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mygif

Responding to your footnotes first:

1. Maybe they could do a thing where Magneto has magnetically protected his cells from random electromagnetically-caused mutation and so will have an unnaturally long lifespan.
5. Although, as we saw in Infinite Crisis, Luthor does have a healthy respect for the Joker.

One argument I’ve seen here and there is that Luthor can’t really be all that smart. If he’s so smart, how come he can’t outsmart Superman? If he’s so smart, how come he can’t figure out that he can’t beat Superman, and just renounce crime, go straight, and make hatfuls of money legitimately? There is an answer to this question, but to get to it, we have to turn (as we so often do) to Dungeons and Dragons. It’s simple.

Lex Luthor has a very high Intelligence. But his Wisdom isn’t quite as great. Superman, on the other hand, may not be able to match Luthor’s Intelligence, but he has a higher Wisdom.

The way this manifests itself in stories (often) is, Luthor is too cynical. Both cynicism and innocence carry with them their own particular illusions: neither the perfect cynic nor the perfect naif can believe that not everyone thinks like him. So Luthor just doesn’t get Superman. He thinks Superman is playing some kind of angle. We can see this in Elliot S! Maggin’s Superman novels of the ’70s, and we can see it in that Byrne-era story where Luthor’s computer tells him that Superman is Clark Kent, and Luthor basically responds by saying, “The secret ingredient is… love?! Who’s been screwing with this thing?!” (kicks machine).

One of the things that makes Luthor so great is that he isn’t irretrievably evil. There’s a possibility, deep down somewhere, that he can be turned to good. I mean, it’ll never happen, because then what does DC do with him, but the seed of it is there in the character. I think this is the true conflict of Superman, and every time Superman throws Luthor in the clink it just defers the resolution of it one more time: can Superman redeem Luthor before Luthor destroys Superman?

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Space_Battle said on August 18th, 2008 at 10:32 am

He’s also probably the only male super villain to have semi-fathered a son with his arch-nemesis. I loved the cartoon Lex the best because he is exactly the kind of personality that could be running the show and doing it better than anyone else and his bodyguard Mercy (I think that’s her name) is equally as intriguing from what I remember.

“The secret ingredient is… love?! Who’s been screwing with this thing?!”

Awwwwwwwwww, Lex. :(

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mygif

A far as Magneto goes, don’t they sort of have a handwave with the “He was de-aged to childhood and then reaged up to Adulthood” in the early Claremont era (all they have to say is he was “aged up” to you know, his 40s or something.)?

Excellent post

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mygif

Excellent essay. My only idea for a Magneto that takes into account time and avoid clones and magic is to have him be the child of Holocaust survivors, growing up in a new Israel. Everyone in his family except for his parents were killed. This has obviously scarred both of his parents, and after the war, they move to the brand new Israel, and become radical separatists, passing this onto their child. Young Magneto lives through the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war, and the daily stress of living surrounded by people that hate you. He grows to have a healthy sense of paranoia. I’m just not sure it works as well, or has as much heft, as a Holocaust survivor. Not to mention that this version of Magneto would probably be virulently anti-Palestinian, and it would tie his pro-mutant agenda even more deeply into his Jewish identity and probably drive John Byrne off the deep end. That last point might actually be a benefit.

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And this is why “You think I have no creed? My creed is LUTHOR!” is the best line in FC so far.

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Lister Sage said on August 18th, 2008 at 11:00 am

“The secret ingredient is… love?! Who’s been screwing with this thing?!”

And THAT is why Luthor has to steal cakes.

“…a man trying to fight God.”

And this is why I hate Superman. No character should ever be comparable to God and I don’t mean this in any kind of religious manner. Comparing someone to God on the power scale means someone went off the deep end when creating the charater. Even Thor, an actual God, is less powerful then Superman.

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Is Superman really that powerful? Next to Darkseid, Firestorm and Martian Manhunter in the power stakes hes not really that much out of the ordinary for DC characters. Heck if we’re talking “Going off the deep end” when it comes to giving a character powers Wonder Woman can talk to animals, plane shift at will and is immune to fire. Amongst other things.

