Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics [Blu-ray]
THE JOKER, LEX LUTHOR, CATWOMAN, DOOMSDAY, BANE. What makes them so thrillingly watchable? So terribly wonderful? So extremely vital to our super heroes and their worlds? This new feature-length documentary explores these questions across seven decades of DC Comics' hallowed Rogues' Gallery of infamous evildoers.
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In the four issue Supergirl miniseries, we learn that Luthor has used the cells taken from Supergirl's protoplasmic form (after her fight with Doomsday) to clone hundreds of Supergirls. The miniseries by Roger Stern gives us a good look at Luthor from Supergirl's point of view (first loving, then hateful), as well as letting the reader see behind Luthor's public mask. When Supergirl discovers Luthor's duplicity, only Superman stops her from killing him in her anger. Dr. Kelley tells the dying Luthor that Supergirl loved him and that "No matter what you hoped to gain through all your plots and schemes, it can never match what you've lost."
The only clones not affected are the Guardian and Dubbilex -- all others are dying. In the hopes of finding a cure, Luthor has his aide Happersen recreate an earlier attempt to clone Superman -- and once more, a Bizarro Superman is created. We see Luthor's body continue to deteriorate during the Bizarro's World arc (Superman #87, Adventures of Superman #510, Action Comics #697, Superman: The Man Of Steel #32 and Superman #88 -- also in trade paperback).
Luthor continues to manipulate even while dying. While Lois Lane tries to find evidence of Luthor's murder of Sasha, he arranges to have her apartment torched and to have her fired from the Daily Planet (Adventures Of Superman #512, Action Comics #699). In searching for a cure, he infiltrates the Cadmus Project and starts a war between the Underworlders (monster shaped clones), the Special Crimes Unit, Team Luthor and just about everyone else. Luthor even designed guns for the Underworlders that he controls remotely. He wants to find a cure to his illness, but, "if, along the way, I can confuse and confound my enemies, so much the better! But eventually, I always get what I want ... one way or another!"
"The Battle For Metropolis" and "The Fall Of Metropolis" run through all the Superman titles starting with Action Comics #699 and concluding in Action Comics #701 (triangle numbers 1994: 20 - 28).
Luthor's war quickly gets beyond his control. Cadmus' director Paul Westfield launches his own gas rockets to destroy the Underworlders. Not that this overly concerns Luthor, who decides that if he is dying, he will take "his" city with him.
There is brief hope for Luthor when the cause and cure for the clone illness is discovered at Cadmus. His goal changes from destruction to trying to secure the serum. But Luthor's efforts are thwarted when Cadmus is apparently destroyed. Compounding his troubles, Lois reveals on television that Luthor faked his death, cloned himself, and murdered Sasha. When Luthor's hiding place is discovered by Superman, the desperate Luthor threatens to let his remaining hidden torpedoes destroy Metropolis.
Luthor's megalomania and madness continue to dominate his personality. He says that he will die on his own terms, and that he will decide if Metropolis lives or dies. Superman reminds Luthor that the citizens know only the philanthropic Luthor and that if he launches the torpedoes, he will be forever remembered as Luthor the killer, the monster, the Hitler. As Luthor's resolve weakens, Happersen snaps and fires the torpedoes (Action Comics #700).
We see all of Luthor's weapons and failsafes turned against the city -- from robots, to gas, to a stolen Kryptonian Battlesuit. At the end, Luthor receives the clone serum but is trapped in his wasted body -- unable to move or even to blink. Luthor blames Superman and swears to make him pay someday, somehow.
The arc also marks the departure of Roger Stern as regular writer of Action Comics, and Luthor remains sidelined until Stern returns in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #1. We learn that despite his desiccated body, Luthor has made arrangements that allow him to escape. LexCorp must have a division in charge of contingency plans, because Luthor always seems to have several.
Deals With Devils: Return And Redemption
By the end of Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #1, Luthor's body is miraculously restored to vitality. He now has a youthful, athletic build, but with no hair, aside from his bushy red eyebrows. We don't learn the details of how this was accomplished until the Underworld Unleashed miniseries -- Luthor literally makes a deal with the devil (Neron) in exchange for his soul. The lack of a soul seems not to have made any noticeable difference in Luthor.
