April 25th, 2011

Classic Supes
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Workshop: Paul Cornell's Luthor...And Yours

Lex Luthor's character has taken radically different forms across history and across media: the nearly-tragic take you can find in Smallville, the swindling con man in the Reeves movies, the almost-unflappable megalomaniac (and president) in the animated series. All of these takes and more can also be found in the history of the comic books (including a while where he had a magnificent mane of red hair and was dating Supergirl).

More recently, Lex master-minded the destruction of New Krypton, the artificial planet where the inhabitants of Kandor had settled, killing basically every Kryptonian but Kal and Kara. Genocide, like rape, is one of those crimes that moves a villain into a different sphere altogether, and after the end of the arc I was wondering what exactly DC was going to do to deal with the damage they'd done to Luthor's character.

As it turns out, DC responded by handing the reins of Action Comics to writer Paul Cornell and making Lex the POV character of that title. And Cornell responded by basically ignoring the events of New Krypton entirely. *shrug* In all honesty, I'm not sure what else he could have done.

Obviously I went into reading Cornell's run very angry at Luthor and hating the fact that he got away with what he did, which made it all the more surprising to me that I ended up enjoying Cornell's take on Luthor so much. So I decided to detail why I liked his character here and then ask people what they find appealing/interesting about Lex Luthor as a character, what they need to see in portrayals of him, and what their favorite bits of Luthor canon are.

A couple of caveats: the big weakness of Cornell's run is that it's part of Blackest Night, a massive Green Lantern-based crossover. As such, Lex's quest for the Black Sphere of Somethingorother is mostly a McGuffin, and I suspect Cornell's heart isn't in the plot, but in the fun of writing Lex in the process. That means the wrap-up has proved to be mostly unsatisfying, unfortunately, as Cornell has entered a sort of "Oh yeah let me tell you who the villain is and get that over with" zone. But the lead-up to it had some very interesting discussion of Lex's character.

Basically, there were three things I really enjoyed about Cornell's take on Luthor: Robot Lois Lane, Lex's self-awareness, and his focus on rationality and intellect.

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Lex Luthor is not a character I've ever spent a lot of time thinking about, as I grew up with the Silver Age Mad Scientist, mostly. However, Cornell's run has made me think about him more carefully and have a new appreciation for him, and even though the story looks to be fizzling quite a bit, I'll admire his run for that. I'm curious what other people like to see as character traits in Luthor, and which versions of him you find most compelling?