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Good analysis, though I disagree with you on Dr. Doom being a much simpler character than Luthor. Both are capable of being great heroes – perhaps the greatest heroes in the world – but are held back by their hatred of The Alien/The Accursed Richards!

The only real difference between Doom and Luthor in terms of character is that Doom could put aside his grudge in the name of a higher cause. Luthor would gleefully let the world burn for a chance to see Supermail fail.

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Looking at Tom Foss’ recent Toyman essay, it seems to be Action #865 that has the Other Toymans Were Robots…

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Lister Sage said on August 18th, 2008 at 11:24 am

@itbox: As far as Darkseid is concerned, and knowing little about his creative history, to me he was an attempt to give Supes a real physical menace. Which means making him fuck-all powerful. Firestorm I know little about, but given that he’s a second ot third tier character I’m not so concerned about him. Manhunter: at least his weakness (at least I assume he still has it), fire, is very easy to obtain. Wonder Woman: in a vain attept to get people to read her DC has turned WW into female Superman. Finally: if it is true that the DC universe is filled with near God-like characters, then that’s a serious issue they should deal with. And I would go further to say that it got so bad in the attempt to make lightning strike twice by creating the next Superman.

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Excellent piece. Luthor is a great villain. A while back, I wrote a piece on him from a different angle , which skimped on elaborating on his awesomeness.

In a way, he’s a lot like the Joker: from a strictly in-universe perspective, it’s hard to explain his survival, much less his successes. From a literary perspective, he makes a lot of sense. Just as the Joker is “senseless violence incarnate,” which makes him nigh-unstoppable, Lex Luthor is “that which has power over us,” be it Science with a capital S, Money with a capital M, or gub’mint. Superman is about freedom from the bonds of the physical world — he can do whatever he wants, just as we wish we could. Luthor is symbolic of the human-created restraints we face — he’s the Man Who Wants to Keep Us Down, a type we can easily imagine and fear.

Play with those ideas and take them farther, as many writers have, and you get a damn excellent supervillain.

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[…] too fucking tired to think of something clever to call this links post – This site is ostensibly about supervillains (not really), so here are two great essays on two of the best – Chris Sims on The Joker and Mightygodking on Lex Luthor. […]

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Lister – Firestorm, like Molecule Man in Marvel, is about as close to all powerful as you can get. Both characters are hampered by an integral lack of understanding regarding the potential of their powers and lack the kind of will and drive to make them truely a heroic/villianous threat.

Firestorm, as I understand it, can more or less transform matter at will. Faced with Superman he could, in the blink of an eye, transform his costume into kryptonite. He probably could transform Superman himself into kryptonite! (note: I am not a huge DC fan, or Firestorm in particular, so I could be unaware of a facet of his powers – maybe he cannot transmute living beings? I dunno, but the general idea is correct I am fairly sure)

MGK – Excellent insights into what makes Luthor tick. Good stuff.

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Any thoughts on the Smallville Lex & Lionel? I think the two Luthors provide an interesting dynamic on the show…

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Bah, Thor could kick Superman’s ass. Stupid magic vulnerability not being vulnerable to magic. Stupid intercompany crossovers.

Even today, Luthor’s one of maybe four or five villains who’s an actual threat to Superman. Braniac, Metallo, I GUESS Bizarro, Parasite, Luthor and Darksied. Ok, so six. Most of the rest are Justice League villains or borrowed villains or “wait, really, a giant pie?”

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Darkseid’s not a borrowed villain?

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Lister Sage said on August 18th, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Matthew E.: According to Wikipeida Darksied’s first appearence was in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #134 (November 1970). Though it looks like he masterminded the conflict and didn’t take part in it.

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Good work. Any thoughts on Luthor’s unfortunate choices in henchmen? Mercy is the one competant hire he’s had in ever. (I remember a siamese twin goon Lex had in one of the annuals, who made Otis look like Bane.) Does he knowingly take inferiors to lord over, or is that the best help available?

I’ve always felt that any sort of athlete in the DCU would be, at best, deeply resentful of Superman: you get up before dawn and train all day every day to throw the shot put five meters further, and Supes can sleep in and still launch it into orbit…

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Magneto’s age is easy to fix just because he’s a mutant. There’s always the possibility of weird side effects from his original mutation, or he could just have a secondary mutation and suddenly have a healing factor like Wolverine. In fact, based on Magneto’s popularity, I’m a little surprised that he hasn’t been given a healing factor already. I mean, they did it to freakin’ Iron Man for god’s sake.

