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Lex Luthor is a DC Comics supervillain. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the character first appeared in Action Comics #23 (1940). Luthor has played divergent roles within the separate continuities of DC Comics, ranging from pulp-inspired mad scientist to amoral businessman. Following a character makeover during the 1960s, an origin story depicted Luthor as an embittered scientist who blames Superman for a lab accident which caused him to go bald. In the 1980s, he was rewritten as a industrialist and white-collar criminal, even briefly serving as President of the United States. He is regarded as the archenemy of Superman.
Gene Hackman portrayed Luthor in the 1978 Superman film, and later reprised the role in two sequels. The role was inherited by Kevin Spacey in the 2006 film Superman Returns. The part of Lex Luthor been played by several actors on American television, including Sherman Howard in the television series Superboy, and John Shea in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Michael Rosenbaum currently portrays Lex as a younger man on the CW series Smallville. In 2006, Wizard magazine rated him the 8th greatest villain of all time.Wizard #177.
Lex Luthor's background has undergone several revisions, most notably during the 1970's and early eighties. When Luthor first debuted in Action Comics #23 in 1940,Action Comics #23 he was portrayed with a full head of red hair. That following year, Luthor appeared totally bald in Superman #10. The reason for this switch is attributed to Leo Novak, a substitute artist hired by Joe Shuster; it is believed that Novak confused the appearance of Luthor with a bald henchman in Superman #4.Cronin, Brian (2006) Comic Book Resources - "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #79". In spite of this error, the switch went unchanged, and the more striking appearance was adopted and became a Luthor trademark. It is of note that Siegel and Shuster's original short story, "The Reign of the Superman", featured a bald villain with telepathic powers.Daniels, Les. Superman: The Complete History: The Life and Times of the Man of Steel. Chronicle Books, 1998, pg. 13. UnderGroundOnline - Superman Enemies: Lex Luthor.
In his first appearance in Action Comics #23, Luthor (who is only referred to by his surname) is a megalomaniacal genius who makes his home in a flying city suspended by an airship. He first tries to ignite a war between two fictional European nations as part of a larger plan for world domination. In Superman #4, he is later found hiding out in an underwater city, where he has been terrorizing the planet with man-made earthquakes. When confronted by Superman, Luthor challenges him to a contest of strength versus science.Daniels (1998), p. 66.
When the DC multiverse began to take hold in the 1960s, this "Golden Age" Luthor was rewritten as Alexei Luthor, Lex Luthor's counterpart from a parallel universe, specifically Earth-Two.DC Database Project - Alexei Luthor. In the lead-up to the multi-issue series Crisis on Infinite Earths, Alexei joins forces with his Earth-One counterpart, each attempting to defeat the other's version of Superman. When Alexei challenges Brainiac's partnership with Lex during the Crisis, Brainiac kills Alexei to settle the dispute.Crisis on Infinite Earths #9.
Silver / Bronze Age
In his classic appearances, Lex Luthor is a mad scientist who typically plots to take over the world, or destroy it, through a number of diabolical schemes. In Adventure Comics #271 (1962), Jerry Siegel retroactively wrote an origin story that reveals that Luthor's hate for Superman stems from a past encounter:Adventure Comics #271.supermanthrutheages.com -"How Luthor Met Superboy" . During his youth, Lex had been an aspiring scientist and a friend of Superboy. Lex begins experiments in creating an artificial new form of life, as well as a cure for Kryptonite poisoning. An accidental fire breaks out in Lex's lab, Superboy uses his super-breath to extinguish the flames, inadvertently spilling chemicals which cause Luthor to go prematurely bald; the botched rescue also destroys Lex's artificial lifeform, along with the Kryptonite cure.SupermanTV - Lex Luthor Origins.
Believing that Superboy intentionally caused the accident, Lex attributes his actions to jealousy and vows revenge. He first tries to show Superboy up with grandiose inventions that will improve the lives of Smallville's residents, but each goes dangerously out of control and requires Superboy's intervention. Unwilling to accept responsibility for the catastrophes, Lex rationalizes that Superboy is out to humiliate him. He continues to seek revenge, and in the process devolves into a criminal; over time he becomes Superman's archenemy. Although he is routinely sent back to prison, Lex always manages to escape to threaten the world again (early Luthor stories often begin with him sitting in prison and wearing a gray uniform).
