Mike Gold: Lex Luthor, Fiend or Foe?
Batman’s got The Joker. Spider-Man has Doctor Octopus. The Flash has an entire rogue’s gallery. The Fantastic Four used to have Doctor Doom, but now that Marvel’s banished the Fox-Four from their universe Doom’s annoying everybody, without priority.
Superman has a bald businessman/scientist with a severe ego problem.
I never thought Lex Luthor was much of a villain. In fact, when I was in my teens I was pretty certain I could take him. Evidently, from time to time the folks at DC must have felt the same way. He’s been put into super-power-bestowing armor, he’s been given super-powers and he’s hired or co-opted powered super-villains to do his dirty work.
Lex has been an evil scientist, an evil businessman, an evil president, an outer-world hero, and a domestic hero. He’s been a picker, a grinner, a lover and a sinner.
But Lex Luthor is just a guy. He might be smarter than your average bear, but Lex is a lightweight compared to Michael Holt, Ray Palmer, Will Magnus, Rip Hunter, Ted Kord, Professor Ivo, probably Doctor Sivana… and most likely Bruce Wayne, if Bruce wasn’t burdened with the worst case of OCD in comics history. From time to time we’re told he’s the smartest guy around, but there’s very little evidence to support this claim. If I had to choose my Family Feud team, Lex wouldn’t make it.
At the very least you’d think that if Luthor was so damn smart, he’d have a better reason for hating Superman. Jealousy is not much of a reason. A smart person would realize its limits. But even a stupid person would realize that, after taking on Superman a zillion times and ultimately losing each time, further confrontation would be without purpose. Taking on and losing to the Man of Steel for three-quarters of a century is the very definition of insanity.
Curiously, his sundry movie and television appearances have been more threatening. The one thing that Lex Luthor has in common with Gene Hackman, Michael Rosenbaum, Kevin Spacey, John Shea, and Lyle Talbot is that all of them are human beings (more or less) who, clearly, all love playing evil villains. But the fact is, on the 1950’s Adventures of Superman teevee show, where the budget was lower than a temperature gauge at the South Pole, they never used the character. Superman editor Mort Weisinger was the story editor of the show; he knew all about the guy. Put him in a suit or a lab coat and you’ve got yourself an evildoer that doesn’t stretch the budget. Lex just isn’t worthy.
I have always felt Superman deserved a better arch-enemy. And he has them. Brainiac, Zod, the Parasite, and Darkseid – particularly Darkseid – are quite capable of being worthy of our most famous costumed superhero.
As a villain, Luthor would serve better as a behind-the-scenes manipulator, pulling the strings and making advantageous things happen. It should take Superman years to discover his presence and find him.
Lex Luthor should be the DC Universe’s answer to Sheldon Adelson.