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Comic Book / Lex Luthor: Man of Steel

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"Those red eyes, I'm sure they look right through me, like I am nothing more than a nuisance. But when I see you? I see something no man can ever be. I see the end. The end of our potential. The end of our achievements. The end of our dreams. You are my nightmare."
Lex Luthor

The Alien says that he is humanity's savior. That he fights for "Truth, Justice and the American Way". He makes the entire world love him and look up to him.

And yet, there is one man who can see what a threat the alien truly represents, one man who is willing to stand against the being who has been compared with God: Lex Luthor. The battle will be ugly, but the truth shall prevail.

An Alternate Character Interpretation of Superman's arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel was first published in 2005 by DC Comics. It's a bit of a departure from other stories about Luthor, which up until then (and indeed for twenty years previous) had shown him as little more than an unrepentant jerk who just wanted to kill Superman. It speaks to humanist traits the character had taken on since about 2000. First is this: when other comics on the stands in 2005 were about Luthor heading up a large Legion of Doom and manipulating Superboy For the Evulz, an empathetic view into the mind of Lex was seen as an odd thing, though not unwelcomed; many readers came away noting that Luthor may have had a point at times. As it turns out, the story was very well-received.

Was re-released and given the more laconic yet intimidating title Luthor. Works nicely as a companion piece to Azzarello's later work, Joker; even the trade dress, typefaces, and titles (in both incarnations; Lex Luthor: Man of Steel / Joker: The Dark Knight and Luthor / Joker) play up the differences between the two characters.


  • Affably Evil: Lex is polite to everyone he meets, but which parts are real and which are a facade are hard to determine.
  • Arc Words: "I have Hope."
  • Armor-Piercing Response: "You're wrong. I can see your soul."
  • Beware the Superman: From Luthor's perspective, Superman always has glowing malevolent red eyes, and every stitch and seam of his costume can be seen, and is silent during the entire series save for the end.
  • Break Them by Talking: Luthor tries to do this to Superman twice; once at the beginning, and once at the end after Superman's battle with Hope. Superman isn't very impressed either time, and unfortunately for Luthor his Shut Up, Hannibal! statement at the end is a lot better at doing this.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A day in the life of Lex Luthor: setting up meetings with the world's wealthiest men (Bruce Wayne), trying to take down god-like aliens, supervising his company, trying to take down god-like aliens, going over the paperwork for his many international interests and trying to take down god-like aliens. He also finds time to manipulate villains, intimidate employees and bomb a daycare.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Hope is very clearly modeled on Halle Berry. Out of his suit, Bruce Wayne (at least in one scene) looks a lot like Christian Bale. Fitting, this, as it came out the same summer as Batman Begins.
  • Continuity Cameo: Of a sort; the redheaded woman in the green dress who Bruce Wayne checks out during his lunch meeting with Luthor is hinted to be Poison Ivy.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Luthor has constructed the Science Spire, a massive research facility-stroke-monument to human achievement and has financed Hope, a new superhero who's in fact an intricate artificial human. He ends up destroying both in an effort to make Superman look bad, showing how destructive his obsession is, even to his own ideals.
  • Deconstruction: Throughout the story, in his narration Luthor attempts to deconstruct Superman, attempting to present him as a potential threat to humanity. However, it's actually one of Luthor himself. As the comic clearly demonstrates, even if we can take his talk about the dangers posed by Superman seriously, Luthor's ultimately become so totally obsessed with defeating Superman for his own ego that he voluntarily undermines any good he does or benevolence towards humanity he supposedly has. The clearest illustration of this is the fact that, for all Luthor's grand speeches about the potential of humanity and how it needs to be protected and nurtured from Superman's negative influence, he ultimately destroys the two clearest examples of said potential presented in the story for an ultimately petty reason: he uses Hope, in actuality a Ridiculously Human Robot, to destroy the Science Spire, his symbol of humanity's intelligence and industriousness, purely to try to damage Superman's reputation in the minds of the people of Metropolis by appealing to their darker impulses.
