Ah, Lex Luthor. The Greatest Criminal Mind of Our Time (™). No criminal in history has tried to eliminate Superman in the myriad ways that Lex Luthor has. As a result, nobody has failed as many times, either. And you know what they say, right? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And that’s exactly what he did…he even joined the Justice League for a period.
Now, we’ll set aside any of the usual concerns about just how bad things must be in the DC Universe for Lex Luthor, green power armor and all, to end up rubbing shoulders with the Justice League. But when you think about it, Luthor has earned it, hasn’t he? Few characters in comics, hero or villain, have tried their hand at so many different occupations while on the road to wiping out their arch enemies. And now, for the first time since the Smallville era, Lex will be a TV star, when Jon Cryer plays Luthor on Supergirl.
If it’s possible to be a renaissance villain, Lex is your man. Here are some of our favorites.
* Disclaimer * Yes, we know these are mostly different versions of Lex Luthor from different eras and what have you. Please do not harsh our mellow with discussions about things like “continuity.”
Altruistic Boy Genius!
Well…at least that’s what he was in the early pages of Adventure Comics #271 (1960). Young Lex Luthor could have been another Archimedes, another Einstein, another Da Vinci for cryin’ out loud! Just ask him. He’ll tell you.
If it wasn’t for that rat bastard, Superboy, saving Lex from a situation that Lex clearly had completely under control and thus costing the awkwardly handsome 16 year old boy his curly locks, he could have cured Kryptonite and cancer and who knows what else? Instead, he spent the rest of his life just trying to cure Superman of breathing.
Who could blame him?
Big Man on Campus!
During the first season of the Superboy TV series in 1988, Lex took a detour from his more well-known criminal career path to enroll at Shuster University, where he flounced around like one of the alpha douchebags from a direct to video Revenge of the Nerds sequel. Nobody’s really holding this against him, though. The guy was in college and finding himself. Let’s cut him some slack. You wouldn’t want anyone to see what you got up to at that age either, would you?
Don’t worry, some time after graduation he found himself, alright…
Lex got his Doctorate in Mad Science some time before Action Comics #23 (1940).
Lex’s best known and most well-worn career path. Is there a more prolific inventor in the 20th Century than Lex Luthor? This guy was the Edison of evil! The Tesla of terror! The…okay, you get the point.
Whether it was with earthquake machines, giant robots, or a veritable rainbow of Kryptonite powered weapons, nobody…and we mean nobody, ever gave Superman as much agita as Lex Luthor during his white labcoat days…or, for that matter, his purple pajamas with rocket boots days…or his green power armor days. Look at it this way: back when the entire internet was having a shared lucid dream about Bryan Cranston playing Lex Luthor in the Man of Steel sequel because some site decided to make up a ridiculous little rumor, this is the era they were thinking of. Instead we got Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v Superman. Ahem.
Lex is far more resourceful and ruthless than ol’ Walter White, anyway. Need proof?
Hero to Another Planet!
What happened here (by “here” we mean 1963’s Superman #164) is that ol’ Lex challenged Superman to a fair fight on a planet with a red sun. Lex and the powerless Supes had to duke it out, but in the process, Lex became a hero to the inhabitants of the planet, who had somehow forgotten how to use technology. And since technology has always kind of been Luthor’s thing, you can imagine how this went for him. Hell, the citizens even named the freakin’ planet after him (Lexor) after that lunkhead Superman arrested Lex and threw him in the slammer.
For real, though. Lex beats the living crap out of Supes with his bare hands and sics these really neat robotic dogs on him. This might just be the best Lex Luthor story ever told.
Lex would return to Lexor periodically through the years to be helpful. He even settled down with a nice young lady. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well. For anyone.
Perhaps a change of career was necessary…
Real Estate Entrepreneur!
Look at that face. Would you buy a house from this man?
“Stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse, but they will always need land, and they’ll pay through the nose to get it.” Such were the words of wisdom imparted from the elder Luthor to his son Lex…advice that Lex took to heart in Superman: The Movie (1978) when he decided to invest in as much coastal real estate has he could…namely by creating coastline where there was none.
Superman was not amused, and Lex’s west coast real estate bubble popped in suitable fashion. That didn’t stop Lex, for some inexplicable reason, from dabbling in the real estate market again in 2006 with Superman Returns…
Captain of Industry!
