Every major love in Clark Kent’s life has an alliterative “LL” name: Smallville-schoolboy-crush Lana Lang, army-brat-turned-sassy-and-sexy-metropolitan-reporter Lois Lane, and mermaid (MERMAID??) Lori Lemaris.
But let us not forget the enigmatic and powerful Lex Luthor.
Oh, come on, you can’t tell me that Lex doesn’t have a serious boy crush for Superman, why else hate him so much yet want to BE him at the same time?
Writers of many stripes have tried to answer that question since the character was introduced, but none have been quite as successful as John Byrne’s 1986 post-Crisis interpretation. Despite the many alterations since, this is the core of the character that has shone through.
That is why L is for Lex Luthor. Read on!
In 1986, John Byrne had the opportunity to reboot many basic aspects of the Superman mythos. He got rid of all varieties of Kryptonite except the deadly green kind. He made Superman a native-born American through the logic of a highly-technical and futuristic “birthing matrix”, which bypassed any biological processes we’re used to on Earth — including the fun bits. He gave Lois short hair (okay, so that didn’t last long). But the biggest changes were reserved for Superman’s arch-villain, and just why he’s the greatest, deadliest threat the Man of Steel has ever faced.
Byrne had a lot of overcome. The Silver Age Lex Luthor was a cackling, maniacal, egg-headed super-genius with no clear or consistent motives. In the concurrent Super Friends cartoon, he was the purple-and-green-suited master of the League of Evil (Injustice? Who the hell knows!)
Byrne’s interpretation was a stark contrast with real staying power. Lex Luthor was now the powerful, fat (and fatcat) CEO of the unimaginatively-named LexCorp, an empire which he built himself. (We would later learn he got his first “investment” by burning his parents alive in a tenement fire to collect the insurance money, proving he was E-V-I-L.) Rather than being a super-genius himself, Lex was rich enough to hire the super-smart. and super-flawed. to do his evil dirty work for him. He clearly wasn’t too smart himself, because even when confronted early on with Big Blue’s true identity as calculated by a super computer (in the rebooted Superman run), he rejected it out of hand because such a super-mortal would never stoop so low as to impersonate the common man.
In addition to no longer being mad, or a scientist, or thin, it turned out that Lex Luthor was bald just because he was so damned old. He still had some of his hair in the 1986 Man of Steel miniseries, but only long enough to establish 1) that it is now (and forever) RED, and 2) the reason why he hates Superman so much: Superman had shamed Lex Luthor for (rightfully) sending him to jail for a crime he actually committed. Such presumption!
Lex was rich, so he didn’t serve very much of his sentence, but by the time he got out he had lost all of his hair, a small measure of public esteem, and almost all of his pride.
This being comics, it was barely five years before this all changed again, and in a very comic-booky fashion. Being fat, old, bald, and not so smart worked great for a while, but the powers-that-be at DC must have thought differently, and the way out was both interesting and completely typical.
Lex liked to carry around a Kryptonite ring to protect himself from Superman after being personally thrown into jail by his arch-enemy. It was thought that its radiation would only affect Kryptonians, but — like any other radioactive substance — it still had the ability to cause a very lethal, malignant cancer in humans after long, direct exposure. Lex lost his ring-bearing hand, but — thanks to his LexCorp resources — was able to have a new one constructed for him. But it was too late, and the cancer had spread to the rest of his body. The only answer, of course? Get a new body!
In probably the most ridiculous plot anyone has ever seen in a more “serious” era of comic book writing, Lex crafted the following, ridiculously error-prone plan: he would die aboard a staged, but very real, plane crash; his head scientist Happerson would collect what was left of him (i.e. his brain) and place it in a younger, thinner, hairier, CLONED body. He would then return to the helm of LexCorp posing as his own illegitimate son, Lex Luthor II.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Luthor spent quite a long time doing this, at least in comic book terms. He put on a fake Australian accent to complete his disguise, and lavished himself with every pleasure imaginable for a younger man. He kept his new body in shape with his new body guards (and personal trainers) Hope and Mercy — possibly in more ways than one. He had a ridiculous mane of bright red hair, and a manly beard to match. Lex was overcompensating in every way imaginable, and he was rich enough to do it.
He even got a new girlfriend: Supergirl. Of course, he didn’t care for her one whit, it was just to aggravate Superman, and show the rest of the world that he had his own personal superhero. And because she was written like an insecure 12 year old girl, Supergirl ate up all the attention nearly-unquestioningly.
I mean, come on, she was clearly his Superman surrogate. Then again, he got to bang a super-hot blonde every night, so does it even matter? Then AGAIN, this super-hot blonde was really an amorphous mass of sentient putty constructed in an alternate universe after the death of their Superboy, so who was the real winner there?
