Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is DC Comics. And that’s mostly because of my undying affection for the comic book characters and stories that I grew up reading in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. So stay tuned all month to (maybe) learn a little something about 26 corners of the DC Multiverse.
Who should we look at for L day? Lobo? Lady Shiva? Lightning Lad? Lois Lane? Lana Lang?
No… Gotta go with the world’s greatest superhero’s greatest super villain. Lex Luthor.
You know, I don’t think it’s fair to call Lex Luthor a super villain. Because he doesn’t have super powers. He’s just a normal human being who possesses above average intelligence and sometimes strolls around in a super-powered suit of armor. Like Iron Man. Or Batman. Those guys aren’t really super either… but they’re no less heroes.
What’s great about Lex Luthor is that, in his mind, he’s not the villain of the story. To him, Superman is the threat. Doesn’t matter how many lives he saves or good deeds he performs, Superman represents a threat to humanity. Lex Luthor has always questioned the people’s faith in Superman. Because what if the day comes when Superman decides to turn on us?
Lex has been portrayed a number of different ways throughout the years. Before my time, back in the Golden and Silver Ages, Luthor was a mad scientist. He was actually an enemy of Superboy way before they grew up and moved to Metropolis. Lex even blamed Superboy for the accident that caused his baldness. That’s the extent of my Luthor knowledge prior to the 1986 continuity reboot following Crisis on Infinite Earths.
That is, except to say, during the Crisis, the Lex Luthor from Earth-3 was a hero who could manipulate dimensional barriers and helped to stop the Anti-Monitor. Then he came back during Infinite Crisis and revealed himself to be the bad guy. Those crazy Lex Luthors.
The Lex I grew up with was not only a genius, but was an unscrupulous businessman as well. He was already on top of it all in Metropolis before Superman ever showed up. Had his own skyscraper shaped like an L. Yeah, he was that into himself. Cool looking building though.
Once Superman debuted, Luthor immediately wanted the Man of Steel on his payroll. But Superman made it clear that he could not be bought. Tough pill to swallow for a guy who honestly believed he owned everyone in Metropolis lock, stock, and barrell.
Since he couldn’t keep Superman under his thumb, Lex set out to destroy him. He even fashioned himself a kryptonite ring so he could keep Superman at bay. Sort of like a restraining order. This is on top of lining the walls of LexCorp with lead, just so Superman couldn’t see what he had going on inside.
Lex tried to clone Superman a couple times, leading to a couple Bizarro incidents. He tried making a deal with tomorrow’s subject, Mr. Mxyzptlk, which led to an experiment involving red kryptonite (which had not yet existed in the post-Crisis continuity), robbing Superman of his powers.
After enough time passed, wearing that kryptonite ring eventually had unforeseen effects on Lex. Sure, kryptonite is deadly to Kryptonians, but it’s still radioactive. Eventually, that radiation caused Lex to be diagnosed with cancer. He even lost the hand on which he wore the ring.
It wasn’t long after this terminal diagnosis that Lex was killed after “accidentally” crashing an experimental plane that his company had designed. Why was he the test pilot and not someone like Hal Jordan? Because comics.
With Lex Luthor gone, someone needed to step in and take over the business. Enter Lex Luthor II, who appeared to be everything that his father was not. The junior Luthor was apparently an illegitimate child who had been raised in Australia. He had a head full of luscious red hair and a fancy looking beard and a charming Australian accent. This guy can’t be evil, right?
Turns out, Lex Luthor II was really Lex Luthor all along!
The gist of it is that Lex faked the plane crash and had his brain implanted into a clone body. He had a lot of people fooled for a long time. Even dated Supergirl for a while.
But similar to the problems he always had cloning Superman, his own clone body began to deteriorate. And when Lex had no other options, he declared war on Metropolis. He figured if he was going to die he may as well take his city with him. He almost succeeded.
Lex had a dramatic recovery when he made a deal with a demon name Neron who restored him to a healthy body once more. I can’t remember what Lex traded for that, but he seemed to have come out on top in the end.
By the turn of the millennium, when I had taken a comic book break, Lex ran for president. And he won. How crazy is that? An unstable businessman winning a presidential election? Because comics. Oh… and real life.
While Lex was president, he turned Superman and Batman into enemies of the state. Basically because they wouldn’t bend the knee. But his madness prevailed and it’s hard to stay president when you personally inject yourself with kryptonite steroids and try to kill the two most popular super heroes on the planet.
Beyond that, I’m not sure there’s much more to say about the Lex Luthor of the comics. He’s gone back and forth from villain to hero and back again… probably a few times. He’s always claimed that, with his intelligence, he could have cured cancer or stopped climate change if he hadn’t been so focused on killing Superman for all these years. But whose fault is that? Make better choices, baldy.
On the big screen, we have seen Lex Luthor portrayed by a number of actors including Jesse Eisenberg and Kevin Spacey (neither of whom I was too impressed with). But the best big screen Lex will likely always be Gene Hackman. I mean, ignore Superman IV (seriously, how did they convince him to come back for that?) but just watch him in the first two Superman films. Brilliant portrayal.
But even Hackman pales in comparison to Michael Rosenbaum’s seven years as Lex Luthor on Smallville. It’s here we see Lex as the (abused?) son of Lionel Luthor, both of whom just happened to be in Smallville the day the young Kal-El arrived, bringing a kryptonite meteor shower with him. Lex’s exposure to kryptonite caused his premature baldness as a child. In spite of this, Lex struck up an incredible friendship with Clark Kent after Clark miraculously saved Lex’s life following a car accident.
While Smallville may have been intended to be about Clark’s journey to becoming Superman, I argue that the more compelling piece is Lex Luthor’s journey to becoming the world’s greatest super villain. Seriously, I don’t think Rosenbaum gets enough credit for his portrayal of Luthor.
Of course, Lex Luthor has also appeared in a number of different animated TV shows and films, voiced by the likes of Clancy Brown, James Marsters, Giancarlo Esposito, among many others.
You know, everyone’s always interested in who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman. But I want to know who would win in a fight between Lex Luthor and the Joker. Who do you think would come out on top?
That’s all I’ve got for Lex Luthor. Did I leave out anything important? Let me know down in the comments!