The current superhero landscape is filled out by a group of people who are deeply committed to keeping the public smart and safe—journalists. These are the vigilant men and women responsible for reporting on the world’s new status quo now that folks with powers, enhancements, and ridiculous amounts of money are taking to the streets to uphold justice and… counter the ever-growing threats coming from outer space. And the criminal underground. And the criminal overground.
But some of these tireless reporters come off more authentically than others. Some of them can clearly write, or are being mentored to that end. Some of them work at papers and magazines that operate in a realistic fashion and hold them accountable. So who is the most believable journalist chasing down superpowered leads? Let’s take a look at our current crop.
Note: We are only looking at journalists who are currently working their field in superhero television and film. No editors. They can have their own party. Ranking takes two sets of criteria into account—how good they seem to be at their job, and how realistically their job is presented—each on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best). (You will notice that the realism of a job can vary greatly even within the same fictional universe.) Let’s get to it, starting with the lowest scorer…
Clark Kent (DC Cinematic Universe)
I suppose we could argue that Clark is still in his learning phase, but that doesn’t explain a few very important things. Such as… how did he even land his job at The Daily Planet in the first place? We know that prior to this he worked a bunch of odd jobs all over the place, and we have been given no indication of training or education in the journalism department. So unless he straight-up faked his resume (which shouldn’t really pan out if you’re trying to get hired by a major newspaper, since they should be checking references and demanding clips of your work), there’s no reason for Clark Kent to have this job at all.
What’s better is watching Clark proceed to be terrible at the job that he shouldn’t even have all throughout Batman v Superman. Perry White tells Clark to cover a sports event, and Clark doesn’t even pretend to bother. He’s worried about some snapshots he’s received from an anonymous Lex Luthor, and this triggers his Batman obsession. He has to be told who Bruce Wayne is, though. Guess he’s not big on knowing the names of famous people who might have the kind of money it takes to be a Batman. So, he never turns in his assigned articles and he argues with his editor about what he should be covering when he has zero experience? Guess it’s probably good that Superman “died” in BvS, so Perry didn’t have to fire him.
Iris West (The Flash)
Iris West … is not much of a journalist. She has minimal training. She got her job because she wrote an incredibly cheesy blog about the Flash. She’s do-gooder, but she doesn’t understand the first thing about journalistic ethics. She’s moderately good at looking into things when it’ll help Barry, but never seems to have an assignment from her job at Picture News. Sure, the paper got a minor plotline in the first season, but that was because Barry was dating Iris’s coworker, not because Iris’s job is something the show has ever spent time taking seriously. It’s insulting to Iris to half-ass her supposedly meaningful career, and insulting to actual journalists to pretend that this is how journalism works. (Not that The Flash is alone in this, but truly, Iris’s “career” is one of the worst depictions of fictional journalism.)
In a recent episode, Iris discovers that Barry has seen her death a few months in the future (conveniently timed to the season finale, naturally). Certain she can’t die yet, she throws herself into a situation involving arms dealers—a desperate ploy for a journalistic legacy. Iris wanting her life to mean something more than her relationship with men is a great motive for a perpetually underused character. But to wedge this into a season when Iris has never even gone to work makes it just lip service. Iris’s career is this lumpy sad chair sitting awkwardly in the corner, being dragged out when The Flash needs something to rest a snippet of plot on. (Just go with it, ok?) She’s been saddled with a crappy blog, a should-I-date-my-editor-boss mini-plot, and now a sudden surge in her passion for journalism—none of which the show has bothered to develop believably. The Flash requires Iris to be constantly in Barry’s orbit, which means she can’t have her own life unless circumstances are very, very dire. In short, she’s a plot device, not a journalist. Just let the woman do her job! Or maybe start by learning how to do it.
