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The history of DC's Lana Lang explained

Superhero supporting casts come and go as new artists and writers reshape classic properties to their own specifications. For those heroes who've been around the longest, however, some secondary characters gain their own legendary status. No matter who Bruce Wayne might date, for example, there will always be an Alfred Pennyworth waiting for him at home. Sure, he might die for dramatic effect every few decades, but he always manages to come back. 

As the first real superhero, Superman has accumulated quite a few important supporting characters over the years. His girlfriend and eventual wife Lois Lane, his young friend and protege Jimmy Olsen, and the Kents who adopted him are all inseparable from the idea of Superman. His high school sweetheart, Lana Lang, is arguably just as important to his story. While she's important to Superman, she's even more important to Superboy, the teenage version of the character, for whose stories she was created in 1950 by Bill Finger and John Sikela. We're here to explore the history of this girl next door.

Superboy's Lois Lane

When Superman first debuted in 1938, his childhood and teenage years were largely glossed over. The idea that he was Superboy before becoming Superman didn't come about until 1945's More Fun Comics #101, but it soon became a huge part of his mythology and a whole new venue for telling stories about the Kryptonian hero. When Superboy got his own comic in 1949, that necessitated a new supporting cast, since it had already been established that Clark Kent arrived in Metropolis as an adult, only then meeting Lois Lane and all his other classic supporting characters.

Thus, the Superboy stories were set in Smallville, Kansas, and featured Clark's adoptive parents, his best friend Pete Ross, and a new teen love interest, Lana Lang. From the beginning, Lana shared a lot more with Lois than just her initials. She acts as a frequent foil for Superboy who wants to uncover his secret identity, as well as a relatively independent young woman for the time, whose courage often gets her into trouble from which Superboy has to rescue her.

Insect Queen

There aren't many other active superheroes in Superboy's time, but the ease of Silver Age time travel enables him to join the Legion of Super-Heroes, a large club for teen heroes based in the 30th century. Lana eventually joins as well as the fabulous Insect Queen, thanks to a "bio-ring" she finds that enables her to take on the traits and abilities of different bugs. Despite her name, she can even assume the forms of non-insects, like spiders and centipedes. With more than half of her body usually transforming with the power of the ring, it's actually a pretty unsettling powerset for a female superhero of that era. But as long as she keeps her red curls and the bow in her hair, Superboy doesn't seem all that freaked out.

This isn't the only time Lana gains super powers. Temporary transformations are a staple of Silver Age storytelling, and Lana gains Kryptonian powers to match Superboy's more than once. They never last long, however. Her Insect Queen identity is noteworthy because it remains a part of her character beyond just one story.

Lois Lane's romantic rival

Once Lana Lang had been introduced as Superboy's high school sweetheart, it was inevitable that she'd eventually appear as an adult acquaintance of Superman. In fact, the adult Lana first appeared in Lois Lane's own comic, which mixed superhero hijinks with elements of romance comics. Just as Betty needs Veronica in Archie Comics, Lois (in this era, anyway) needs a frenemy to compete with for Superman's affections — who better than his first love? Lana became a regular character in Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane and other Superman titles set in the present day. At times, her romantic connection with the grown-up Man of Steel seems just as strong as Lois Lane's. At other times, both women are sent reeling by the arrival of another woman who catches Superman's eye — but those interlopers never stick around for long.

In the classic 1963 "imaginary" story "Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" from Superman #162, a freak accident splits Superman into two bodies. The twin Supermen initially seem to be exactly alike, until they start discussing marriage. Superman-Red says that although he thinks of his time with Lana fondly, the true love of his adult life is Lois Lane. Superman-Blue says that while he cares for Lois, nobody can measure up to his first love, Lana Lang. And thus both Supermen get married in a joint ceremony, and all four live happily ever after ... until the status quo returns in the next issue.

Superman III

After the release of Superman II, actress Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane, publicly criticized the producers for their treatment of director Richard Donner. As a consequence, her role in Superman III was greatly reduced. To fill the romantic void in Superman's life, red-haired actress Annette O'Toole was cast as Lana Lang. This version of Lana is portrayed as a divorced single mother, who reconnects with Clark Kent at a high school reunion and begins spending time with him. Her son, of course, idolizes Superman.

Although Superman III was not a smashing success and O'Toole never had a chance to return to the role, she had excellent chemistry with Christopher Reeve, and cemented the idea of Lana Lang as Superman's secondary romantic interest in the minds of the non-comics-reading public. In recent years, some fans and critics have reevaluated Superman III, establishing it as something of a cult classic within the franchise. As for Annette O'Toole, this wouldn't be her last trip to Smallville.

Post-Crisis Clark's confidant

After Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted (and, in theory, "simplified") the history of the DC universe, writer/artist John Byrne was given the task of rewriting Superman's personal history in the Man of Steel miniseries. One of the biggest changes he made was to eliminate Superboy from the equation, instead having Clark Kent's powers develop slowly as he grows up, culminating in his adoption of the Superman mantle as a young adult.

Lana Lang is still an important part of his history, however. In fact, she became even more important. Before the Crisis reboot, Pete Ross had been Clark's one friend from Smallville who knew he was Superman. In Byrne's reimagining, it's Lana who knows instead. In a flashback in the last issue of Man of Steel, Clark reveals his powers to Lana as he explains why he has to leave Smallville and try to make the world a better place. Knowing his secret gives Lana a special role in Clark's life: She's someone he can confide in. It's years later that he tells Lois Lane the truth, once their romance becomes serious.

