Lois Lane, the fearless Daily Planet reporter, is equally as iconic as DC Comics’ seminal hero Superman, but she usually serves as a supporting character. Author Gwenda Bond, however, reverses those roles while asking, “Who was Lois Lane as a teenager?” The result is Lois Lane: Fallout, a new YA novel (that appears to be the first of a series).
Sixteen-year-old Army brat Lois Lane moves to Metropolis where she gets a job as a reporter for a new online newspaper for teens called the Daily Scoop. She then learns a classmate, Anavi, is being tortured by a trio of bizarre bullies called the Warheads. The trio seem to have invasive mental powers thanks to a virtual reality video game.
Fallout is two parts Smallville and one part Sword Art Online. Like the former, it features a popular comic book character in her formative years. Lois, though young, is almost exactly the character fans know and love from the comics, albeit a bit immature. She’s tackling the typical problems a teenage Army brat has to deal with—constant moving, adjusting to new schools, trying to make friends—but with her trademark stubbornness. She may be rough around the edges, but it’s obvious she’d do anything to help the less fortunate, as evidenced by her efforts to protect Anavi. What starts as a simple problem leads to a complicated web of industrial subterfuge. Regardless, underneath all that is the important lesson of intervening to stop bullying.
The plot of Fallout, as I alluded, is reminiscent of the anime Sword Art Online (which is based on a series of Japanese light novels). Lois discovers that Anavi is a gamer and plays a new VR game called Worlds War Three using a holoset. The Warheads also play the game, and they often oppress her in the game, too. The game itself could be described as the bizarre lovechild of World of Warcraft and Mass Effect, creating an MMO featuring both dragons and aliens (among other things). While the game is a huge part of the story, the characters dive into it only a few times, which is to its credit. It would’ve been too easy and cliché to set the story in the VR world. The novel may as well have been a Superman/Sword Art Online crossover fan fiction at that point. Plus, it makes more sense to defeat the villains in “real life” than in the video game. Should this become a series, I don’t know if the VR game will be featured. I’d rather it wasn’t, or at the very least not used as the focal point of the plot.
While some have complained that Lois, despite being a strong woman, is too often rescued by Superman (I’d argue she just has a tendency to get in over her head), she’s quite competent here. Only once or twice does another character have to bail her out of trouble. Yet at the same time, she doesn’t mind being rescued. Bond could have easily turned her into a so-called “feminist heroine” who pretends to be invincible, but her Lois is willing to be vulnerable, although that usually requires people to crack her Army brat shell.
As is typical with YA, the heroine serves as its narrator, and Lois’ rampant snark never ceases to be entertaining. Bond perfectly replicates Lois’ distinct voice. It really is like hearing a young Margot Kidder except in present-day. Lois’ reactions to the scantily-clad elf princess avatar her co-reporter creates for her in the VR game are particularly poignant and funny. This book’s style has a fairly unique feature: the inclusion of texting/internet chats. The paragraph structures and fonts change whenever these come up, visually signaling to the reader the change. By transcribing these chats, it makes them easier to follow. Interestingly, while Lois is usually a notoriously bad speller, these chats are free of typos and have only a few emoticons or other Internet lingo. Was this a creative license on Bond’s part? Regardless, it’s better for reading purposes.
Most of these conversations are with an enigmatic boy whose username is “SmallvilleGuy.” Well, he’s enigmatic to Lois, anyway. Bond throws in many subtle hints that even the most casual of Superman fans will know this fella is in fact Clark Kent. He never gives his real name, and other than seeing his avatar in the VR (a blue-eyed alien, ironically), he and Lois never meet. While he plays second fiddle to Lois, he’s no incompetent sidekick. He’s proficient with technology and uses his connections within an internet group to gather information for Lois, as she investigates the technology firm behind Worlds War Three. He saves her once within the game—by firing laser beams from his eyes—and helps out during the climax, but for the most part he simply supports Lois’ efforts. Understandably, Lois wrestles with how she feels about him, constantly telling herself he’s just a friend despite their meeting in the VR game feeling like a date (this is YA, after all, the heroine must struggle with such things). It’s a great transposition and foreshadowing of what fans know will come in the future.
Which leads to one of the book’s minor flaws: the rest of the supporting cast isn’t as compelling. Lois’ parents are interesting enough, but her cohorts at the Scoop don’t hold as much intrigue. It’s not that they’re poorly written, but because “SmallvilleGuy” is—or rather, will be—Superman, they’re overshadowed by him. Other than the Warheads, who turn out to actually be pawns, there’s no real villain in the story. There’s a CEO and a few scientists at the end, but they’re hardly ever seen. For a book inspired by comic books, this seems a bit strange. Also, Bond is fond of characters who shrug only one shoulder for some reason. Most of them do that at least once. A nitpick, I know, but it happens a lot.
Regardless, Lois Lane: Fallout is a wonderful read for even the most casual of Superman fans.
Final Grade: A-