An important new theme develops following Luthor's resurrection - the development of Luthor as a DCU villain -- not just a Superman foe. We see him teaming up with other villains in Underworld Unleashed and in the JLA "Rock of Ages" arc. During the Final Night miniseries, Luthor returns to Metropolis to work with the superheroes and to help in the crisis (and to try to redeem himself with the public). One interesting aspect of this new development is that it brings Luthor into more direct contact with Batman exemplified when Luthor attempts to extend his empire into Gotham during the No Man's Land storyline (Shellgame in Batman #573 and Detective Comics #740).
Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #1 also introduces us to a she-devil with the lengthy name of Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza, who takes over as CEO of LexCorp. In Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #2, Luthor romances the Contessa. As they watch Superman fight on television, Luthor agrees that he takes pleasure and satisfaction in Superman's pain and reflects, "Once, it would have angered me that I was not personally responsible for his pain. Now, I don't mind finding pleasure in the efforts of others. A sign of maturity, I suppose."
Luthor and the Contessa become engaged in Adventures of Superman #535 and then marry in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #5. Then in Superman #119, the Contessa announces that Lex is going to be a father, leading to a very fun look in Superman #120 at Luthor's fear that his unborn child will idolize Superman.
Having helped save the world during the Final Crisis miniseries, Luthor has surrendered himself to the authorities to face charges over the destruction of Metropolis while his clone body was dying. In Superman #126, Luthor manipulates Superman into delivering the Kryptonite ring (which Superman had given to Batman for safekeeping) into Luthor's possession once again.
To distract from the publicity of his trial, Luthor arranges, in Adventures Of Superman #550, for Jimmy Olsen to air a show promising a big revelation about Superman. His trial and successful defence are delivered with aplomb in Action Comics #737. Ever ruthless, Luthor reveals all to his scrupulous and honest lawyer, and then reminds the lawyer that his admission is protected by client-attorney privilege.
A Child Is Born: Lena Luthor
The most interesting change in Luthor's character comes from the birth of his daughter, Lena, in Superman #131. Dan Jurgens delivers one of the best Luthor stories to date (all my opinion, of course) starting with a cover of a blood splattered birth announcement. It's a chilling tale of revenge and murder exploring both Luthor's childhood and his present plans as he removes several obstacles from his chessboard - namely longtime Metropolis Mayor, Frank Berkowitz, an abusive step-father and the Contessa, whom he drugs and locks away following her giving birth to Lena.
Luthor's plotting begins to take a more directed approach to secure a future for his daughter as he deems it should be. Luthor should perhaps have taken more care in choosing the mother of his child as the resourceful Contessa manages to escape her drugged captivity in Superman: The Man Of Steel #77.
Contessa returns with classic Superman (post electric blue phaze) in the special, Superman Forever as she arranges to have Lena kidnapped. Luthor, crazed with grief eventually has to humble himself before Superman who rescues Lena.
Luthor arrogantly demands Superman hand over the child, but Superman only holds the child closer glaring, until Luthor finally begs, "Superman ... she's my world! Please!" Superman relents but can't resist lecturing, "She's your best creation Luthor. Don't let me hear you've mistreated her or led her down the wrong path!"
This period unfortunately, despite some good story arcs, fails to live up to potential as many plots and subplots seem to go unresolved and too many issues are devoted to slugfests with lackluster villains or sacrificed to the larger storylines. Luthor takes part in the various stories, but without much development in his character.
Examples are Luthor's development of an advanced technology section of Metropolis which he names Hypersector and Luthor's purchase and closure of the Daily Planet (in the special, Superman: Save The Planet). Rather than developing these themes, it seems more of an excuse to shake up the status quo by having Clark out of work and forcing Lois to continue working for Luthor's new media company, LexCom.
Luthor also sponsors young metahumans to form the "Supermen of America", which led to some stories I enjoyed, but which seemed unlikely for Luthor. The writers hint at Luthor's plotting and scheming, but without any significant payoff or insight to Luthor's character or resolution.
Taking Evil In A New Direction
With the arrival of a new team of Superman writers, led by Jeph Loeb, the status quo is re-established starting with Superman #151 which has Luthor sell the Daily Planet back - but in typical Luthor fashion he extracts a price from Lois: that she will agree to kill one story of Luthor's choosing and imposing the secret on her that she is unable to tell her husband.
Loeb's Luthor shows his villainy in that little scene at the end of the issue where he quietly and effectively scores his greatest attack against Lois, by making her agree to betray her journalistic integrity and to keep a secret between her and Clark. Even if Luthor never makes his demand, he has already won.