  • Double Meaning:
    • In the last issue, Luthor's internal monologue talks about hope in the face of the unstoppable, and says that "hope is what makes us human". The final line of the comic is "I am a man. I hope." which could be taken both as Luthor saying that he continues to have hope because that's what it is to be human, or that his actions have driven him to question his own humanity (that is, "I hope I'm still a man").
    • Also, Superman's single line of dialogue can be read as this. He could be referring to his super-vision, which in some versions of the continuity has been extended to the point where he can see people's 'souls', or at least their auras, enough to give him an idea of what that person is really like. Or he could be referring to the fact that he simply knows Luthor too well and has dealt with the consequences of Luthor's megalomaniacal scheming and viciousness too many times to be fooled by his high-and-mighty humanism act.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Depending on how you choose to interpret who's behind the events of the story. If you believe that Toyman was behind the destruction of the jewelers / daycare center all on his own, then it's Luthor. If you believe that Luthor knew all along what was going down and in fact orchestrated it, then it's Toyman and Orr. The text would lean more towards the latter interpretation of events than the former.
  • Evil Plan: It's very strongly hinted that Luthor's behind every single thing we see happen in the graphic novel, even if it's not outright stated in most cases.
  • Foreshadowing: During Batman and Superman's fight (see Let's You and Him Fight below), there's a page that looks very similar to when Hope later carries the Toyman away and Lex remotely commands her hand to drop him. It probably also explains a lot of what's going on in the earlier scene.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Lex's lovely assistant gets jealous of the attention he gives Hope. Somewhat tellingly Lex himself — who, for all his humanist pretensions, is clearly also suffering a bad case of this trope towards Superman — is depicted as having green eyes.
  • Hero Antagonist: Superman, of course. The comic drives the point home by changing how he's drawn; partly in shadow, (almost) eternally silent, and bringing a clear feeling of ominous dread every time he's onscreen.
  • Hypocrite: For most of the book, Luthor presents himself as an idealist and a humanist, championing the finest parts of humanity against a near-godlike alien who threatens to make them redundant, but he still has no qualms about killing people, or threatening their families to get his way. Furthermore, his entire plan exposes a hypocritical contradiction in his humanist rhetoric: for all his talk of the finer things that humanity could aspire to if only Superman wasn't around forcing them to be small and lack ambition, ultimately his plan hinges on destroying symbols of these finer things for reasons that reflect darker, pettier and more cynical motivations. He hopes that Superman saving Toyman will infuriate the people of Metropolis baying for his blood, thus appealing to their darker, angry and violent impulses, and he blows up the Science Spire and destroys Hope purely in the hopes that it'll make people view Superman negatively.
  • Ironic Echo: "I have hope."note 
  • It's All About Me: For all of Luthor's philosophizing, attempts to justify his actions, and/or Pet the Dog, his actions show that he only cares about himself. He might be Nice to the Waiter, (as his kind interactions with the janitor at his office show) but he also doesn't bat an eye at blowing up the building where the proverbial waiter works, either. (As when he destroys the "Science Spire", the huge building being built, as part of his effort to make Superman look bad.) He saves a scientist from a dire situation... and later appears to have the man and his family blown up. He creates and becomes lovers with Hope, and then sacrifices her without a second thought as part of his efforts against Superman. Ultimately everyone and everything is just a pawn or tool for Lex to get what he wants, and can be used, sacrificed, or thrown away to suit his needs and whims.
  • Kick the Dog: If read attentively, it's seen that Lex does this constantly, undoing his good deeds. A good example of this is when Lex, through Orr and subtly himself, threatens the family of one of his leading partners, who disagrees with Lex's suggestions. While Orr, the man hired by Luthor, intimidates this partner under the roof, ready to kill him.
  • Let's You and Him Fight:
    • At one point, Superman and Batman come to blows over a chunk of green kryptonite that Luthor has given to Bruce Wayne. Although there's little context and we don't hear any dialogue between the two, it's suggested that Superman is either under some kind of Mind Control, is a little bit miffed about Batman going behind his back and accepting the only thing that can kill him for whatever reason (and accepted it from Superman's arch-nemesis, of all people), or a bit of both. An alternative interpretation, given the implied Continuity Cameo of Poison Ivy in earlier pages, is that Batman is the one under the influence of Mind Control, and Superman is in fact trying to calm him down or isn't even there.
