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Catwoman, the Joker, and Lois Lane

Arguably one of the largest DC supervillains outside of the Batman Rogues Gallery (be honest, this is pretty much the case among the general public), Lex has been a fixture of the Superman comics ever since 1940's Action Comics 23, and curiously he's remained somewhat more static than some of the other characters I've covered, outside of the now standard Silver Age wackiness.

We begin with Lois and Clark working as war correspondants in a war between the nations of Galonia and Toran, with Superman intervening occasionally when Lois nearly gets blown up with the occasional artillery shell. Meeting with a Galonian military officer, the reporters are told that a ceasefire has been announced ahead of a peacetalk between the two countries... and shortly afterwards, while Clark is attempting to pull a Peter Parker by using his Superman persona to snag some photos, a car with Toran peace negoiators are blown up on the road into the neighbour country.

War immediately breaks out again between the two characters, and Clark goes to talk to the Toran general he spoke to before to find out what the heck happened. Clark changing outfits and follows the general out into the countryside, where it turns out that he'd been hypnotised by Lex into killing the negoiators. As soon as the project face of Lex disappears, Superman threatens to smash the general's head against a cliff-face unless he tells him who Luthor is and what he wants.

The general says that Luthor has sent a unidentified planes have been sent to bomb a neighbouring neutral country, as part of Lex's plan to have the entire country devolve into war. Horrified, Superman demands more information, only for the hypno-wall to kill him with lasers and then collapse the surrounding cliffs onto Superman. Doesn't work though, and Superman makes short work of Lex's fleet of bombers.

Clark goes to tell the Toran and Galonian militaries to tell them what's up, which makes Lex tell his minions to kidnap him in order to keep Kent from meddling with his plan to cause all of Europe to descend into war... which it totally wasn't in 1940, ahem. Unfortunately, his henchmen decide to kidnap Lois instead, as they think that she's Clark's assistant, something which doesn't improve Lois' mood any.

Aboard Lex's floating city, he attempts to interrogate Lois.




Needless to say, Superman breaks free, beats up Lex and wrecks up the place. The city crashes, and Clark goes to tell the Toran and Galonian militaries about Lex's scheme, who quickly get the peace talks going now they had confirmation that they were being manipulated by someone else.

Despite Lex seemingly dying in his debut story, he returned in Superman 4, where he stole an earthquake machine from the US military, and is revealed to have created an island of dinosaurs which he planed to unleash on the world. The story ends with Lex seemingly dying AGAIN, when his dinosaurs eat him, only for him to come back in the very next issue with a plan to conquer America with the aid of a hypnotic gas and a corrupt economist to cause a depression.

Most of Lex's Golden Age appearances involved him showing up with some kind of science fictiony device and try to take over the world for purely financial or megalomaniac reasons, with him oddly not actually any actual direct hatred aimed towards Superman at this time, his hatred of the Man of Steel being something introduced by later writers. Similarly, in most of Lex's early appearances he had a full head of red hair, only adopting his now iconic bald look in the comicstrip when artist Leo Nowak allegedly confusing him with the similar science-based supervilain, the Ultra-Humanite. Shortly after this Nowak was assigned to Superman 10, where he carried over his bald design of Lex, which then stuck with the character for most of the character's future appearances.


Lex's use of an atomic bomb in a 1944 strip (making Lex the first character in a comic to use such a device) lead to the story being delayed until 1946, followed by the War Department requesting that a sequence where Lex uses a cyclotrone to try and kill Superman to be pulled in a 1945 strip. This lead to Lex disappearing until the late 1950s, until he came back as a fake superhero called Amazing Man (unrelated to the African American superhero legacy character of the same name) in the prequel series Superboy.

With the shift in tone in the Superman strips as they entered the Silver Age, there were a number of features that were introduced Lex. One of them was his singular fixation with killing Superman, and the other was the idea that their rivalry was connected to some shared childhood event (something later used in Smallville... kind of). In 1960's Superboy series, teenage scientist Lex Luthor saves Superboy from Kryptonite poisoning, resulting in the pair becoming friends. Unfortunately, Lex's attempt to make a permanent antidote for Clark's weakness sets his lab on fire, resulting in... er... this.


And thus, the more detached manner with which Lex regarded Superman in the older comics was replaced with an intensity that rivaled that of Silver Age Lois' Superman fixation. Lex's motivations became less about the money and the power, and more about killing Superman even if his methods for doing so seem ridiculously overcomplicated and spiteful.

Such as the Elseworlds-ish story where Lex pretended to be reformed by inventing the cure for Cancer...


