Lex Luthor was a powerful businessman and criminal mastermind. He was widely considered to be one of Earth's most brilliant minds and Superman's arch-nemesis.
Little is known about Lex Luthor's origins, but he was an admirably self-made man. With the aid of his natural genius and his general lack of conscience, Luthor assembled a vast fortune and founded LexCorp. Through a combination of Luthor's ruthless business tactics and genuine ingenuity, LexCorp quickly became one of the largest corporations in the United States. Now clearly the most powerful man in Metropolis, Luthor's ego and pride drove him to try and position himself as the face of the city, donating millions to charity and erecting libraries, schools, and hospitals in his name.
However, at heart, Luthor was devious, shrewd, and cold. In his mind, Metropolis was to be an empire, with Luthor as its absolute ruler. LexCorp forced virtual monopolies on public works, technology, transportation, and even became a major defense contractor—all with the underlying goal of collecting more and more power and wealth for the greedy Luthor.
Challenged by an alien
It was this lust for power that eventually made him the sworn enemy of Superman. From the start, the very idea of an alien who appeared to be human possessing incredible power disturbed Luthor. However, that reasonable suspicion soon erupted into personal jealousy and malicious intent. The fact that Luthor could not bribe or hire the newcomer, or alter the public's perception of Superman's actions, angered him even more. Luthor would soon scheme against Superman on a regular basis; attempting at various times to ruin Superman's reputation or destroy him outright.
His drive to eliminate Superman became so strong, that he even became willing to hire psychopathic criminals such as the Joker to kill him. However, the attempts often painted Luthor in an unflattering light, but he managed to cover his trail often enough to avoid prosecution.
In the early years, perhaps Luthor's most horrific plan involved collecting a drop of blood from a Kryptonite-weakened Superman and using it in cloning experiments. No successful clones were created—in fact, many were inhumanely destroyed. One massively flawed clone would escape after mutating into the white-skinned Bizarro.
Luthor took to carrying a small piece of Kryptonite on his person at all times, as a precaution against any potential encounters with Superman. However, he failed to realize how damaging the radiation could be to humans and after a few years, and he developed Kryptonite poisoning. Driven mad by the sickness, Luthor became angrier than ever at Superman, and attempted to kill him publicly. Lex Luthor's criminal activities are finally exposed in a sting by the Justice League, when Luthor lords it over "Superman" rendered helpless by Kryptonite, who turns out to be J'onn J'onzz in disguise, with Batman and Green Lantern recording the conversation where Luthor reveals how he smuggled weapons through customs, giving names of those he bribed.
Batman gets the Kryptonite and places it in his belt. Luthor flees the LexCorp tower in a personal aircraft. Superman flies after him, but Luthor has an unexpected seizure, and Superman acted quickly to keep him from crashing. Luthor awakens in a hospital bed. He claims the charges won't stand up in court, but Superman and a doctor inform him that he is suffering from an incurable form of blood cancer caused by long-term exposure to the Kryptonite's radiation. Superman asks Luthor if there's anything he can do, but Luthor, clearly blaming him, feels that he's "done enough" already, at which Superman leaves him be. Luthor loses interest in defending his case, and so for this crime and others, Lex Luthor was finally convicted and sent to prison.
After the fall
While in prison, Luthor is annoyed by the Ultra-Humanite, who occupies the cell next to his and is often watching his favorite opera program on public broadcasting. The program announces that this will be their last broadcast as they have run out of funds, which Ultra-Humanite notes with a sad frown. However, Luthor contacts him via their TV screens and convinces the Ultra-Humanite to help him escape in exchange for a large sum of money. He then teamed up with Ultra-Humanite, enabling their escape. The Ultra-Humanite electrocutes two guards bringing him food, and uses one of them to open Lex's cell via the doors' retina scanners. Luthor uses dynamite to set a building on fire, delaying the authorities and the League. Once free, Luthor summons a group of other super-criminals: Cheetah, Star Sapphire, The Shade, Copperhead, and Solomon Grundy, for one purpose: to destroy the League. However, the criminal masterminds were recaptured when their attempts to form an Injustice Gang were foiled. The Ultra-Humanite was responsible for their capture, who sold Luthor out to the Batman (in exchange for a sizable monetary donation to public television, of all things). However, despite that failure Luthor received a chest plate that prevented the Kryptonite poisoning from worsening, and he acquired a battle suit powerful enough to fight the Justice League directly.
