“No good comes from hero worship.” -Lex Luthor, Injustice: Gods Among Us
A man is in his office, waiting for a show to begin. He watches a giant robot attack a city, demolishing buildings and crushing everything in its path. He sees a red and blue figure flying towards the robot. The figure strikes the robot with power far beyond that of mortal men. The robot falls and is incinerated as the figure shoots fire from its eyes. Lex Luthor watches it all and grimaces, already plotting his next scheme.
Lex Luthor is arguably the greatest supervillain ever. He has opposed Superman since the 1940s, outwitted numerous superheroes, and even became President of the United States of America. Not bad for a guy with no superpowers. So who is he? How can he fight Superman? Hell, why does he hate Superman, anyway? Find out in this Lexcorp sponsored guide. Only $19.40!
Man of Tomorrow: Luthor’s Backstory
“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: Man of Steel
Lex Luthor was created in 1940 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He was originally a war profiteer, but became a mad scientist after he was confused with Superman’s then arch-enemy, the Ultra-Humanite. Which is funny because the Ultra-Humanite is an albino gorilla. Whatever.
Lex Luthor was a genius born into an abusive family. His parents died in a car accident when he was a teenager, freeing him to leave Smallville. How… convenient. Luthor set up shop in Metropolis, creating a company called LexCorp. What started out as an aerospace engineering firm soon grew to encompass two thirds of Metropolis’ businesses. Things were looking up for Lex until the alien appeared.
Superman revealed himself to the world by rescuing a malfunctioning plane. Luthor grew jealous of Superman’s inhuman powers, thinking that Superman was an ideal no human could ever hope to match. He started financing criminals and creating supervillains, hoping to kill Superman. He covered his tracks well, becoming the only villain Superman couldn’t stop.
President of the United States: Luthor’s History
“I am Lex Goddamned Luthor. 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?” – Outsiders #3
Luthor chose politics for his power base. During the event series Batman: No Man’s Land, he used his money and influence to help rebuild Gotham City, which had been devastated by earthquakes and which had been exiled from the U.S.. He used his newfound popularity to run for office and was elected President.
President Luthor led the Earth through an interstellar war in the series Our Worlds at War. He had information that war was imminent, but allowed it to happen so he could cement his legacy as Earth’s leader. Luthor nearly served a full term, but was impeached when he tried to ram a Kryptonite meteor into the Earth in the animated Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. It was later revealed that he had gone insane from using a combination of the combat drug Venom and liquid Kryptonite.
Luthor eventually got clean, but had to deal with the consequences of his addiction. LexCorp was dissolved and the government seized most of his money. During the series Blackest Night, Luthor was given an orange Power Ring, turning him into an Orange Lantern to help fight the Black Lanterns. The Lanterns took the ring back, and Lex became obsessed with regaining that power.
His search eventually led him to a powerful being called the Zone Child. The alien merged with Luthor, giving him godlike power as long as it was used for good. So naturally, Lex immediately tried killing Superman. It didn’t work. Luthor lost the Zone Child’s power and his memories.
Penultimate Supervillain: Luthor’s Powers and Personality
Luthor: “I could have made everyone see. I could have saved the world if it wasn’t for you!”
Superman: “You could have saved the world years ago if it mattered to you, Luthor.” – All-Star Superman (2011)
Lex Luthor has no superpowers. He is the smartest human and one of the most intelligent beings in the DC universe. He has mastered every form of science, including several fictional sciences. He also has created countless types of weapons with one simple purpose: kill Superman.
Luthor eventually decided to take the fight to Superman and created a Kryptonite Warsuit. The Warsuit is capable of fighting a fully powered Kryptonian and has numerous Kryptonite weapons. To effectively use his Warsuit, Luthor studied martial arts and trained hard enough to defeat Batman and Deathstroke (Manu Bennet in Arrow) in hand to hand combat.
Lex Luthor is a selfish, power-hungry guy. He claims that he wants the best for everyone, but then turns around and kills people for slighting him. He is able to wield an Orange Lantern ring, which is powered by avarice because he is one of the universe’s greediest beings.
All of this pales in comparison to Luthor’s one defining trait; his absolute hatred of Superman. The reason differs based on the author, but this hatred is always the core of his character. During the story Infinite Crisis, a Luthor from an alternate universe realized a universal truth. Whenever a Luthor and a Superman exist, they will invariably become enemies.
The Actors who played Lex Luthor
Superman may be the more famous character, but Luthor is the role that wins actors awards. Lex Luthor’s actors have 4 Academy Awards and several more nominations.
Lex Luthor debuted in the 1950 serial Atom Man vs. Superman, where he was played by classic character actor Lyle Talbot. Oscar-winner Gene Hackman played Luthor in the 1970s Superman movies. His was a unique Luthor, more humorous and lacking the hatred of Superman.
Fellow Oscar winner Kevin Spacey played a more straightforward version of Luthor in 2006’s Superman Returns. Jesse Eisenberg is the latest award winning actor to win the Luthor role. Eisenberg played Luthor in Batman v. Superman, but seemed to confuse his character with the Joker. Unfortunately, he’ll reprise his role for Justice League.
Lex Luthor made his TV debut in The New Adventures of Superman, voiced by Ray Owens. He was also the main antagonist of the Super Friends television series, where he was voiced by Stanley Jones. Luthor was a major threat in the DC Animated Universe, where he was voiced by Clancy Brown. Lex has also appeared in numerous animated movies voiced by the likes of Powers Boothe, James Marsters, Chris Noth, and Anthony LaPaglia.
Didya Get All That?
One of the Greatest Supervillains Ever.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.