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Alexander Joseph "Lex" Luthor is a fictional character supervillain who appears in comic books published by DC Comics. He is the archenemy of Superman, but given his high-status as a supervillain, he has become a major adversary ofBatman and other superheroes in the DC Universe. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, he first appeared in Action Comics #23 (April 1940). Luthor is described as "a power-mad, evil scientist" of high intelligence and incredible technological prowess. His goals typically center on killing Superman, usually as a stepping stone to world domination, which he has articulated as a stepping stone to domination of the universe, demonstrating a truly unbridled level ofmegalomania. Though he periodically wears a powered exoskeleton, Luthor has traditionally lacked superpowers or a dual identity.
The character was originally depicted as a mad scientist who, in the vein of pulp novels, wreaks havoc on the world with his futuristic weaponry. In his earliest appearances, Luthor is shown with a full head of red hair; despite this, the character later became hairless as the result of an artist's mistake. A 1960 story by Jerry Siegel expanded upon Luthor's origin and motivations, revealing him to be a childhood friend of Superman's who lost his hair when a fire destroyed his laboratory; Luthor vowed revenge.
Following the 1985 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, the character was re-imagined as a Machiavellian industrialist and white-collar criminal, even briefly serving as President of the United States. In recent years, various writers have revived Luthor's mad scientist persona from the 1940s. The character was ranked as the 8th Greatest Villain by Wizard on its 100 Greatest Villains of All Time list. IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time ranked Luthor as #4.
By some accounts, the seeds for Luthor's character first appeared in The Reign of the Super-Man, also written by Siegel and Shuster. In the original short story, a bald scientist uses a formula created from a piece of alien meteor to give a vagrant named Bill Dunn telepathic abilities, which Dunn abuses for personal gain. The scientist battles Dunn and is killed, but by the end of the story Dunn realises his power is going and soon he will have to rejoin the bread line. Although Luthor would not appear until two years after Superman's debut, a central theme to his character—a dichotomy of science versus superpowers—was in place. The character's original incarnation, as drawn by Joe Shuster, appeared only twice between 1940-1941. In his debut, "Luthor" (who is referred to only by his surname) is a wily genius who resides in a flying city suspended by a dirigible. Having taken control of several European countries through his machinations, he tries to provoke a war between the two fictional nations of Galonia and Toran with the help of the crooked Galonian General Lupo planning to set all the nations of the world at war, but is stopped by Superman. Superman first 'sees' Luthor in a cave which Lupo has gone into to contact him. On a stone slab a face appears which Lupo talks to. Superman goes in and tries to make Lupo tell him who Luthor is, but the face reappears and a green ray slices the stricken General in half. He describes himself as "an ordinary man, but with the brain of a super-genius." He sends his two henchmen to get Clark, they find Lois in his room and seize her to prevent her speaking, then take her up to the base where she meets Luthor. One of the guards is not under Luthor's command and leaves a note in Clark's room which tells him Lois is in danger. Superman follows the plane to the dirigible. Luthor attempts to kill Superman after threatening to kill Lois, but despite being weakened by his destruction ray, Superman is able to destroy it. At the end of the story, Luthor was apparently killed when Superman caused the dirigible to crash. He returns in Superman #4, first trying to use a stolen Earthquake machine and challenging Superman to a duel of his science vs Superman's powers, which Superman wins; however, this was just a distraction to allow him to steal the machine. Despite Superman destroying his base, Luthor apparently escapes, with Superman destroying the machine and the scientist who made it committing suicide to prevent its reinvention. In a story in the same issue, he is also shown to have created a city on the sunken Lost Continent of Pacifo and to have recreated prehistoric monsters, which he plans to unleash upon the world after draining oil wells dry. After Clark and Lois fly there, a pterodactyl attacks their plane, killing the pilot. Though Superman defeats it, he sees that shock has placed Lois in a coma. Luthor apparently dies here after being attacked by his monsters, after which Superman breaks the city's glass cover, causing the ocean to destroy it. Clark then takes Lois to a doctor who revives her, and proceeds to cover the story. However, Luthor returns in Superman #5 with a plan to place hypnotic gas in the offices of influential people, intending to throw the nation into a depression with the help of corrupt financier Moseley. By the end of the story, he is once again defeated.