    • Or he might be an artificial duplicate of Superman like Hope, given the Foreshadowing above.
  • Mythology Gag: Lex refers to the kryptonite he gives Bruce as "a gift For the Man Who Has Everything".
  • Never My Fault: Lex has this philosophy throughout most of the story, but it possibly disappears at the end, at least briefly.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Luthor is shown chatting amiably with his security guard. Things to not end up well for the guard, either.
  • Only Sane Man: Lex believes himself to be this, thinking he's he only one who can see clearly what a threat Superman is to humanity. The irony, of course, is that Lex is so twisted and blinded by his obsessions that he's both the craziest person in the story and the biggest danger to humanity.
  • Perspective Flip: The entire comic shows us events through the eyes of Lex Luthor, Superman's greatest enemy, instead of Superman himself.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • One long petting session for Lex, as the point is to show him outside of his conflict with Superman and show the benevolent things he does (or at least is capable of). Although it's played with, since despite the more positive perspective we get on Lex, he ends up Kicking The Dog several times anyway almost despite himself. In a Moral Event Horizon way.
    • In a particular example, he's friendly to the janitor tidying his office, asks after the janitor's academically gifted son, and arranges a prestigious scholarship for him. Unfortunately, that goes wrong, too, as the Science Spire where the janitor's son went is destroyed. Luthor didn't really care about him, either.
  • Popularity Power: Played with; in many conflicts between Superman and Batman, Batman generally has some way of beating Superman up his sleeve, or holding his own. In this case, Superman and Batman fight — and while Superman's still clearly holding back (as evidenced by the fact that Batman isn't a smear on the wall), it's nevertheless clear that Batman's completely outmatched.
  • Precocious Crush: Lex's assistant says that Superman's been around since she was a little girl, and admits that she had a crush on him at the time.
  • Real Men Eat Meat: Used subtly when Bruce Wayne orders for himself and Lex at a business dinner. The chef is said to be Gotham's finest, but Bruce cuts his description of the night's dishes short and just orders two strip steaks. It's a form of macho posturing on Bruce's part, as he plays the role of the billionaire playboy.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Superman's eyes are always red and shadowed. Justified because this is the way Superman's eyes look when he's angry or preparing to shoot his heat vision, which he always is when he's looking at Luthor.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Hope turns out to be a robot, so perfect that at first even she doesn't know it. She acts and looks just like a normal human woman.
  • Robosexual: Luthor has sex with Hope, who it turns out is a robot he created.
  • Robot Girl: Hope it turns out is one, who's so finely made she looks just like a normal woman.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Superman's only line throughout the miniseries (after Lex rants about Superman not seeing humanity and Lex's soul for what they truly are):
    Superman: You're wrong. I can see your soul.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: An ambiguous example. In their final encounter, for the most part Superman as ever looks like he's barely restraining himself from attacking Luthor — until Lex delivers his "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how everyone in Metropolis wanted to see Toyman killed. For one panel, Superman looks at Luthor with a sad expression which suggests that either Luthor's words have touched a nerve, or that Superman for a moment actually pities Luthor for his nihilistic and contempt-filled view of the world.
  • Tautological Templar: Luthor believes he's a Well-Intentioned Extremist, but despite his supposed belief in the value of humanity and how it's being diminished by Superman's mere presence he's still willing to kill a lot of humans to make Superman look bad. In his final rant, he asks why Superman sees good in people that he feels just isn't there.
  • Thematic Series: The story works very well as a companion piece to Azzarello and Bermejo's later Joker, to the point that it was later re-released in a hardback edition under the title Luthor with several changes to the cover artwork to reinforce the links:
    • Both are rather dark and deconstructive takes on the Batman and Superman universes with their respective arch-nemeses acting as Villain Protagonists.
