The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is a brief exploration of one of the greatest fictional villains of all time, Lex Luthor. There has been an ongoing trend in recent year to develop more complex villains with equally complex motivations. However, there’s still room for the kind of old school, pure evil villain and nobody epitomizes that more than Lex Luthor. Hopefully, this video gives everyone a new appreciation of that. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: Superman Comics
As a lifelong comic book fan, I like to think I’m easy to shop for on the holidays. Pretty much everyone in my family is aware of just how much I love comics. I also make it a point to send them lists of books I want, where to get them, and which are the least expensive.
They appreciate that a great deal. It also helps that most of the books I ask for are rarely more than twenty bucks. Those on a budget, along with those who are just cheapskates in general, love that my needs are so simple.
It makes the holidays that much more enjoyable. I’m just a simple man with simple tastes. I don’t need big, fancy gifts anymore. I can buy my own game consoles and gadgets. Just get me a stack of comics to read on Wednesday mornings with my coffee and I’m a happy guy.
New Comic Book Day around the holidays only makes me happier. It means I can both enjoy new comics and read them under the light of a Christmas tree. It’s as joyous a feeling as anything that doesn’t involve eggnog, candy canes, and gingerbread cookies. I encourage everyone to enjoy it.
With Christmas less than two weeks away, this is as good a time as any to supplement your comic reading with some festive tidings. To help, here’s my pull list and pick for the week. Enjoy!
My Pull List
My Pick Of The Week
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s another entry into my ongoing series, Jack’s Comic Gems. In it, I highlight some of the brightest gems of the comic book world. This entry is “Superman Unchained,” a rare blockbuster of a comic that had the highest production values, but still delivered. Enjoy!
It’s official. We made it through the summer of 2020. In most years, that’s hardly cause for celebration. In fact, around this time last year, I was lamenting over the end of warm bikini-enabling weather. This year is different because this year just objectively sucks for reasons we’re all painfully aware of.
We all have our own way of getting through awful years like this. For me, a weekly dose of new comics has been critical to keeping my broken sprits relatively intact. It’s not just about escapism and distractions, either. Comics are a good reminder that these ideals we still cherish are relevant, even when a pandemic comes so close to breaking us.
In years past, they’ve provided a sense of comfort and reprieve for when school started up. It was still much harder back then because I didn’t have Comixology or day-and-date digital releases. I like to think if I did have it, I would’ve coped better with my circumstances.
However, I don’t want to focus too much on the past or how awful this year has been. Summer may be over, but with another season behind us, we’re that much closer to leaving this awful year behind us. In the meantime, I want to focus on the present and how new comics make it objectively more awesome.
To that end, here is my pull list and picks of the week. Enjoy!
My Pull List
My Pick Of The Week
Anyone who has read superhero comics for a sizable chunk of their lives knows the difference between a gimmick and a genuine plot upheaval. Gimmicks are shallow. They’re sales tactics disguised as shocking twists that promise to change a character, world, or team forever. Most of the time, they get retconned within a few years.
Plot upheavals that are real, genuine, and permanent are rarer, but that’s what makes them more precious. They often become defining moments in their own right for a character or a franchise. For comic fans, they’re like major life-changing events.
In the same way you vividly recall your first kiss or your first car, you remember where you were when Superman married Lois Lane.
You remember where you were when the Joker brutally beat up Jason Todd.
You remember where you were when Barry Allen died during Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In that same tradition, you’ll probably remember where you were when you read “Superman #18.” This is a comic that promises to change Superman’s life and his story in major ways. It’s the comic in which he finally reveals his secret identity to the world. It’s not a gimmick this time. This is real and it has an impact that will likely resonate for years to come.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis has built a career on powerful, dramatic moments. He did it for years at Marvel with Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men. Since he began his run on Superman, he’s taken the Man of Steel through his share of upheavals. Superman’s semi-stable family life with his wife and son became a lot less stable, but he still hung onto the same identity that had kept him grounded for decades.
