Last week, many internet websites were reporting that Bryan Cranston had signed a big deal to portray Lex Luthor for a total of six films. Unlike ‘Batfleck,’ this was a very well-received bit of news. Many fans – including myself – believe that Cranston would be an excellent choice for the role. Especially since there are so many similarities between Luthor and Walter White, the villainous character that Cranston has made a household name portraying. This week, Cranston himself debunked the rumor. There may be some chance that he will still end up playing the part, we’ll have to wait and see for sure. Perhaps WB could pull out another surprise casting.
While the most recent piece of news may be disappointing, it did get me thinking. It’s inevitable that Lex Luthor will make his way back to the silver screen; but when he does, how the should the character be portrayed? They certainly can’t go with the same old cheesy “real estate” scams that Gene Hackman’s Luthor used in the original Donner film. Modern audiences should be given a version of Luthor that they can respond to, and that calls for a fresh take on the character. The comics have plenty of different material to draw from. Luthor’s been around almost as long as Superman, and there’s several incarnations that could serve as a seed for the new film.
This week on Most Heroic, we’ll be discussing the character of Lex Luthor, and why he his Superman’s archenemy, in order to discover how he should be portrayed in future DC movies. These are the aspects of Luthor’s character that shouldn’t be ignored.
When Lex Luthor was first created, back during the early forties, he was portrayed as a mad scientist archetype. He often used his scientific genius to try to seize control of the planet, which brought him into conflict with the Man of Steel. Eventually, he came to realize that Superman was the biggest barrier in his plans to dominate the world, and dedicated his life to destroying him. This version of the character was used throughout the Golden and Silver Ages, and is easily the most famous version. It clearly inspired Richard Donner and Gene Hackman’s take on the character as “the greatest criminal mind of our time.” As good as Hackman was in the role, I have to admit that I’ve never really loved that “mad scientist” version of the character. It has its merits, but there’s another version I like a heck of a lot more.
In 19886, John Byrne wrote a new version of Superman and his legend to fit in with DC’s new universe after Crisis On Infinite Earths. Among the many changes that Byrne made to the mythology was the fact that Luthor wasn’t just a cheap mad scientist anymore. Byrne and the editors of DC decided to make him into a member of the group that America hated the most during the 1980’s: a corporate executive. This Luthor was a well-established billionaire businessman who fronted a multinational corporation. He also owned almost all the media outlets in the city of Metropolis. The sole exception was The Daily Planet. They were the only media group who pursued the truth about Luthor’s more corrupt deeds and methods.
I always thought that Luthor having such a huge corporation behind him made him that much more threatening. It gave him a wealth of resources to use against not just Superman
With all the backlash coming from the Great Recession over the past few years, I think this is an aspect of Luthor’s character that will resonate particularly well with Modern Audiences.
Ruthless and Amoral
Throughout the decades, one of Luthor’s most consistent traits is his lack of any real moral code. He is Machiavellian in almost every manner. There’s almost nothing he won’t do to try and achieve his own goals. This fact alone makes him the perfect rival for Superman. Where Superman is guided by his own sense of morality and his restrained by his own self-imposed limits on his power, Luthor seeks only to control and has no qualms about conquest.
Of course, he doesn’t show this side to the public. He operates as if he is a benevolent and legitimate businessman who has nothing to hide and only the best interests at heart. He’s as charitable and as respected as Bill Gates out in the open, but he’s Joseph Stalin behind closed doors.
This also makes Luthor a villain for the modern world. Ever since the early 2000’s, our country has lived in a world where the companies we work for and the government that is supposed to protect us finds morality expendable. Luthor could embody the ruthlessness that we don’t like seeing in our culture.
Hatred for Superman
Over the years, there’s been several different reasons for Lex to hate the Man of Tomorrow. Some writers take it more pragmatically, pointing out that Superman is Luthor’s most frequent and persistent threat, and it’s just good business to remove your biggest competition. Others make it a more personal issue, saying that Luthor is jealous of Superman’s heroic status and that he desperately wants to be as loved and respected as his archfoe.
Grant Morrison recently gave a great spin on the character with the reboot of Action Comics. Recruited by the U.S. government to bring in Superman, Luthor first views the situation pragmatically, claiming that an alien life form like Superman is a new species that will eventually lead to humanity’s extinction, not unlike how the introduction of an animal into a new habitat threatens the indigenous species. However, the animosity does become more personal when Superman makes a fool out of him.
In a critically-acclaimed story called The Black Ring, Luthor actually is able to seize the power of a godlike being. This being seeks to grant eternal bliss to every sentient being in the universe, effectively ending any and all conflict or strife everywhere. Instead, Luthor chooses to use this power to try and finally kill Superman. This act essentially strips him of the being’s power, since it had no desire to harm anything, especially not Superman.
For some, this is what makes the feud between Superman and Luthor just so perfect. Superman may be the strongest hero in the galaxy, but Luthor’s intellect is far superior to his own. Though he has a small army of scientists, engineers, and chemists at his command, Luthor is more capable than each of them. He has a gift for devising new forms of technology, whether docile or deadly. He should be able to invent weapons that would make even the Justice League tremble. The more sinister the better.
Lex isn’t just a genius in terms of scientific expertise, he should also be a brilliant strategist. Which leads me to my final point……
He Always Gets Away With It
No matter how powerful Superman is, no matter how great a hero he may be, he’s never able to catch Luthor. For every death trap and scheme that Luthor devises, he’s got a failsafe which ensures that he can’t ever be convicted for his crimes. Kevin Smith had a great example of this in his script for Superman Lives. Superman foils an assassination attempt and discovers that the murder weapon was designed by LexCorp. However, once he scans it with his X-ray vision, the device self-destructs, leaving no evidence behind.
I think this kind of dynamic would make for much better storytelling. It gives their feud an even more personal edge. Superman could feel guilty and incomplete having never caught the worst villain he ever fought. He could feel constantly pressured to cross the line and actually kill Luthor, but he’d always have to stop himself to show what the right thing to do is. Eventually they could even go with the storyline of Luthor ascending to the presidency.
There we have it. These are the aspects of Lex Luthor’s character that must be a part of the new version that we’ll inevitably see in cinemas. Do you have any other visions that you’d like to see Hollywood use? Feel free and list any in the comments below!
Next week on Most Heroic, we’ll be examining the life and career of another Real Life Hero, and it’s going to be one that’s very very essential to my own life.