Doom & Justice: The Redemption of Lex Luthor
An Editorial From Rafa Encinas
I want to start this editorial by stating that Lex Luthor is a piece of shit. This is a bad man who has done some truly horrific and irredeemable things. However, I cannot deny the allure and magic of comic books, specifically when they do something crazy and exciting. Sometimes, comics try things that are too wild, but at other times, it is as if the sky aligns just right, and we are given something truly magical. Specifically, there are few things on this earth that are as magical or as masterfully written as the meticulous redemption of Lex Luthor.
Luthor is arguably Superman’s quintessential villain. Basically, he is that one kid in the classroom who calls you out for being too handsome, too intelligent, or too nice. That distrustful person who is convinced there is something wrong about you and will stop at nothing to reveal you for what you really are. Basically, Lex Luthor is a dick. Who else has made Superman’s life as miserable as a man who is always plotting to turn the world against its self-appointed champion; to take down the world’s symbol of hope and justice?
Lex has both been that figurative and literal thorn in Superman’s side for so many years! He’s taken on Superman at both physical and philosophical levels. Lex has tortured him. He has tried to destroy his image. He’s become president just to ruin Superman’s day. And he even had the gall to try and replace him when the Man of Steel died of kryptonite poisoning.
However, Lex Luthor, to me, is a stale character. He is a bitter man whose riches couldn’t buy the respect of other people, especially in a world where Superman would forever eclipse him. Over the years, he’s just been one dimensional and an egomaniac who has aimlessly tried to murder the Man of Steel. So, the idea of caring about this character never really crossed my mind. But, then Geoff Johns came along and the seeds of redemption and interesting character development were planted.
This was hinted at with the brilliant Forever Evil (2013) story in where Luthor assembles his own team of villains to take on the invading Crime Syndicate (an evil version of the Justice League from Earth-3). The Crime Syndicate systematically took over the earth, released all the villains from jail, and chaos erupted. So, Luthor takes matters into his own hands, and in a world without heroes, he assembles a team of killers to rampage and murder through the Crime Syndicate ranks which leads to some truly wicked scenes! It takes the approach that when all of the world’s heroes are gone, you have to fight evil with evil.
I’m not going to lie. Forever Evil (2013) is one of the highlights of the New 52 era of DC comics. This comic arc is straight up rock n’ roll! We get a bunch of bad guys being Earth’s last hope against violent invaders. This was super cool and fresh, and it began to paint Luthor in a different light. He was still a killer. We still see him fuck up some bad guys.
However, we also get a refreshing look into the sympathies and possible empathy of Luthor’s cold heart. We see him create Bizarro, and we see a hilarious, albeit tragic, story of father and son; Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster. This is some of the most humanizing and most beautiful work I have seen in comics in a long time. I mean, think about it, in a world plagued by darkness and where there is death everywhere, we have subtle moments shared between Lex and Bizarro that are both heartwarming and tear-jerking. We see truly heartwarming moments between characters who rarely have these moments to begin with. It is breathtaking.
Furthermore, Forever Evil (2013) gives Luthor an out. It gives him the perfect opportunity for good PR. We see him put a plan into action that actually works, to the chagrin of Batman. The world now sees him as a hero rather than the villain. And Lex, being the opportunistic genius that he is, grabbed this sentiment by the balls and just wouldn’t let go. Lex took his first steps toward heroism, though it can still be considered to be clouded in self-serving egoism & manipulation.
This was a special time in comics because it gave me something I never knew I wanted. It gave me riveting stories where we got to see the slow evolution of Lex Luthor from villain to hero. It was a snapshot of moments that truly showcased the magic of storytelling. Watching Lex join the Justice League and have an uneasy alliance with Superman was interesting to see unfold. I mean, it was comical to see this man, who was once hellbent on the destruction of the League, create a shaky PR image of himself fighting alongside Earth’s mightiest heroes.
But, fuck, it worked!
He was still a murderous despot. He was still responsible for the Amazo Virus. He still threatened to “blow-out” the spine of the Doom Patrol’s Chief Caulder. But seeing the shimmer behind Luthor’s eyes change. To see his demeanor and voice change as he spent more time with earth’s heroes, and having more humanistic flaws, hopes, and weaknesses fleshed and made bare; to see the things that made Lex such a jerk (like his sister Lena), it made Lex a much more interesting and relatable character. I always think back to a conversation that Lex and Diana have in Justice League #34 (2011-2016)
Seeing Lex respond to genuine and kind human emotion is such wondrous writing because we get to see the inner workings of a man who thinks he is the “Superior Superman” actually have a chance to live up to the mantel. Something that he ultimately does take seriously by physically donning the symbol of Superman and trying to actually be Metropolis’ new titan after the actual Superman had died of Kryptonite poisoning during the events of The Final Days of Superman (2016).
Luthor experiences some truly insane things during his time in the Justice League (like taking over Apokolips, fighting the Anti-Monitor, and being shot by his sister). He has some truly life altering experiences that ultimately lead to the respect of the league which, for me, culminated in the shaky respect from Pre-Flashpoint Superman.
But is Luthor’s redemption necessary? Should it happen? And can he truly be a redeemable character? After all, he has done some truly diabolical things.
Some would argue that he is irredeemable. The crimes he has committed and his overall avarice make him a disgusting and terrible human being, no matter how many times he’s helped the Justice League. But, I argue that the fact he went through this positive character change made for some interesting and unique stories. I personally never felt more connected to the character until he started his redemption, and honestly, it’s fun to see what happens next.
Unfortunately, all good things must end, and it looks like Luthor has gone back to his menacing and conniving ways, most recently in Scott Snyder’s Justice League series (2018) where Lex went full super-villain and assembled the Legion of Doom to fuck up the Justice League’s day.
This is some exciting stuff because even though I am against Luthor’s return to villainy, there are moments in Snyder’s run where we see just how much Luthor’s turn surprises the League, especially Batman (Justice League #4). The fact that Batman was fully on board with Luthor’s reform, so his inevitable betrayal (all while inside Superman’s body by the way) was profound and chilling.
The redemption of Lex Luthor was a truly unique and interesting time in comics that I appreciated and enjoyed. Hopefully, once Lex is done breaking bad again, we will see something new. The fact that he returns to villainy because he believes it is within our nature to be evil (especially after the events of Dark Nights: Metal) and he honestly believes his time “playing” hero was all for naught is interesting, and I am excited to see what the Legion of Doom continues to bring to the table.
Maybe Lex Luthor can never be an actual hero. Maybe he will never be a Superior Superman, but none of that matters to him at this moment. Luthor made his choice. He chose to embrace his true self. Fuck justice. He sided with doom.