"I'm the only sane inmate of Asylum Earth. I'm not eager to hand tomorrow over to an interplanetary extremist with laser eyes. There's only room on this world for one leader, Superman. When I'm finished with you, every last gibbon out there will know you for the menace you are... and they'll realize that Lex Luthor is their savior."
TheSuper Villain, according to many, Alexander "Lex" Luthor is the archenemy of Superman, and one of the oldest villains in comic book history, making his debut in Action Comics # 23 in April of 1940. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the same team who created Superman himself, Luthor was an instant success, and ensured himself a permanent place in the Last Son of Krypton's Rogues Gallery. Since then he's gone onto be a major player in the DC Universe, serving as one of its most iconic villains, alongside the likes of The Joker.Originally portrayed as a red-headed war profiteer who aimed to gain World Domination by playing various political factions against each other, Luthor was reimagined as a bald, egomaniacal Mad Scientist after an illustrator confused him with the Ultra-Humanite. This conception of the character stuck, and for the remainder of the Silver Age and Bronze Age of comics, Luthor was written as a Card-Carrying Villain who used his technological prowess to match Superman's phsyical might, regularly allying with other villains, like Brainiac, Bizarro, and The Joker in order to vex the Man of Steel and his allies. One thing that did change about Luthor was that as time went by, he became progressively younger and more physically active. The paunchy man in his fifties was replaced by an exceptionally fit man in his forties, and was then retconned again into being only a few years older than Superman and possessed of a warsuit that allowed him to fight the Kryptonian mano-a-mano. He also gained his own supporting cast, including his sister and Morality Pet, Lena, and the planet of Lexor, which hailed him as a hero after he saved it from destruction, and a number of alternate universe doppelgangers, including Alexei Luthor of Earth-2 (based on his original, Golden Age appearance) and the heroic Alexander Luthor Sr. of Earth-3. This version of Luthor, along with the rest of the existing DC Universe, was erased from continuity following the Crisis on Infinite Earths.After the Crisis, John Byrne was given the job of re-imagining Luthor for the new DC Universe. Byrne, aware that Luthor's Mad Scientist portrayal was becoming dated, chose to reinvent Luthor as a Corrupt Corporate Executive, who was able to control the city of Metropolis' criminal underworld from behind the scenes, avoiding any responsibility for his actions by maintaining a good public image and employing legions of lawyers. As one of the richest and most politically influential men in the DCU, Luthor was able to become a perpetual thorn in Superman's side, as the one criminal whom the Man of Steel could never bring to justice. As a planner and criminal financier second-to-none Luthor also became the main backer and organizer of the various Injustice Gangs and Secret Societies of Supervillains that have plagued the larger DC Universe, making him a problem for not only Superman, but the entire Justice League as well. Possessed of a "tenth level intellect", Luthor is easily the smartest human being alive, and is a formidable adversary for any hero who thinks of crossing him. It has been said that while other supervillains might fear The Joker, they want to be Lex Luthor.He has since gone back and forth in terms of characterization, at times the CEO of LexCorp, at times a Mad Scientist, at times a classic Diabolical Mastermind, and sometimes a combination of all three. He has faked his own death, and impersonated his supposed son, revealed himself as one of Superboy's genetic donors, and met Death. He's been the mastermind of numerous plots against the heroes of Earth, a participant in General Lane's genocide of New Krypton, and briefly, President of the United States of America. He's even starred in his own spinoffs, serving as the Villain Protagonist in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, the "Black Ring" story arc in Action Comics, and Forever Evil. In any incarnation, Luthor is driven by his burning hatred of Superman, which is frequently put down to envy over the fact that, no matter how rich Luthor becomes, no matter how much political power he attains, and no matter how hard he schemes, he will never, ever be Superman. His current characterization is a balanced medium between all his incarnations: he is the ruthless and savvy corporate executive, the formidably brilliant mad scientist and the egomaniac conqueror in equal measure. This makes him one of the more complex and multifaceted villains in all of comics, which helps cement his enduring popularity.Luthor has appeared frequently in other media, featuring in video games, the original Superman films, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League, Superman Returns, and the television series Smallville. He has also appeared in the animated films Superman: Doomsday, and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. He is easily the most recognisable, and best known, member of Superman's Rogues Gallery, and was rated IGN's "4th Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time." Comic book critic Peter Sanderson has described Luthor as one of the few genuine megavillains, whose adventures cross genres, putting him in a league alongside Professor Moriarty, Count Dracula, Hannibal Lecter, Doctor Doom, and Darth Vader.If you want to hear Lex's take on all of this, click here.