This 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 in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Elliot S Maggin's text novel Last Son of Krypton.
Luthor's originally-stated goals were to kill Superman and to take over Earth as a stepping stone to dominating the universe.Superman #43/3, November/December 1946: “The Molten World!” In addition to using his inventions to combat Superman's powers, Luthor also shows an affinity for wigs and disguises. 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),Luthor's persistence makes him Superman's most troublesome foe.
Though he is a notorious fugitive on Earth, Luthor is revered on the alien world of Lexor -—renamed in honor of him—- where he rediscovered the planet's lost technology and rebuilt society for its inhabitants' ruined civilization. As a result, he becomes a hero in the eyes of Lexor's people, whereas Superman is detested as a villain.Supermanica entry on Lexor. He eventually marries a local woman named Ardora,Action Comics # 318, November 1964: "The Death of Luthor". with whom he fathers a son.
After its debut,Superman #164. Lexor appears sporadically in various Superman comics as Luthor's base of operations, where he wages assaults on Superman. During one such battle, Lex flees Earth and returns to Lexor to draw Superman to his destruction. But when an energy salvo from Luthor's battlesuit accidentally overloads the "Neutrarod" (a spire Luthor had built to counter Lexor's geological instability), the result is the total destruction of the planet, killing all of its inhabitants, including Luthor's wife and son there. Superman initially assumes Luthor has also been killed in the blast, but this is due to his unfamiliarity with the rugged design of Luthor's battlesuit. Luthor eventually returns to Earth, unable to accept his own role in Lexor's destruction and blaming Superman for it.Action Comics #544/1, June 1983: "Luthor Unleashed".
Crisis on Infinite Earthslimited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, Luthor allies himself with fellow Superman foe Brainiac to recruit an army of supervillains spanning the DC Multiverse, intending taking advantage of the confusion caused by the Crisis for their own benefit. However, once it becomes clear that it is as much in their interests to save the multiverse as anyone else, Luthor and Brainiac reluctantly ally their faction with Superman and the other heroes. The Bronze Age Luthor is involved in a battle on Maltus with other super-villains to prevent Krona from beginning the experiment which created the multiverse in the first place; instead, reality is altered so that the different universes fall into their proper place, converging into one. Afterwards, Luthor is returned to prison with all his memories of the alliance forgotten. Luthor remains a foe of Superman until the DC Comics continuity is retconned in the months following the mini-series. Henceforth, the Silver Age Lex Luthor is referred to by readers as the "Pre-Crisis" Luthor.
Luthor's trademark battlesuit from this era - a heavily-armored, flight-capable suit with kryptonite fixtures embedded in its gauntletsSuperman - has reappeared in modern continuity, most notably during Infinite Crisis.
Superman himself acknowledged that the Pre-Crisis Luthor is a man of his word who honors promises he has made. On occasion, he has come to the aid of innocents, even when doing so will lead to his capture and inevitable return to prison. Shamed by his criminal acts, Lex's parents, Jules and Arlene, disown him, move away and change their name to the anagram "Thorul". Luthor has a younger sister named Lena, an empath who grows up unaware of her familial connection with him.. Protective of his sister, Luthor takes measures to hide his fraternity, and is assisted towards this end by both Superman and Supergirl. Luthor considers Albert Einstein a great personal idol, and makes a special effort to escape prison around the anniversary of Einstein's birthday each year, and visit places of significance in Einstein's life.
In 1986, John Byrne's "reboot" of Superman's mythos in the limited series, The Man of Steel, rewrote the character of Lex Luthor from scratch, intending to make him a villain that the 1980s would recognize: a corporate white-collar criminal (this idea is credited to Marv Wolfman).Superman Homepage interview with Marv Wolfman. Retrieved on 2007-7-7. The modern Luthor begins as an almost entirely different character, with no past linkage to Superman.