Karen Page (Daredevil)
On the one hand, Karen is essentially adopted by Ben Urich and groomed to follow in his footsteps. And once he gives her some much needed training, Karen turns out to be great at the investigation part of journalism. She digs deep into records and talks to witnesses and listens in on conversations. She knows that her old employer is dirty and works to expose them; she figures out where Wilson Fisk’s mother is being kept to question her; she can tell that something isn’t right with how the Punisher’s story is being told. She has amazing gut instincts and is clearly being wasted at Nelson and Murdock (mostly due to the fact that they don’t seem to do a lot of lawyering once half of the firm is busy getting his parkour on every night in Hell’s Kitchen).
On the other hand, the idea that Ben Urich dies and Karen—who has no formal training and no actual journalism experience whatsoever—gets his job and his cushy AF office all because his editor seems to think that ‘the kid’s got the stuff’ (that’s how they say it, right?) is painfully absurd. Not only is hiring Karen to a senior reporter’s position a huge and pointless risk, but… you’re saying that no one expected to move into that office once Urich died? Most of the staff are confined to cubicles, but this new bright-eyed cutie swoops in and essentially takes over Ben Urich’s entire corner of the paper? This is a joke. There is absolutely no way that several less-senior reporters aren’t spending their coffee breaks sobbing in an office supply closet over this move, or threatening to pack up and move to another paper. To top it all off, Karen seems to be a frankly awful writer. The first piece that Ellison encourages her to write has no reporting in it whatsoever. It’s just a little essay about Hell’s Kitchen being home or something. So maybe not.
Kara Danvers (Supergirl)
Kara’s just a little fledgling reporter, so it’s hard to know—yet—where to rank her on this list. She only started as a reporter after a long bit of first-season soul-searching, when Cat Grant, bless her heart, gave Kara the freedom to figure out what it was she really wanted to do at CatCo. It just so happened that Kara’s desires lined up perfectly with Cat’s prediction: that the girl of steel should be a reporter.
And to her credit, she’s finding out that being a reporter isn’t something you suddenly are, but something you have to learn. She has the requisite cranky editor (Snapper Carr! SNAPPER! Sorry, it’s just so apt) and, in combination with Supergirl’s access to crime scenes and DEO intel, is in a great position to do good work. Just as soon as she gets over that pesky tendency to get super invested in her subjects. What’s endearing about Kara-the-person—she’s big-hearted, she throws herself into things, she knows how she feels about the world—is exactly what terse (but secretly supportive) Snapper has to train out of Kara-the-journalist, who is still learning the difference between a reported piece and an opinionated tirade.
Also, she’s a terrible speller with a tendency to run-on sentences. But she’ll learn. Sure, Kara often has to fly off to fight evil at a moment’s notice, but she has the slight advantage of being able to fly there and back before anyone’s really noticed she’s gone. Her absences from the office are a tad more believable than some people on this list (coughcoughIrisWestcough). She’s not about to challenge Lois Lane in a journalistic showdown, but that’s the point: she’s doing something she’s not already super at, and that takes time.
Christine Everhart (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
The most aggravating thing about Christine Everhart is that she contributes to a bothersome fictional trope: journalists who sleep with their interview subjects. (Sure, this is technically true of Lois Lane in the DCEU, but that happens after she writes her piece on Clark, not while it’s ongoing.) Which is annoying because it’s unethical from a professional standpoint, and also because we very rarely observe men who commit this same faux pas in fiction. When we meet Christine, she’s giving Tony Stark a hard time for war profiteering, and he counters by offering her a chance to jump into bed. She goes for it, for some reason, and is then customarily shown the door by Pepper Potts the next morning. In the next Iron Man film, Christine is subject to a lot of tasteless comments by both Tony and Pepper while hanging around with Justin Hammer for the purpose of the interview, though she does still ask Pepper for a quote for her piece in Vanity Fair’s “Powerful Women” issue.
Her mistreatment lands with more of a sting perhaps because a key contribution of hers is often overlooked; it is because she blindsides Tony Stark at a charity ball—showing him pictures of the refugees from Gulmira, where his recently-deceased friend Yinsen came from—that he decides to rebuild his armor and take responsibility for the actions and creations of his company. In effect, a well-informed, persistent journalist is responsible for Tony Stark becoming Iron Man in the first place.
