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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.
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