Another example of classic Luthor is Adventures of Superman #575 where Stuart Immonen and Mark Millar have Luthor stage a fake assassination attempt against himself at the opera.
The developing themes of Luthor as a re-energized villain come to the fore with the attack on Metropolis by the villain from the future, Brainiac 13, beginning in the special Superman: Y2K as Luthor desperately fights to save his city and his daughter. The story arc continues in Superman #154, Adventures of Superman #576, Superman: The Man Of Steel #98 and Action Comics #763.
Poor little Lena. During the story, her body gets taken over by the present day Brainiac as Luthor agrees to an unholy alliance to defeat Brainiac 13. The ending has a number of entertaining twists as Superman outsmarts all three villains. But ultimately evil wins, as Luthor makes a deal with Brainiac 13, sacrificing Lena and allowing her to be taken to give Luthor control of the technology that lies at the heart of the transformed futuristic city.
The story goes to the core of Luthor's being. While it doesn't deny his love for Lena and leaves an opening for Luthor to reclaim her, he willingly sacrifices his only daughter when the chips are down. When Superman confronts him about the price he paid, Luthor retorts, "I have my castle. I have my kingdom on the edge of tomorrow ... As for my princess ... I can always make another. Goodbye alien."
Only after Superman leaves vowing to get Lena back and make Luthor pay does the bald badguy allow his emotions to surface, wistfully adding, "I hope you do ... but I've already paid ... I've paid in full."
In Adventures of Superman #581, Luthor announces that he is running for President - riding on the successes of his public work especially during the Final Night crisis and the Y2K attack and the sympathy over the loss of his beloved daughter. The presidential run continues as a back story for a while, including the strange selection of Pete Ross (Clark's school buddy and husband of Lana Lang) in Superman #162.
Timing plays a part in the real world as the United States waits for over a month to find out if their president will be George W. Bush or Al Gore, the DC Universe announces Lex Luthor as the next President in the special, Superman: Lex 2000. In a very entertaining issue, we see Luthor's sanitized version of his past, a confrontation with Batman over the kryptonite ring and the reaction of the Daily Planet press room.
A rare Superman/Batman crossover follows up the ring plot in Superman #168 and Detective Comics #756 as Batman and Lois confront Superman at the White House and the good guys show that they can outsmart and outplay Luthor at his own games. There's a great chase scene through the White House and in the end, Batman gets the ring back in a surprising twist.
While many readers didn't expect the Super-team to actually have Luthor win the election, it quickly becomes apparent that the writers are weaving many strands as they prepare for the Our Worlds At War storyline.
The announcement of the War is delivered to Luthor in Superman #171by his own daughter, now aged to adulthood and with Brainiac's colouration and markings. As the War rages throughout the Superman titles, action and scheming intermingle. Luthor is ready to again sacrifice his daughter, but in the end, Superman delivers on a promise and, in Action Comics #782, returns the infant Lena to her father.
President Lex causes considerable concern for Batman when he arranges to have Bruce Wayne framed in the storylines, "Bruce Wayne: Murderer" and Bruce Wayne: Fugitive" over in the Batman titles (nicely collected in trade paperbacks).
He also gets a spotlight issue in The Adventures of Superman #600 where, infected by nanite scrambling his brain, he dons a red wig and becomes Alex Luthor, criminal mastermind. It's a fun story, which ends when he comes face to face with his baby daughter, Lena, and his memory returns.
And since we're discussing the Luthor family, in President Luthor: Secret Files & Origins #1, Luthor authorizes a rocket strike against the Contessa's organization, the Agenda, apparently killing her and finalizing the divorce.
The Chuck Austen miniseries, Superman: Metropolis (with art by Danijel Zelzelj and, later, by Teddy Kristiansen & Ashley Wood) has the Brainiac 13 Tech reveal itself to Jimmy Olsen as Lena Luthor. By issue #6 Superman introduces the Tech (now in a human body) to the infant Lena. The Tech admits to herself that, "I'm not Lena Luthor and I never was. I'm just a copy of her intelligence, left behind by Brainiac to more efficiently run Luthor's tech." By the end of the miniseries, the Brainiac Tech dies, but the reborn adult Lena enjoys life with boyfriend, Jimmy. In the regular series, we see Metropolis revert to it's pre-Tech state in Action Comics #811.