Luthor returned again, taking sides with a supersoldier-type android called Amazo. After tricking Amazo into doing his dirty work and destroying the Justice League, Amazo copied all of the Justice League's powers and nearly killed them. But when Amazo acquired J'onn J'onzz's mind-reading capability, he discovered Luthor's true intentions. Amazo decided to spare Luthor's life and flew off into space. Luthor was returned to prison.
Luthor was later pardoned for helping the Justice League defeat the fascist Justice Lords and claimed in a press conference that he'd sworn off violence against Superman and the Justice League in order to concentrate on more noble aspirations. To this end, Luthor was now looking into politics — more specifically he sought the U.S. Presidency.
To try and persuade the public that he was sincere in his reformation, Luthor courted the media, giving interviews to Phil O'Bannon and Sroya Bashir and writing a book called "Into the Light". As part of his Presidential campaign, he funded the construction of Lexor City — only for it to be half-destroyed in a battle between Superman and Captain Marvel when the former was led to believe that Luthor had planted a bomb to destroy the city. For the benefit of the reporters present at the scene, Luthor took full responsibility for the damage and the events that had lead to it — the "bomb" being a Kryptonite-fuelled power generator which would have provided the city with cheap energy.
Luthor even joined forces with the League in order to stop the android Amazo when he returned to Earth. Amazo was more powerful than ever and had even apparently destroyed the planet Oa simply by approaching it. Using the android's blueprints, Luthor and the Atom came up with a weapon in order to stop him but it proved ineffective since he had evolved beyond nanotechnology. Amazo confronted Luthor over the way he had manipulated him in their original meeting but then revealed that what he really wanted to know was his purpose in life. Amazo's failure to find some kind of meaning to his existence was a major frustration for him. Luthor calmed him by stating that to find meaning for one's life was something that everyone had to find out for themselves: As an example, he revealed that his own motivation was the pursuit of knowledge and desire to last beyond his current existence, stating "In just a few short generations my name will be forgotten. Even the greatest of us can't compete with time... and death." Luthor's advice was enough to calm Amazo, who also restored the planet Oa to its original location, having simply shifted it to another dimension.
All this time, Luthor was pursuing a hidden agenda. His presidential campaign was really just a way to antagonize Superman and destroy the League. He had manipulated the battle of Lexor City in order to successfully discredit Superman, who had been made to appear to have destroyed the city for no good reason. Luthor also teamed up with Amanda Waller, head of Project Cadmus, to which he provided off-the-books funding.
It was around this time that Luthor's body underwent some strange changes. He was inexplicably cured of the Kryptonite-induced cancer; his body became as fit as that of a much younger man; and he displayed considerable super-strength in physical confrontations with Batman and the Question.
As the feud between the Justice League and Project Cadmus reached its height, Luthor hacked into the League's Watchtower's systems and used their binary fusion weapon to destroy Cadmus HQ, leading to an all-out battle between the League and Cadmus's army of Ultimen clones.
All of this was to distract the League long enough for Luthor to create an android based on Amazo to spend the rest of eternity in — having memorised the blueprints when trying to device a weapon to destroy Amazo. However, Batman convinced Waller of Luthor's intentions and she destroyed the android. Luthor was then confronted by the founding members of the Justice League who came to arrest him. However, at that point, Brainiac suddenly emerged from within Luthor. It was revealed that Brainiac had placed a nanite copy of himself within Luthor years ago, and protected him until he could transfer himself to another body. Escaping from the League, Luthor asked Brainiac what he intended to do. When he learned that Brainiac merely intended to acquire all knowledge, Luthor offered to merge with Brainiac and use that knowledge to achieve true godhood. They broke into Cadmus and assimilated the Dark Heart technology into their database. This way, he could control the nano-assemblers into converting any raw material into whatever they wished. Given his failed liaison with Darkseid, Brainiac didn't fully trust Luthor, so they agreed to completely merge into one single being, using the nanotech.
From there on, Luthor/Brainiac set off to build a machine that would absorb the information of the entire Earth, then the galaxy, and finally reshape the universe to their will. When the Justice League stepped in, Luthor/Brainiac created nanotech duplicates of the Justice Lords to hold them off. Even though the League overpowered their counterparts, Brainiac/Luthor managed to subdue them, except for Flash. While attempting to reassemble his absorption apparatus, Luthor/Brainiac was engaged by the Flash, who had tapped into the Speed Force and managed to destroy every piece of Brainiac in Luthor, returning Luthor to normal.
Return to form
After failing to destroy Superman and the Justice League while merged with Brainiac, Luthor was exposed as a criminal to the public at large. Compelled by a mental form of Brainiac, Luthor escaped prison and was recruited into Gorilla Grodd's super-villain army in order to resurrect Brainiac from his last remaining piece and regain his godhood. Ultimately, he planned on turning on Grodd and usurp leadership of the Legion and accelerated his plan when he learned that the items he had collected for Grodd were to turn all humans into apes, which was foiled by the League. Luthor also made extra insurances in case any one of his subordinates would try to betray him. One example was Doctor Polaris, who attempted to take control when Luthor switched bodies with Flash, only to learn that Luthor had installed fail-safes in his augmentation.
Luthor's obsession for reviving Brainiac made him distant from the rest of the Legion. He soon learned of the remnants of Brainiac's old base in outer space and modified the Legion's base into a faster-than-light spacecraft. However, Tala had released Grodd, who lead a schism in the Legion. The insurrection was put down and Luthor jettisoned Grodd into space. He then bound Tala into a machine meant to use her to reconstruct Brainiac, which should kill her in the process. However, Luthor's attempt failed as Tala, in a last act of revenge on him, used the last of her magical strength to interfere with the process and caused it to instead revive Darkseid, fused with Brainiac technology.
Reluctantly teaming with arch-rivals Superman and Batman to stop Darkseid, Luthor was helped by Metron of New Genesis, who directed Luthor towards the resting place of Darkseid's most valued prize: the Anti-Life Equation. Using the power of the cosmic Anti-Life Equation, Luthor stopped Darkseid from killing Superman, and in effect saved the Earth. In doing so, he and Darkseid vanished completely in an explosion of light and energy.
Powers and abilities
Although a normal human, Lex Luthor possesses a keen intellect as well as a photographic memory. At his peak, his vast intelligence and technological know-how is matched only by notables such as Mr. Terrific and Bruce Wayne, though Lex is not quite as skilled a combatant. He rarely wades into combat without some sort of weapon; be it a power suit, gun, or a piece of Kryptonite to deal with Superman. Perhaps his greatest asset is his ruthlessness, as he will go to absolutely any end to get what he wants, regardless of the consequences.
Early in Superman's career, Lex proved reluctant to directly engage Superman, preferring to leave physical confrontations to the hired help (primarily chauffeur/bodyguard Mercy Graves.) However, as his obsession with Superman grew, Luthor employed more destructive and elaborate technology in his pursuit of the Kryptonian, to the point where he would attempt to engage Superman in combat on several occasions. He would later personally develop numerous customized devices that would neutralize enemies and allies alike; a talent that enabled him to hold sway over even the most powerful members of Grodd's Legion of Doom, most notably Grodd himself.
He was also not above resorting to magic, as evidenced by his acquisition of a certain mystic medallion (similar to one belonging to the Phantom Stranger) in order to defend himself from magic-users such as Tala. However, he does not like using magic, as he feels it is "unknowable, unpredictable, and not to be trusted", preferring the more refined, controlled nature of science to solve problems.
Lex Luthor is intelligent, successful, and likes nothing better than for "lesser beings" to recognize and admire him as a leader of men. Lex's enormous legitimate accomplishments are dwarfed by his own egotistical view of himself. Lex sees himself as a modern renaissance man and the standard for human personal achievement. He has the charisma of a natural leader and the education to take advantage of this trait; however his ambitions almost always undermine the trust and faith of his allies and subordinates, and often lead to dismal failure.
Failure infuriates Luthor more than almost anything in the world; his entire existence revolves around the idea of success and superiority. His goals of being seen as the "savior" of Metropolis and his later failed bid for the power of Brainiac clearly demonstrate Lex's obsessions. Once Lex's mind merged with that of Brainiac, his desire to become a superior being reached immeasurable heights. The temptation of almost god-like power and knowledge tormented Lex for months as he tried to reconstruct and reactivate Brainiac by any means necessary.
Though Luthor usually demonstrates great restraint and self-control, he never forgets a slight. When angered, Luthor's rage is uncontrollable and will only subside when it is properly sated by success or revenge. Because of this super-heated temper, it is Lex's ultimate undoing that his position in life is (in Lex's mind alone) threatened by the mere existence of Superman. Luthor's true villainy was and is heavily fueled by his sheer envy of Superman; the hero was born with abilities far beyond those of mortal men like Lex and overshadowed Luthor as Metropolis's favorite son from the day of his first public appearance. Had Luthor never acted upon his jealousy of Superman, he might have been no more than an extremely high-powered (if corrupt) captain of industry. However, Luthor's reckless attempts to destroy Superman (and later, the Justice League) made him instead one of the most dangerous criminals in existence.
However, despite all his negative points, Luthor is not without scruples. Given the situation, he will aid Superman and the Justice League in their battles against more powerful foes, such as the Justice Lords and Darkseid. In the case of the Justice Lords, however, he had been promised a presidential pardon in return, while in the battle against Darkseid, Luthor was willing to give his life to destroy the ruler of Apokolips, ending Darkseid's reign of terror once and for all. Numerous times, it is shown that, despite their animosity, Superman and Luthor have a grudging respect for one another, shown when Superman offers to help Luthor in any way he can after learning his enemy has cancer, and when Luthor expresses remorse over Superman's apparent death and attends his funeral, even embracing a weeping Lois Lane and admitting to her that he too will miss Superman. In fact, it appears that Luthor's personal enmity against Superman has in a way become his true meaning of life. He also made clear that while he did have bitter enmity to the Man of Steel, even he would not go as far as to jeopardize the welfare of the planet just to settle his grudge, even if he could, as he stated to Lois Lane when she accused him of hiring Luminus to use his satellites to block the sun's yellow rays to cripple Superman while he was in jail (when Luminus had in fact gone renegade). Similarly, when he had learned that Lois Lane had not only been the target of an assassination against her, but one of LexCorp's devices had also been in her vehicle at the time, he not only denied being involved in the assassination (largely because he would have made sure not to have left any evidence directly implicating him to the crime if he wanted her dead), he also personally promised to look into who was responsible.
After being infected by parts of Brainiac, Lex Luthor's body was fully restored to health and artificially enhanced from within by the Kryptonian supercomputer. The result increased Luthor's strength significantly (making him much stronger than The Question and the Batman) and increased his intellect. This was reflected later on when he was able to access the Anti-Life Equation despite Metron's caution that it was an object that only a "12th level intellect" could claim. Luthor dismissed the warning by simply stating: "Then I'm over-qualified".
Though his mind still retained elements of Brainiac's thought patterns for a time, Luthor seemed to have returned to a normal level of human strength following his separation from Brainiac at the hands of the Flash.
Luthor's air of superiority affects all of his relationships, including his romantic entanglements. After briefly dating Lois Lane prior to Superman's first appearance, the reporter broke it off with Luthor due to a severe dislike of his personality.
Bodyguard Mercy Graves seems to have had a romantic relationship with Lex, however she too was often at odds with Lex's cold and domineering manner. It is not known if their on-again/off-again personal relationship continued up to Lex's time as leader of the Legion of Doom, though Mercy's career with LexCorp continued seemingly uninterrupted during their personal disagreements.
Lex also had a brief relationship with another of Clark's flames, Lana Lang. Lana, who was an internationally renowned fashion designer, briefly had a relationship with Luthor, while at the same time, attempting to regain the attention of Clark/Superman. Lana went so far as to spy on Luthor for Superman. When Luthor found out, he had one of his henchmen try and kill Lana, thus, of course, ending the relationship.
Most recently, Lex Luthor was very nearly done in by the sorceress Tala, who finally rebelled against the verbal and even physical abuse that occurred regularly during their brief affair. In fact, the happiest Tala ever found herself with Luthor is when the criminal's mind was swapped with that of the playful and humorous Flash for a few hours.
Luthor's friendships and partnerships are equally dysfunctional; largely because Luthor views himself as being without equal—even compared to beings such as Superman, The Joker, Grodd, and to a certain extent even Darkseid. Only Brainiac—a non-organic being—has ever truly awed Lex Luthor with its pure intelligence. Though this egotistical view of himself boosts Luthor's confidence and enables him to control most situations, in the long run his immeasurable smugness inevitably causes friction. As a result, almost all of Lex Luthor's partnerships—be they professional or personal—eventually end badly.
Lex Luthor: You work for me, Peterson, don't forget that! There shouldn't be an opinion in your head that I haven't put there!
Lex Luthor: I control everything in this town, Superman. Your cooperation is not really necessary. The offer was merely a courtesy.
Lex Luthor: Metropolis can be such a dangerous city, Peterson. I'd hate to wake up tomorrow and find out that something terrible had happened to you...
Lex Luthor: I have a luncheon to attend, but I expect to hear the tragic news about him just before dessert.
Outside the DCAU, Lex Luthor is the archenemy of Superman. His history there is far too extensive to be listed here in great detail. However, here are some important bits of information regarding Lex Luthor in DC Comics continuity and beyond.
- Lex's career as a successful businessman was an alteration made to the character in the 1980s. Prior to that, the character had almost always been depicted as the stereotypical mad scientist (except for the Superman movies, which showed a Luthor that was essentially a malevolent land-snatcher with a talent for invention.)
- While Luthor began as a stereotypical mad scientist, he was hardly the prototype as far as comic books were concerned. The original bald and villainous super-scientist of DC Comics was actually the Ultra-Humanite. When Luthor (initially red-haired, mistakenly drawn bald in an early issue, and the change remained) eventually surpassed the Ultra-Humanite in popularity, the slightly older villain was recycled as a villain for the Justice Society of America in general instead.
- Lex's appearance in the DCAU was partially based on actor Telly Savalas and his portrayal of the James Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (opposite George Lazenby as James Bond). This somewhat influenced the stylistic approach of Clancy Brown, though it is far from an imitation.
- Lex's green combat suit is a trademark of the character; since the suit was introduced in the 1980s, most animated and DC Comics versions of the character have worn a similar suit in some form or another.
- The producers initially considered casting Sherman Howard in the role of Luthor, as he previously played the same role in the Superboy series. Ultimately, Howard ended up voicing the Preserver and Steppenwolf in Superman: The Animated Series and later went to voice Derek Powers in Batman Beyond, as the producers decided to cast Clancy Brown, who was auditioning in order to play Superman.
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