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One of the tragedies of Superman — or, at least, what I think should be the tragedy — is Clark’s genuine hope and desire for Lex to do good with his life. Clark doesn’t want a world that depends on Superman. Like all true philanthropists, he wants a world where he’s obsolete, and it would take the vision and genius of Luthor to create such a world. Which he why statements like “I could cure cancer if it wasn’t for you” get him so angry.

NCallahan, I think you nailed it in one there.

Grant Morrison captured this perfectly toward the end of Rock of Ages where Superman confronted Lex about how Lex erased all the evidence of the Injustice League’s murders by tricking The Joker into using The Philsopher’s stone to undo everything that had happened. I don’t have the issue handy, but Clark basically says that he believes Lex did what he did – not to save his own skin – but to save the lives of people who didn’t deserve to die and that he honestly believed there was a good person deep down inside Luthor.

Lex’s response once Superman was gone? “You really do believe that, don’t you?”

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Mark Cook said on August 19th, 2008 at 2:25 pm

@Lister Sage: I agree with you about that. Actually, I believe the perception of each publisher’s characters is extremely important – the creators are affected by it too. There are buckets of very powerful characters kicking around the Marvel Universe, but they tend to be less popular than the street-level characters; the opposite seems to be true for DC. None of those powerful Marvel heroes are put into the same type of basic status quo as a DC hero – they don’t get to be the singular protector of a large American town; they are part of a team, or they aren’t completely trusted, or the good they do isn’t seen by a typical resident of Earth, or they have some flaw holding them back from achieving their maximum potential. This is not to say that such a Marvel hero would become more popular if they acquired a DC-style setup, as I don’t know that such a setup would work well within the established framework of the Marvel Universe.

It does suggest to me that there isn’t much room for a Lex Luthor in the Marvel Universe, if only because there isn’t a hero he can effectively bounce off of. What Marvel villain is closest to him? The Red Skull, maybe?

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Lister Sage said on August 19th, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Red Skull doesn’t work on numerous levels. He’s a physical match to Cap. And while the Skull can be commanding it’s through intimidation or because of like minded goals that he has followers. Most importantly, you can like Luthor on a personal level. Can you feel simpathy for a Nazi?

The only person I can think of at the moment that has a kind of underdog villain quality is the Iron Man foe The Controller. He’s physically crippled, so he’s not a physical threat, but he’s able to amass a following threw force of will, literally (though I think it’s technologically enhanced). He’s also very intellegent, making plans to try and defeat Stark, but just can’t quite manage it.

Sabastian Shaw comes close too. As he has the whole scheming businessman role down. The biggest problem with him is he can be a physical threat to any superhero at any time, whereas Luthor needs some type of suit or weapon.

The Mad Thinker might also work. As the point of the character is that he’s pure brain power. He’s supposed to be like the third smartest person on Earth, so his schemes are always him setting something in motion that will cause havoc to (usually) the Fantastic Four somewhere down the line.

Thought of more then I thought I could. Mad Thinker is a good match, though I doubt you’d ever find a popular Marvel foe that fits the description.

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My favorite Luther/Joker moment is oddly enough in the outsiders comic, its during one of jud Winnick’s runs with the title. if I could remember the issue number I’d look for a copy. Joker has kidnapped President Luthor and has him in a bunker, The joker is torturing Luthor to get some sort of missile secrets out of him and through all the torture all Luthor says is “does it bother you?” Joker: does what bother me?”
Luthor:”that he likes Catwoman better, that now matter how pretty you make yourself with your make up, he’ll still be taking her to the prom instead of you?”
The Joker loses his shit.
Luthor laughs one of those manic supervillan laughs. Its; a great scene and I thre scenes surrounding it showed Joker with a fair amount of respect for Luthor and not much in the other direction.

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great work, but
Although this reminds me that they’re likely going to have to reinvent his origin and soon, considering that right now a Magneto who could remember the concentration camps would be well into his seventies at least, and magical cloned bodies as a handwave explanation are kind of lame.
I completely disagree, the Holocaust is a major piece of Magneto’s origin, and honestly I don’t care that it ages his character. it NEEDS to be part of his origin, and I would be outright offended and enraged if it was retconned away.

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One of the best stories showcasing how mind-bogglinly obsessive Luthor is was the silver-age one where he reformed. Check it here:

http://community.livejournal.com/scans_daily/5858799.html (Part 1)

http://community.livejournal.com/scans_daily/5871746.html (Part 2)

http://community.livejournal.com/scans_daily/5888691.html (Part 3)

That final sequence with the weeping is truly epic. I’d like to see Morrison handle that!