Like many supervillains, the Lex Luthor envisioned in the six-issue Man of Steel comic series had an abusive childhood which warped his worldview. He was born to cruel parents in the Suicide Slum district of Metropolis, his only friend was a schoolmate named Perry White. In his teens, Lex takes out a large insurance policy on his parents without their knowledge, then sabotages their car's brakes, killing them.Spider Bob's Comic Book Encyclopedia - Lex Luthor.
Lex is sent to live with equally-brutal foster parents, Casey and Emily Griggs, where he will wait until he reaches legal age to collect the insurance money. His foster parents conspire to steal his money, forcing their daughter (and Lex's foster sibling), Lena, into seducing Lex so they can learn of its location. Because she has romantic feelings for Lex, Lena refuses to cooperate, and is beaten to death by her father. Lex is absent from the home at the time of the murder, having been talked into going to a football game by Perry. Following this event, Lex blames Perry for keeping him from Lena's side.DC Database Project - Lex Luthor (New Earth).
Upon graduating from MIT, Lex builds the LexWing airplane, the basis of his own business, LexCorp, which grows to dominate much of Metropolis.Oracle's Realm - Lex Luthor Mega Page. Still harboring bitterness toward Perry White, Lex begins an affair with his wife, fathering a baby with her. The offspring Jerry White later learns of his true parentage during his late teens, shortly before being killed by a local street gang he was associated with.Superman Homepage - Who's Who In the Superman Comics: Perry White.
Decades later, on the day Lex's own daughter is born, he finally avenges himself on his foster father by hiring him to assassinate the Mayor of Metropolis. In the wake of the successful hit, Lex meets with Griggs in an alley (under the pretense of payment) and personally slays him with a handgun. Following this incident, he names his newborn daughter Lena.Superman #131.
Man of Steel
Luthor's presence is hinted at in issue #2 of Byrne's Man of Steel series, but he is not fully seen until issue #4, several months 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.The Man of Steel #4. Luthor observes Superman in action, and once the gunmen are dispatched, hands the hero a personal check. But when Luthor admits that he had not only anticipated the attack, but had arranged for it to occur in order to lure Superman out, Mayor Berkowitz deputizes Superman to arrest Luthor for reckless endangerment.Justice League Files - Luthor, Lex. Luthor's temporary incarceration leaves him seething, and he promises to make Superman pay for the humiliation. The rivalry escalates in Man of Steel #5, when Luthor attempts to clone Superman with the assistance of Dr. Teng. Upon completion, the clone proves itself to be flawed and dangerous, eventually degenerating into Bizarro.
With Luthor's "Silver Age" origin gone, Man of Steel illustrates a more base and pragmatic villain, whose motivation for opposing Superman is protection of his own illegal business interests. When Superman is apparently slain in battle with the alien monstrosity Doomsday, Luthor feels "cheated" that a "lifeless monster" had robbed him of his life's work,Action Comics #685. and sinks into a chronic depression until Superman debuts again.
Cancer and cloning
Luthor acquires his first prized sample of kryptonite from the cyborg Metallo, who is powered by a "heart" of kryptonite rock. Fashioning a ring from the alien ore deadly to Superman, Luthor wears it as a symbol that he was untouchable, even to the man of steel. He eventually suffers from a severe cancer in the 1990s, caused by long-term radiation exposure to his kryptonite ring.Action Comics #600. (Before this, kryptonite was assumed to produce a 'clean' radiation that was harmless to humans.) Luthor's hand requires amputation to prevent the cancer's spread, but by then it has already metastasized and his condition is terminal.
While mulling over his fate, Luthor visits the grave of his deceased illegitimate son, Jerry White.Superman #49. He soon fakes his own death by taking a jet on a proposed trip around the world and crashing it in the Andes; this is merely a cover for the transplant of his brain into a healthy clone of himself, which he passes off as his hitherto unknown, illegitimate son and heir, Lex Luthor II; This deception is helped by a vibrant new body and full head of red hair.Action Comics #670.The Captain's JLA homepage - Lex Luthor (DC Universe). Luthor II inherits control of LexCorp and seduces then-Supergirl the Supergirl (Matrix) .Action Comics #677. However, Luthor's new clone body begins to deteriorate and age 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;Superman #77. with help from Superman, she exposes the truth, and finally a despondent Supergirl (Matrix) brings him down violently. In the end, Luthor becomes a permanent prisoner in his cloned body, unable to even blink, and swearing vengeance on Superman.