Notable Pre-Crisis comics
"Europe at War (Part II)" [Action Comics #23]: Debut of Luthor as a character
"How Luthor Met Superboy!" [Adventure Comics #271]: The Silver Age origin story of Luthor
"The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman!" [Superman #164]: Introduced the planet Lexor; very frequently reprinted and considered a landmark in the characterization of the Mad Scientist Luthor
"Luthor Unleashed!" [Action Comics #544]: Lexor is destroyed; introduces Luthor's distinctive green and purple Powered Armor
Absolute Xenophobe: Sometimes written as someone who hates all alien life and wants it destroyed or enslaved.
Abusive Dad: Luthor's father (eventually named Lionel) has at best been characterised as a fellow criminal, and at worst as an abusive monster. Smallville's portrayal of him is probably the best known, showing him as a domineering, tyrannical narcissist who wants Lex to turn out as badly as he has.
Affably Evil: Luthor tries to present this way, and Depending on the Writer, may actually be fairly reasonable when he's not dealing with Superman. One thing that is often noted is that Lex is actually quite sincere about how he treats his employees, and he has respect for blue-collar people who go beyond their means to get ahead (since he used to be one as well).
Faux Affably Evil: More often than not, Luthor's revealed to be this. It's worth noting that of all the supervillains out there, the one he gets along with the best is The Joker.
Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: Luthor saved the world of Lexor Pre-Crisis, and is the greatest superhero on the Crime Syndicate's homeworld, Pre-and-Post-Crisis. Superman: Red Son also has a heroic, alternate universe Luthor, who manages to stop a Stalinist Superman from taking over the world.
It's actually kind of a running theme that, when Superman's bad, Lex Luthor is the one who steps up as humanity's greatest hero. Same thing happened in Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Archenemy: Luthor is the longest running contender for the title of Superman's archnemesis, and is the character who most readily springs to mind when you hear "Superman villain". Brainiac and Zod are also in the running, but Luthor is the one everyone thinks of. In fact, this status carries over to alternate universes: on the Crime Syndicate's homeworld, Luthor's Good Twin, Alexander Luthor Sr., is the archenemy of Ultraman, while on the Pre-Crisis Earth-2, Alexei Luthor was the rival of the Golden Age Superman, Kal-L.
Archnemesis Dad: Towards Superboy who was created at his instigation from his and Superman's DNA.
Axe Crazy: Luthor's usually fairly stable, but when he cracks it is always in a violently psychotic manner.
"I am Lex Luthor. I am the greatest scientist on this planet, and would be on yours as well."
"I raise my voice, and Satan himself is on bended knee. I am The Leader of the free world, you impotent little psychotic. I've had the most powerful beings on this or any planet gunning for me for years, and you think you're going to scare me?"
Badass in a Nice Suit: When he's not in prison togs or an exoskeleton, Luthor is usually in his business suit.
Exemplified in the finale of Justice League Unlimited when he shows up to the final confrontation with Darksied having ditched his battle fatigues for his "power suit" so it's what he's wearing when he saves the world.
Badass Normal: Luthor's only consistent power is his vast intellect. Has become an Empowered Badass Normal on occasion, either by donning his warsuit, gaining an Orange Lantern Ring, or other means.
Bald of Awesome: Lex is an evil SOB, but he can certainly inspire awe when he wants to.