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Xanatos is like Luthor minus the angst / rage. He’s just ballin’.

Even with everything he has, has had and will accumulate in his lifetime, Lex Luthor is not, has never been and will never be Superman.

But really Luthor doesn’t want to be Superman.

He wants Superman gone, so that he can be Luthor.

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@dan

Sure he does. Before Superman, Luthor was confident in being the greatest human being in the world. He was the closest thing to being able to move mountains as any man could be. Then Superman came along and Luthor couldn’t push himself hard enough to compete with everything Superman represented.

Superman’s mere existence humbles Luthor and he can’t stand the fact that no matter how much money he has, how much influence he has, or how much he pushes his limitations, Lex Luthor will never be what Superman is naturally. He doesn’t want Superman gone. If Superman was merely gone and he wasn’t the one to do it, Luthor would still be competing with his memory. For Luthor to get the win, he needs to be the one to beat, humble and surpass Superman.

But he’ll never be Superman. Deep inside, I’d bet a character like Lex Luthor would know that too. It would be the last thing he thinks about when he goes to bed and the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up. Either as a scientist, a business man or a complete and total bastard, Lex Luthor can never be Superman.

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[…] but here’s a great writeup describing The Man Who Laughs.  which also inspired a great piece On Luthor.  I’ve never been into the DC books.  but, i don’t know if this could be done for any […]

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Lex is the only man in the world, it seems, who understands that humanity has been out-classed by Superman. His mission is to depose Superman so his own species can reclaim their role as the dominant lifeform on this planet.

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Rock Ripsnort said on August 22nd, 2008 at 3:04 pm

NCallahan, you just explained why the last few issues of Superman/Batman stunk. Supes’ Quest to Rid the World of Kryptonite should have ended as soon as he found out the US Government had reserves of the stuff. He should have admitted that people would be right to be frightened of an All-Powerful Superman, and respected the government’s call. Instead, we see Amanda Waller turn into a total cliche villain (“Now, Batman- We’ll watch Superman DIE!”) and the unspoken message that we should Just Trust Supes In Everything. Bleaah!

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TheDerangedBear said on August 22nd, 2008 at 11:44 pm

I really enjoyed this! This was awesome!

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White copy on a bright blue background? Really? I’m supposed to be able to read this?

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Excellent article

Have you read Lex Luthor: Man of Steel by Brian Azzarello? I think that was the best portrayal of Lex Luthor’s personality and drive. I even wrote a paper because of it for class and you can check it out if you want:
http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddq2xrmh_17hdxqc9&hl=en

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well i have to say that is one good piece,, referal to Luthor of superman,, he was superman, but only then Clark Kents best friend once, then all of a sudden taking all away from Clark kent, his lovem ripped his family,, he did reek havoc on young superman i must say,, impressive!

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I agree with pretty much everything everyone here has said with regards to Luther being a great villain.

However, with several of the comments and especially the “You really believe that, don’t you” line, it appears that Luther’s biggest roadblock to actually being a good guy is Superman himself. Like has been admirably demonstrated here, Luther can never be Superman so instead, he’ll do his best to be the exact opposite. If he can’t be the best, why not the worst?

But from the Luther I’ve seen and what everyone has shown here, even that doesn’t satisfy him because he knows he could be the best if it wasn’t for Superman. So he continuously tries to defeat Supes just so he can say, “He’s not the hero, I am,” such as in the picture above. That is the ultimate goal of every great narcissist and Luther is nothing if not a narcissist. Because in a world without Superman (or with a subjugated Superman), Luther really is the greatest American Hero.

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So, in short: Lex Luthor = Evil Batman…sometimes. Other times? Satan.

Good article, but I always thought Doom and Luthor were on the same level. “You scarred my face.” “You made me lose my hair.” Both are insanely jealous of their opposites…but to each their own.

Evil Batman is a great shortcut for Luthor I feel.