Aid comes in the form of the demon Neron; Luthor promptly sells his soul in exchange for Neron restoring his body to vibrant health, though he once more loses his hair.Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #1. 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 Luthor is charged with.Action Comics #737.
Although Luthor holds a grudge toward Lois Lane for exposing his criminal dealings, he also has an unspoken love for her. On several occasions Luthor has commented that had Superman not arrived in Metropolis, he would have used his time and energy to winning Lois instead; indeed, Luthor is actively pursuing her as early as Man of Steel #2. Marv Wolfman originally planned for the two to have been romantically involved, with Lois leaving him for Superman, giving Luthor another reason to hate his foe, but John Byrne modified the story when he wrote the actual issue.
The post-Crisis Lex Luthor has been married eight times, though the first seven marriages occurred off-panel in Luthor's past. His eighth and final marriage to Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza,Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow #5. (otherwise known simply as "The Contessa") is based on mutual greed. The Contessa buys controlling interest in LexCorp after Luthor is indicted, compelling Lex into marrying with her in order to regain control of his company. The Contessa becomes pregnantSuperman #119. and starts using the unborn child to dominate Lex into doing her bidding. Luthor's response is to imprison her while she is drugged during childbirth, then lock her up, keeping her in a permanently-unconscious state. The Contessa later escapes to an island mansion,Superman: The Man Of Steel #77. but upon being elected President, Luthor targets her home with a barrage of missiles and destroys it.President Luthor: Secret Files & Origins #1.
President of the United States
Deciding to turn to politics, Lex becomes the president of the United States, winning the election on a platform of promoting technological progress. His first action as president was to take a proposed moratorium on fossil-based fuels to U.S. Congress.
Luthor is assisted by the extreme unpopularity of the previous administration's mishandling of the Gotham City earthquake crisis. After six months, Gotham is restored and rejoins America. Ironically, Batman ultimately learns that the entire debacle was the fault of Luthor alone, which results in Bruce Wayne severing all commercial ties between the U.S. government and his company, Wayne Enterprises, in protest of Luthor's election as President. Luthor responds in turn by ordering the murder of Wayne's lover Vesper Fairchild and framing Wayne for the murder.
An early triumph of Luthor's first term is the Our Worlds At War crisis, in which he coordinates the U.S. Army, Earth's superheroes and a number of untrustworthy alien forces to battle the main villain of the story arc, Imperiex. However, as it is eventually revealed, Lex knew about the alien invasion in advance and did nothing to alert Earth's heroes to it, which led to Topeka, Kansas being destroyed by an Imperiex probe.
Removal from office
A cadre of superheroes eventually break ranks from the Justice League and Batman, who forbid any attempt to unseat Luthor from office by force, and storm the White House. This was predicated by an attempt on Luthor's part to link Superman to a kryptonite asteroid that is hurtling toward Earth. In a desperate gambit, Luthor uses a variant combination of the "super-steroid" Venom (a chemical associated with the Batman villain Bane) and an Apokoliptian battlesuit to fight Superman directly. The madness that is a side effect of Venom takes hold, and during the ensuing fight with Superman and Batman, Luthor admits he had traded the creature Doomsday to Darkseid in return for weapons during the Our Worlds at War crisis; this inadvertently provides a confession, which is captured on video by Batman. Returning to the LexCorp building to regroup, Luthor finds that the acting C.E.O., Talia Head, has sold the entirety of the company assets to the Wayne Foundation (owned by Bruce Wayne, the alter-ego of Talia's past love interest). Following Luthor's bankruptcy and total disgrace, Vice President Pete Ross briefly assumes his place as President. Based on the Timeline of the DC Universe, Luthor serves less than three years.
