I make no claims that this is important work. I don’t say the writing and art were industry changing.
I do insist that Mr and Mrs Superman by E Nelson Bridwell, Kurt Schaffenberger and friends is enormous fun, deserving of a place in every Lois and Clark fan’s collection.
The strip, which gives us snapshots of the early married life of Superman and Lois, ran mainly in the Seventies and Eighties Superman Family Dollar Comic, spinning out of Action Comics #484. That celebrated the book’s 40th anniversary with a beautiful JL Garcia Lopez (praise be his name!) cover showing that, finally, ‘Superman takes a wife.’ In a bait and switch, it was actually the Earth 2 Superman and Lois who were finally getting hitched, in a story reviving obscure Superman foe Colonel Future and old JSA villain The Wizard.
I remember reading this when it came out, and I didn’t mind the mild con – I’d been reading comics long enough to realise the ‘real’ continuity Superman and Lois would never fly up the aisle (ahem!). Besides, we got an utterly charming tale from Cary Bates, Curt Swan, and Joe Giella which left readers begging for more.
Not that we had to beg for long, because after a couple of shorts in Superman a few months later, a regular strip debuted in Superman Family – the comic born, appropriately enough, from the marriage of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen’s long-running books (it kept the Jimmy numbering). While Bates opened the series, most installments were written by E Nelson Bridwell and pencilled by Kurt Schaffenberger. And they were the perfect team: Bridwell, a Silver Age stalwart with a massive knowledge of DC trivia, and Schaffenberger, a veteran cartoonist who started out in the Golden Age and oozed charm from every line.
Bridwell mined the old comics to give the Earth 2 Superman (not precisely the Golden Age guy, but that’s a whole other article) a continuity he’d not previously had. Red-headed evil genius Alexei Luthor returned, along with the likes of original Fifth Dimensional imp Mr Mxyztplk – not Mxyzptlk – mechanical man Metalo, even Superman’s first costumed foe, the Archer. One delightful adventure saw a comeback for the truly bizarre Funny Face, who brought cartoon strips to life in one of the best stories of the Golden Age (‘Case of the Funny Paper Crimes’, Superman #19, 1942).
The difference in these return bouts was that Superman was no longer alone – he had Lois at his side as equal partner, sometimes to offer wise counsel, occasionally fighting alongside him.
One such occasion saw Superman make up the identity of Flying Tiger, while Lois got to be ‘Kitty, my cub’. Superman may have protested that crimefighting was too dangerous for a girl, but you could tell he was really delighted to have his brilliant, brave wife by his side.
And it wasn’t just old bad guys who returned – Mr and Mrs Superman also brought back Lois’s sister Lucille and niece Susie, reporter Steve Bard, magicians Hocus and Pocus and introduced a new character, thrusting young reporter Perry White. Jimmy Olsen was also on hand, but it was Lois who was the Daily Star’s star reporter, while Clark served as editor.
Occasionally Bridwell would bring back a non-Superman Golden Age character, such as the time a certain pink, magical thunderbolt showed up to explain whatever happened to Johnny Thunder, the dumbest guy in the JSA.
Or he’d put a spin on an existing character, by making Lana Lang, like her Earth One counterpart the possessor of a magical piece of jewellery, a very different – and much sexier, courtesy of guest artist Irv Novick – Insect Queen.
One story saw a villain reduce Superman’s powers to the level they were when he started out, necessitating days in the gym at his ‘mountain retreat’ outside Metropolis, with Lois as his trainer. Sure, it was goofy, but it was fun to finally see an in-continuity reference to Superman’s powers having developed down the years.
Now here we are in 2015. Mr and Mrs Superman recently returned, in the Convergence: Action Comics micro-series. Yes, they were drawn far too young, but there was the Action #484 cover illo, repurposed as a wedding snap. I’d love DC to follow the cameo up with a thick trade paperback – heck, even a black and white Showcase volume – collecting these gems from a time that was simpler, but not simplistic. Mr and Mrs Superman is the perfect combination of Golden Age characters, Silver Age sensibilities, and Bronze Age presentation. It’s a strip that’s as much fun today as it was a lifetime ago.