But then Lex’s body, and all other Cadmus clones, started to decay. In his dying breaths, Lex leveled most of Metropolis just so Superman couldn’t have it. Vindictive much? Oh, and Supergirl left after she discovered Lex was only using her to analyze her body to prolong his own life, so there’s that too.
Magic. And the Devil.
During a whole crazy Underworld Unleashed storyline, Lex was restored to health and vitality by the villainous Nekron, in exchange for certain evil deeds. Oh, and Lex’s hair. Now his secret was out, and everyone knew that he was just a clone in a younger body posing as his own son. (This after Superman would insist it was true, but no one believed him — how’s that for irony?) Somehow, Luthor also won the PR war for his own image, despite the whole clone-as-son diversion, and BLOWING UP MOST OF METROPOLIS. He then went on to run for and become President.
Lots of eerie parallels to today’s world, right?
It was quite a while before Luthor’s further abuses, largely via Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad, came to light, but the world keeps giving him second chances, as he is constantly reinvented for new eras.
So where is he now? Firmly at the helm of his own comic book! Lex Luthor has become the lead character of Action Comics. Luthor, like so many characters, were caught up in the “Silver Age Rollback” that brought Oliver Queen, Hal Jordan, and Barry Allen back, literally, from the grave. He went back to being a super-genius, wearing a power suit, and sporting all kinds of differently-colored Kryptonite to keep a certain superhero at bay. He’s still intermittently the head of the powerful, L-shaped LexCorp building.
He also provided half of the DNA for Con El a.k.a. Connor Kent a.k.a. Superboy. Unlike us mere mortals, Superman can’t be easily cloned. Lex tried, and it created Bizarro. Cadmus tried (the same outfit that created Lex Luthor II’s body), but they had to fill the gaps with human DNA. For a long time we were lead to believe this DNA came from the evil Cadmus director, but later retcons revealed that Lex replaced this DNA with his own.
IF YOU NEEDED ANY FURTHER PROOF THAT LEX LUTHOR WANTED TO BE MARRIED TO SUPERMAN FOREVER IN A GAY LOVE TRYST AND HAVE BEAUTIFUL MAN-BABIES TOGETHER, this is it! They literally had a son together, completely against Superman’s knowledge or wishes — something he hasn’t even achieved with Lois. The Superman/Lex Luthor story is that of a spurned lover, plain and simple.
This time, Lex is the son of billionaire mogul Lionel Luthor, who is the one with the mane of hair and sweet manly beard, and the one that killed his own parents in a tenement fire to start the better-but-still-predictably-named LuthorCorp. Lex was sent to Smallville as gauntlet of sorts to prove that he is worthy of taking on the reigns of his father’s company. He’s bald, but that’s because the day that Superman’s ship crashed a very young Lex also happened to be in Smallville and got caught in a Kryptonite explosion that made him lose all his hair — which of course exposed him to ridicule for much of his life. Enough reason to hate a guy, right?
After seven years (out of the current ten), Michael Rosenbaum decided to leave the show. How to deal with this? Bring in the clones!
To replace Lex Luthor’s villainy, we were introduced to Tess Mercer, a woman personally groomed by Lex to be a sweet executive type. She also had a history with Oliver Queen, who was taken to calling her “Mercy”. Yeah, the same “Mercy” who was comic book Lex’s bodyguard/trainer/bed-buddy. Except this time she’s his illegitimate half-sister who eventually sees the error of her ways. And helps raise a series of ever-more-stable Lex clones.
Apparently in a final act to save his life before being horribly burned and scarred in a plan gone awry to give him superpowers, Lex set up a cloning facility to ensure his continued existence. (This was AFTER he tried dating Kara Zor-El in Rosenbaum’s final season portraying the character, so a little out of order.) Unfortunately, so far, most of these clones have not been viable, even though nearly all of them have some or all of Lex’s memories.
One such clone seemed to be pretty stable, and even tried assassinating Martha Kent (who became a US Senator during the course of Smallville) to draw out Clark (a.k.a “The Blur”). His plan failed, but like all the other clones his genome became unstable. However, unlike the other clones, he was saved from certain death by another DNA donor: CLARK KENT!
Even in Smallville, we can’t excape the Lex/Clark science-born love child! So before Clark Kent ever becomes Superman, we’re already introduced to Connor Kent’s Superboy.
Michael Rosenbaum is said to return in the two-hour Smallville series finale, though if this is as the originally-presumed-dead version, or a clone that doesn’t go completely batty, remains to be seen.