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Actually Magneto *was* de-aged to a child by Mutant Alpha and then re-aged to middle adulthood years by Eric the Red. if we go by his looks, his age seems to fluctuate between buff 30 to very buff 40, depending on writer.

So they don´t have to meddle at all with his background.

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Iron Man’s “healing factor” is the kind of thing you get when you let morons rewrite characters rom the ground up without having any checks on them or requiring them to adhere to any of the continuity, though.

Because, I mean, Tony Stark being a bulletproof blue-skinned creature whose *entire body* is *made of brain matter* and who regenerates faster and more efficiently than Wolverine? That’s something that could only come out of the brain-damaged mind of Orson Scott Card. I’m surprised he didn’t take the time out to explain how Stark is really secretly a Mormon who kills blacks and homosexuals in his spare time because that’s what God so clearly tells us we need to do.

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Mark Cook said on August 18th, 2008 at 2:12 pm

@Lister Sage: There are other, even older God-Like DC characters – the Spectre (ie, the incarnation of God’s wrath and able to do damn near anything just by deciding to do it) and Green Lantern (possessing a magic wishing ring that can do anything, unless it’s to wood) both date back to 1940. The fact that DC has had God-like characters running around for so long suggests to me that if you take that away, you remove part of what makes the DCU unique. The challenge is to give them more of an intellectual threat than a physical one; I’d be surprised if there were any great DC stories where a hero triumphed more because of their strength than their intellect.

Also: The “Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen” comic was one of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books at the time, along with “New Gods,” “Mr Miracle” and “Forever People.” While Darkseid’s first appearance is in a Superman spin-off, Superman is far from his primary concern; and I doubt Kirby was concerned with how he measured up with Superman.

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There was a comic, a few years ago … I forget what it was called, but it was a six-issue series about Luthor, which put his hatred of Superman as being more a matter of resentment on the behalf of humanity. A belief that so long as we had Superman, humanity need never better itself, or something like that. What was that series?

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I can sum up Lex Luthor in one sentence.

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.

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Lister Sage said on August 18th, 2008 at 3:11 pm

@TA: I swear I remember that from the Justice League animated series, but I couldn’t give you an episode.

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It was also touched on in Red Son, mentioned above. I’m not a big comic reader, although I do follow the movies and TV series, but I had just kind of integrated that idea into my understanding of Luthor, since it’s such a great motivation, particularly compared to baldness and forty cakes.

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Tom GaTom Gallowaylloway said on August 18th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

A few points:

Firestorm started out not being able to affect organic matter. At times, the Firestorm character (there’ve been several) has been able to, sometimes suffering significant feedback when doing so.

While there have been cases of Darkseid getting into a slugging match with Superman, as originally presented (and returning to in Final Crisis), he was imposing physically but above common fisticuffs. He’d zap you with an Omega beam or hit you with the Anti-Life equation or the like, most often appearing and intimidating superfolk by his sheer evil presence and threat level.

As for the “Byrne revamp of Luthor”, I know that at least the corporate aspect of that was actually done by Marv Wolfman (who people tend to forget was writing one of the Superman books from the beginning of the Byrne period). Offhand, I don’t know how many other aspects of the revamped Luthor were done by Marv as opposed to Byrne, but in general the Luthor revamp there is attributed to Marv rather than Byrne.

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Mark Cook said on August 18th, 2008 at 4:00 pm

@TA: Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, yes? 5 or 6 issues by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. I thought it was much better than Azzarello and Jim Lee’s For Tomorrow in Superman, which came out about the same time.

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Michael McGee said on August 18th, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Great post, MGK. I’m of the opinion that the best villains are the ones that bring out a particular conflict within the hero they typically cross swords with, and Luthor does this with Superman on many levels (maybe too many – other villains should bring out their own conflicts too..) So it makes sense for Luthor to be a deceptively complex villain since Superman is a deceptively complex hero.