The 2004 12-issue limited series Superman: Birthright provides an alternate look at Luthor's history, including his youth in Smallville and his first encounter with Superman, with a few elements lifted from the 2001 television series Smallville. Examples of the show's influence include Lex's problematic relationship with his wealthy father, Lionel Luthor. Birthright also reinvents the Silver Age notion of Lex originally befriending Clark Kent, who shares his interest in astronomy. During a failed experiment to communicate with a lost alien civilization (Krypton), an explosion erupts which singes off Lex's hair and kills his father.<ref name="scifi"/> By the time Clark meets him again in Metropolis years later, Lex has launched a billion-dollar business and is the foremost astrobiologist in the world but has also become dangerously misanthropic.
Mark Waid has gone on the record as stating that his original outline for "Birthright" had Waid restoring Luthor's pre-Crisis background as a mad scientist and jettisoning the notion of Luthor being a respected but evil businessman. In the retrospective section of the published "Birthright" graphic novel, Waid described his view that Luthor operating free and unchallenged in Metropolis for years makes Superman look "ineffectual."Waid, Mark (2004) Superman Birthright - Lex Luthor (retrospective).
The New Secret Society
Alexander Luthor, Jr., the son of Earth-Three's Lex Luthor, returned to the DC Universe along with other survivors from Crisis on Infinite Earths as part of a scheme to create a perfect Earth, under the pretense of restoring Earth-Two. To this end, he assumed Lex Luthor's identity and created a new Secret Society of Super Villains. In response, the real Lex Luthor took on the identity of Mockingbird and formed a super-villain version of the Secret Six in order to counter Alexander's organization.
Lex confronts his imposter In Infinite Crisis #3, but is intercepted by Superboy-Prime, who is allied with Alexander. Luthor later visits Conner Kent, who is in recovery at Titans Tower. Lex slips Conner person a crystal shard which shows the location of Alexander's Arctic Fortress. At the end of Infinite Crisis #7, Lex oversees the Joker's execution of Alexander.
Luthor has shown an unusual (at least by his standards) compassion for Conner Kent; it seems that by watching Superboy throughout the course of his short life, Lex came to see Conner as his son. At one point, Luthor is shown visiting a memorial statue of Superboy in Metropolis and placing flowers there.Action Comics #837
52 (comic book) In the opening weeks of 52, the Gotham City Police Department finds what appears to be Luthor's body in an alley. John Henry Irons examines the body at STAR Labs and notes that the corpse was altered postmortem to make it resemble Lex Luthor. During a press conference, the genuine Luthor publicly states that the body is that of an impostor from another Earth, and the man truly responsible for the crimes Luthor is being charged with.52: Week 3 Though Alexander's body had a missing finger and a different appearance from Lex at the time of his death, 52 editor Stephen Wacker has confirmed that the body found in Gotham is indeed Alex, and that Luthor had it altered before the police discovered it.Newsarama interview with Stephen Wacker 
Lex strives to rebuild his fallen reputation; he becomes spokesman for a new procedure, created by the Everyman Project, that engineers ordinary citizens to develop superpowers. During the autopsy of Alex Luthor, Lex secretly exposes John to the chemicals involved in his creating his new army of super-heroes, turning John into a literal man of steel. When approached by John's niece Natasha Irons, Lex gladly allows her to be one of his first test subjects. Using Natasha and several other volunteers, Luthor forms his own team of superheroes which are introduced as the new Infinity Inc. In week #21, Infinity Inc. is in the midst of a battle with Blockbuster (which Luthor has created as well), when he demonstrates that he can 'shut off' the powers of each of his agents; this results in the death of his speedster, Trajectory.
At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, Luthor sets in motion a calculated plot to discredit Supernova, a new hero who has taken over defending Metropolis in Superman's absence: Luthor triggers a mass-shutdown of the powers of everyone who has undertaken the Everyman program, except for the members of Infinity Inc. As multiple flight-powered Everymen plummet to their deaths, underground gas mains rupture from the impact, which adds civilians to the death toll. Luthor's plot ultimately fails when Supernova is able to minimize the disaster with a spectacular rescue.
