Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Bob Oksner
"The Luthor Nobody Knows!"
Reviewed by: Justin "NotSuper" Adams
Superman thinks back to yesterday when, in the guise of Clark Kent, he was in the cafeteria with Roy Raymond. Perry White soon joins the duo and mentions that Luthor has once again escaped from jail. Thinking quickly, Clark uses his heat vision to give Roy Raymond a very short feeling of indigestion. Clark feigns a stomach ache as well, and quickly excuses himself, and then changes into Superman.
The scene changes to two pilots flying in the sky. In a humorous moment, one of the pilots mentions that there is a strange flying object in the air. The other pilot responds, saying, "Just another flying saucer forget it!" But it isn't a UFO; it's the escaped Luthor, who uses a device on the plane. The plane spirals down, with Superman suddenly appearing to catch it. Superman sets the plane gently on the ground while a man at the airport explains over a microphone that everyone should proceed with emergency evacuation.
Superman confronts his nemesis, but Luthor uses the same device he used on the plane on Superman. Superman is suddenly unable to control his muscles and inadvertently destroys part of the airport. Not willing to move and cause more disaster, Superman shakes his body on the ground, causing the airport itself to quake. Luthor is knocked unconscious by falling debris and the effects of the blast wear off soon, allowing Superman to take Luthor back to prison.
The scene once again comes back to the airport, where Superman has just about finished repairing part of the airport. Mr. Hales asks Superman if hate was all Luthor ever had. Superman thinks back to his days in Smallville, where he had befriended Lex Luthor in BOTH of his identities. He remembers one particular incident where Luthor animated chemicals in the lab, to the delight of his classmates. He then remembers the fateful day when Luthor's life, and his own as well, changed forever. Luthor had invited Superboy to his lab to show him something. The ingenious Luthor had created a living being of protoplasm and made a cure for Green Kryptonite from part of it. Lost in the excitement of creating life, Luthor accidentally knocks over a flask, which starts a fire. Luthor tries to carry his creation to safety, but Superboy sees the smoke and sends a blast of super-breath at the lab. Unfortunately, Superboy accidentally blows two flasks of chemicals onto to the protoplasm, destroying it. The fumes from the destroyed life even cause Lex's hair to fall out. As Superboy confronts Lex, he is the immediate target of the scientist's rage. Luthor blames Superboy for his destroyed creation and the loss of his hair. Superboy thinks back to what happened next: Lex's failed experiments to help Smallville, the army of animated Kryptonite he tried to kill Superboy with, being disowned by his family, and finally being placed in reform school by Superboy.
Superman thinks back to the time when Luthor actually stole an atomic bomb and threatened a city with it. In trying to apprehend Lex's helicopter, Superboy triggers a mechanism that causes the bomb to detonate. He quickly wraps Luthor in his cape and carries him to safety. He then takes care of the shock wave with a super-yell and draws the fallout and bomb debris into space. Luthor once again goes on a rant against Superboy, swearing that he'll be back and will one day kill Superboy.
The scene changes back to the present, where Superman tells Mr. Hales that hate isn't always what Luthor had, but how it's all that he has left.
Story - 5: Many people consider Elliot S! Maggin's portrayal of Lex Luthor to be one of the best (including many writers and artists in the comic book medium), this story is one of the examples why. While other writers portrayed Lex as an evil counterpart to Superman, Maggin's Lex had a sort of nobility about him. He was certainly a villain, of that there is no question, but he had a tragic quality about his character. Luthor could've been the greatest humanitarian in the world, if only the accident-involving Superboy didn't happen.
Indeed, had he been born in some other time, where there was no Superboy, he may have been Earth's "Man of Tomorrow." Alas, that's not what happened. If Luthor couldn't be the world's greatest humanitarian, he would be its greatest villain (something Superman was incapable of being).
This story is short, but it perfectly condenses Luthor's origin into a format that can be easily read and understood. Maggin really shows Superman's regret that things turned out the way they did, and makes Lex's isolation from the world very clear. We don't just sympathize with Superman, the hero, but also with Luthor, the villain. Few writers can accomplish that feat.
However, it should be noted that Maggin was not the first writer to portray Luthor in a sympathetic light. Edmond Hamilton in particular portrayed Luthor as less of a one-dimensional villain and more of a real person. So, while Maggin was not the first, many consider him to be the best.
Perhaps the most important scene in this story is the accident that cost Lex his hair. While some may think the loss of hair was Lex's sole motivation to destroy Superman, that isn't the case. The scene is actually reminiscent of Frankenstein, in which Victor Frankenstein creates life. What other act could make a person like God than creating life? Luthor wanted to create life and cure Superboy, thus making him the most famous scientist in the world. Instead, his creation is destroyed. Unlike the story of Frankenstein, the scientist (Lex) becomes his own monster. The hair loss was minor in the face of the other issues: among them was the fact that while Superman was around, Lex would never be the best. How would you feel if you had the greatest mind on Earth but were overshadowed by an alien who could do almost anything?
Of all the pre-Crisis retellings of Luthor's origin, this one is perhaps my favorite. I give it my highest recommendation.
Art - 4: The art here is good, but nothing really special. Swan's art on the various Superman comics was always great, but this doesn't really stand out too much. Still, it is better than average.
Cover Art - 5: This is a great cover. It really jumps out at you and tells you what's in the comic itself. Superman and Luthor's muscles are drawn quite nicely and they both look realistic. To be honest, I prefer art like this to the big, cartoony muscles some super-heroes are drawn with, but to each his own.
The cover features a panel where Luthor blames Superboy for the accident, while the larger panel has an adult Luthor firing a weapon at Superman. Below this, a question is proposed: "What causes a boy genius to become the world's greatest villain? Find out when you meet "The Luthor Nobody Knows!"" And, sure enough, we find out in the comic. What more could you ask from a cover?
Back to the Mild Mannered Reviews contents page.