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@Mark Cook: Yes, that’s the one. Best Luthor story I remember reading. One of the best types of villains are the ones that are convinced their actions are just, I feel, and this really made you understand and even agree with Luthor’s motivations.

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Sofa King said on August 18th, 2008 at 5:47 pm

And I do like Lex on Smallville, where he feels he has to protect us from Superman. Kinda Birthright, but it works.

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Sofa King said on August 18th, 2008 at 5:50 pm

I think, deep down, even the Joker knows not to fuck with Lex.

And Clancy Brown has the best Luthor voice ever.

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Justice League Unlimited Luthor was right when he said “I am already more powerful than all of you combined.” he’s a physically normal guy, and is still the most dangerous opponent Superman has ever faced, not Darkseid, not Doomsday (Superman fought like a moron when they first met up), not anyone but Luthor.

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Aside: Chris, you have seen Lex Luthor Versus The Alien, right?

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malakim2099 said on August 18th, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Very nicely done.

Actually, there was a nice bit about Luthor by Calculator in the Villains United special (during Infinite Crisis) that really touched on the power Luthor has over other villains in the DC Universe. If I knew where the issue was here, I’d dig out the quote.

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SteamPUNK said on August 18th, 2008 at 7:29 pm

Great article- just wanted to touch on some of the comments about Magneto and having to reboot his origin…
Though I liked X-Himy’s idea, I think the holocaust is such a strong origin it should stay…

I think the slow aging idea is probably the best bet. Morrison if I’m not mistaken hinted at resurrection as Magneto’s secondary mutation, perhaps when he is reborn he de-ages closer to his prime in order to increase survival? Though the de-aging seems to be what marvel keeps going with (there is the Eric-the-Red de-aging incident as well which i’m sure is not the only other example)- the problem here that they (and everyone else) seems to forget is Xavier, if they have been friends since their-what is it in canon? late twenties?- Charles has to be ancient as well. When was the last time the good Professor was de-aged? I think it more likely that when the pair met, Mags was not upfront about his true age… maybe the nature of Magneto’s powers affect Xavier’s telepathy (rather than his helmet) so he was unable to detect his deception?…

I could go on but frankly I hate the X-Men and cannot stand the franchise anymore… If it wasn’t what got me into comics in the 90s (perhaps why I can indeed stand and enjoy Carey’s Legacy) I would completely right that (unfortunately HUGE) corner of the Marvel U off…

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Evil Midnight Lurker said on August 18th, 2008 at 7:51 pm

My fiancee’s contribution to the Luthor/Satan comparison: “Legions of screaming fangirls who think he’s hot? Check.”

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BITER.

Nah, I’m kidding, and I’m glad I could (at least in part) inspire a very sharp essay. For my money, the perfect Luthor story was one that Kevin Church hipped me to, in Action Comics #510-511, which is one of the absolute best portrayals of the depths of his hatred for Superman, and illustrates the great contrast there: Superman’s everything noble and self-sacrificing, and Luthor’s everything petty and vindictive, to the point where he’s willing to spite even himself just for the chance at getting at him.

There’s also a really good story along those lines in Mark Millar’s Superman Adventures run, which has a beautiful moment from Double-L’s childhood thrown in for good measure.

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EvilAbrahamLincoln said on August 18th, 2008 at 8:47 pm

@Zenrage

{quote}I can sum up Lex Luthor in one sentence.

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.{/quote}

Accurate to a T. He’ll never be as beloved as Superman, he’ll never be as inspirational as Superman, he’ll never be as powerful as Superman, he’ll never be as attractive as Superman, etc. He’ll never see the world through Superman’s eyes, and he knows that he’ll never be witness to all of the wonders that occur in the life of someone like Superman (Re-read those Lexor comic books.). And so, he seeks for a way to prove that he’s the better man, only to fail time and time again…

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mygif

Nice work, MGK.

I also like the occasional angle that’s tossed in wherein Luthor justifies his anti-Superman actions by framing it as “defending Earth from aliens.” It’s played up in *shudder* the Smallville tv series at times, but it’s also a compelling idea.

