Go figure – this past weekend, I actually read a book. It was free, and it was for work, but it counts. See, ever since I first heard about this “Lois Lane as Young Adult fiction heroine” pitch, I was intrigued. Would it be terrible? Would it shoehorn in younger versions of other characters just to be hip?
Well, I won’t say it’s any masterpiece, but Gwenda Bond’s book is an easy, breezy read even if the pacing’s off. The climax happens super-fast relative to the buildup, and some of the character quirks – one girl makes her own fake band T-shirts, a different one every day, which would be pretty costly to do right – feel a bit strange, and more like adult perceptions than actual young-person stuff. But mostly it’s an okay read, if you’re willing to accept that the canon gets rewritten for a modern teen.
How so? Glad you asked, imaginary questioner…
1. Lois Becomes a Reporter at the Daily Planet on Her First Day of Her New High School.
Lois is again a military brat in this story, and as such moves around a lot (this will be important later). And at every new school, she gets in trouble almost immediately – but always for standing up for somebody else. At the new high school in Metropolis, she’s called into the principal’s office on day one for standing up to bullies, and guess who’s randomly there also?
It is never, ever explained what he was doing there – but he likes her spirit. And he recruits her immediately to write for a junior section of the Planet called Scoop. Yes, the Daily Planet has room for a section for teen reporters, because…
2. In This World, People Still Like Newspapers.
In the real world, you are reading this on a blog owned by a newspaper company. A blog aimed at anyone from actual teens to older folks who still think like teens at times. And the reality is that it is operated by one guy – me – with 16 years of experience in entertainment journalism. Actual print newspapers are smaller and smaller, because people read news on the Internet now.
In this novel, The Daily Planet is sold on every street corner, and they can afford to actually hire – for money – a mini-staff of high-schoolers to curate a section by teens. Said staff must work in the basement of the building, because there is simply no room elsewhere. Folks, take it from me – most newspaper buildings have empty rooms nowadays, or at least empty cubicles. But hey, maybe not everyone’s online in this reality, right?
WRONG. Everybody is online. Virtual reality is more advanced than it will likely ever be in real life, and people text constantly. Somehow this has not hurt print journalism one iota, to the point that rather than hiring good journalists who are out of work, Perry White is recruiting teens. Maybe he was inspired by Tintin books.
But don’t think this won’t be topical…
3. Actually, It’s About Ethics in Video Games.
Mercifully, nothing on this story is as on-the-nose as that one Law and Order episode, nor does it involve people making YouTube videos or questioning sex lives (this is YA fiction, and having them all doing it wouldn’t quite work). What it does involve is a gang called the Warheads, who lurk within the virtual reality online game that everybody plays, where they act as bullies and griefers.
But being just plain old bullies and griefers isn’t enough; in this world, gaming bullies and griefers only exist because some greater force is making them do it. They are linking up their minds, as part of a top-secret evil project. A project called…Hydra.
So I guess that means that this whole thing is…
4. It’s Still a Job for Superman.
Well, not Superman exactly. Not yet.
Remember when I said it would be important that Lois moves around a lot, as an army brat? Well, during one of those moves, as the family drives through Kansas, she swears she sees something that looks like a man flying. So she goes online and writes about it on a website dedicated to conspiracies.
Somebody responds, telling her she’s not crazy, and he knows she’s telling the truth but he can’t tell her how he knows that, or who he is. A fellow who goes by the name of “SmallvilleGuy.” Now, if you or I cyber-met someone on a website dedicated to conspiracies, I think we’d be extra careful in our dealings with that individual.
Lois, of course, falls in love with this guy she has never met or seen. Because heaven forbid Lois Lane is ever seen to have loved anyone else before Superman.
Did I say never met or seen? She actually does meet his avatar, in the virtual world. In which he has chosen to look like a green-skinned alien – because he feels so alien all the time, he says – with wavy black hair and glasses.
Speaking of which…
5. Lois Is a Genius Reporter, Except When She’s Not.
I doubt I’m really spoiling anything to say that Lois uncovers a big conspiracy and foils it. You weren’t expecting a Lois Lane prequel story to have her fail, were you?
But even though her reporter’s instincts are super-sharp and on the money, the one thing she wants to know most – SmallvilleGuy’s identity – eludes her. To be fair, at one point she thinks about going to Smallville and trying to use what little evidence she has to figure out who he is, but realizes that’s too complicated. But why would she need to actually go to Smallville?
Remember, this is a world in which everyone, including SmallvilleGuy, is an online player in a massive game. Lois has friends who are hackers, and she has scraps of infomation about the guy she’s been talking to, assuming he’s telling the truth. Besides, Smallville is presumably still a tiny-as-fuck town. You’re telling me she can’t marshal all those resources together and figure out who he is, when she spends the rest of the story planting bugs in high-security offices?
Especially when one of her best friends is…
6. A Possible Internet Easter Egg.
Lois has a computer-nerd best friend who also works at the Planet, because of course she does. In real life, he’s a guy who knows a lot about computers. Online, he is a king with a castle and many subjects. Also an army of trolls.
I’m sure it’s just coincidence that he’s named “Devin.” Right?
The real Devin would almost certainly point out that…
7. Here’s the Real Way You Know It’s Aimed at Teens…
It cribs the plot of a 1992 film that is poorly regarded, and that nobody currently in high school is likely to have seen.
(Though it’s actually pretty cool in parts. You should watch it.)
Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.)
Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist