Superman: The Black Ring was an arc in Action Comics taking place following the events of Blackest Night. While Superman and his allies struggled against a revived Doomsday in Reign of Doomsday, archenemyLex Luthor took Superman's place as the star of Action Comics, for an eleven issue run that included two crossovers with Secret Six and an annual.During the events of Blackest Night, Luthor had briefly served as an Orange Lantern. Infected by the Orange Light of Avarice, Luthor finds himself unstable and unsatisfied without the power ring, and sets out on a quest, not to regain what he has lost, but to gain a greater power still, by tapping into the energies of the Black Lantern Rings. His quest takes he and his allies around the world, as they seek the energy spheres containing the rings' power, and come into conflict with foes including, but not limited to, Mister Mind, Deathstroke, Gorilla Grodd, Vandal Savage, The Joker, Larfleeze, Brainiac, and even Death herself. The arc explored Luthor's relationships with these other villains, doing its best to define the Post-Crisis, Pre-New 52 Luthor as a character, and as a major figure within the DC Universe as a whole.It all culminated in a massive, 92 page special in Action Comics #900, that revealed Luthor as the mastermind behind Reign of Doomsday, saw him finally attain the godlike power he had sought for so long, and contained his last, epic confrontation with Superman prior to the New 52 reboot. Written by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Pete Woods, The Black Ring served as a final sendoff to the Post-Crisis world's greatest supervillain.
This work contains examples of:
A God Am I: This is what Luthor is aiming for, and for a brief, spectacular moment, he achieves it, fusing with the living embodiment of the Phantom Zone, and gaining power over the space-time continuum as a whole.
An Axe to Grind: Vandal Savage brings one for his confrontaton with Luthor.
Battle in the Centre of the Mind: Luthor and Mind engage in one early in the arc. Brainiac is also in on the act, using his mental probes to alter both Luthor and Mind's perceptions. Luthor works this out after the fact. Mind does not.
Big Bad: From Luthor's perspective, Brainiac and the Zone Child are this, trying to use him for their own ends, and standing at the ends of two separate schemes aimed at destroying him. From everyone else's perspective, Luthor himself is filling this role.
Big Bad Ensemble: Luthor, Brainiac, and the Zone Child can all fill this role depending on how you look at it.
Brain Food: Shown in disgusting detail when Grodd eats the brains of one of Luthor's henchmen.
Butt Monkey: Mister Mind, who has a very bad time of things. He'd be the woobie if it weren't for the fact that we know he nuked one city and tried to devour the multiverse.
Calling Your Attacks: Luthor does this during his battle with Brainiac in order to psychologically trick Brainiac into doing the same. This allows Luthor to Brainiac's defences, since he can hear and plan around his vocal commands.
The Chessmaster: Mr. Mind (on behalf of the Zone Child), Brainiac, and of course, Luthor himself.
Continuity Nod: The issue about Vandal Savage trying to hurry up the prophecy relating to Lex Luthor features two flashbacks to previous meetings between the two. One was from the relatively recent Salvation Run, the other was from The Flash #124, back in 1997.
Death Takes a Holiday: When Luthor has his A God Am I moment, he banishes all death and suffering from the universe. There's a reaction panel of Death of the Endless enjoying the fact that, for the first time in millennia, she has nothing to do. Because Luthor is Luthor and the Status Quo Is God, it doesn't last long.
Deconstruction: Of Luthor himself. He claims he wants to save humanity from Superman and other superheroes who are keeping mankind back. Some of the other villains don't seem to buy it. Through the entire arc it is shown that Luthor does not have humanity's best interests at heart despite his lofty goals; he is only after power and has an intense dislike for authority other than his owns but insists, even to himself, that he is the hero of the story. Yet he allows people to get killed as pawns, shoots an employee so that he can't be used against him as a hostage and whenever anyone turns their back on him he flips out. He does not believe that Superman empathizes with humanity at all and it is possible he's projecting this trait on Superman. Darkseid says he only wants to rule others and be "the biggest fish". Brainiac outright states that he is doing it for power and mocks his lack of introspection. Even Superman is surprised that Luthor's first act as a physical god is to come after him. Only the Joker believed he had any real potential to do good and feared this as he needs to believe that life is pain and has no meaning. Superman and Mr Mind attempt to reason with him by appealing to his desire to do good but his need to destroy Superman destroys his chances to do any real good as he promised himself he would. All this underscores just how much of a wasted opportunity Lex Luthor's life was. Mr Mind's parting words are more than apt: "I'll leave you to your tragedy."