Susan Williams (Arrow)
When we first meet Susan, she takes no shit. She’s reporting on the fledgling mayoral career of Oliver Queen, and she’s not pulling any punches. It’s so refreshing! Everyone else who points out what a crummy job Oliver does, either as the Arrow or as the mayor, either works for him, is related to him, used to date him, or can otherwise be talked down. Susan’s scary. Thea tries to get her to lay off, but her plan backfires. There is no appealing to Susan’s squishy side; she just doubles down on her criticism.
If only that lasted. It’s not long before Oliver convinces Susan to give him a month without “an attack,” which is a crappy way for the mayor to view legitimate criticism from the media. Not long after that, they start dating, because apparently the rules of fictional journalism rarely deter anyone from sleeping with their subjects. But there’s obviously something else going on with Susan, who gets into a Twitter war with a Russian journalist, doesn’t stop researching Oliver’s past (notably his time spent in Russia), and has a telling brand of vodka in her apartment. Journalistically, she’s got the skills and the temperament to be a journalistic force, but it’s impossible to tell yet whether she’s doing her job or … working for someone other than a television station.
Ben Urich (Daredevil)
Ben Urich has been doing this job his whole life—he’s an excellent reporter, investigator, and probably everything else you can think of. He’s the best at putting up shelves, and petting dogs, and drinking stale office coffee. It just seems likely, okay? We know for a fact that he has spent the many years of his career exposing corruption and helping people in his city. The clippings in his office show that he’s been covering super peoples right from the start—there are even clippings dealing with Hulk’s rampage through Harlem in his office. Ben is around to show us the state of journalism today, a heavy hitter for decades who is now asked to write puff pieces because that’s what sells in the age of clickbait headlines. His editor Mitchell Ellison is practically begging him to write up subway colors instead of looking into bad men. And he gets killed for all his hard work, a very real danger for people who get too close to big truths and anger the powerful.
The only truly unrealistic thing about Ben’s job at the New York Bulletin is that fact that Ellison seems to think that the big bucks for reporters are now in blogging. He has illusions about “kids” sitting in their Brooklyn apartments in their underpants and pulling down more money than either he or Urich do. Clearly, he’s never met the kids working the blogosphere because there is no universe where your average blogger makes loads more than a trained journalist, unless said journalist is under- or unemployed. But in the a world where modern journalism is rediscovering its purpose and its voice on a massive scale, where we are learning all over again how important it is to have journalists holding organizations and individuals accountable, Ben Urich is emblematic of our times.
Lois Lane (DC Cinematic Universe)
Say what you want about how respectfully the DCCU has handled Superman and Batman—in Lois Lane, we can still hope for the future. Here is a woman who doesn’t mess around. She knows how the investigative part of investigative journalism works: checking sources, interviewing witnesses, pulling threads together. She figures out who Superman is before anyone even cares because she’s just that good at her job. And no one manages to figure it out afterward, even once the people of the world are suddenly interested in the big blue boy scout. She doesn’t betray her sources and give away who Clark is, even when she’s taken into custody by the FBI, and then the U.S. army. Her integrity settings are cranked to maximum all the way.
Lois Lane has won the Pulitzer Prize. Lois Lane argues with her editor about whether or not he should print her work—they actually speak to one another about the problem with putting out a story that is mostly conjecture. Lois Lane leaks her piece about the kind alien she has been tracking to a website that she thinks is garbage, but will at least run what she wrote… because she thinks it’s super important that the world know that aliens are real. (And it turns out that she’s right, it’s super important.) Lois Lane gets in trouble for that, by the way, because that’s how contracts and accountability work, so she’s suspended without pay. Lois Lane occasionally blunders because she has one of the world’s most difficult jobs, but she’s the best at it. And from the snippets of her work that we actually hear aloud, her writing is thoughtful and actually sounds like something you might read in the newspaper. She frequently shows more desire to Get It Done than Superman does. And she should because Lois Lane is one of the primary figures that reminds Clark Kent of exactly why humanity is wonderful. Lois Lane loves her job, and her job matters. All hail the queen.
This article was originally published in March 2017.