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Analysis of Lex Luthor

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RavenWilder Raven Wilder
Raven Wilder
Apr 13th 2013 at 4:10:13 PM

Like all of DC's Shared Universe characters (particularly one who's been around so long and been in so many different mediums and continuities), there's great heaping doses of Depending on the Writer. Sometimes Lex is the guy everyone respects and/or fears, othertimes he's just this perpetual thorn in Superman's side whose plans constantly fail, but who never suffers any defeat so sound he can't come back from it and try again. The latter is the version of Lex I personally prefer, when he plays the Coyote to Superman's Road Runner.

"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko
Apr 13th 2013 at 7:19:09 PM

Lex hasn't been a stock villain in a long, long time. Writers in the 70's started delving into his character and shining light on his motivations (outside of the simple "I hate Superman cuz he made me bald which is just what I tell people so they won't know that I really hate him cuz everyone else thinks he's great!", or the earlier "mad scientist out to dominate/conquer the world"). I see him now as more of a formidable force arrayed against Superman rather than a traditional "villain" who tries to directly take him on.

EricW The tropemaster from the 5th dimension (imagination you dolts) Relationship Status: All is for my lord
The tropemaster
May 4th 2013 at 9:16:37 PM

This has been a fun discussion. I suppose now is as good a time as any to bring in this article about what makes Luthor so special. My personal favorite part is the idea that Lex could create a world where they wouldn't need superman, but since it'd sit on a throne of lies and egotism, it's a world that Superman can't allow lex in his current state to bring about. Also, I somehow always see Luthor as a plotter in the vein of the green goblin, only less insane, so creating that man you can crusade against, but never knock down all the way. Kinda like a slightly less infuriating version of the joker in a much more complex light.

This is probably why I found his portrayal in the most recent justice league cartoon to be so compelling. This luthor is not only smart, but he's compelling too. He pushes people to his side, because the alternative seems too bleak. He'd give you a mechanical arm as a buy-off, and concede when it was ideal to get out because he's smart enough to do so. True, some say this makes him into a ripoff of one Greg Weisman villain from another series, at the same time it encapsulates all Lex could be as a frustrating villain for superman in that as bad as he is, sometimes you can't help but see that he's right. You hate what he does in the shadows, but he works so smoothly, you're frustrated so often at every turn.tongue

May 5th 2013 at 12:26:04 AM

SO here's a thought. Why do y'all think Luthor continually loses? Is it ego? Does he continually underestimate Superman's ingenuity and adaptability?

They do say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

WaxingName from Everywhere
May 5th 2013 at 10:14:15 AM

[up]I think it's just that. Luthor's the smartest human on Earth and due to his ego, he thinks that Superman must be a Dumb Muscle due to his Super Strength.

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theweirdKiddokun What a Wonderful World! from Last Place in the Race Relationship Status: Maxing my social links
What a Wonderful World!
May 5th 2013 at 10:38:54 AM

That or he wants to see Superman lose. If Superman can't figure out the weak spot of his plan than is not as God like as people claim.

The Reaper Games starts anew.
May 5th 2013 at 9:50:57 PM

[up] Luthor continually loses because he wants to see Superman lose?

AtomJames I need a drink
I need a drink
May 5th 2013 at 10:25:17 PM

I..don't see that working either. I can believe that he would potentially risk failure to see Superman suffer and lose.

Theres sex and death and human grime in monochrome for one thin dime and at least the trains all run on time but they dont go anywhere.
theweirdKiddokun What a Wonderful World! from Last Place in the Race Relationship Status: Maxing my social links
What a Wonderful World!
May 5th 2013 at 11:23:47 PM

I mean that sometimes Luthor doesn't have to win against Superman, but Superman definitively has to lose to Luthor. I mean sure Luthor craves to win against Superman, but I feel that Luthor won't be happy if he don't feel that Superman loss against him and sometimes he might leave obvious holes in his plan (the small ones) to test Superman.

edited 5th May '13 11:35:21 PM by theweirdKiddokun

The Reaper Games starts anew.
ShadowScythe from Australia
May 5th 2013 at 11:31:32 PM

Why do y'all think Luthor continually loses?