...Only so he could lull Superman into a false sense of security so he could kill him easier.


This kind of becomes one of the great ironies regarding later version of Lex. If he wanted he could save millions of lives and make people's lives better in ways that Superman is rarely able to do due to the nature of his kind of superheroism. Most later versions of Lex COULD create free energy for the world, they COULD cure cancer, they COULD end world hunger, but they won't for either selfish reasons or because they care more about killing Superman than they do about the rest of humanity. Depending on the writer just how much Lex is self-awareness has over this varies, with some versions saying that they'll save the world once Superman's dead, that Superman existing somehow prevents them from saving the world, or just flat out not caring about everyone else.

As the 80s rolled around, we came to John Byrne's reinvention of the Superman series, which on top of making Lois into the form that's survived most of the way up to the present (and creating that gross Superman/Big Barda porn storyline) updated Lex while also bringing him back his roots, in a manner of speaking. See, socially conscious as the creators of Superman were, it's curious how much a character of his time Golden Age Lex was. Constrasting with Siegel and Schuster's left wing Superman, Lex was both a war profiteer and a fascist (note the silhouette of a Nazi eagle behind Lex in some of the panels), albeit an American one with supertech, making him comprised of two concerns by folks in America in the early 1940s.

Byrne's Lex, however, shed most of the mad scientist attitubes of his Golden and Silver Age incarnations and had him be a corrupt billionaire who controls Metropolis through corporate power instead. He's a guy who has reached the upper heights of power and money that a businessman in Reagan Era American can get, and when people don't "respect" that power... things tend to get ugly.

He's reintroduced in the Man of Steel 4, where he invites Lois and Clark to meet him on his yacht where his not terribly subtle mindgames begin by sending Lois clothes to wear so that she'd owe him something on a technicality.



Shortly afterwards, generic 1980s terrorists hijack the ship, even shooting at the passengers, although Superman luckily arrives to save the day. Lex immediately tries to hand Superman a cheque, and reveals that he arranged for the (real) terrorists to attack the ship so he could personally witness the kinds of things that Superman could do.



Lex is arrested for his part in the hijacking, but being as rich as he is he's back on the street in less than a day, and not exactly happy with Superman over the embarassment of being treated like a common criminal.



This form of characterisation stayed true most of the way up to the present, with Lex's exact motivations changing from writer to writer (some having him thinking he's got everyone's best interests at heart, like Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and others less so, like Paul Cornell's Black Ring storyline), but for me, the key thing is that most versions of Lex is his relationship with power.

Golden Age Lex wanted it, Silver Age Lex had it but used it on petty pursuits, while Modern Lex has it and concentrates his efforts into gathering yet more power (be it in the form of becoming President of the United States or becoming an Orange Lantern) or using it as a hammer against those who don't respect him/what he's achieved. He hates most versions of Lois as she's not interested in him despite his money and influence (some versions, including the DCAU version, have dated him in the past though), he hates Perry White because White's journalistic ethics mean he's harder to control, and he hates Superman because he's the one person in the world who Lex can't get some form of leverage over. Superman can't be bought or bribed, and killing him is a temporary solution at best in most cases.

For me, outside of Cornell's work on the character, one of the definitive Lex moments comes in the aftermath of Lex coming down with hand cancer due to wearing a big ole Kryptonite ring for years to keep Superman away. He knew Kryptonite was radioactive, yet he still wore a chunk of it on his finger anyway as it was a kind of tangible way of controlling Superman, albeit it by keeping him at a safe distance.



Much like his Silver Age incarnation swearing eternal vengence on the Man of Steel for making him go bald, Lex's immediate response to loosing a hand due to his own pigheadedness is to blame Superman for "making" him wearing the aforementioned chunk of radioactive space-rock. And that's terrible.

Date: 2016-05-29 10:18 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lego_joker
Ah, Lex. The more time goes on, the more I start to think the Byrne version, despite his own charms, was kind of a step back. Making Luthor a permanent, unbeatable fixture in Metropolis creates an almost Sisyphean sense of why-even-try? that doesn't feel very suited to Superman's optimistic tone. An oversized Trump-type character works well for Daredevil or Batman, but for Superman it's just... unsatisfying.

Date: 2016-05-29 11:46 pm (UTC)
burkeonthesly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] burkeonthesly
I don't think Luthor's meant to be unbeatable in Byrne's run, but rather someone who can pose a credible challenge to Superman. Most of Supes' enemies, he punches them up a bit, throws them in jail, and they're done. Lex has a sprawling, deeply entrenched organization with many tendrils that need to be rooted out individually. Thwarting one of his schemes counts as progress--not a final victory, but also not nothing.