That finally changes in “Superman #18.” It’s not a snap decision, either. This isn’t Tony Stark going off the cuff at the end of “Iron Man.” That’s not how Superman does things. He’s thoughtful, thorough, and very much aware of the implications. He doesn’t agonize or brood over it, as many other heroes are prone to do, especially if they have egos like Tony Stark. He simply tries to determine the right thing to do.
It’s not easy. Before the big reveal, Bendis takes Superman through a round of self-reflection in which he goes over all the reasons why he maintained his secret identity as Clark Kent. Some of those reasons were entirely valid. They weren’t excuses that kept demanding more excuses. They genuinely felt like the right thing at the time.
Superman lived as Clark Kent so he could be human. That has always been important to him, going back to the Golden Age. He’s an alien from another world, trying to live and be part of this new home that he has come to love. Being Clark helped him be human, even though he is objectively not human.
While that might have been important before, a lot has changed for Superman. He no longer has anything to prove. He’s built a life as Clark Kent. He has established himself as Superman, a hero among heroes who sets the highest standards for humans and aliens alike. He couldn’t have done this without maintaining his secret identity. The only question is what more can he do to justify keeping that identity?
The tipping point in “Superman #18” comes when Superman recounts what happens when others in his life have kept secrets. Even if they were kept for good reasons, it never ended with just that secret. One secret demands another. As they compound over time, they become dangerous.
That’s still only part of the issue. Beyond the secrets, having that identity sends a message to the same people he’s trying to protect. It says that he doesn’t trust them to handle him being both Superman and Clark Kent. Maybe that made sense when he was still winning their trust, but it doesn’t make sense anymore. It also helps make the right thing to do very clear.
That effectively ends the debate. Whenever Superman is faced with a decision, his first and only instinct is to do the right thing. That’s exactly what he does in “Superman #18.”
It’s what helps make the big moment in “Superman #18” feel like something other than a gimmick. Bendis makes sure that Superman revealing his identity to the world is the right thing to do. It never comes off as the end of something, either. Whenever Superman’s identity has been revealed in the past, it has always been a complication or a last resort. That’s not how it’s framed here.
“Superman #18” feels like another step in Superman’s journey to be the hero by which all other heroes are measured. He’s lived as a human. He’s become an iconic hero. Those lives no longer need to be separate. In Superman’s eyes, they shouldn’t be. He’s still the same man, whether he’s wearing glasses or his iconic cape.
In principle, it’s a minor distinction. However, at no point in “Superman #18” does it feel trivial. Superman acknowledges that this is going to change things. His life is going to change, both as Superman and as Clark Kent. He knows there will be difficulties, but he’s willing to face them. He’s also willing to trust in the same people he protects to face them with him.
It’s a beautiful, powerful moment made all the more memorable by the art of Ivan Reis. It doesn’t require Superman to save the world, defeat Lex Luthor, or punch a planet into dust. It just requires him to do the right thing. That doesn’t just make him a hero. That’s what makes him Superman.
In the world of comics, alternate universes and various “what if” scenarios tend to be hit or miss. Some stories become more than simple thought experiments that plays with the malleable timelines and multiverses surrounding certain characters. A few even go onto become beloved and acclaimed. Stories like “Superman: Red Son” or “Age of Apocalypse” are shining examples of just how great these stories can be.
However, they’re the exception rather than the norm. Most scenarios that deal in alternate universes and “what if” scenarios tend to be either entirely forgettable or too absurd to take seriously. The stories that do set themselves apart usually succeed because the concept is strong and compelling.
By that standard, “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” has a lot going for it. The original “Death of Superman” story is one of the most iconic stories in the history of superhero comics. It raised the bar for how dramatic, impactful, and heartfelt a superhero comic can be. It showed just how great these characters can be, even in the face of tragedy.
This comic dares to flip the script. It explores a very different, very bleak scenario that shows how tragedy can bring out the worst in people. It dares to contemplate how even those who once championed the ideals of characters like Superman can become corrupt. That’s exactly what happens to Lois Lane in this story.