I'd say it's because he's just wrong about Superman from the basic concept. He keeps seeing him as an apex predator taking over the world or some overpowered despot who might turn on us at any second and keeps insisting that Supes is something he isn't. All the while lying to himself that without Supes he'd totally save the world. Because he's so fundamentally wrong that bias prevents him from ever really defeating him. By comparison Joker knows what he is and what Batman is and he's far more successful at getting under Bruce's skin.

Red Son is one of the few cases where Luthor's actually kind of right about the guy and he proceeds to utterly shatter the man emotionally with one simple question.

May 8th 2013 at 3:12:46 AM

I dunno. I'd say that Joker's "plans" are simply more petty. If you foil his attempt to make the Mayor think he's a fish, the Joker will be just as satisfied squirting acid into Batgirl's face. In fact, the Joker's maiming of Jason, Barbara and Mrs. Gordon were just that: they weren't payoff from some larger, planned-out scheme. It was totally spontaneous.

Lex isn't that petty. Oh sure, I'm sure he'll turn around and shoot Lois or Jimmy Olsen in a fit of anger after Superman spoils his scheme, but that would be a small comfort compared to finally destroying Superman. He sets the bar higher. The Joker wants to watch the world burn, but Lex wants to rule it.

AtomJames I need a drink
I need a drink
May 8th 2013 at 3:24:29 AM

[tup]

Theres sex and death and human grime in monochrome for one thin dime and at least the trains all run on time but they dont go anywhere.
Eagal This is a title. from This is a location. Relationship Status: Waiting for Prince Charming
This is a title.
May 10th 2013 at 5:47:18 PM

Executive Meddling.

I haven't read everything there is to be had on Luthor, but from what I have read, to my mind, Luthor long long loooong ago wore out his welcome as Superman's "archenemy". He can muster a decent storyline on his own (just look at The Black Ring), but if Superman is around any cleverness that might be present in the story goes out the window and it becomes the Let's Fuck With Superman Some More show, with special guest star Lex Luthor.

The madness is catching.
May 12th 2013 at 7:36:50 PM

I won't doubt that Lex Luthor gets overexposed; he's not just supposed to be a contrast to Superman but to the other villains as well. I remember the quote from Byrne which was along the lines of "his power was his mind", and he stands above other villains as the Big Bad

I treat all living things equally. That is to say, I eat all living things
WaxingName from Everywhere
May 13th 2013 at 4:38:32 PM

[up][up]The phrase you're looking for is Grandfather Clause.

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May 13th 2013 at 8:20:14 PM

I guess Luthor's like Superman in that asepct; difficult to write well. You wonder why the Arch-Enemy of Superman is a seemingly normal bald businessman, and you wonder why the most intelligent human on the planet continually fails.

I treat all living things equally. That is to say, I eat all living things
May 13th 2013 at 10:22:32 PM

He ain't necessarily the most intelligent person on the planet. Of course, one could make the argument that, to paraphrase Dr.Manhatten, being the most intelligent human being on the planet, when one is dealing with Superman, may make no more difference than being the most intelligent cockroach.

May 14th 2013 at 10:11:19 AM

[up]

Yes I know that we could go into the many different kinds of intelligence, it's just that Luthor's generally agreed to be the most intelligent person on earth.

I treat all living things equally. That is to say, I eat all living things
WaxingName from Everywhere
May 14th 2013 at 10:53:33 AM

Lex Luthor is the smartest human on Earth, no doubt about that. But he's far from being the wisest human.

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May 14th 2013 at 1:54:44 PM

[up]

Basically that

I treat all living things equally. That is to say, I eat all living things
May 15th 2013 at 4:26:19 AM

Long time reader first time poster here, so go easy on me.

I'd say Luthor is made to be Superman's arch-enemy because, much like the Joker is to Batman, he is his antithesis. It's not as simple as a Brains vs. Brawn conflict, but more like one kind of power against the totally opposite kind.

To elaborate:

Superman was gifted with all his powers by virtue of birth alone, while Luthor has had to fight for everything he's achieved and all political power he has amassed. Consequently, Superman is humble and altruistic in using his abilities, while Luthor is arrogant and selfish with his own, feeling, perhaps not unjustly, that he's earned the right to be. He's a self-made man and proud of it. Also, while Luthor is very smart, both intelligence and education are skills that can be improved upon, and with ambitions as great as his, it's not unreasonable to think he's that smart because he's made himself so.