Bald of Evil: Perhaps the iconic example. Pre-Crisis he was evil because he was bald, blaming Superboy for the accident that cost him his hair.
Beware the Superman: More modern interpretations often have Luthor preaching a pro-human/anti-metahuman line, claiming that Superman will eventually go rogue.
Big Bad: If somebody is screwing with Superman's life, the odds of it being traced back to Luthor stand at somewhere around ninety percent. He's also a prominent figure among the DC villain community as a whole; most DC villains may fear The Joker, but they want to be Luthor.
Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good: Superman is far from stupid, but he usually solves his problems with his fists, an option that Luthor doesn't have open to him. Moreover, as a "tenth level intellect", Luthor is still orders of magnitude smarter than Superman.
Cardboard Prison: Whether it's through legal or illegal means, Luthor will always be out of prison in a matter of days, if not hours.
Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Lex is the Trope Namer. He's the smartest man in the world, but he wastes his resources on fighting a flying alien in blue spandex because he's angry that there's someone out there that's better than him. Lampshaded by Superman after Big Blue returns from a prolonged absence. Superman comments that if it really mattered to him Lex could have cured cancer and generally made himself an even bigger hero than Superman ever was, but instead he spent all his time obsessing over Superman's inevitable return.
Diabolical Mastermind: He began as one, and retains aspects of the trope to this day, though he usually tries to operate with at least a pretense of legality in the modern era.
Disproportionate Retribution: So Silver Age Lex, you tried to kill Superman for making you bald? To be fair, that story had Luthor's revenge being initially restricted to Luthor trying to show up Superboy with grandiose public works projects. When they went disastrously wrong and forced Superboy to intervene, Luthor was publicly scorned and sought to kill him in revenge.
Subverted hard Post-Crisis. He kept his wife in a medically-induced coma after she gave birth to their daughter and later had her assassinated so she couldn't make trouble for his presidential campaign. And the aforementioned daughter? He sold her to Brainiac 13 for control of the 64th century technology he brought to Metropolis.
In the New 52, played straight again with the first Bizarro, and with his sister.
Evil Redhead: Luthor was originally a redhead and still has red eyebrows. His Earth-2 counterpart, Alexei Luthor, kept the Golden Age Luthor's full head of red hair.
Evil Versus Evil: Luthor has regularly clashed with the DCU's other major villains, most notably in The Black Ring when he took on Mr. Mind, Gorilla Grodd, Larfleeze, and Brainiac in rapid succession, and in Forever Evil when he took on the Crime Syndicate. His war with Alexander Luthor Jr. in Infinite Crisis is also notable.
Eviler than Thou: If there is another contender for the title of Big Bad in the storyline, Luthor will at some point try to take the position from them.
The Extremist Was Right: He certainly wasn't wrong about what would happen if a whole army of Kryptonians landed on Earth during New Krypton. Even without Lane and Luthor's interference, the Kandorians (or at least their leadership) quickly showed themselves to be arrogant supremacists who flouted human laws and felt themselves to be immune to any form of corrective behaviour. Luthor finds the entire affair extremely gratifying.
Five Stages of Grief: More like three stages. When he met Death, he experienced the first three stages and then, having realized what he was doing, faked depression to manipulate her (it didn't work). As he said, he doesn't do "acceptance".
Foil: Superman and Luthor stand, respectively, atop the pinnacles of physical and intellectual perfection, have a vast array of powers at their disposal (Superman's innate, Luthor's technological), and understand what it's like to be isolated from society.. Yet where Superman tries to use his powers (which are uniquely his) to help the rest of the people around him, Luthor uses his (which are at least partly owed to his workers and the various alien races he's lifted concepts from) to exploit people for his own gain. Throw in the fact that Superman is an alien who nevertheless represents the best of humanity, and Luthor is a human who represents the worst of humanity, and you've got a solid contrast.