In his earliest appearances, Luthor is shown as a middle-aged man with a full head of red hair. Less than a year later, however, an artistic goof resulted in Luthor being depicted as completely bald in a newspaper strip. The original error is attributed to Leo Novak, a studio artist who illustrated for the Superman dailies during this period. One theory is that Novak mistook Luthor for the Ultra-Humanite, a frequent foe of Superman who, in his Golden Age incarnation, resembled a balding, elderly man. Other evidence suggests Luthor's design was confused with that of a stockier, bald henchman in Superman #4 (Spring 1940); Luthor's next appearance occurs in Superman #10 (May 1941), in which Novak depicted him as significantly heavier, with visible jowls. The character's abrupt hair loss has been made reference to several times over the course of his history. When the concept of the DC multiverse began to take hold, Luthor's red-haired incarnation was rewritten as Alexei Luthor, Lex's counterpart from the Earth-Two parallel universe. In 1960, writer Jerry Siegel altered Luthor's backstory to incorporate his hair loss into his origin.
In the origin story printed in Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960), young Lex Luthor is shown as an aspiring scientist who resides in Smallville, the hometown of Superboy. The teenage Luthor saves Superboy from a chance encounter with Kryptonite. In gratitude Superboy builds Luthor a laboratory, where weeks later he manages to create an artificial life-form, which Luthor loved as if his own child. Grateful in turn to Superboy, Luthor creates an antidote for Kryptonite poisoning. However, an accidental fire breaks out in Luthor's lab. Superboy uses his super-breath to extinguish the flames, inadvertently spilling chemicals which cause Luthor to go bald; in the process, he also destroys Luthor's artificial life form. Believing Superboy intentionally destroyed his discoveries, Luthor attributes his actions to jealousy and vows revenge. Luthor's revenge first came in the form of grandiose engineering projects in Smallville to prove his superiority over the superhero, only to have each go disastrously out of control and require Superboy's intervention. The mounting embarrassments further deepen Lex's hate for Superboy for supposedly further humiliating him and he unsuccessfully attempted to murder the superhero. This revised origin makes Luthor's fight with Superman a personal one, and suggests that if events had unfolded differently, Luthor might have been a more noble person. These elements were played up in various stories throughout the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Elliot S. Maggin's novel Last Son of Krypton. This revenge causes Luthor's family to disown him and change their names to Thorul. It also leads to years of Superman, Luthor, and Supergirl concealing the truth from Luthor's sister,Lena Thorul. She was told her brother died in a rock-climbing accident. She has ESP powers due to touching one of Luthor's inventions. Once she found out about Luthor being her brother and briefly lost her memory. However Luthor broke out of prison and gave her flowers he had developed that removed the bad memory from her mind.
In the 1986 limited series The Man of Steel, John Byrne redesigned Lex Luthor from scratch, intending to make him a villain that the 1980s would recognize: an evil corporate executive. Initially brutish and overweight, the character later evolved into a sleeker, more athletic version of his old self. In an example indicative of Byrne's realistic approach, Luthor is no longer recounted as having lost his hair in a chemical fire; rather, his hairline is shown to be receding naturally over time. Marv Wolfman, a writer on Action Comics who had one conversation with Byrne prior to Luthor's reboot recalled:
I never believed the original Luthor. Every story would begin with him breaking out of prison, finding some giant robot in an old lab he hid somewhere, and then he'd be defeated. My view was if he could afford all those labs and giant robots he wouldn't need to rob banks. I also thought later that Luthor should not have super powers. Every other villain had super powers. Luthor's power was his mind. He needed to be smarter than Superman. Superman's powers had to be useless against him because they couldn't physically fight each other and Superman was simply not as smart as Luthor.