The idea, alone, is intriguing. Lois Lane isn’t just Superman’s iconic love interest. She’s someone who actively fights for truth, justice, and the American Way without the aid of other-wordly powers. Whether she’s a reporter or Superman’s lover, she personifies these values in ways that few characters can match. She’s the last person in the DC Universe that you would expect to be corrupted by tragedy.
However, in this world when the events of “Death of Superman” play out, that’s exactly what happens. Moreover, writer Jeff Loveness makes it feel entirely believable. As the story unfolds, we see a version of Lois Lane that isn’t just consumed by grief. She’s hardened by it.
Instead of grieving the loss of her lover and hero, she’s consumed by anger. She sees a world full of heroes that Superman helped inspire. Then, when he needed them most, they failed him. They let him die. On top of that, his death didn’t inspire people to be better. Things just went back to the way they were, minus their greatest hero.
In that context, it’s easy to understand why Lois would get so angry. As a result, when she has a chance to embrace the power of the Eradicator, you almost want to cheer her on. Suddenly, she has a chance to carry on Superman’s legacy. At the same time, it’s easy to see how this kind of power will ultimately corrupt her.
Power corrupting fallible human beings is a fairly common recourse in superhero comics. It’s the basis for some of the most iconic stories of all time. However, the fact that this is Lois Lane becoming corrupt is what really gives this story its impact. It makes “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” feel like more than just another dystopian timeline.
What Lois is able to do with the power of the Eradicator is extensive, but her grief has her cross lines that Superman never would. Loveness never gives the impression that she crosses these lines because she’s a fallible human. There’s a progression that builds up inside her, driven by sorrow and anger. She never just snaps. It feels like a natural extension of her anguish.
Naturally, it puts her at odds with other heroes and major villains. I won’t spoil how it plays out, but it gets pretty dark. However, it never gets so dark that it seems gratuitous. Loveless still makes an effort to capture the drama and heart that helped make “Death of Superman” such an endearing story. While it’s impossible to match the impact of the original story, this story still strikes the right chords.
There are moments in “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” that defy the traditional conventions of the DC Universe. It’s appropriately dark. At the same time, though, it never feels like the characters completely deviate from who they are. This darker version of Lois Lane still feels like the Lois Lane we’ve known for over 80 years.
Loveness makes the case that even someone like Lois can walk a darker path in a believable way. The artistic style of Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, and Norm Rapmund give that story an appropriately dark tone. It’s dramatic, but it never feels like it’s just doing things for shock value. Granted, seeing Lois become so corrupt is shocking, but that’s not the only thing driving the story.
While “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” probably won’t garner the same acclaim as “Superman: Red Son,” it succeeds in ways that so many other “what if” comics fail. It takes an intriguing concept and develops it in a believable way. It doesn’t undermine the characters or the original themes behind them. It simply tells a darker version of a well-known story and tells it very well.
Lois Lane will always be defined by her connection with Superman. In so many stories within so many worlds, that connection is what brings out the best in her. In this one exceptionally dark world, it brings out the worst and that makes Superman’s death even more tragic.
Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this world in the never-ending effort to make it feel less hopeless. Fans like me take comfort and joy in reading stories about powerful superheroes using their immense abilities to pull off heroic feats. Many of these stories center around extraordinary individuals doing extraordinary things with power that few in the non-comic book world can comprehend.
Then, a comic like “Lois Lane #1” comes along and proves that heroic feats don’t need superhuman abilities. They just need a stubborn and unyielding commitment to the truth.
I admit that the idea of a Lois Lane comic didn’t seem all that intriguing. I also freely acknowledge that I’ve criticized how Lois has been utilized in recent years with respect to the larger Superman mythos. Those criticisms aside, I don’t deny the importance of her character. She is still an integral part of Superman’s world, as well as the larger DC universe.