Mrs. Pete Ross

Although Lana Lang remains a part of Clark Kent's life in the post-Crisis continuity, the love triangle she once formed with Lois Lane did not survive the jump. Instead, Lana and Clark remain close platonic friends, while Lana enters into a romantic relationship with their childhood friend Pete Ross, who she eventually marries. They move to Washington, DC to pursue Pete's political ambitions. He eventually serves as vice president under Lex Luthor, who is impeached and removed from office due to the whole "being a supervillain" thing. Pete Ross becomes president in his stead, with Lana as First Lady. Eager to distance himself from his villainous predecessor, Pete resigns the office rather than seek election on his own terms.

Later stories set in this period see Lana and Pete separate, and Lana become CEO of LexCorp after Luthor is ousted from his own company. She then becomes a supporting character in the Supergirl comic, and even becomes possessed by a new, villainous version of Insect Queen. All of that was once again wiped away with DC's 2011 New 52 reboot.

Superboy comes to TV

Although Superboy had been erased from comics continuity with Crisis and Man of Steel, he starred in Superboy, his own syndicated TV series that ran from 1988 to 1992. Naturally, Lana Lang is a main character on the show, played by gorgeous redhead Stacy Haiduk. Haiduk's Lana is the only regular character to remain through the entire series, since John Haymes Newton was replaced as Superboy by Gerard Christopher after season one.

The series takes place at fictional Shuster University in Florida, where Clark and Lana study at the Siegel School of Journalism (these names being references to Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel). Although early episodes center around university life and the secrets uncovered by the college newspaper, seasons three and four move to the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters, an X-Files-esque agency that investigates the supernatural, where Clark and Lana intern. It's an odd duck of a show, and is largely forgotten today, but Stacy Haiduk remains one of the most memorable onscreen Lana Langs.

Smallville

While Superboy ignores the change to DC Comics continuity that says Clark Kent never put on a costume until adulthood, Smallville takes that as gospel. A teen-oriented series that launched on The WB (later The CW) in 2001, Smallville starred Tom Welling as a teenage Clark Kent who is just beginning to understand his nature and abilities. The series would ultimately run for 10 seasons, with Clark only becoming a costumed Superman at the end of the series finale in 2011.

This being the 21st century, the casting of Smallville was more diverse than previous Superman media, with Black actor Sam Jones III as Pete Ross, and Chinese-Canadian actress Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang. Although she isn't a redhead, Kreuk is a memorable and popular Lana, and probably defines the character for many younger Superman fans to this day. A previous Lana Lang, Superman III's Annette O'Toole, was also a regular on Smallville as Clark's adopted mother, Martha Kent.

The longer Smallville ran and the older the cast became, the farther it inevitably drifted from the original "Clark Kent in high school" premise. Kreuk left the show after the seventh season, but by then, all the characters were legal adults and Erica Durance as Lois Lane had been a regular since season five. It was time for Lana to step away.

Other Lanas in other stories

Although we've covered Lana Lang's most important screen appearances, they're far from her only ones. Way back in 1966, Lana appeared in the Superboy segments of the TV cartoon The New Adventures of Superman, where she was voiced by Janet Waldo. Joely Fisher voiced another animated Lana Lang in a couple of appearances on the '90s cartoon Superman: The Animated Series. In that series, Lana is one of Clark's only friends who knows he's Superman, just like in the post-Crisis comics. This version of Lana also has a cameo at Superman's funeral in the Justice League episode "Hereafter," although she doesn't have any lines.

In a 1996 episode of the live action series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Lana Lang is played by Emily Procter. She features in a story about an alternate world where Lois and Clark never meet, and he's engaged to Lana instead. Most recently, Lana Lang was revealed to be a character on the upcoming Superman & Lois, a live-action series spun off from Superman's appearances on the Supergirl TV show. Moroccan-Canadian actress Emmanuelle Chriqui will play the new version of Lana, who works at Smallville Bank and is married to a firefighter.

Superwoman

In 2016, Lana Lang finally got her own comic series, entitled Superwoman. Although she initially shares the Superwoman name with Lois Lane, both having absorbed power-granting energies when the New 52 version of Superman was killed, that version of Lois is soon killed as well. Thus, Lana carries on the Superwoman mantle until the series' ending in 2018.

As Superwoman, Lana has powers similar to the "electric" version of Superman that first appeared in 1998. In addition to flight and strength, she can manipulate electromagnetic energies. However, these powers are detrimental to her health and are believed to be shortening her lifespan. The surviving Superman eventually reabsorbs the excess Super-energy from Lana, and she returns to a normal human form.

Lana's still around as a friend and supporting character to Superman in the current DC universe, although she hasn't been at the center of any big stories since her days as Superwoman ended.

Lana Lang will never die

Nobody knows what future reboots and shake-ups might come to DC Comics. Certainly there have been plenty of them in the past — we can probably bet on more to come. What's clear, however, is that Lana Lang has become part of the fabric of Superman's mythology, and that means she'll always be around, no matter what changes the future might hold. Anytime Superman's origin is retold, no matter what shape or tone it takes, there will be a red-haired girl by his side at Smallville High School. Whenever a writer needs a friend for Clark Kent who's known his secrets longer than Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, or Bruce Wayne have, Lana Lang will be their first choice.

It's worth noting, of course, that in that second role she has replaced Pete Ross. This is partly because of changing social norms that allow for deeper platonic friendships between men and women in fiction, and partly because, well, she's always been more interesting than Pete Ross. As long as there's a Clark Kent, there will be a Lana Lang in his past, and probably in his present as well.