Empowered Badass Normal: The entire arc revolves around Luthor's quest to become one (though given the presence of his armoured suit, one could contend he already is one).
Evil Is Petty: Luthor gives up omnipotence and the chance to give everyone in the universe eternal bliss — all because one of the conditions of keeping that power is that he can't do anything negative with that power such as, say, destroying Superman. To Luthor, godhood is meaningless if he can't use it to crush his greatest foe.
Evil vs. Evil: Luthor is a bad, bad man, and The Black Ring makes no bones about it. However, he's up against a veritable buffet of the DC Universe's worst of the worst, including Mister Mind, Grodd, Vandal Savage, Larfleeze, and Brainiac, making it hard not to cheer for him.
Even Evil Has Standards: Larfleeze, more or less the incarnation of Greed itself, states in Action Comics 898 that what Luthor wants is the one thing he doesn't want, something that shocks even him.
Larfleeze:That is what Lex Luthor wants?! No. He must be mistaken. Nobody would want that! I don't want that! I... do notwantthat. There is something! Hah. Hairless Lex Luthor gave something, after all.
Fatal Flaw: Luthor's pride and inability to let go of the past are what ultimately bring him down.
Fusion Dance: Luthor performs one with the Zone Child in order to tap its powers for his own.
Gambit Pileup: The Zone Child is trying to manipulate Luthor, through Mister Mind, into setting it free. Brainiac is trying to manipulate Luthor, through the "Lois" robot, into showing him the way to ultimate power. Vandal Savage is out to force Luthor to fullfill a prophecy that he will bring Savage ultimate happiness. Grodd is looking to exploit the black energy spheres for his own gain. Larfleeze wants Luthor to give him the power of the black spheres. And of course, there's Luthor himself, who incorporates all of their respective gambits into his own as he aims for godhood.
Grand Finale: Issue #900 of Action Comics was this for the arc and Post-Crisis Luthor himself, sending him off with a bang.
Greed: Having been an Orange Lantern, Luthor finds that his avarice has gone completely out of control, and he cannot shake his need for more. Larfleeze also shows up, though once he discovers what Luthor is really after he declares it is the one thing he does not want.
I'm a Humanitarian: Grodd, who devours the brains of his victims to gain their memories, and attacks Luthor with a spoon.
Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Toyed with. Mister Mind is portrayed this way, yet Luthor never lets himself forget that Mind nearly ended the multiverse one time, and is far more than the harmless butt monkey he appears to be.
Manipulative Bastard: Luthor, Mind, and Brainiac all attempt to screw with one another's emotions in order to achieve victory.
The Mole: "Lois" was one for Brainiac. Luthor anticipated this and planned accordingly.
Physical God: The Zone Child is one. Luthor achieves the same level of power after fusing with it.
Powered Armour: Luthor's purple and green battlesuit is a mainstay here, first appearing during his conflict with Slade, and remaining intact until his final battle with Superman in #900.
Pride: Luthor's defining characteristic, alongside his greed.
Prophecy Twist: Vandal Savage was told that Luthor's use of the black energy spheres would bring him great happiness. At the end of their conflict, he's yet to be made happy. Then Luthor achieves near-godhood and starts broadcasting messages (at the Zone Child's insistence) of peace and tranquility across the multiverse, making Vandal, and everybody else, greatly happy.
Shut Up, Kirk!: When Superman tries to convince Luthor to accept the Zone Child's wishes and do some good for the world, Luthor angrily refuses and screams at Superman to be quiet.
Strong as They Need to Be: Luthor's battlesuit allows him to face Slade, Larfleeze, and finally Brainiac. In each case, the suit seems just strong enough to allow Luthor to battle his adversary of the moment. Of course, it's possible they are different models.
Unexplained Recovery: Parodied. Mister Mind keeps trying to explain how he recovered, but nobody is interested.
Villain Episode: The entire story arc is a Lex Luthor villain episode, with Superman only showing up for the climax.