“Lois Lane #1” doesn’t change that role, nor does it attempt to radically alter who Lois is. It just takes some time to focus on what she does, why she does it, and why it’s such a critical component of truth, justice, and the American way. You could even argue that those ideals are more critical now than they ever have been, which means Lois Lane’s story carries a weight beyond being Superman’s love interest.
Writer Greg Rucka, who has considerable experience writing DC’s strongest female characters, builds an entire story around Lois Lane exercising her expert reporting skills. On the surface, it may not sound as exciting as watching Superman punch meteors out of the sky, but the underlying themes of the story go beyond just saving the day.
Those looking for another story about Lois needing to be rescued by Superman again will probably be disappointed by “Lois Lane #1.” However, those hoping to see someone pursue justice in a way that doesn’t require Kryptonian biology are in for a treat. Superman may be the personification of truth, justice, and the American way, but it’s Lois Lane who proves you don’t need powers to fight for it.
The story is a potent mix of a spy thriller and a mystery built around headlines that are all too real to anyone with a news feed. Yes, there are plenty of super-villains in the DC universe looking to destroy whole worlds and rip apart the fabric of reality. At the same time, there are smaller-scale forms of injustice and those are the battles Lois fights.
In this case, her fight takes her to Russia, a place not known for press freedom. She has a story that won’t defeat Darkseid, but it will expose the corruption, injustice, and lies that plague her world as much as ours. While Superman is still in the story, he actually plays no part in helping her navigate this battle. In this particular battle for truth, Lois is on her own and she proves she’s capable without superpowers.
In fact, for the truth she seeks, superpowers aren’t that useful. Exposing corruption and lies is never a matter of how many meteors or parademons you can punch. Lois is a reporter. She needs information, sources, and connections. These are not things you can punch or magically conjure. Rucka has Lois rely almost entirely on her reporting skills rather than her intimate relationship with Superman.
Those reporting skills might as well be superpowers. Lois isn’t just dedicated to finding the truth. She’s determined. She willingly puts herself in danger to find the information she needs. While this usually means Superman has to rescue her at least once a week, that’s not the case here.
“Lois Lane #1” shows that it is possible for Lois to navigate that danger without calling on her super-powered lover. After reading this comic, you feel as though this sort of triumph doesn’t happen often enough, both in the real and fictional world.
Throughout her history, Lois Lane has been a tricky character to develop. She’s so defined by her relationship to Superman that it’s difficult for her to stand on her own. Being a side-kick or a love interest tends to define a character more than what they actually do in a story.
“Lois Lane #1” doesn’t try to subvert or redefine her lengthy history. She’s still very much Superman’s love interest. She still plays a vital role in his story. However, this comic makes the case that Lois can carry her own story, as well. Rucka, along with the art of Mike Perkins, demonstrate that she can pursue truth and justice on her own. For someone who needs to be rescued so often, it’s both refreshing and overdue.
While Lois Lane will never be an iconic female hero on the same level as Wonder Woman, she embodies many of the principles that heroes of all kinds fight for. They readily protect the innocent and defend justice with their immense powers, but Lois Lane demonstrates why those principles matter.
Every Wednesday, comic fans like me rejoice at the prospect of enjoying a nice stack of new books to start the day. While not every stack is full of epic sagas that leave readers with lifelong memories of pure awesome, there are some that stand out more than others. When one comic in that stack is written by Frank Miller, it’s usually an event that comic fans remember for the rest of their comic-loving days.
If you don’t know who Frank Miller is, then trust me when I say that his name carries a lot of weight in the comic book community. There’s Stan Lee. There’s Jack Kirby. There’s Alan Moore. Most people know those iconic names and the place they have in pop culture. Talk to most well-read comic book fans and they’ll agree. Frank Miller deserves to be in that special class of writer.
This is someone whose work was a true paradigm shift for the medium. His work in the 1980s changed the way people approached superhero comics. It’s not unreasonable to say that Miller is one of the most influential comic writers of the past 40 years. If you want to understand the power of that influence, then “Superman: Year One #1” should get the point across.
