Superman has had many villains over the course of time – beings who outmatch him in power, intellect, and often sheer scale – yet perhaps his most enduring villain, his arch nemesis in fact, is a single human man.
Lex Luthor endures so well as a villain due to his natural and constant opposition to the very essence of what Superman is. Whilst Lex is a man who has had to work incredibly hard to earn his wealth and power, Superman was given his powers by fate. Furthermore, Superman effortlessly earns the admiration and adoration of the populace, whilst Lex regularly endures hatred and suspicion despite doing what he thinks is best for humanity. Lex Luthor is essentially the antithesis of Superman: whilst Lex is a human, Superman is an alien. Whilst Lex seeks to control everything around him, Superman goes to great lengths to avoid taking people’s freedom from them; Lex uses his incredible intellect and power to satisfy his own greed whilst Superman uses his powers to help people. The two of them embody such different values and aspects of the human condition that it is hard for many people no to root for Lex: after all, he represents that very human emotion: jealousy, in such a strong way that most people don’t even realize why it is that they identify with him. Lex Luthor, like a lot of people, wants to be Superman. Having said as much when Wonder Woman held him in her lasso of truth during Blackest Night, this simple fact sheds a lot of light on his motivations.
At times, Lex has been president of the United States, has dealt deals with Darkseid, the Lord of Apokolips, has secretly headed his own team of super powered mercenaries, and has created technology to match Superman in strength – when he was sent to an offworld prison for supervillains, he just took over and escaped. With all of his power, intellect and wealth, he could save the world – yet he chooses to turn all of this power to stopping Superman. A man crippled by his own unyielding hatred for humanity’s alien savior, Lex Luthor showcases the best and worst in people at the same time: for all of his incredible accomplishments, he often displays the jealousy and maturity of a child. The perfect example of Lex Luthor’s attitude is perhaps the occasion when he cured his disabled sister of her handicaps – only to seconds later revert her to her previous state and refuse to tell anybody how he did it as long as Superman existed.
This complete opposition to the values and ethics that Superman stands for are what make Lex not only a dangerous villain, but also one that it can be difficult not to root for at times. He is one of the most dangerous, wealthy, intelligent and fantastic men on the Earth, held back by his own lack of morals and a determination – or some would say obsession – with killing or controlling Superman.
Introduced in Action Comics 23 in 1940, this megolomaniac genius has toemented the man of steel for over 70 years.
He became the template for villains not just in the comics but in film. How many of the James Bond villains (Blofeld, Drax, Stromberg…) owe their origins to Lex Luthor.
- Michael Rosenbaum in Smallville
- Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns
- John Shea in Lois and Clark
They couldn’t hold a candle however to Gene Hackmans Take on Lex in Superman: The Movie, a roll he reprised in Superman 2 & 4.
Submitted by Steve Hannah