When Lex finally put his inventions to work for him in the ‘80s (starting with Man of Steel #4 in 1986) as the head of LexCorp, all he was doing was living the American dream. Certainly you can’t begrudge an enterprising, hard-working man like Lex Luthor the fruits of his scientific labor, can you? It would be un-American! Come to think of it, that red cape that Supes wears might be proof that he’s a commie after all.
An unparalleled job creator in the DC Universe growth industry known as “annoy Superman,” there was only one more place for Lex to take his creative genius.
You guessed it…
President of the United States!
(yes, we realize this isn’t a picture from the actual President Luthor era comics…but please indulge us, as this is much better)
Scientific progress was the platform with which Mr. Luthor ran for the highest office in the land on, and his sterling reputation as both a businessman and shiny-pated dude with a high profile and a higher bank balance helped propel him to electoral victory. As hard as this is to swallow, let’s face it…we currently have a far less qualified guy with an even less convincing hairline in the oval office.
Of course, thanks to a bunch of meddling insurgents in capes, Lex wasn’t able to see out his term. It’s our loss, really. History will show he was one of the greats.
Secret Criminal Mastermind!
You see, there was this version of Lex Luthor from another universe who came through here and posed as Lex and started organizing all these supervillains. So the REAL Lex, stalwart fellow that he is, adopted the name of “Mockingbird” and organized his OWN team of supervillains to fight them and…ummmm….we realize this sounds pretty bonkers, it’s much less confusing than it sounds. The point is that, as usual, Lex was just trying to help, damn it!
Needless to say, if you haven’t read the Villains United graphic novel by Gail Simone and Dale Eaglesham and the follow up Secret Six series, you’re missing out on some terrific storytelling.
Y’see, you may know who Green Lantern is, but you might not know that there are these ORANGE Lanterns who prize the power of selfishness above everything else and the ring is powered by the avarice of its wielder and…no, wait, come back! We’re not finished explaining this one to you!
Government Consultant on Human Rights!
Who does the US Government call when they’ve got a seemingly alien dude in a cape running around their city and talking about fairness? Lex Luthor, that’s who. All of you civil libertarians out there can kiss his bald ass, because none of that touchy-feely stuff applies when you’re dealing with an off-worlder.
Reports that Lex is currently separating immigrant children from their parents at the US border could not be confirmed at the time of this writing.
Justice League Member!
And who do the Justice League call when they have evil freakin’ versions of themselves from another dimension running roughshod over the globe? The guy who has spent virtually every waking minute since nineteen-goddamn-forty trying to save us from one fatuous, self-important, cape waving meathead after another, that’s who!
Legate of Doom!
Get it? Because he runs the Legion of Doom?
In the latest run of Justice League, mad scientist Lex is back, but this time he’s a nihilist who’s about to rip down the entire multiverse. Lex‘s faith in order was shaken by the events of Justice League: No Justice and kicked off this new era by discovering some secrets from his past that involved his father and the formation of the Multiverse. On his quest for the truth, he discovered that humanity had its roots in an ancient fight between Perpetua (the mother of the Omniverse) and her sons; the Monitor, the Anti-Monitor, and the Forger of Worlds. So he gathered a team to harness fundamental forces of entropy: Sinestro for the Ultraviolet Spectrum, Gorilla Grodd carrying the de-aged Turtle in a baby frontpack for young Turtle’s connection to the Still Force; Cheetah and Black Manta to gain access to the Atlantean Death Force; as well as The Batman who Laughs and the Joker. In case you can’t tell, this run of Justice League is nuts.
Basically, this is like Lex’s final form and it’s great.
Oh, and there are more. Lots more. For example, we’ve long suspected that Lex runs the famed “Superman is a Dick” website. In Elliot S! Maggin’s prose novel Superman: Last Son of Krypton (and if you haven’t read this and its companion piece, Miracle Monday, you are missing out on two of the finest Superman Lex Luthor stories ever told), Lex keeps so many different aliases in order to keep his creative mind sharp that he might be anyone…even a songwriter. It’s even implied that he wrote “Absolutely Sweet Marie” for Bob Dylan.
So let’s hear it for Lex Luthor. Fighter for the common man, paragon of brain over brawn, member of the most powerful team of superhumans on the planet, and a President with a more convincing head of hair than the one we currently have.