From the moment Superman sprang from the minds of two imaginative and highly talented teenagers (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) during the Roaring 1920′s, the character has always been a work in progress. And the story continues even right up to this moment in time, showing no signs of letting up into the future. It’s that aspect, above all else, that continues to drive Superman’s appeal and inspires rabid devotion in his fans, across every generational and cultural divide.
But Superman, invincible as he is, could not hope to sustain such continued interest without some real, dramatic conflict in his life story. It is a basic requirement of tale telling that the heroic protagonist have an equally un-heroic antagonist bedeviling efforts to achieve harmony of the soul and ultimately, hopefully, immortality. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Enter Superman’s arch enemy Lex Luthor.
Like so many elements of the Superman story, the Lex Luthor character evolved over a long expanse of time. He didn’t start out as an evil criminal genius. In fact (as the story was later re-imagined) when the two first met as teenagers in high school, they became instant friends. But a chemistry experiment gone awry caused the young Alexi Luthor to lose his brilliant mop of orange hair, and in a deluded state, he blamed his new friend, Superboy Clark Kent, for the loss of his all-powerful mane. Thus was Alexi (now Lex) Luthor set on the course of his own life’s work: The Death Of Superman.
In a story arc that rivals the real-life rise of evil financial genius Bernie Madoff, Lex Luthor dedicated himself after his hair-raising experiment to building an empire that would one day marshall its forces to bring down the Man Of Steel, thus giving Lex dominion over the whole world. His brilliant mind now turned to evil, Luthor has devised many ingenious plots for bringing Superman to his knees at the altar of Death.
Alas, this obsession has yet to be realized. So far, only Doomsday has even come close. But Lex Luthor does keep trying.
One of the reasons Lex Luthor continues to thrive is that we can all get behind his mania. Who wouldn’t be pissed at the guy who caused you to go bald overnight? Whether a real slight or imagined, it’s enough to drive anyone over the edge, spurring one on to become a multi-billionaire and use all your resources to bring about the demise of your perceived nemesis. In a way, it’s one of the greatest success stories of all time.
Let’s take a look at some of the plans hatched from that tortured brain and how they have, as yet, been thwarted by the Son of Krypton.
Superman II: The Return Of Lex Luthorhttp://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=3373991
In the sequel to the life-injecting “Superman” of the late ’70s, Lex Luthor busts out of jail to concoct a plot whereby some of Superman’s Kryptonian kinfolk are freed to team up against him. This is the first time we get to see that Superman’s muscles are not all in his arms. He outwits Luthor using only his super brain. Directed by Dick Donner, this was a crackling good yarn. Unfortunately, by the time Richard Pryor showed up a few years later, the whole franchise was in the toilet and Christopher Reeve was killing time taking horse riding lessons in those goofy stretch pants.
Justice League: Yet Another Death Of Lex Luthor
Lex is grasping at straws when he gains the U.S. Presidency to put an end to Supe once and for all. Really? The Presidency? That guy has no power. It’s all the creeps behind the scenes that get things done. Still, Superman plays along and does Luthor in with his X-Ray vision. Wait a minute. Isn’t Superman sworn to never harm a human being? Screw that. Supey sees a chance to score some Lincoln Bedroom action when Wonder Woman busts in to the Oval Office after the deed is done.
Now what to do with that pesky Batman…
Hack Acting From The “Usual Suspects” Guy
Now that movies have developed technology that makes “real” more real than ever, it’s time for the writers to catch up. This time out Lex is bent on spawning a continent composed of Krytonite to ensure Superman can only vacation in the North East. Kevin Spacey is bent on erasing his crippled Keyser Söze image from the movie-going mind and turns in a performance that would make even Bobby Darrin look relevant. Lex’s plan is doomed once again.
I’ll take Michael Rosenbaum any day.
[image via comicbooktherapy.com]