Date: 2016-05-30 06:58 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jeremyp
The interesting thing about mega-billionaire Lex is that Superman could easily beat him - it's only Superman's ethics that give Lex a chance at all.

If Superman was less ethical, this is how the scene of Lex threatening him could go:

"You're a dead man, it's just a question of..."
Whooosh
Seconds later Lex finds himself in a deep, dark hole, never to be seen again.

Even if Superman didn't want to kill or illegally imprison Lex, he could dedicate himself to secretly sabotaging all of Lex's criminal and business enterprises, beyond what he normally allows himself to do. But he tries not to break the law.

That's one of the things that makes the Superman character-type interesting - it is their own value system that keeps them in check.

I feel like Samaritan in Astro City really personifies that in his stories...

Date: 2016-05-30 01:38 pm (UTC)
burkeonthesly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] burkeonthesly

Fitting, since Samaritan is a deliberate Superman pastiche. You make a good point.

Date: 2016-05-31 12:01 am (UTC)
zylly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] zylly
I'm reminded of when Lex ran for President. All Superman had to do was hold a press conference and say, "I do not trust Lex Luthor. I cannot prove anything that could hold up in a court of law, but if ever I've earned the world's trust as Superman, I need you to trust me now, and not elect this man."

Date: 2016-05-30 02:01 am (UTC)
alschroeder3: (Default)
From: [personal profile] alschroeder3
I don't know if I agree; I disagreed with much of Byrne's rewrite of Superman (especially his THX1138/Solaria version of Krypton) but Superman tangled with corrupt millionaires/billionaires since Action #1. He fused the two, making Luthor THE corrupt wealthy person in Metropolis. It made Luthor more relatable.


I really liked Waid's rewrite of the Luthor/Superman relationship, in SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT leaving in the billionaire bit but also the Smallville relationship and keeping the scientist---indeed, making a window to Kryptonian tech the basis for both his own advanced Tech and through that, the basis for his wealth.

Edited Date: 2016-05-30 02:01 am (UTC)

Date: 2016-05-31 04:21 am (UTC)
laughing_tree: (Default)
From: [personal profile] laughing_tree
I agree with lego_joker. I think the difference between Luthor and those corrupt millionaires is that the latter he can expose at the end of the story, land them in jail. But status quo meant he could never do that to Luthor, which meant that in a sense he could never truly win.

Date: 2016-05-29 10:21 pm (UTC)
an_idol_mind: (Default)
From: [personal profile] an_idol_mind
I don't particularly like Byrne's Man of Steel series, but the two things that I do like are the first encounter between Superman and Batman and Luthor's first encounter with Superman.

There's something stupidly realistic about a rich jerk who thinks he can hire real terrorists to attack the city's most prominent people, boast about it publicly, and still walk away with no consequences.

Date: 2016-05-29 10:26 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lego_joker
Nitpick - he didn't hire them. He just... didn't do all he could to stop them ASAP. That's a lot easier to cover up, especially since the terrorists failed to actually hurt anyone.

Date: 2016-05-29 10:59 pm (UTC)
an_idol_mind: (Default)
From: [personal profile] an_idol_mind
Touché. Still, he boasted about putting a who's who of Metropolis' elites in the line of fire as part of a test - which is incredibly dumb but the sort of ridiculously out of touch thing I can see a real billionaire do.

Date: 2016-05-29 11:23 pm (UTC)
shingi70: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shingi70
While I like businessman lex, I do love the mad Scientist angle a bit more and it's part of why I love Essinberg's take on him. I.can.omagne him putting on power armor or stealing cakes.

Technically Eisenberg was Lex Junior, wasn't he?

Date: 2016-05-30 12:17 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] 7dialsmystery
Lex Sr was dead and hinted at being a pedophile who abused Lex Jr.

Date: 2016-05-30 02:13 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lonewolf23k
Eisenberg wasn't playing Lex Luthor. He was playing Joker IMPERSONATING Lex Luthor. Badly.

You want a good Luthor? Look at Clancy Brown. Or Michael Rosenberg.

...Hell, Gene Hackman perfectly captured Lex Luthor was the world's most narcissistic mad genius FAR better then Eisenberg could ever hope to be.

Even Kevin Spacey did a decent job in Superman Returns.