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I think you’ve got Dr. Doom all wrong. He was originally written as a shallow character with the motivation of retrieving his mother’s soul from Mephisto and the tragic flaw of believing himself superior to everyone in the universe – especially Reed (who he blames for his failures). But as the character got more popular, he’s grown into a sort of existential hero. Like Lex, the characters in the Marvel Universe hold in awe his persistence, willpower, and intelligence. The odds are always overwhelmingly against Doom. Doom somehow perseveres. He is the lone character (with whom we can sympathize – apart from his evils). He’s a self-made man (many times over). He runs a government of people he sees as his children and, although he’s a dictator, he’s isn’t a petty one. He’s stopped battles to defend his nation. His people both fear and adore him (he’s their Hitler and their Robin Hood all in one character). Doom is a master of magic and science who could be as powerful as Doctor Strange (see What If comic for evidence), but who chooses science because its discoveries prove his intelligence and superiority (over relying on mystical sources). Doom never acts out of greed or petty emotions. He’s a cold, calculating villain who believes in what he is doing – who believes he’s in the right. This makes him someone we can sympathize with. Even at his most dastardly, there’s a part of the reader that wants him to succeed – that sees other heroes as he does (as obstacles to be overcome in time).

Just Some of many references:

Books of Doom – Origin and Humanity
Dazzler #3 (just one comic that came to mind) – Honor and Outsider Reactions –
Doom (2003) – Existentialism
Doom: The Emperor Returns – Self-Made Man, Perseverance
Stan Lee Meets Dr. Doom – a humor comic, but gives some comic insider views
What If #52 – Doctor Doom embraces sorcery and becomes Sorcerer Supreme
What If #22 – Doctor Doom became a super hero (not really a stretch in the early years)

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great discussion. I would like to point out, however, that Luthor is older then Superman. Thinking in that field it may be interesting to think of the idea of Lex in the godlike role and Supes in the satanical position. On the one hand, you have a man confined by natural law and able to work only in the realms of man’s science (a realm he grows with each encounter) while you have a being who ignores natural law in the vain belief that civil law should reign over all. Luthor is like a dutiful general working under the limitations of his creator against a foe who shuns the foundation of Luthor’s kingdom. To think this way the simple fact that Superman can defy gravity is reason enough for the idea of a Luthor-god to destroy him. We often see this conflict from the civil law, Superman’s, side, but what about the ideals of Natural Law, or Luthor? I doubt many people here would deny that a Luthor character, unburdened by a Superman, would show us the ultimate height of the human being. We would be able to see unencumbered imagination mix with unflappable intelligence and be awe-struck for our own potential.

I would argue that Luthor knows he is not Superman, but I would also argue that Luthor’s true hatred for the alien is mutually felt by Superman. Luthor, for his part, sees Superman as much as a threat to humanity for the change in the universe he led to earth. Before Superman, mystery-men like the JSA were almost exclusively humans, with powers from science and self-discipline. After Superman, you see a flood of alien powers, deferring to Superman as much as emulating him. We did not have to fear an army of Alan Scott’s Green Lanterns descending from space with their rings raining death on earth, where that is possible for Hal Jordan. For Superman, Luthor represents all the horrible things that made him the last Kryptonian. Greed, avarice, an air of uncaring, and most of all an introverted galatic view all contributed to the end of Kryptonian society. Because they were not a space-faring race, Kal lost almost everything about his birth planet, and he sees in Luthor those same qualities (most of which made Krypton great) that doomed Krypton. Superman says it a lot: he lost one planet, he doesn’t want to loose another.

Finally, as to the Joker/Luthor relationship: at the end of the recent Crisis, Lex confronts Alexander Luthor a moment before Alexander died. He tells him how that he thought the plan brilliant, but he made one mistake: He didn’t let the Joker play. Then Joker does what he does best, with a smile and a laugh. To steal from another companies closing line: ‘Nuf Said.

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Excellent essay. I personally view the Lex/Superman relationship like this:

Superman is a god that thinks he’s a man.
Lex Luthor is a man that thinks he’s a god.

I’m also with Morrison on the idea that while Luthor likes to boast that he’d be the world’s greatest hero if Superman hadn’t come to Earth, he’s full of it. He’d still eff it up due to his massive ego.

I’m writing a story that shows more of my thoughts on Lex right now, though, so I’ll hold off on dropping them just yet. 😉

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Sean Daly said on August 29th, 2008 at 6:04 pm

To the earlier comments about Superman being too God tier: it is vitally important to remember that Superman doesn’t think that way. I don’t mean, “Gwarsh, he’s Super Humble too!”, I mean the character’s psychology demands that he see himself as a really strong, really tough human. Power level is always going to be a matter of the writer’s skill; what makes Superman relate to readers is that in spite of all the power, all the goodness, the sci-fi folk story adventures, Superman’s soul remains the shy, good-natured farm boy he was before that fateful afternoon that his body absorbed enough solar radiation for his powers to kick in. That’s how Clark keeps sane, in spite of having the weight of the world on his shoulders more often than note.