The Modern Age Lex Luthor is a product of child abuse and early poverty. Born in the Suicide Slum district of Metropolis, he is instilled with a desire to become a self-made man. As a teenager, he takes out a large insurance policy on his parents without their knowledge, then sabotages their car's brakes, causing their deaths. Upon graduating from MIT, Luthor founds his own business, LexCorp, which grows to dominate much of Metropolis.
Luthor does not physically appear in The Man of Steel until the fourth issue, which takes place over a year after Superman's arrival in Metropolis. When Lois Lane and Clark Kent are invited to a society gala aboard Luthor's yacht, terrorists seize the ship without warning, forcing Superman to intervene. Luthor observes Superman in action, and once the gunmen are dispatched, hands the hero a personal check in an attempt to hire him. When Luthor admits that he had not only anticipated the attack, but had arranged for it to occur in order to lure Superman out, the Mayor deputizes Superman to arrest Luthor for reckless endangerment. This, coupled with the indignation that Superman is the only person he could not buy off, threaten, or otherwise control, results in Luthor's pledge to destroy Superman at any cost. As such, he is more than willing to help other businessmen destroy other superbeings. He was instrumental in the apparent death of Swamp Thing, which jeopardized many lives as the Parliament of Trees attempted to replace him.
Despite general acceptance of Byrne's characterization, as evidenced by subsequent adaptations in other media, some writers have called for a return to Luthor's original status as a mad scientist. Regarding the character's effectiveness as a corruptbillionaire, author Neil Gaiman commented:
Luthor's romantic aspirations toward Lois Lane, established early on in the series, become a focal point of the stories immediately following it. He is shown making repeated attempts to court her during The Man of Steel, though Lois plainly does not return his feelings.
Superman: Birthright, a limited series written by Mark Waid in 2004, offers an alternate look at Luthor's history, including his youth in Smallville, and his first encounter with Superman. The story has similarities to the 2001 television series Smallville, which follows Clark Kent's life as a teenager and into early adulthood. One plot element shared by the comic and the show is Lex Luthor's problematic relationship with his wealthy father, Lionel.
Birthright also reinvents the Silver Age concept of Luthor befriending Clark Kent as a young man. During a failed attempt to communicate with Krypton, an explosion erupts which singes off Luthor's hair. Waid's original intention was to jettison the notion of Lex Luthor being an evil businessman, restoring his status as a mad scientist. However, he ultimately conceded that the CEO Luthor would be easier for readers to recognize. In Birthright, Luthor remains a wealthy corporate magnate; in contrast to Byrne's characterization, however, LexCorp is founded upon Luthor's study of extraterrestrial life, thereby providing a link between himself and Superman. In the retrospective section of the Superman: Birthright trade paperback, Waid explains:
Despite my own personal prejudices, I say we leave Lex the criminal businessman he's been for the past 17 years. The Lois & Clark producers liked it, the WB cartoon guys liked it... so clearly, it works on some level. My concern is that, at least in my eyes, the fact that Luthor's allowed to operate uncontested for years makes Superman look ineffectual.
Birthright was initially intended to establish a new origin for Superman and Luthor. However, to Waid's disappointment, the canonicity of the series was eventually discredited by stories which followed it. A concise biography for Luthor, later outlined in Action Comics #850, first appeared in the 2007 limited series Countdown to Final Crisis. Luthor's current origin appears to be a synthesis of aspects from the Silver Age continuity and the The Man of Steel mini-series. Recent changes to DC Comics continuity were revealed to have been a result of the 2005 Infinite Crisis mini-series.
As outlined in a backup profile in the 52 weekly series,[volume & issue needed] the post-Action Comics #850 Lex Luthor in this continuity is the son of business mogul Lionel Luthor and his socialite spouse, Leticia. As shown previously in Superman: Birthright and the pre-Crisis stories, he spends part of his adolescence in Smallville, Kansas, where he meets Clark Kent, Lana Lang, and Pete Ross. However, in the 2009-2010 series Superman: Secret Origin, Lex, his father, and his sister Lena Luthor are poor and Lionel is an abusive alcoholic.