Date: 2016-05-30 03:01 pm (UTC)
an_idol_mind: (Default)
From: [personal profile] an_idol_mind
Kevin Spacey's Lex is a sore point for me, because I feel like he could have rocked that role. Instead, he was told to play Gene Hackman's Luthor - which he did a good job of, but which limited him a lot.

I feel the same way about Brandon Routh's Clark/Superman - he could have been more impressive if the movie didn't force him to pretend to be Christopher Reeve pretending to be Superman.

Date: 2016-05-30 12:09 am (UTC)
cygnia: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cygnia
Clancy Brown voicing Lex for the DCAU was sheer brilliance...

Date: 2016-05-30 11:22 am (UTC)
mrstatham: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrstatham
Yeah, I watched the Batman/Superman Movie (the collected version of World's Finest) before BVS came out, and Brown really holds his own against Hamill's Joker.

Date: 2016-05-30 12:11 am (UTC)
richardak: (Default)
From: [personal profile] richardak
This isn't a legal opinion or legal advice, just conversation, but I don't think it's actually illegal for Lex not to have done anything about the possibility of a terrorist attack on his yacht party. He's not under any legal obligation to do anything about it. He is actually the victim there.

I used to think that the story where Lex hated Superman because of the lab fire that made him bald was pretty silly, until I found out that what really made Luthor hate him was that that same fire destroyed the artificial lifeform that Luthor had created in his lab. Now, leaving aside that creating artificial life in the lab would be the greatest scientific and technological achievement ever, consider this: Clark killed Lex' child. That was, for all intents and purposes, his baby. Now, all of a sudden, his hatred for Clark seems a lot more understandable, doesn't it? In a way, Luthor is the reverse-Frankenstein: Frankenstein created life in the lab but rejected it as a monster and drove it away. Luthor did the same but was heartbroken when his beloved child was killed by his best friend.

I would also add that in John Byrne's run on Superman in the eighties, in the whole pocket-universe storyline, that artificial lifeform survived (because the version of Superboy in that pocket universe had died) and became Supergirl. That Supergirl (this was the Matrix Supergirl) thought of that Luthor as her father, but after Superman brought her into the main universe, she eventually became romantically involved with that world's Luthor. Tell me that's not Freudian. Of course, she had also been adopted by the Kents. So Clark's little sister was having an affair with Luthor, who was also, in a sense, her father. Tell me that that's not something out of a Greek tragedy.
From: [personal profile] 7dialsmystery
Superboy had to blow out the fire from a distance because of all the Kryptonite Lex had in his lab. Superboy did the best he could and it just wasn't good enough to save both Lex and the Protoplasmic Matrix. When the fire is out Lex accuses Superboy of destroying his lab out of jealousy. That is not the actions of a sane person.

Also, it was super weird that an AU Proty became Mae Kent/Supergirl and dated Evil Business Guy Lex Luthor when her own Lex was her dad.
richardak: (Default)
From: [personal profile] richardak
Of course we know that Clark's actions were reasonable, and of course Lex is being unreasonable. But that's just it: of course he's being unreasonable. Who would be reasonable about the death of his child?

And yes, it was "super weird"; that was the point.
richardak: (Default)
From: [personal profile] richardak
True, but she had never known the older, bald version of Lex. The Lex she was involved with was still older than the Lex who had been her father, and also had a full head of red hair, just like her father. Either way, it was not the healthiest relationship for all sorts of reasons.

Re: Lex is still unreasonable about The Maetrix

Date: 2016-06-01 03:46 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] 7dialsmystery
Lex's son....so she thought she was dating her brother. That's not actually an improvement.
laughing_tree: (Default)
From: [personal profile] laughing_tree
I thought Proty was the similar-looking Legion of Superheroes' pet shapeshifter? Different characters, right?
From: [personal profile] 7dialsmystery
Yes, there was a Proty who was with the future superheroes. I got their names mixed up.
Edited Date: 2016-06-01 03:43 am (UTC)

Date: 2016-05-31 04:23 am (UTC)
laughing_tree: (Default)
From: [personal profile] laughing_tree
Surely Lex's inaction would count as some sort of criminal negligence?

Date: 2016-05-31 06:12 am (UTC)
richardak: (Default)
From: [personal profile] richardak
Criminally negligent what? Again, I am not giving a legal opinion or legal counsel, just making conversation, so take this only as a conversational point: the thing to understand is that a crime, at least in the vast majority of cases, requires both an actus reus, a guilty act, and a mens rea, a guilty mind. Negligence is the lowest level of mens rea, although strictly speaking it is not a state of mind. In other words, negligence can be used to establish culpability for a criminal act. What was Lex' criminal act? Hosting a yacht party? He's the victim of the crime here.