While investigating Luthor in order to root out his motive, Natasha Irons discovers that Luthor has been testing himself to see if he is compatible with the artificial meta-gene treatment.52: Week 39 John Henry Irons leads an assault on Luthor's building; despite the destruction of his armor during the fight, he confronts Luthor - only to find himself badly outclassed, as Luthor demonstrates nearly all of Superman's powers. However, Natasha uses her uncle's hammer to trigger an electromagnetic pulse which shuts down the synthetic metagene long enough for Steel to knock Lex unconscious.52: Week 40 Lex is disgraced as a result, and later faces indictment when the members of the Everymen realize they have been used.
One Year Later and Countdown
One Year Later One year after the events of Infinite Crisis, Luthor has been cleared of over 120 criminal counts ranging from malfeasance to first-degree murder relating to the New Years Eve massacre from "52." However, his role in the massacre has permanently ruined his public image and thanks to the machinations of Doctor Sivana, he has lost most of his wealth and all of his control over his newly reformed LexCorp, which is now being run by Lana Lang. He blames Clark Kent for writing several articles unraveling his schemes and pledges vengeance on Metropolis after an angry mob jeers him on the courthouse steps.
After amassing large quantities of Kryptonite, including kidnapping the supervillains Metallo and the Kryptonite Man, Lex uses it to power a Kryptonian battleship controlled through a "sunstone" crystal.Action Comics #839> Superman manages to destroy the Kryptonite-powered ship and recover the crystal, but Lex manages to escape custody yet again.Action Comics #840
Lex later sends Bizarro after the newly arrived "Superboy" only for the creature to be defeated by Superman. Undaunted, Lex gathers together a "Revenge Squad," to fight against the invading Kryptonians led by General Zod.
In JLA, Luthor gathers together a new "Injustice League" and, outfitted in a new version of his warsuit (although still green and purple, it no longer has clear design derivations from the pre-Crisis warsuit as the McGuinness design did), sets out to destroy the Justice League with them. Both storylines are ongoing.
Lex plays a large role in the Countdown to Final Crisis tie-in event, Salvation Run. Having been sent to the prison planet after his Injustice League was defeated, Lex quickly assumes control of the amassed villains, receiving competition only from Joker and Gorilla Grodd, who convince half of the villains to join them.
New Earth Origin
Countdown #34 presents a concise origin page for Lex Luthor as a backup (part of a series which began in 52), representing the new continuity for the Superman mythos as primarily outlined in Action Comics #850, elaborating on the details of this new continuity as pertaining to Lex. His origin now seems to consist of aspects from pre-Crisis continuity, Man of Steel and Birthright, as well as Smallville. He is shown to be the son of business mogul Lionel Luthor and his socialite spouse Leticia. As in Birthright and the pre-Crisis DC, Lex spent time in Smallville, Kansas (under the care of his aunt, Lena), where he met Clark Kent, Lana Lang, and Pete Ross at some point (as shown in a picture taken of the four).
Lex is described as having left Smallville "under a cloud of rumor and suspicion." He later resurfaced in Metropolis, created his company, LexCorp, and became an enemy of Superman (who, ironically, and unknown to Lex, is his former acquaintance--Clark Kent). Luthor's rise to the Presidency and his removal from office are also recounted in the origin. This Lex is described as both a "shrewd businessman" and scientist, as well as a criminal mastermind. He is not shown losing his hair in Smallville (as in Birthright), instead it is shown as receding over time.
Appearances in other media
Lex Luthor's full first name has over the years been variously spelled as Alexis, Alexei, and Alexander (currently his official first name), but originally "Lex" was not intended to be short for anything. In Latin, the name "Lex" translates as "law." In his earliest appearances, he was referred to only as Luthor, with no first name given.
In Smallville, his full name is Alexander Joseph Luthor. He is named after Alexander the Great, the historical general whom Lionel Luthor most admires and encourages his son to pattern himself after.
- Lex Luthor at DCComics.com
- Lex Luthor chronology index
- Superman Homepage - Lex Luthor biography
- Supermanica entry on Lex Luthor
- The Justice League Watchtower - Lex Luthor