Superman acts directly, while Luthor tends to be more subversive. This is one of the reasons they make such great enemies in the first place - in person, they are completely immune to each other's powers. No sort of superpower can break the political hold Luthor has on Metropolis and beyond, and no amount of bribery, threats or extortion can sway the alien.

Finally, both have completely opposite moral standings, yet I feel both are honest about them (I really don't like the "Lex as power-hungry hypocrite" interpretation). For Superman, power is a gift to be used for the benefit of humanity, while Lex's ambitions corrupt his potential for good. Yet for Luthor, power is a personal accomplishment to be respected and admired, and it's the alien demigod who mocks all mankind by flaunting his purely genetic gifts. And, for their respective upbringings, they are both right.

edited 15th May '13 5:52:15 AM by indiana404

TobiasDrake Always watching, never seen from Colorado, USA Relationship Status: She's holding a very large knife
Always watching, never seen
May 15th 2013 at 6:30:16 AM

I hate the "power-hungry hypocrite" concept too, but I'm also not so fond of the Ambition Is Evil trope. For a character like Lex, a big question needs to be asked in the form of what does his ambition represent? For Lex, my experience is that it's typically ego that drives his ambitions, but there are still many ways to play that, and Lex rarely plays it interestingly.

Lex tends towards the, "I need to be powerful because I am great and brilliant and better than everyone else," portrayal, and that's dull. I can't help but think that, "I need to be powerful because I am the only one who sees the threat that Superman poses to the world; I have to save the world because NO ONE ELSE can," would be just as egotistical, with just as much antagonist portential, but less cardboard.

That's Lex's main problem, in my opinion: he's a one-dimensional character. He exists for no other reason than to be wrong, so that Superman can be right.

edited 15th May '13 6:31:13 AM by TobiasDrake

The greatest trick prejudice ever pulled was to convince the world it did not exist.
May 15th 2013 at 7:48:59 AM

[up] Exactly. Luthor has to be strawmanned into a Corrupt Corporate Executive, lest his questions on the alien's moral integrity hit a little too close to home. After all, Superman has to be The Paragon.

Except... he doesn't. He makes little sense as an inspirational figure, precisely because his heroism stems from having both inborn superpowers and being raised in a kind and loving environment. He has no reason not to be moral, nor to understand the background of those who aren't.

In comparison, a guy like Captain America had a highly moral character despite being from a less than luxurious background, and gained his strength by volunteering and putting his life on the line. He was a hero first, and super because of that.

However, as Superman is difficult to pull off as a Paragon, what does that leave for Lex? I think one of the reasons for Luthor's arrogance is that he truly believes anyone can choose to walk his path and become like him, and that those who don't are too lazy or afraid to make sacrifices, always relying on the alien. To him, it is he who is the paragon, and the alien is the corrupter.

The main problem - he's kinda right. Since we can't choose how to be born, the Big Blue Boyscout buzzing above us is less of an inspiration, and more of a reminder that we can never, ever, be like him. And in contrast, the self-made man walking below him is at least something we know we could become.

edited 15th May '13 7:55:24 AM by indiana404

RavenWilder Raven Wilder
Raven Wilder
May 15th 2013 at 11:29:06 AM

The main problem - he's kinda right. Since we can't choose how to be born, the Big Blue Boyscout buzzing above us is less of an inspiration, and more of a reminder that we can never, ever, be like him. And in contrast, the self-made man walking below him is at least something we know we could become.

Well, in the original conception of the character, Superman had all these powers because Krypton was thousands of years more evolved then Earth, and all its residents had evolved into superhumans. In that context, Superman's powers are simply what all humans will have once they reach the next Evolutionary Level.

"It takes an idiot to do cool things, that's why it's cool" - Haruhara Haruko
May 15th 2013 at 11:14:50 PM

I just wanted to say that the mention that Luthor can only see Superman as a threat reminded me of J. Jonah Jameson. It's easy to forget that Jameson used to be much more of a villain than he came to be later known. But he also never has had the level of antagonism to Spider-Man as Luthor has to Superman.

The antagonism of a self made man as far as Luthor goes is a reason why he can work well against Batman, too, both falling on different sides of the moral fence while being completely human and wary of all the superpowered beings. Still, Batman isn't necessarily a self-made man, since he inherited his wealth. The good question is: is there truly a superheroic self-made man?


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