Clark Kent Is Superman
Probably the biggest bombshell during Luthor's Presidency came unexpectedly in Superman #178. A nerdish civil servant tells Luthor that he found old satellite images proving that a Kryptonian spacecraft landed at a farmhouse in Smallville, Kansas. The eager little fella also tells his President that he hasn't told anyone else about the discovery and, conveniently, that he has no friends or family. One dead civil servant later, Luthor looks at the photo of the ship landing at the Kent Farm and quietly gloats, "Clark Kent is Superman".
That issue is dated March 2002. The discovery lies dormant and unmentioned for six months until the 8 part "Ending Battle" running through the Super-titles. Someone is orchestrating an attack on all of Clark Kent's family and friends. In Action Comics #796, Superman confronts Luthor, who finally admits that he knows the secret identity, but denies he is behind the attacks. He says that he was given the information, but refused to be a pawn in someone else's game.
The mastermind is eventually revealed as Manchester Black (introduced in Action Comics #775 as the leader of the Elite, in a popular story by Joe Kelly), who has been directing the villains, as well as manipulating Superman's mind, to drive the hero to the brink of madness and cause him to kill in revenge for Lois' murder.
When Superman refuses to kill, Black reveals Lois is alive and restores everything back to normal. Before apparently killing himself, Black wipes Luthor's computer files and Luthor's memory.
I wish someone could do the same to my memory of the storyline.
The Madman In The Oval Office
President Luthor's term of office comes to an abrupt end in the Superman/Batman series in "The World's Finest" story arc (issues #1-6). Luthor learns of a giant Kryptonite meteor heading for Earth. In a strange leap of logic, Luthor blames Superman and offers a $1 billion dollar reward for whoever brings in this "enemy against humanity". The story by Jeph Loeb, with art by Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines, has the two heroes fighting against and with a gauntlet of their colleagues.
President Luthor descends to the basement of the White House to inject himself with a glowing green liquid. With his eyes a-glowin' green, Luthor dons his snazzy green and purple battle armour, and goes hunting Superman.
As required by the super-villain handbook, Luthor expounds his plan to Superman whilst they battle. He reveals that Darkseid supplied the armour and was the one who told Luthor of the asteroid, its origins and "how and why it is drawn toward you". Sounding as loony as his glowing green eyes make him look, Luthor is blasted by Superman into the LexCorp building, where Batman continues the exposition.
Batman reveals that Luthor's company, LexCorp, has been depleted and purchase by Bruce Wayne and that Luthor is now penniless. During the ensuing slugfest, Luthor gloats that the green liquid he has been injecting is a synthesis of Venom (used by Bane, the villain who broke Batman's back) and liquid Kryptonite.
The fight ends with Luthor plunging from the LexCorp Tower and escaping through a giant Boom Tube (no doubt another gift from Darkseid). The final panel shows a maniacal Luthor vowing, "There will be a reckoning ... a crisis ..."
Birthright: Lex Luthor Re-Envisioned
In 2003, DC decided to revisit the Superman mythology and inject some themes from the popular Smallville television series. Mark Waid penned the 12 issue Superman: Birthright miniseries with art by Leinil F Yu and Gerry Alanguilan.
In this version of Superman's origin, which focuses on Clark becoming Superman, we learn that the younger Clark befriended the troubled, delinquent Lex, who had been transferred into Clark's high school.
However, on meeting again as adults, Lex rebuffs Clark, denies having met before and claims no knowledge of Smallville. Pa Kent investigates and finds that all records of Lex's time in Smallville have been deleted and "folks have been 'encouraged' to change the subject whenever the Luthor name came up".
Young Lex makes himself unpopular with the school community and isolates himself in his family home, devoting himself to an obsession with extra-terrestrial life and a strange green meteor rock, which he hadfound nearby. Lex is using the meteor to power a wormhole and trace its world of origin, but the machine explodes, burning off Lex's hair.
The stories of young Lex in Smallville take place in issues #6-8 (the initial meeting between the two takes place in Superman/Batman Secret Files & Origins 2003). The balance of the Superman: Birthright series had Luthor, as the adult business genius, creating a fake Kryptonian attack to discredit Superman. The series ends with Luthor indicted and Superman victorious.
While making some changes to the John Byrne origin, the series keeps general continuity and gives nods to both the Silver Age comics and television origins.