In defense of Luthor

While I enjoyed Isabel Cooper’s discussion of villainy here, I have to stick up for Silver/Bronze Age Lex Luthor.
The blog post makes the obligatory reference to the absurdity of someone wanting revenge on Superman because of losing his hair. It’s not a great origin (though it’s not entirely accurate, either), but the thing is, the desire for revenge is what made Luthor a great foe (note: This is the version of Luthor I grew up with, so I concede I may be biased by The Way It Used To Be).
First off, when Superboy destroyed Luthor’s hair—snuffing out a fire in young Lex’s lab with super-breath, he accidentally created a chemical depillatory mist—he also wiped out a groundbreaking, Nobel-class experiment in creating living matter in a test tube. That, as much as the hair loss, was what infuriated Luthor, who became convinced Superboy had decided to humiliate the one local teenager who might be greater than he was.
Lex’s response: A series of brilliant, instant-fame inventions, none of which worked properly, all of which required Superboy’s intervention to deactivate. So obviously it was more sabotage by the Teen of Steel! And slowly, Lex decided that playing by the rules against Superboy was a stupid way to go …
By the time they reached adulthood, the original issue—as so often happens in feuds—was irrelevant. Luthor’s been jailed by Superman multiple times, thwarted by Superman multiple times and every single fracking time he tries to even the scales, he loses.
Of course, a lot of archenemies hate their heroic nemesis, but what made Luthor stand out was that hate was the only thing keeping him on the dark side. He was shown capable of heroism in his adventures on Lexor (see the illustration).

But he couldn’t let go of the hate. In Action 277, he shows one of his henchmen his reminder room, a chamber lined with calendar pages showing all the time he’s spent in prison because of Superman. And whenever he feels himself losing the urge for revenge, he goes and sits there until he gets the hate back.
He’s a hate addict. And later, when he learns his scheme to rob Fort Knox and make Superman look like a fool has failed to do the latter, he bitterly sends the gold back. Because without the victory, who needs it. I even like the fact that during this period, Luthor never wore anything but prison greys (I agree with Izzy that his later costume lacked style. Or color sense), as if he couldn’t bother to dress, not when he could be working on revenge.
I concede that much as I like the Action story, “The Conquest of Superman,” it does have typical absurdities like Luthor having a hall of heroes composed of the most evil men in history. So we’re not talking deep here. But the fact is, this obsessed version of Luthor is, for me, one of the more interesting takes on Superman’s archfoe.
And if I ever find a character who fits, I am so stealing the Reminder Room.

1 Comment

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One response to “In defense of Luthor

  1. Pingback: Undead sexist fictional cliches: nothing’s worse for a woman than losing her looks (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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