We've been talking several times about Lex Luthor, his origin, his hatred towards Superman and his bald head. He has been the Man of Steel's arch-nemesis since the Golden Age and has travelled with him in every incarnation through every possible medium. He has become a "plum" role for any actor who likes to chew up the scenery. But there are some things that are a bit puzzling about the Genius with the Grudge. To wit:

  • From the Golden Age through the early sixties, Luthor had been portrayed as portly, sinister, sneering and downright weird-looking but under Curt Swan's care, he became handsome, fit and almost, well almost something other than a villain. Was this an editorial change or an artist's fiat?
  • Were Luthor's parents partly to blame for his moral collapse? IIRC, they abandoned him rather quickly, changed their name to Thorul and lied to their daughter, Lena about it. Hardly Parents-Of-The-Year candidates. Makes you wonder what Ma and Pa Kent thought about them!
  • Why didn't Luthor have a Silver Age outfit beyond his prison-grays? Was he proud of his outlaw status?
  • Why didn't Luthor care about the Justice League? He planned on there being a Legion of Super-Villains but never tried to counter Superman's contemporary allies.
  • What was Luthor's ultimate plan? To kill Superman? To take over Metropolis? America? The world? All worlds? Did he have an endgoal?
  • Was his first name ever given as "Alexander"?
  • He was Bizarro's "daddy". Did that ever come up again?
  • Was he DC's Reed Richards? Could he have enlarged Kandor? Cured Metamorpho? Do any of the things that the heroes couldn't do?
  • Was DC trying to reform Luthor by introducing his sister, Lena Thorul, his nephew, the planet Lexor and Ardora? They certainly made him more than just the Evil Mastermind. He became a more rounded character, almost noble at times.

Luthor has seen his fair share of revisions and retcons. He has gone from older than Superman to living in Smallville with him time after time. But during the Silver Age there seemed to be a plan involved that added to Luthor with each appearance that was leading to...something. Thn it stopped. I could list several Bronze Age stories where Luthor shows a vast range of emotions and where he almost wins. But Luthor has his role to play in the Superman mythos and it's an enduring one!

Comments?

 

 

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The early Luthor, when he still had hair, could have been older than Superman but wasn't necessarily. To my eyes he has a young look; he might be in his 20s-40s. Later in the Golden Age he was sometimes represented as heavy-set and sometimes thin. The thin Luthor was sometimes definitely old. I think the heavy-set Luthor seemed fairly physically robust. The Wayne Boring Luthor of the 50s looks to me heavy-set because middle-aged, like Perry.

 

Spoiler warning for 50s Superboy stories. In a story in Superboy #59 (1957) a character called Amazing Man is revealed to be a bald, heavy-set Luthor at the end. (I haven't read that one.) In "Superboy Meets Robin the Boy Wonder" in Adventure Comics #253 (1958) the crook behind a robot causing trouble in Smallville turns out to be Luthor. In that story he's depicted as balding and thin, clearly an adult and perhaps approaching middle-age.

 

The Luthor origin in Adventure Comics #271 (1960) was the story which made Luthor a recurring Superboy character. The next Superboy story with Luthor that the GCD found for me is a time-travel one in which Superboy runs into the adult Luthor in the past; the dialogue of the story references the Luthor origin story. The next one after that it found is "The Army of Living Kryptonite Men!" from Superboy #86 (1960 [on sale]). In that one Luthor is represented as plotting against Superboy but still living with his parents.

Philip said, "Granted why would Luthor hang around with Otis but then again why would Superman hang around Jimmy?"

Otis was an adult and a henchman who was, one assumes, supposed to do things to help Luthor's schemes, and as such be competent and reliable. As portrayed, he was a bumbler who was at best constantly annoying. Why anyone - particularly a genius bent on world domination, which is arguably really complicated - would want to have someone like that around, never mind depend on him, is hard to imagine (unless you are a movie producer who thinks comics are stupid and therefore the movies should be stupid too).

Jimmy was portrayed as more or less a kid - even if in his early 20s - so you could write off a lot of his "antics" as just being young. He appeared to be entertaining to Superman and, while he got into a lot of trouble, he was a loyal friend and when expected to help out, he did his job and could always be relied upon. 

Andy

One thing that I have read about Luthor since I first began finding actual books about comics over and over again ad nauseum was that the real reason behind his rage over losing his hair was that it was equated with impotency and losing one's manhood. I didn't buy that rationale then and it's ludicrious now.

By the time of Luthor's Silver Age revision, Yul Brynner was a big star and both a romantic hero AND a man of action. No one would denigrate his masculinity. The 70s had Telly Savalas, the 80s Patrick Stewart. The idea that being bald was somehow something shameful just seems bizarro bizarre!

 

And yet, the people who market minoxydil are banking it hand over fist...

Philip Portelli said:

 The idea that being bald was somehow something shameful just seems bizarro bizarre!

 

Re: Luthor's hideous costume--I think the reason Elliot S! Maggin created it was because the conclusion of a story necessitated that Luthor have some kind of utility belt.

In the story ("Lex Luthor--Super Scalp Hunter" in Superman #282, Dec. '74), [SPOILER] Luthor devises a way (an energy ray) to rejuvenate Superman, to the point that he's more likely to wade into a situation with fists flying (a la his younger days) and less likely to puzzle out a creative alternative (as he would have with the benefit of experience). In the climax, Luthor blasts Supes with a gravity weapon that plunges Big Blue deep into the earth, and jumps on top of him, both to mock him on the way to Earth's core, and to deracinate Superman's scalp for covering his own bald pate, not realizing that he's every bit as trapped as the Big Guy.