For me, one of the best parts of All-Star Superman was Professor Quantum and his lab; the man says right away that the majority of his work was inspired by how Superman’s body works. This returns Luthor’s hate to the realm of choice; it was Lex Luthor who decided that Superman was a wall between humanity and its ultimate potential, where other scientists have, instead, used the example and existence of Superman to bring the human race closer to that hypothetical goal. And it reminds us that the only person putting the Superman so impossibly far ahead of the average person is, well, us-if you want to make the character more accessible, the best place to start is to remember the amazing things the human race is capable of.

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[…] is actually a pretty recent change for me after I read this incredible breakdown about him here written by Christopher Bird – better known by some as […]

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[…] nutty and enjoyable in true Morrison style. I’ve really never been much of a Superman fan (Luthor has always been a more interesting a character), but between Morrison’s All-Star treatment (which is as brilliant as pizza is delicious), […]

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mrluthor89 said on November 30th, 2008 at 8:15 am

Excellent review.

Lex Luthor has been, and always will be, my favorite villain in comics, film, TV, etc.

One aspect I love about him is that, of all villains, he is the most realistic. And one that is around us all of the time whether we like it or not.

We all want to be like Superman, but we often end up like Lex Luthor. We want what WE want. And we’ll most likely save ourselves before we save someone else. It’s our nature.

Lex himself can be the tragic anti-hero of his own story, and very few comic book villains can truly fit that bill. In ‘Smallville’ we see all the best sides of him, but then we see all the darkest demons of his past, present, and future. It is tragic that he is almost inevitably meant to be the purity of evil… yet we all can sympathize. Its as if comic books have re-written Milton through Lex Luthor.

Curious as to your thoughts on the film and TV adaptations of Lex? I thought Gene Hackman’s Lex was a step up from the rather boring one-note Lex from the comics AT THE TIME. And Michael Rosenbaum is flat out the best incarnation of the man and the villain.

-John

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[…] human being.  Thus is the awful, lasting significance and influence of Lex Luthor, a man whose legacy has been so destructive, whose shadow has spread so darkly over  the second half of the 20th […]

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[…] Mightygodking on Lex Luthor Commenta 22nd February , 2009 http://mightygodking.com/index.php/2…/18/on-luthor/ […]

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Jackabug said on April 21st, 2010 at 6:06 pm

right now a Magneto who could remember the concentration camps would be well into his seventies at least, and magical cloned bodies as a handwave explanation are kind of lame.

The obvious way to update Magneto’s origin (which would also correct for Xavier & other characters whose ages have at least to some degree been pegged to his) is to have the character-defining moment in his youth be not the Holocaust, but the “ethnic cleansing” in former Yugoslavia. Give Erik a birth year of 1990, give or take a couple of years, and that gives Marvel an extra couple of generations before they’ll need to reboot again to sync up comics time with real-world time. And the world will no doubt give us at least one more horrific genocide in the next 20-50 years so that Marvel can reboot X-Men yet again.

Heck, the mid-90s had two different horrific genocides going on that people in the comic-reader demographic have (probably mostly) heard of: the five-way extermination-fest in the Balkans, and the three-way war in Rwanda and Burundi. Both featured all sorts of opportunities for a young mutant to come to the conclusion that minority groups have to protect themselves, because the so-called good guys cannot be relied on to do it for them. I’m old enough to remember how nauseating it was to see people in Western Europe and North America celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII and how they all swore “Never Again” would such a thing be allowed to happen… while the same thing was happening, everyone knew it was happening, yet hardly anything got done to even try to stop it until after millions were already dead.

(Pre-emptively: Anybody who thinks shifting Magneto from being a Jewish Holocaust victim to a victim of a later attempt at mass genocide would somehow cheapen the horror of the Holocaust… is themselves cheapening the whole idea that genocide is horrible and wrong.)

Rebooting Magneto as a black African from Rwanda or Burundi — or even creating a new character with that as their origin story — would be an interesting idea… but on a practical level, alas, I don’t think this generation is yet ready to handle Black superheroes or supervillains in a sufficiently-consistently-respectful manner. (I’m not saying there are no comics creators who can do non-white characters justice, because there are plenty, but unfortunately editors keep handing the characters in question to writers who have no clue what racist asshats they are.) Maybe a couple of generations down the road.

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[…] and fans of Superman. I wrote it  after once again having read Mightygodking’s post about Lex Luthor. Examining comic book villains and what works about them is something I find interesting. Hopefully […]

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[…] property of others. A man who knows [and loves] comics, he’s written his fair share of posts about them, and demonstrates an impressive knowledge of both Marvel and DC. We would expect someone […]

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