This is not a comic that requires a working knowledge of DC Comics’ current continuity, which has been subject to some messy upheavals over the past 10 years. You don’t even have to know anything about Superman to appreciate “Superman: Year One #1.” This is one of those rare books where anyone who has never touched a superhero comic can just pick it up, follow along, and understand the breadth of the story.
This comic, which is printed under DC’s more mature Black Label banner, is not a radical re-telling of Superman’s origins. If you know the basics or have just seen a few Superman movies, then you won’t see anything too shocking. That said, “Superman: Year One #1” brings something new, compelling, and revealing to the table.
There any number of stories about Clark Kent’s formative years, from origins comics to the “Smallville” TV series. Many go to great lengths to show how and why Clark becomes Superman. However, Miller’s approach to “Superman: Year One #1” is a bit different.
The story is less about Clark becoming a hero and more about how he finds his place in the world. He’s not a hero yet. The thought hasn’t even crossed his mind. He’s just a kid for most of the story, navigating his life and trying to figure out where he fits in. His emerging powers are secondary, for the most part.
There are times when Clark is overwhelmed. There are even times when he’s uncertain. One of Superman’s most defining traits is his inclination to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. That’s what makes him the hero by which all others are measured. In “Superman: Year One #1,” he doesn’t know what the right thing is yet, but he’s eager to find out.
In addition to the emergence of Clark’s morality, Miller also explores his influences and his supporting cast. His parents, his peers, and his first love interest, Lana Lang, all get a chance to play a part in his story. They don’t just give him advice or put him in challenging situations, either. Miller gives them all a personality.
Their voices feel distinct. Their impact on Clark feels unique. They help nurture his humanity more than any aspiring superhero. Both Lana and Martha have powerful moments that reveal why they’re so critical to Clark’s journey. Some of those moments, namely the one with Lana, aren’t the kind that would make it onto kid-friendly movie or Saturday morning cartoon, either.
Miller does take advantage of DC’s Black Label, injecting some more mature themes into the story. However, he never pushes it beyond a certain point. Compared to what happened with “Batman: Damned #1,” Miller keeps things relatively balanced. That doesn’t stop “Superman: Year One #1” from feeling like a more mature Superman story.
This is a story where Clark Kent gets to be a kid who just happens to develop amazing powers. It’s a story where he doesn’t fight invading aliens, mad scientists, or hulking monsters. The biggest fight he has involve a group of high school bullies who saw one too many 80s teen movies.
The stakes are small. Clark doesn’t need to save the world at this point in his life. He just has to save a few people and navigate through a few personal situations. While that doesn’t make for the kinds of epic battles that Superman tends to fight every other day, it’s because of this smaller scope that the story feels more personal.
Before Clark can learn to save the world, he has to start by saving Lana Lang from being assaulted. Before Clark can battle Braniac, Lex Luthor, and Doomsday, he has to learn how to take down a group of bullies without causing too much damage. Not everything comes easily, even for someone of his immense power. That’s exactly what makes “Superman: Year One #1” so compelling.
Miller allows Clark to struggle and learn. The artwork of the amazingly talented John Romita Jr. helps give that struggle the perfect aesthetic. Even when he slips up, things never get too dark or angst-ridden. For Miller, the same man who wrote one of the darkest Batman stories of all time, it’s a critical, yet necessary change.
While it’s too early to say whether “Superman: Year One #1” becomes as iconic and well-regarded as Miller’s other work, it succeeds in demonstrating why his approach to superheroes is so iconic. It’s not enough to simply tell the story about how the hero wins the day against impossible odds. Miller highlights the person beneath the heroic icon.
Clark Kent is Superman. Superman is Clark Kent. The identities are often interchangeable, but they’re only names and titles. At the end of the day, there’s still a person within that iconic costume and his story is worth exploring. Under the pen of Frank Miller, that story is in good hands.