Irrational Hatred: His hate for Superman is based on nothing but his own personal prejudices.
It's All About Me: Other people simply don't matter to Lex. He's at the centre of the universe, and everybody else is irrelevant.
Kick the Dog: Constantly. Most notably when he healed his (Post-Crisis) sister of a neurological disease, then gave it right back to her.
Lady Macbeth: His alternate universe counterpart on Earth-One has little interest in killing Superman, and considers the concept unethical. His wife, Alexandra, on the other hand, is fascinated by the concept, and pushes him towards doing it. One begins to wonder which of them is really Earth-One's version of him.
Lust: For power. No matter how much he has, Lex will always want more.
Mad Scientist: Was an archetypal one in the sixties and built his fortune on his technology in the modern era. Occasionally he'll revert to form, particularly if LexCorp is unavailable to him for whatever reason.
Morality Pet: His sister Lena during the Silver Age and Bronze Age. Luthor went out of his way to shield her from any knowledge of his criminal lifestyle. It appears she's this again in the New 52; he tried and failed to save her when she fell ill, leaving her an invalid.
Muggle Power: Goes on and on about leveling the playing field, and preaches a xenophobic, pro-human/anti-alien form of extremism. This is especially notable in Last Son and New Krypton, when he's given the chance to "save the world" from evil Kryptonians led by Zod.
Narcissist: Probably the best diagnoses for Lex, given his inability to see others as anything other than extensions of himself, his pathological need to be the most important person in the room, and his identification with beings like Brainiac and The Joker.
Naytheist: Refuses to acknowledge any of the setting's gods.
Never My Fault: Always refuses to take responsibility for his actions, typically blaming Superman. This especially goes in Luthor's Silver Age origin when his first revenge of grandiose public works projects went disastrously wrong and Luthor blamed Superboy for humiliating him when the superhero was forced to intervene.
Smug Snake: In the Silver Age, when he had all the arrogance of his modern day incarnation, but none of the success rate. They started to undo this in the Bronze Age, and as of the 1980s, he usually falls into MB territory.
The Sociopath: Often referred to as such, though he doesn't necessarily hit all the requirements for the psychiatric diagnosis.
Super Intelligence: Brainiac described him as a "10th Level Intellect", making his intelligence superior to the combined IQs of everyone on Earth, both now (6th Level) and in the 31st Century (9th). He is also smarter than almost every individual on Colu, a planet renowned for the computer like minds of its inhabitants (8th on average). In the DC Universe as a whole, only Brainiac himself (a 12th Level Intellect) is known to be smarter than Lex.
Ungrateful Bastard: No matter how many times Superman saves his life, Lex will never get over his grudge. Justified, as he sees Superman helping him as just another form of "the alien" condescending to him.
Unholy Matrimony: He once entered into a marriage of convenience with fellow Diabolical Mastermind Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza after she seized control of LexCorp while he was indisposed. They alternated between being partners and trying to eliminate each other until Luthor decided to run for President, at which point he had her assassinated.
Villainous Friendship: He and The Joker are probably the closest thing the other one has to a friend Post-Crisis. Pre-Crisis he considered Brainiac a friend, but the robot eventually betrayed and bodyjacked him.
Villainous Rescue: Lex and the Superman Revenge Squad freed Metropolis from General Zod's control, saving the JLA and the world during Last Son.
Villainous Underdog: Grant Morrison once noted that a part of you almost has to cheer for Luthor, as he goes up against a demigod armed with nothing but his intellect and his arrogance.
Villainous Valor: He's a man with no real superpowers. Superman can benchpress planets. This is part of Luthor's character by default.
We Can Rule Together: He says this to Amanda Waller while explaining his plan. He concludes this with a Forced Kiss. It's unknown if he has feelings for her or he was too delusional from the kryptonite injections.
We Used to Be Friends: Several comic book origin stories have suggested that Lex Luthor and Clark Kent both attended Smallville High, and were friends. Smallville took this interpretation and ran with it.