Lane. This was a far cry from the Lana we’d gotten to know previously, who left Smallville behind to become an award-winning broadcast journalist. Yet, to this day, the smalltown farmgirl incarnation of Lana is the one that we most often see, including in Emmanuelle Chriqui’s portrayal on Superman & Lois.
That’s not to say that Lana’s post-Crisis story was dull. Far from it. During the “Millennium” crossover event, it was revealed that Lana had been kidnapped as a baby and brainwashed by Manhunters to become a sleeper agent. As detailed in The World of Smallville #3, Lana had been tasked with keeping tabs on Superman. Eventually, she was purged of the Manhunter’s programming and was able to begin her life anew.
After putting her feelings for Clark behind her, Lana got together with Pete Ross, another childhood friend from Smallville. The two got married in Action Comics #700 and gave birth to a baby boy in Superman: The Doomsday Wars. Lana named the child Clark Pete Ross, and although she insisted it was a tribute to Martha Kent (whose maiden name was Clark), Pete and Lois had their suspicions.
When Lex Luthor decided to run for President, he selected Pete Ross as his running mate. Pete was unaware of Lex’s duplicitous nature, but Lana was. In Superman: Lex 2000 #1, Clark confronted Lana, perplexed at why she would go along with this. Lana told Superman that she hoped Pete’s presence could make Luthor a better man and help the country, but after the Man of Steel flew off, she privately admitted that she hoped the Vice Presidency could save their struggling marriage.
After the Luthor/Ross ticket won the election, Lana became a very involved Second Lady. She personally read every single letter she received and tried to help those who sought her assistance. As detailed in Action Comics #798, she used her office to champion multiple initiatives including charity and education reform. After Luthor was removed from office in “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies,” Pete was sworn in as President, making Lana the First Lady. Unfortunately, the Ross marriage was all but over by then. Lana had secretly gotten her own apartment and the couple were already going through divorce proceedings by the time Ross stepped down from the Presidency in Superman Secret Files and Origins 2004.
Superwoman…and a Super Star
After the events of Flashpoint shifted the timeline, Lana was reimagined as an electrical engineer who would use her expertise to help Superman out from time to time. At a time when it appeared Superman was dying, a burst of energy came from his body and hit Lana. She soon discovered that she had some of Superman’s powers, along with new abilities like electrical manipulation. Lana fought crime as Superwoman and briefly starred in her own ongoing series. Unfortunately, she eventually lost her powers and left the superhero life, currently serving as the science correspondent for the Daily Star newspaper.
For decades, Lana has been an important supporting character in Superman live action media. Diane Sherry portrayed a teenage Lana Lang during the Smallville sequence in Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie. Lana later returned in Superman III as an adult, this time played by Annette O’Toole, who would later go on to portray Martha Kent in Smallville. O’Toole’s chemistry with co-star Christopher Reeve is considered one of the best parts of the film, with her Lana being fondly remembered by fans.
Stacy Haiduk played Lana Lang in the 1988 Superboy television series. Her version of Lana was more proactive than many superhero love interests on television, as she worked at the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters where she investigated supernatural and alien encounters. Perhaps the most memorable Lana was Kristen Kreuk, who portrayed the character for seven seasons on Smallville, before briefly returning for a farewell arc in season eight. Chronicling the adventures of Kreuk’s version of Lana would take a novel, but it’s important to note that she was a huge part of the series, and Smallville’s success laid the foundation for the modern DCTV era.
This brings us to Chriqui and Superman & Lois. Our current small screen Lana is an amalgamation of the many versions who preceded her—yet is very much her own woman. She’s a loving mother, a supportive wife, a great friend and someone who truly cares about her community. And now she’s Smallville’s mayor.
Considering Lana’s colorful comic book past, it’s hard to know where to rank getting elected mayor on her list of accomplishments, but it’s equally hard to imagine a role in which she could have greater impact. Or a role in which she feels better suited, for that matter. In other words, it’s been a long journey, but we think Lana Lane is precisely where she should be. But don’t expect her to stay in the role forever. Something tells us Lana’s story is just beginning.
Superman & Lois returns tonight at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. Looking for more news on Smallville's new mayor and her best friend Superman? Check out our official Superman & Lois series page!
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.