What makes a villain truly evil? It’s a question with many answers that apply to both the real and the fictional world. History is ripe with real people with villainous tendencies on par with that of any mustache-twirling villain in fiction. The world of fiction is just as vast, full of all sorts of cruel, sadistic, greedy beings that range from alien conquerors to psychotic killer clowns.
Then, there’s Alexander Joseph “Lex” Luthor. What Superman is to heroes, an ideal and a standard to which others aspire, Lex Luthor is to villains. Think back to the question of what makes a villain evil. Lex Luthor checks every box and even a few others you probably didn’t think of.
In the spirit of celebrating Superman’s 80th anniversary, which I went out of my way to honor, I think it’s just as important to appreciate the other, less heroic side of the spectrum. Superman occupies the extreme end of that spectrum, namely the side that embodies truth, justice, and the highest of morals. Lex Luthor, conversely, is at the other end, one where the depths of greed, hatred, and outright cruelty are at their worst.
To that end, it’s impossible to appreciate the values Superman stands for without also appreciating the villainous traits that Lex Luthor personifies. I’ve noted the major differences between the journey that a villain takes, compared to that of heroes. I’ve also singled out characters like Walter White, who have given a new level of complexity to modern villains. However, the villainy of Lex Luthor is as basic as it is profound.
Lex Luthor doesn’t need the same complexity as Walter White, nor does he need the tragic circumstances that help forge villains like Magneto. Lex is a villain to his core. He needs no catalyst or motivation. He is, by his own nature, an arrogant, selfish person who will go to any length to get what he wants and/or deserves, regardless of cost or ethics.
Despite that simple, if not inelegant approach to villainy, Lex Luthor still finds a way to elevate himself above the many other villains that occupy the real and fictional world. It’s not just because he’s Superman’s primary adversary either. At his core, Lex represents something that highlights the breadth of true villainy.
Like most iconic villains, Lex Luthor’s status was closely tied to that of the hero he opposes. He first appeared in Action Comics #23 in 1940, a full two years after Superman debuted. Like most villains in those days, he didn’t get much development or backstory. He was simply the extra devious bad guy who tested Superman more than most.
Over the years, Lex Luthor’s story has evolved, but the extent of his villainy has never waned. The modern version of Lex Luthor, which became canonized after the big 1986 event known as Crisis on Infinite Earths, is defined largely by his greed, ego, and extreme xenophobia. He became less a mad scientist and more heartless narcissists.
Through that evolution, Lex establishes a blunt, but powerful method to his villainy. He is, at his core, a selfish egotist. There isn’t an altruistic cell in his body. Everything he does is for one purpose and that’s to profit and/or glorify himself. It doesn’t matter whether he’s battling Superman or creating a community of low-income housing. It’s all to serve him and his interests.
In the same way you can assume that every decision Superman makes is in the name of truth and justice, you can also assume that everything Lex Luthor does is in the name of benefiting Lex Luthor. Even by Ayan Rand standards, Lex’s motivation are extreme. At the end of the day, he’s out for himself and no one else.
To some extent, though, that’s what makes him even more devious. In his endless crusade to serve himself, Lex will portray himself as less a villain and more a hero who is out to use his unrivaled genius to make the world a better place. He has even become a hero on multiple occasions within the annuls of DC Comics.
Lex Luthor will save the world. He’ll even work with Superman every now and then. However, such efforts are never in the name of doing the right thing. It always comes back to Lex serving his own agenda. He understands, at the end of the day, that no one can glorify him if the world is destroyed.
Even with those circumstances, though, Lex still finds a way to set himself apart from other villains. Characters like Dr. Doom, Thanos, and Darkseid definitely fit the mold of a villain, but even they have motivations that go beyond their ego. You could even argue that villains like Dr. Doom often blur the line because their actions sometimes align with what most consider the greater good.
With Lex Luthor, though, there are no blurred lines. He is not Dr. Doom in that he feels he needs to rule the world to ensure that it’s free from want and suffering. From Lex’s point of view, ruling the world and destroying Superman are simply a means to further glorify his ego and fuel his narcissism.