    • In both, the superheroes act as rarely-seen threats lurking ominously on the edges.
    • Both also explore the mindsets of each villain, and the worlds they inhabit. This consequently introduces an element of Unreliable Narrator, as neither villain is a wholly trustworthy source (Luthor's narrative, which initially seems quite utopian, is ultimately warped by his humanist pretensions and paranoid delusions, while the Joker's narrative is naturally drenched in an atmosphere of horrific nihilism and casual sadism from the outset).
    • Both initially appear to be deconstructing the superhero, only to turn it around and end up revealing exactly how monstrous the villain is and why we shouldn't trust them at all. As an example, both works climax in a confrontation between villain and hero in which the villain launches into a lengthy and deconstructive "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how inadequate the hero is, only for the hero to respond with a brief Shut Up, Hannibal! statement (seven words for Superman, three words for Batman) that not only refutes everything the villain has tried to claim about the hero, but turns it back on the villain in such a way that drives them to a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Luthor's plan is to use Superman's refusal to kill against him, by manipulating him into a situation where he saves the life of Winslow Schott — who, having (seemingly) bombed a building with a daycare center inside, is high up on Metropolis' current Who Would Be Better Off Dead list — in order to turn people against him. Furthermore, Luthor makes Superman look like a massive hypocrite when he arranges for it to look like Supes kills Hope, a super heroine Luthor introduced to the world stage who had become beloved by Metropolis. Hope is a Ridiculously Human Robot, so Superman isn't killing anything (literally, since it's Lex who triggers the explosion that kills Hope)... but the people who can only see things happening from a distance don't know that.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Hope is as shocked as Superman to realize she's a Ridiculously Human Robot, just before she explodes.
  • Unflinching Walk: A variation; although Luthor's nowhere near the jewelers / daycare center when it explodes, of the other people on the street he's currently on, he alone barely reacts in the panel when it explodes. It's a hint that he had more to do with it than he's letting on.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Although this is Luthor's Perspective Flip, we probably should not trust everything he says. After all, he's still Lex Luthor. A good indicator is when he's watching security footage of Superman; all the bystanders nearby are horrified of him, even though he's a beloved superhero to everyone who's not Luthor.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Played with; while Luthor's usually cast as this in the comics (and arguably is so here), he attempts to make the case that Superman is in fact one of these.
  • Villain Protagonist: This Superman story is from Luthor's perspective.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Luthor doesn't react very well to Superman's Shut Up, Hannibal! moment.
  • Villainous Valor:
    • Superman is basically unstoppable whenever he appears. Of course, he's only the 'villain' from Luthor's perspective, but still.
    • Maybe Luthor is a Fearless Fool, but it takes some guts for a normal man to stand up to an angry Superman, (especially in the same comic that gives us the page image for Mook Horror Show) and not only stand his ground, but try to go into Break Them by Talking mode. Sure, Luthor is evil, but he's got guts.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Lex thinks of himself as this. He isn't.
  • Wham Line: For Luthor: "You're wrong. I can see your soul."
  • Wife Husbandry: Lex hooks up with Hope, who saw him as a father figure. Of course, she was an android built by Luthor in the first place.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Whoever bombed the jewellery store didn't know or care that it was next to a daycare centre and ended up killing over a hundred people, more than seventy of whom were young children. Toyman gets the blame for this but desperately denies planting the bomb, even in private to himself. It is strongly implied that Lex was responsible for the explosion and that the daycare center was even the actual target. His mook, who is willing to at least threaten to hurt somebody's family, is appalled and makes no secret that he blames Lex for the attack (and is seemingly murdered on the orders of Lex as well).
  • Xanatos Gambit: It's strongly hinted that Lex is behind the bombing of the daycare and that his plan was to make Metropolis turn against Superman because he knew Superman would refuse to kill the bomber. Plus, the daycare center that was destroyed in the explosion triggered by Toyman just "happened" to be the same one used by the family of a prominent scientist used by Luthor in the construction of Hope, and the scientist dies in the blast along with his entire family. One might be given to suspect that Luthor, not one for loose ends, planned it that way...