When high school student Lois Lane and her family arrive in Metropolis, she’s determined to stay out of trouble. However, as Lois investigates a group of bullies known as the Warheads, she realizes that something sinister may be happening in her new school and she’s determined to find the truth—regardless of the cost.
Listen, I get it. The market is absolutely flooded with superhero product. There are movies and TV shows and even the comic books from which they sprang. Why would you waste your time on YA novel that probably reads like fan fiction? Well, because Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane story Fallout is actually really good. Now hold on. I too was skeptical—especially after enduring the profoundly disappointing Black Widow YA novel Marvel put out last year. Yet Fallout proves to be a well-written, energetic bit of fun that is in stark, wonderful contrast to much of the superhero media out there.
Bond, whose prior work leans YA and a little fantastic, isn’t hamstrung by having to keep her story in line with any existing canon, particularly the gloomy film universe, and the novel is a better standalone as a result. However, that doesn’t mean the Lois Lane we meet here doesn’t gel with who you’d expect her to be. In fact, the picture Bond draws of young Lois is the best thing about the book.
When you think Lois Lane, what comes to mind is a dogged reporter who will find the truth no matter what. That’s true here, but instead of being driven by her competitive spirit, young Lois is compelled to expose and end injustice. The first thing we see her do is stick up for a bullied student who is being dismissed by the school’s principal. Her nosiness draws the notice of Daily Planet editor, Perry White and he quickly offers her a job at the paper’s student blog, the Scoop. While the graceless moment takes a lot of suspension of disbelief, Bond does a good job of justifying the idea that Lois will make a great reporter as the novel progresses. We don’t get many details about her past, but she frequently makes oblique references to instances where Lois has gotten herself in trouble in the name of helping others. Bond also proves that writhing the novel’s present. When the bad guys, a black-clad group of hive-minded teenage gamers, literally invade Lois’s mind as a warning, she’s not discouraged, she’s energized. “Finally, we’re getting somewhere,” she says triumphantly.
Speaking of that plot, while it’s undeniably comic book-y it also feels relevant to and revealing of what it means to be a teenager now. It’s almost entirely driven by the way Lois and her friends use technology. They’re obsessed with their phones and computers, half of them are hackers, most of them play a fantasy role-play game called Worlds War Three that may or may not be fundamentally altering their minds. Perhaps the most important technology Lois uses, however, is the messaging app she uses to chat with SmallvilleGuy, a mysterious boy she met while surfing message boards about fringe science and unexplainable, possibly supernatural events.
In case the screen name didn’t make it clear, Lois’s mysterious friend is none other than Clark Kent. In my day, people feared the people they met online might find out who they were in real life, but this version of Lois is of the generation fears the people in their real lives will find out about their online friends. In this case, it’s Clark who’s keeping a secret. While Lois tells him pretty much everything, she doesn’t even know his real name. All she knows is that he lives on a Kansas farm, he’s good with computers and he has firsthand knowledge of the strange occurrence that led her to the message boards in the first place. She doesn’t even know what he looks like. Well, that is until he creates an avatar so they can meet inside Worlds War Three. There’s a lot of dramatic irony in those encounters, especially since everyone they come across doesn’t understand why a “friendly alien” can shoot lasers out of his eyes. The biggest thing that achieves, though, is to underscore how different Lois and Clark are.
See, Clark’s parents have sworn him to secrecy as a way to protect him. It’s a newer modification to the Superman canon, something that reached its nadir in Man of Steel when Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent basically told Clark that letting a bus full of children drown might be preferable to risking exposing his powers. While this change to the character makes sense as a metaphor for the intense fear of otherness that characterizes the world today, it also robs him of his essential heroism. Superman was a hero because he was the most powerful person on earth and he decided to use that power to help people rather than become a tyrant. Now, even in this, his desire to do good is mitigated by his desire to protect himself. He is no longer the selfless hero who inspires. Lois is. Throughout Fallout, she repeatedly throws herself into danger simply because she knows she can help. It’s her bravery that helps and inspires people. Why wouldn’t you want to read about that?
Double Down, the sequel to Fallout hits stores May 1, 2016