That’s what makes him so dangerous, but it also reveals something profound about villainy itself. It’s not always simply a product of being greedy and sadistic. To some extent, it’s a byproduct of being entirely self-serving and having no inclinations for selfless acts.
Whereas most people would feel some level of guilt for that level of selfishness, Lex feels nothing of the sort. That’s not to say he’s a sociopath on the level of some serial killers. He just feels that he rightly deserves all the power and aggrandizing he wants. It’s not a matter of morals. It’s a matter of him just being better than anyone else.
It’s in that domain where Lex’s rivalry with Superman becomes truly adversarial. Unlike Superman, Lex is human. However, he also happens to be the smartest human in the world, as well as one of the smartest beings in the entire DC Universe. That means he doesn’t just think he’s better than anyone else. He can actually prove it.
That’s how he’s able to craft insanely advanced technology. It’s also how he managed to get elected President of the United States at one point. It’s not enough to have a massive ego. It’s that he’s smart enough and ruthless enough to outwit anyone into serving him. There’s simply no way for any other human to match him on an intellectual level.
That’s where Superman enters the equation. That’s also what fuels Lex’s unparalleled hatred of him. From his point of view, the very existence of Superman undermines his ability to establish himself as the most superior person in the world. More than that, though, he see’s Superman’s presence as a degrading force to the human race as a whole.
It’s a sentiment that isn’t often touched on in the comics or recent movies, but it is perfectly articulated in the animated feature, “All-Star Superman.” If ever you want a perfect demonstration of Superman’s heroism or Lex Luthor’s villainy, this movie is the current gold standard.
Beyond the condescension, the bragging, and the insufferable ego behind his words, Lex Luthor makes some uncomfortably valid points. In light of Superman’s impossible ideal, every human being falls short. Even him, the smartest human being of them all, can’t hope to match it.
From Lex’s point of view, that’s not just profoundly insulting. It undermines the entire human species. The existence of an alien god-like being reduces humans to a bunch of ants under the boot of a titan. By relying on that being, looking up to him as an ideal, people can only ever hope to be better ants and nothing more.
Even if that thinking is valid on some perverse level, Lex takes it even further by making it the ultimate excuse. By establishing Superman and heroes like him as affronts to his rightful place at the top of humanity, he can basically justify anything. Read into his history and you won’t find any shortage of atrocities.
It’s for that same reason that Lex rejects any notion of truth, justice, and the American way. As he also articulated in “All-Star Superman,” he sees those concepts as inherently flawed. They’re just vague concepts that can’t be touched, measured, or quantified in any meaningful way. In Lex Luthor’s world, all that matters is what he can do with the forces around him and how they can be used to glorify him.
As a villain, Lex Luthor doesn’t live in a world of abstracts, ideals, or faith. His world is cold, calculating, and deterministic. Much like Superman, he puts a face and a name on a particular archetype. Unlike Superman, though, he doesn’t evoke hope or inspiration. He inspires fear, hatred, and mistrust.
By standing against Superman, challenging him in ways that even other god-like beings can’t, Lex Luthor demonstrates just how far someone can take true villainy. In his world, nothing is ever given. It’s either earned, taken, or stolen. Things like compassion, empathy, and love are weaknesses and not strengths. They are barriers to overcome and not strengths to embrace.
Even by the standards of Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty,” that kind of extreme callousness is excessive. At least under Rick’s nihilistic outlook, there’s a context to his action. For Lex Luthor, though, the only context that matters is the one that serves Lex Luthor.
Superman is a beloved heroic icon and for good reason. He represents the best to which a hero can aspire. However, the extent of those aspirations and the power of that heroism is hard to appreciate without also acknowledging the villainous side of the struggle.
Superman is the hero he is because he has a villain like Lex Luthor to battle. Lex Luthor is the villain he is because Superman pushes him. However, even in the absence of Superman, Lex would still be the kind of villain who hurts, exploits, and deceives anyone and everyone to serve his agenda. That, more than anything, is what makes him the ultimate villain.