As I wrote about the Joker last month, I figured that this month I should turn to Superman's arch-foe, Lex Luthor, as the subject of this month's essay on comics characters! And why not? Luthor has been around longer than many superheroes, and he's definitely one of the iconic super-villains.
|Luther's initial appearances had him with a full|
head of red hair.
|When he came back, Luthor was bald!|
Luther has the distinction of being the first character in a comic book to use an atomic bomb, although this 1944 story was delayed in publication until 1946 by the Defense Department's request. He disappeared from the comics for a while after that, until 1957, when he made his first appearance in Superboy #59, where he was presented as an adult, and using the alias of Amazing Man! It would be three years later before Luthor appeared in the form we've come to expect of his appearances in Superboy, appearing at Superboy's age in Adventure Comics #271's origin story.
|Luthor blames Superboy for his hair loss!|
|Lena Thorul, Lex's sister.|
This turn to evil disturbed Lex's family to no end, and they moved away from Smallville, changing their last name to "Thorul" (an anagram of "Luthor"). Lex's little sister, Lena (who had gained ESP abilities after contact with one of Lex's inventions prior to this) was too young to recall the details at the time, and was led to believe that her brother died in a rock-climbing accident (Lena would later be a recurring character in Supergirl stories, in which Supergirl spends a lot of time keeping the secret of her past from her, although later Lena would discover the truth).
|Luther's "niece," Nasty.|
Anyway, Luthor continued to make life miserable for Superman every chance he could, usually using whatever means he had available to him. Sometimes he would team up with another villain (including one memorable team-up with the Joker in World's Finest in which they combined forces to deal with their respective foes; in other stories, he'd team up with other Superman enemies). But for the most part, he operated solo, using his scientific prowess to attempt to defeat Superman.
A weird aspect of Luthor's character for a time was that when he'd escape from prison, he'd often continue to wear his prison greys while back in his headquarters for a time! Speaking of his headquarters, "Luthor's Lair" was a hidden base that he started using in the Silver Age, with a secret entrance that could only be opened by shaking the hand of a Julius Caesar statue. This would be the first place he would head when escaping from prison, although in later stories, he'd have a different base of operations he could use when he wanted to "get away from it all."
The biggest problem this city had was a water shortage, and Luthor modified some robots to dig for water underground, but failed to find any. Superman arrived in this city shortly, and the two fought again, but Luthor had an attack of weakness and lost this second bout. The two returned to the spaceship and headed for Earth, but once outside of the red sun's influence, Luthor asked Superman to throw masses of ice from a frozen world back to that planet to solve the water shortage. Superman did so, although he wondered if Luthor purposely lost the fight in order to have this be able to happen later.
Speaking of Luthor's warsuit, this was Luthor's second upgrade in the Bronze Age. In the early 70s or so, Luthor adopted a purple and green skintight suit that incorporated much of his technology that he would use in his battles with Superman; a later story had Luthor building more of a suit of armor (again using the same color scheme), around the same time that Brainiac had an upgrade of his own.
|Be careful of who you partner with... some partnerships|
end very badly!
|Luthor from Atom Man Vs. Superman|
I forget which issue it was presented in, but in at least one story, it was noted that Superman and Lex Luthor look enough alike that if he wore a bald-head appliance, Superman could be mistaken for Luthor! This is one of those things that was never mentioned again.
|Gene Hackman's Luthor.|
|Super Friends Luthor.|
|Clancy Brown's Luthor|
Clancy Brown voiced my favorite on-screen version of Luthor, starting in Superman: The Animated Series, and later in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. John Shea played Lex in live-action form on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, mostly appearing in the first season, with sporadic returns. Luthor would appear sporadically in cartoons after this, in the direct-to-video All-Star Superman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice, and elsewhere, while Michael Rosenbaum played him in Smallville. In Superman Returns, it was Kevin Spacey who played Luthor, while in the forthcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jesse Eisenberg has taken over the role.
|Man of Steel Luthor|
An odd part of this Luthor's story that seems to have been ignored in subsequent years involved the Kryptonite ring that Luthor started wearing to force Superman to keep his distance. While Kryptonite radiation didn't affect humans like it did Kryptonians, it did have a long-range effect, and Luthor developed cancer from constant exposure to this, and died...
|Lex II or Lionel Luthor? Both|
characters look remarkably alike.
Naturally, Luthor's reign in the White House didn't last, as his manipulations for his own ends continued to occur and eventually led to his being removed from office... and from this point, I'm afraid I've lost track of Luthor's story in the comics completely. According to Wikipedia, most of the original history of Lex Luthor (including his upbringing in Smallville, as shown in Smallville) has been returned to his backstory, Apparently the current Luthor is a blend of Silver and post-Crisis Luthor's.
And in a lot of ways, I kind of like that idea... as much as I enjoy the criminal scientist Luthor of the Silver Age, there is a point as to why Luthor would spend so much money on hidden bases and amazing technology just to rob banks... he obviously had money to begin with, and it seems like he'd be spending millions to steal thousands! It definitely makes more sense to have Luthor view Superman as a threat as well as a rival, and to view himself as the real hero of Metropolis as well as Earth... and if he happens to make money and amass more power for himself while being the savior of mankind, that's only his right (at least, in his eyes). I think the real reason that he hates Superman so much is not just because he sees Superman as the major stopping point in his goals, but also because Superman does what he does without seeking anything for himself in return... and that makes Superman the better man, and in Lex's mind, he cannot tolerate someone being better than him.
No doubt, as with many other characters in comic books, Luthor's backstory, motivations and method of operating will continue to be revised and changed by new generations of writers, as each one tries to come up with their own twist on Luthor, instead of building upon what they started with.