Monday, December 10, 2007

Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #106 (Part 4): I AM CURIOUS BLACK

When last we read: Lois turned herself into a foxy black woman so she could experience the slums for herself and win a Pulitzer. Immediately, she begins to feel the chilling effect of prejudice. Benny the Beret won't pick her up in his cab. People in the subway stare at her (well, they would've if the artist had drawn it that way). It's very disconcerting for Lois but she soldiers on, determined to get her story. And now here's Part 4 of I AM CURIOUS BLACK!

What will Lois do now that she's a black woman in the 'hood? What she did the first time -- she wanders into a tenement to find someone to interview. But oh no! She sees smoke behind the stairs. Quickly, she beats the flames down on a pile of trash stashed under the stairs.

A woman comes out and, seeing the heroic black Lois beating down the flames, decides to chat. I'm pretty sure it's the same woman white-Lois tried to talk to when she got a door slam as an answer. Looks like the same dress. (Lois can change her entire race, but this woman can't even change her clothes. An indication of poverty or a shortcut to clueing us in that she's the same person? Okay, they're not that deep – it's the shortcut thing.)

She tells Lois that the place is a firetrap and people leave trash there because the "slumlord" doesn't want to pay for a janitor. (Apartments have janitors? My apt. doesn't have a janitor. I have to haul my own trash outside, down some stairs, across a patio, down more stairs, through a hall, and into the garage where the bin is. My slumlord sucks! She also refuses to heat the swimming pool! Dirty, rotten slumlord.)

Slum Lady invites Lois into her apartment and offers her a cup of coffee. She makes a joke about hoping Lois isn't a bill collector (the fact that she lives in a tenement and has a slumlord wasn't proof enough. We needed more clues that it just might be possible that she's low on funds).

Okay, so Slum Lady has obviously told us everything we need to hear. Trash in the hallway, slumlord, bill collectors, no money, we got it. Who's next?

No one. We're still at Slum Lady's (I'm tired of typing Slum Lady. From now on she's SL) apartment. A piece of plaster from the ceiling falls into Lois's coffee. ("I said cream, no sugar, no plaster."). SL tells Lois that around there you get used to falling plaster. And the place hasn't been painted in eons. "But I don't have to tell you that!" Yes, apparently she did. By Lois's shocked expression, she had no idea that some people were poor.

Surely that's enough, right? Nah ah! SL hears her baby calling. She grabs a broom and chases a rat away from the crib.

As she comforts the child, she says to Lois, "I haven't asked who you are, or what you're here for. Can I help you, sister?" Lois, tears brimming, thinks, "She lives in misery, yet she asks if she can help me!"

Let's sum it up again folks. SL has trash in the hallway, a slumlord, bill collectors, no money, falling plaster, old paint, and rats. The evidence is really mounting toward the conclusion that SL is poor. But she's nice to black women (she slams the door in the faces of white women, but gives a sister a cup of coffee and an offer of help). Has Lois finally learned what she needed to?

Yes and no. She leaves SL, but she still has plenty of experiences ahead of her. Being black isn't defined by being poor. Lois needs to keep exploring Little Africa.


Jim Perreault said...

Maybe it was the selection of panels you scanned in, but I found this chapter of the story almost poignant. Nothing groundbreaking (although maybe it was by the standards of the day), and very heavy handed, but there's some real emotion there.


Joanna Sandsmark said...

I understand entirely. Granted, having every slum problem happen to the same person is a little heavy-handed but she's really just a representation of very real problems. And for me, it was her attitude that shifts it into poignant because it isn't just anger and self-righteousness. She shows humor and strength without apology. For its time, this comic was rather ground-breaking.