In both versions, Lex Luthor leaves Smallville "under a cloud of rumor and suspicion", when his father is mysteriously killed. Luthor leaves behind his sister and migrates to Metropolis, where he founds LexCorp. Luthor becomes so powerful that he controls all the media in Metropolis and uses it to reinforce his public image as a wealthy benefactor. Rival newspaper Daily Planet had always stood free, condemning Luthor's actions in an outrageous editorial signed by Perry White. As a result, when Clark Kent is first inducted into the Planet, the newspaper is almost bankrupt, dilapidated and unable to afford new reporters. Thanks to Clark Kent's appearance as Superman and Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen being given exclusive interviews and photographs, the paper's circulation increases 700%.
The paper's return is interrupted when the US Army, led by Lois's father, General Sam Lane, forcibly shuts down the business. General Lane attempts to force Lois to tell them everything she knows about Superman, who is now a fugitive after he fled a military interrogation. Thanks to Jimmy's help, Lois manages to escape to help Superman. Sam arrives and orders Superman and Lois arrested. However, the crowd turns on the Army, and Superman orders the crowd to stop, telling them that they, not the Army, not Lex Luthor, nor himself, are meant to be Metropolis's saviors. Knowing Luthor's role in the Army's attack against him, Superman confronts him and tells him that Metropolis doesn't belong to him: "You don't own us." Lex objects, since Superman isn't from Earth. Superman replies, "This is my home", and leaves. Luthor holds Superman responsible for Luthor losing his complete grip over the people of Metropolis, a grudge that lasts for an eternity. In both "JLA" and "52," Grant Morrison states that Luthor's ego leads him to believe that the only reason Superman commits good deeds is to somehow strike at Luthor and prove who is better, arguing that it is impossible for Superman to be as good as he appears to be.
Many times, Luthor has stated that he could have aided the entire human race if not for Superman's interference, claiming that he gives humanity a goal that they could realistically strive to duplicate, while Superman makes them reach for the impossible. However, both Superman and Conner Kent have called him out on the hypocrisy of this statement, noting that he has regularly turned down easy opportunities to willingly help others, simply because he would have sacrificed an opportunity to kill Superman by doing so. They believe this shows that Luthor's ego is more important to him than humanity. Even when Superman was depowered after the Battle of Metropolis and remained out of sight for a year, the only thing Luthor accomplished in that time was the self-sabotaged 'Everyman' project, where "found [himself] a big destructive machine so [he] could break things", claiming that Superman drove him to it. This idea was further reinforced when Luthor was briefly merged with a near-omnipotent entity that sought peace after its difficult 'childhood'. While merged with the entity, Luthor had the power to bring peace and bliss to the entire universe, potentially becoming a hero greater even than Superman, but Luthor fought against that power simply because he would have had to share that bliss with Superman as well.
In the pre-Crisis continuity, Lex Luthor's driving ambitions are to kill Superman and enslave Earth as a stepping stone to dominating the universe. In Action Comics #271 (1960), Superman acknowledges that Luthor "could have been a mighty force for good in the world, yet he chose to direct his great scientific brain into criminal channels." Although none of his attempts to kill Superman work permanently (though a classic non-canonical story from 1961 entitled "The Death of Superman" has Luthor finally killing Superman after lulling him by pretending to go straight, although Supergirl then arrests him and he is exiled to the Phantom Zone), Luthor routinely manages to escape from prison and threaten the world again.