Date: 2016-05-31 07:52 am (UTC)
laughing_tree: (Default)
From: [personal profile] laughing_tree
I'm speaking purely as a layman here, which is what I am when it comes to the law. Couldn't he be charged in some manner for endangering the passengers? It'd be like telling someone it's perfectly safe to stay overnight at a place you know there's likely a gas leak.

Date: 2016-05-31 05:01 pm (UTC)
richardak: (Default)
From: [personal profile] richardak
With the facts you are describing, the person has taken an affirmative action: lying about the safety of the place. If someone gets injured as a result by the gas leak, the liar is likely to be liable, both civilly and perhaps criminally. Here, all Lex did was host a party while knowing that there was some risk that the party would be attacked, but that's always true for all parties, and indeed all social events.

Consider the policy implications, moreover, of holding Luthor criminally liable for not preventing a terrorist attack on his party. Is that a standard you want to apply generally? Should the organizers of the Boston Marathon go to prison for failing to prevent a terrorist attack against the Marathon? They certainly knew, or reasonably ought to have known, that such an attack was possible.

It really is classic victim-blaming to hold Luthor liable here. He is the victim of the crime here. It is not right to hold him responsible for not preventing a crime against himself.

Date: 2016-05-30 12:41 am (UTC)
dr_archeville: Doctor Arkeville (Default)
From: [personal profile] dr_archeville
He knew Kryptonite was radioactive, yet he still wore a chunk of it on his finger anyway as it was a kind of tangible way of controlling Superman, albeit it by keeping him at a safe distance.

Sorta. It was believed Kryptonite radiation was only harmful to Kryptonians, and had no effect at all on humans and other terrestrial lifeforms. The hand cancer thing revealed that, yes, it was as dangerous to humans as any other form of ionizing radiation, it just affected humans much more slowly.

Excellent review!

Date: 2016-05-30 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ebailey140
Until the late 1980s made the Joker the guy (Jack Nicholson had a lot to do with that), Lex was only rivaled by Dr. Doom as THE comic book supervillain for decades. Interesting how the top villain at both DC and Marvel at the time was a mad scientist who could do great things for the world if it wasn't for this obsessive, all consuming, hatred for a superhero getting in the way.

Date: 2016-05-30 03:38 pm (UTC)
zylly: (Alot)
From: [personal profile] zylly
I've always hated the idea of the untouchable business man Luthor that Byrne created. Superman is based on the idea that we created a hero who can beat any evil, no matter how powerful. Byrne's Luthor undercuts that on every level.

I much prefer the mad scientist who can break out of prison whenever he feels like it. Sure, he's really just biding his time, but he's ostensibly being held accountable for his crimes. And cardboard prisons are part and parcel of comics.

Date: 2016-05-30 04:09 pm (UTC)
bradygirl_12: (clex (kneel before zod!))
From: [personal profile] bradygirl_12
In the first set of scans it kind of looks like Lex pulled the ol' switcheroo by pretending to be Lois' note-delivering guard. That would make a cool story, the redheaded Luthor just a front and the real Lex fooling everyone by pretending to be a guard.

I always liked when it was comics canon that Clark and Lex grew up in Smallville together. That was an interesting link. Originally with that canon Lex was a juvenile delinquent who didn't grow up rich at all like the TV version.

His high I.Q. bred schemes that kept getting him into trouble even as a teenager. He was sort-of friends with Clark because Clark was the closest to Lex intellectually, according to Lex, instead of the 'bumpkins' in town. Later he would grant Clark exclusive interviews when they were adults and Lex was in prison after Superman put him there because despite Clark's bumbling persona he was a flawed human unlike Superman (the readers appreciating the irony here).

Smallville Lex was brilliantly realized by Michael Rosenbaum, giving us nuances to the character no one else ever had. He also made it a possibility that Lex might not have gone down a dark path because he did have good in him before it all went south. Personally my headcanon believes that since exposure to the meteor rocks (Green K) made humans suffer psychosis with their new powers that Lex's psychosis was delayed due to his fast-healing powers and when it finally hit, he became the traditional evil Luthor. It didn't help having a father like Lionel, either.
Edited Date: 2016-05-30 04:15 pm (UTC)

Date: 2016-06-02 03:36 am (UTC)
junipepper: (Default)
From: [personal profile] junipepper
Interesting post, I really enjoyed reading it and the comments it generated. Thanks for posting this. :-)

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