Superman tells Luthor to UN-rejuvenate him so that Supes can devise a way out of their predicament, and Lex, because he's wearing his new uniform, just happens to be carrying the rejuvenator antidote. I think it's (slightly) more likely that Luthor would carry the un-rejuvenator with him if he sported a uni that would allow someone as thorough as he is to consider the likelihood of any eventuality, as opposed to him just happening to bring the antidote along in his prison grays, which we doffs halfway through the story. Thus we are left with 2 questions:

     1. Why didn't Lex realize he'd be trapped?

     2. Why did other writers give Luthor the same uniform?

I don't know.

In the movie I think Luthor kept Otis around because he was too dumb to betray him. That's something the bad guys think about when they choose henchmen. Otis was also dumb enough to do anything Luthor told him. Of course there is no need to ask why he kept Miss Desmarker around.

I was just about to scan Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen 81, 1964 into my computer and Jimmy is once more having magic trouble, opening Pandora's box. In the same issue though Jimmy does save the day in another story. I think that he sticks close to Lois and Jimmy because without him they wouldn't last out a month. They are just trouble prone.

Andrew Horn said:

Philip said, "Granted why would Luthor hang around with Otis but then again why would Superman hang around Jimmy?"

Otis was an adult and a henchman who was, one assumes, supposed to do things to help Luthor's schemes, and as such be competent and reliable. As portrayed, he was a bumbler who was at best constantly annoying. Why anyone - particularly a genius bent on world domination, which is arguably really complicated - would want to have someone like that around, never mind depend on him, is hard to imagine (unless you are a movie producer who thinks comics are stupid and therefore the movies should be stupid too).

Jimmy was portrayed as more or less a kid - even if in his early 20s - so you could write off a lot of his "antics" as just being young. He appeared to be entertaining to Superman and, while he got into a lot of trouble, he was a loyal friend and when expected to help out, he did his job and could always be relied upon. 

Andy

I agree.  I always thought Otis and Ms. T in the movie where dupes that would fawn over Lex and as a result, inflate his ego. The fact that he couldn't attract a better class of henchman reflected on his twisted intellect, that most people would realize he couldn't win...and that he would never  succeed at the level of things he promised.

On the other hand, Ms. T appears to ge a bit smarter than she appears, and seems to be playing Lex until something better comes along.  Otis, well, otis could just as easily have been given the shove in front of the train instead of the police agent.

I'm asking for a spoiler here:  I had followed the TV series "Smallville pretty much from the start, but eventually lost interest or got distracted sometime around the death of Jonathan Kent near episode 100.  And so, I wasn't around for the developments nor the conclusion of the series.  I understand that at some point, the actor playing Lex Luthor wasn't in the series anymore, and I assume that they killed off the character.  I think they killed Lana off as well.

How did these two major characters play out and exit the series?

I don't know, I think she actually loved him. Gene Hackman played Lex as a man totally in love with himself and the concept of himself and he was kind charming that way. It might have been a very early form of the Joker and Harley Quinn relationship. After all in Superman 2 she was the one who broke him out of jail.

Kirk G said:

I agree.  I always thought Otis and Ms. T in the movie where dupes that would fawn over Lex and as a result, inflate his ego. The fact that he couldn't attract a better class of henchman reflected on his twisted intellect, that most people would realize he couldn't win...and that he would never  succeed at the level of things he promised.

On the other hand, Ms. T appears to ge a bit smarter than she appears, and seems to be playing Lex until something better comes along.  Otis, well, otis could just as easily have been given the shove in front of the train instead of the police agent.

Awkwardman said:

Re: Luthor's hideous costume--I think the reason Elliot S! Maggin created it was because the conclusion of a story necessitated that Luthor have some kind of utility belt.

...................................................................................................................................................

2. Why did other writers give Luthor the same uniform?

 

My guess is that the writers/artists had no real choice, because it was editorial edict by Julie Schwartz from then on.

Possibly toy marketing may have come into it too, although personally I have doubts that that was the original reason for creating the costume.

Awkwardman said:

 

1. Why didn't Lex realize he'd be trapped?

Undoubtedly, this is one of many times Luthor was so consumed by his hatred for Superman that he did something stupid without realising it. In fact, Luthor himself came to understand this was the reason so many of his plots to destroy the Man of Steel fell through---in an earlier story, "Luthor's Hammer of Hate", from Action Comics # 423 (Apr., 1973).

 

But knowing that his intense hatred for Superman impaired his self-control and judgement didn't help him overcome it.

 

 

For the real origin of the Gene Hackman "Lex Luthor", read SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS #7 (Jun'77) -- "Luthor's League Of Super-Villains".

I'd heard about this... but it blew my mind when I actually re-read it.

Tom Mankiewicz, who worked on the SUPERMAN movies, said in a scathing interview that the Salkinds "had no idea what they were doing", with regard to movie-making, OR with regard to SUPERMAN!  Re-reading SSOSV #7, it seems all too clear to me that someone involved in that movie read the comic... and then CONFUSED two of the characters.

I mean, for God's sake-- the scene where the guy YANKS OFF his toupee is right there in the comic!!!!!

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