Though he is a noted criminal on Earth, Luthor is revered on the alien world of Lexor, where he rediscovered the planet's lost technology and rebuilt society for its inhabitants. He apparently lost a fight to Superman so that water could be transported to the desert planet, as he had reactivated digging machines but discovered he could not find water. He and Superman had originally gone to the world to have a proper fight as Superman did not want to appear cowardly after Luthor over a radio challenged him to a fight, as this planet had a red sun meaning Superman lost his powers there. As a result, he becomes a hero in the eyes of Lexor's people, whereas Superman is detested as a villain.He eventually marries a local woman named Ardora, with whom he fathers a son, Lex Luthor, Jr. After its debut, Lexor appears sporadically in various Superman comics as Luthor's base of operations, where he wages assaults on Superman. During one such battle, an energy salvo from Luthor's battlesuit accidentally overloads the "Neutrarod"—a spire Luthor had built to counter Lexor's geological instability—resulting in the annihilation of Lexor's inhabitants, including his wife and son. Luthor eventually returns to Earth, unable to accept his own role in Lexor's destruction and blaming Superman for it.
During the 12-issue limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, Luthor allies himself with fellow Superman foe Brainiac to recruit an army of supervillains spanning the DC multiverse, intending to take advantage of the confusion caused by the Crisis. However, once it becomes clear that it is as much in their interests to save the multiverse as anyone else's, Luthor and Brainiac reluctantly ally their faction with Superman and the other heroes. At the conclusion of the series, reality is altered so that each of the different universes fall into their proper place, converging into one. Afterward, Luthor is subsequently returned to prison with all his memories of the alliance forgotten. Luthor's trademark battlesuit from this era—a heavily-armored, flight-capable suit with kryptonite fixtures embedded in its gauntlets— was designed by George Pérez as part of the Super Powers toyline in the early 1980s and introduced as Luthor acted as Lexor's sovereign. It has reappeared in recentcontinuity, most notably during Infinite Crisis.
As part of the continuity changes which followed The Man of Steel and Superman: Secret Origin, Luthor is shown actively participating in the creation of three Superman villains, Parasite (indirectly), Bizarro (the failed result of an attempt to clone Superman), and the cyborg Metallo. Upon discovering that Metallo is powered by a 'heart' of kryptonite rock in Superman (vol. 2) #2, Luthor steals it in order to fashion a kryptonite ring for himself. He wears the alien ore around his finger as a symbol that he is untouchable, even to the Man of Steel, after carrying out a series of kidnappings to try to determine the nature of the connection between Superman and Clark Kent. However, although computer analysis of the assembled data revealed that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person, Luthor dismissed the results because he believed that he 'knew' that someone as powerful as Superman would never choose to live a normal human life. Luthor eventually suffers from severe cancer brought on by long-term radiation exposure to the ring; before this, kryptonite was mistakenly assumed to produce a 'clean' radiation that is harmless to humans. His hand requires amputation to prevent the cancer's spread, but by then it has already metastasized, and his condition is terminal.
Luthor decides to fake his own death by piloting a prototype jet on a proposed trip around the world and crashing it in the Andes; this is merely a cover for the removal of his brain from his cancer-ridden body and the growth of a cloned body around it, whereupon he passes himself off as his hitherto unknown, illegitimate 21-year-old son and heir, Lex Luthor II. His deception is benefited by a vibrant new body with a beard and full head of red hair, as well as assuming an Australian accent as part of his fake backstory. As Luthor II, he inherits control of LexCorp and seduces Supergirl (a protoplasmic clone of an alternate universe Lana Lang), due to his resemblance to her creator (the alternate universe's Luthor). Luthor's clone body eventually begins to deteriorate and age (and lose its hair) at a rapid rate, a side-effect of a disease that affects all clones. Meanwhile, Lois Lane discovers proof of Luthor's clone harvesting and false identity; with help from Superman, she exposes the truth, and a despondent Superman helps to apprehend Luthor. In the end, Luthor becomes a permanent prisoner in his own body, unable to even blink, and swearing vengeance on Superman.
Aid comes in the form of the demon Neron; Luthor is offered full health in exchange for services and his soul. Not believing in the existence of souls, he agrees. Returning to Metropolis, Luthor freely turns himself over to the police and is put on trial. He is acquitted on all counts when Luthor claims to have been kidnapped by renegade scientists from Cadmus Labs, who replaced him with a violent clone that is allegedly responsible for all the crimes with which Luthor is charged.