Vengeance can be an all-consuming catalyst driven by obsession. Most personalities are shaped, not only by life-experience, but how we choose to react to those experiences. Even events that may seem relatively small to the outside observer can fester and corrupt, turning a protagonist into an antagonist. Like a tree growing around a rock, there must be a window of time when one path is chosen over another. For the sake of exploration (and this article) we shall explore the path not taken and speculate about what could have been for Lex Luthor.
I must admit that on first glance, Mr. Luthor did not sit atop my personal pantheon of intriguing villainy. He DOES have a long history of contemptuous acts to back up his super-villain status. Scratch beneath the surface however, and what you find is a complicated, flawed and tragic character of Shakespearean proportions.
Lex Luthor has been reinvented to reflect popular tastes many times. If you are unfamiliar with his colorful history, pop over to Jordamus Prime’s Character of the Month article and get a crash course. No, it is okay, I’ll wait… Back now? We shall proceed.
So what we have with Lex Luthor is an intelligent character of human means. Lex does not possess super-strength or mutant powers. He relies on his wits, innovation, scientific application and charisma to play foil to the seemingly infallible hero-archetype (see: Carl Jung) known as Superman. This is a tough role to play on even the best of days, yet this is the path Lex has taken. But should he have chosen this path? Like all well written-characters, Lex has personality flaws that drive his actions. He has let vengeance consume him. Had he not let one of the baser of the human instincts corrupt him, I argue that Lex could, nay, SHOULD have been a hero.
So how could one of the most notorious villains of all-time have been a hero? If you will allow flights of fancy and comparisons from another universe, I could easily envision Lex as a “Reed Richards” type of character, using his science and cranial capacity for the common good. Mr. Luthor certainly started out this way, until the fateful lab disaster that made him lose his hair and become obsessed with revenge against Superman. This single event was really the moment that would come to define him as a character. Maybe if “Hair Club For Men” had been around back then, he could have dealt with the situation better. Possibly he could have even been thankful that his life had been saved by Superman and the lab accident contained. But that is not what fate had in store for Lex.
What if Superman had never been a factor in Lex Luthor’s life? Maybe Lex not having his natural talents be forever over-shadowed by the unobtainable perfection of the alien aberration that is Supeman would have yielded a wildly diverging reality for Lex Luthor. After all, he is incredibly smart. He has determination and charisma. His hatred of Superman just seems to twist him and drive the biggest part of the Luthor persona.
The aforementioned concept of Mr. Luthor as a hero isn’t as crazy as it sounds. In fact, in the silver-age D.C. explored the idea in a story arc (around the time of Superman #168) about a planet called Lexor, whose inhabitants worshipped Lex Luthor. Lexor was a barren planet that had once possessed super-science and been utopian, but that knowledge was now lost and the good times nothing more than stories of the past. Lex studied and revived that lost super-science. His efforts brought water to the planet and new hope to the people of Lexor. They erected statues of Lex and named the planet in his honor. Lex even went as far as to attire himself in a red and purple costume and function as the planet’s superhero, Defender. The Lexorians (?) even went as far as to support Luthor in his hatred of Superman. Lexor was certainly one place that the “Man of Steel” was most unwelcome.
So what happened? It seems Lex had found his calling on Lexor and should have had a long and happy life, right? Well, he still had not let go of his past baggage concerning Superman, and the “Man of Steel” just couldn’t leave well enough alone. In the previously mentioned Superman #168, Superman discovers that “rainbow crystals” on Lexor dull the minds of the inhabitants there, and goes to destroy them. Later in 1983 the entire planet of Lexor is destroyed in a battle between Lex Luthor and Superman, when Lex’s battle-suit inadvertently overloads the Neutrarod invention that calms the planet’s seismic activity. He is devastated and blames Superman for the entire incident; further fueling Lex’s all-consuming hatred for the “Man of Steel.”
So obviously Lex Luthor is a tragic character. If he could only escape the anger and hurt of the past, he has the potential for compassion, and the skills to aid civilization to greater heights with his science and leadership charisma. Maybe someday this side of him will again be explored. If there is one example that we can take from Lex Luthor, it would be to roll with the punches. Learn from bad experiences, but don’t let them rule your existence and change you. But if your goal is to become one of the greatest super-villains of all-time, Lex has made a pretty solid blue-print of how to achieve those means. I salute you Mr. Luthor, thank you for being our ComicBooked.com character of the month. You have earned it!