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What always got me about Luthor, in his businessman persona, is that he represents the difficulty of being Superman. Clark forces himself to uphold the laws of man because he doesn’t trust his own individual judgment when it comes to his power; Superman is literally more power than any man should have, so Clark, in a way, places that power in the hands of society — he’s only enforcing what society has already decided. Luthor, then, is his greatest temptation. Clark knows he’s dirty — hell, everybody knows he’s dirty — but it can never be proven legally, so Superman can never take the definitive steps to stop him. Superman has to let Lex Luthor go, time and again, because his superhearing and x-ray vision aren’t admissible in court. But there’s so many lives he could save, so much anguish he could preempt, if he just walked through those doors and gave Luthor one good punch to the face…

Luthor, meanwhile, is frustrated time and again by Superman. He’s spent his whole life working the system and exploiting the laws of man, trapping the world in a web of its own needs and wants, using money and influence to control each and every living soul in Metropolis, whether they know it or not. And then Superman comes along — can’t be bought, can’t be bullied, off the grid, out of his grasp. Luthor knows that Superman doesn’t have to play by the rules like everybody else and, being the cynic you pointed out, he really believes that one day Superman will break them — who wouldn’t, if they could? For that reason he hates and fears Superman, because he believes Superman is exactly like himself. In a way, it’s a kind of self-loathing, Luthor’s own bastard nature coming around to bite him in the ass.

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.

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To those who pointed out Xavier should be a doddering old man too, Xavier is in a clone body that has been jiggered with by Sh’ar science since.

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Who is the best spiritual successor to Luthor?
I nominate David Xanatos.

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No way. Xanatos is Tony Stark.

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I tend to think of Luthor as the ultimate objectivist: his vanity, greed, and self-interest is the logical supervillainous extension of that philosophy’s focus on the individual. Superman as NCallahan pointed out above, represents the values of society– the greater good. But for Luthor the only greater good is that which serves his interests. Luthor is his creed, indeed.

Amanda Waller is a similarly compelling villain, another without super powers but often in opposition to heroes who might otherwise share her goals. The ends are always justified by her nationalism, protecting US interests at any cost. I like the way that she was played in JLU, with her motives and ethics a little greyer than she’s been at the helm of the Suicide Squad.

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Evil Midnight Lurker said on August 19th, 2008 at 2:50 am

Xanatos is, to extend the D&D stats metaphor, wiser than Luthor (if not so wise as he *thinks* he is). He’s also having a lot more *fun* than Lex usually does.

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@Mark Cook. Yes god like superheroes like Dr. Strange, The Silver Surfer and Thor are part of what makes the DCU unique. 😉

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Mark Cook said on August 19th, 2008 at 9:42 am

@itbox: Heh. Fair enough. It’s more of a perception thing than anything else, innit?

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@Mark. Heh – definetly.

I think it’s one of those things that gets repeated so often a lot of people assume it’s true. Much like how a load of people have taken on Stan Lee’s “The whitebread kids were into DC and the rebels liked Marvel” thing (no Stan, the rebels were off riding motorbikes and having sex.)

People try and find something that diffferentiates the two companies, when in real life you could fit a rizla paper between them.

So DC has got ludicrously overpowered heroes and Marvel has street level heroes. Marvel is dark and gritty whilst DC is optimistic and bright. DC has got a history and mythological background whilst Marvel is based on science and superheroes are (aside from Captain America) a recent thing.

These things are “known” by comics fans, even though any geek could come up with counter examples (The Celestials back story to Marvel for example)

…Right that post sort of got away from me so I’ll cut it off there.

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Lister Sage said on August 19th, 2008 at 10:11 am

Mark Cook: The thing about most of those characters is that they’ve never had that big of an influence on the Marvel universe. They often show up as the deus ex machina characters that show up at the end to fix major things. Thor being on the Avengers puts him in a more active role (and don’t give me any “But Strange is on the Avengers” bullshit, they gimped him simpily because he was Sorcerer Supreme, plus he’s been playing a support role recently as well). Meanwhile, you’ve got Superman as numero ouno of the DCU. Plus all the other overpowered characters running around stopping bank robberies when they have the power to blow up the sun.

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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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mygif

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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[…] eres básicamente un símbolo de todos los buenos aspectos de la divinidad, puedes permitirte un rival que condense todos los malos aspectos de la humanidad, más o […]

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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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