Lex Luthor is a fictional character, a DC Comics supervillain and archenemy of Superman. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Luthor first appeared in Action Comics #23 (1940). His history has been retconned several times since then, with his current canonical origin being Mark Waid's 2004 miniseries Birthright.
The (usually) bald-headed Luthor has been Superman's main foe for most of the superhero's existence and has unveiled countless plots to destroy him and take over the world. Originally Luthor was a mad scientist but has since been rewritten as a Machiavellian industrialist and white-collar criminal. For a brief period in the early 2000s, he was president of the United States.
Luthor is one of several Superman characters with the initials "LL," including Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Letitia Lerner and Lori Lemaris.
Luthor has been featured in most adaptations of Superman outside comic books. In the film series of the late 1970s and 1980s, Gene Hackman took a comical approach to the character. Stan Jones provided Luthor's voice in the SuperFriends cartoon series. In Smallville, a retelling of Superman's early years, a young adult Lex was played by Michael Rosenbaum.
In the 2006 feature film "Superman Returns", the role of Lex Luthor was portrayed by veteran actor Kevin Spacey.
When Luthor first appeared, he was portrayed with a full head of red hair; however, in 1941 Luthor came to be portrayed as completely bald after an artist's mistake in the Superman comic strip. Shuster preferred drawing bald villains anyway, so the more striking appearance was adopted and became a Luthor trademark. The change may also have been an attempt to echo a previous villain, the Ultra-Humanite, with whom Luthor shares many similarities. When the DC multiverse began to take hold in the 1960s, the red-haired Luthor was said to be the bald Luthor's Earth-Two counterpart, Alexei Luthor.
The original Luthor of the 1940s (who did not have a first name) was one of many pulps-inspired mad scientists who plotted to take over the world, or destroy it, through the use of various diabolical schemes. He donned disguises a few times, but generally he preferred to make himself known to the world as his master plans came to fruition... until he was foiled, time and time again, by the Man of Steel. He soon became Superman's greatest foe, the antithesis of everything Superman stood for; and even though his plans for world domination were repeatedly dashed, he always managed to get away (or escape from prison) to threaten the world time and time again.
Luthor's originally stated goals were to kill Superman and to take over Earth as a stepping stone to dominating the universe. Over the years, Luthor came up with every conceivable plan to destroy Superman: he has synthesized kryptonite; traveled back in time; summoned beings from the fourth dimension; created robots, clones, and genetic monstrosities; allied himself with the alien super-computer android Brainiac; animated kryptonite rocks; detonated H-bombs; and has masqueraded and taken on a number of aliases. Although none of his schemes worked permanently (though one classic non-canonical "imaginary story" from the 1960s called The Death of Superman has Luthor finally killing Superman with Kryptonite after lulling him by pretending to go straight), Luthor's persistence has made him Superman's most troublesome foe.
Lex Luthor blames Superboy for his hair-loss. Art by Al Pastino.In Adventure Comics #271 in 1960 (written by Jerry Siegel), the Silver Age origin of Luthor is first revealed, along with Luthor finally gaining a first name, "Lex." It was revealed that when Luthor was a teenager, his family moved to Smallville, with Lex becoming a large fan of Superboy. In gratitude and to encourage Lex's scientific pursuits, Superboy built for Lex a fully stocked laboratory. There, Lex began an experiment in creating an artificial new form of life, along with a cure for kryptonite poisoning. However, when a fire caught in his lab, Superboy mistakenly used his super-breath to extinguish the flames. This rescue attempt spilled chemicals that caused Luthor to go prematurely bald and destroyed both his kryptonite cure and his artificial life form. Luthor attributed Superboy's actions to jealousy and vowed revenge. First, he tried to show Superboy up with grandiose technological projects to improve the life of Smallville's residents, which time and again went dangerously out of control and required Superboy's intervention. Unwilling to accept responsibility for these accidents, Lex rationalized that Superboy was out to humiliate him and vowed to spend the rest of his life proving to the world he was Superboy's (and later Superman's) superior by eliminating the hero.
This origin first made Luthor's fight with Superman a personal one, giving him a dimension beyond his previous mad scientist archetype and suggesting that if events had unfolded differently, Luthor might have become a more noble person; these elements were played up in various stories in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Elliot S. Maggin's text novel Last Son of Krypton.
Though he was a noted villain and an evil mastermind on Earth, Luthor was revered as a hero on the alien world of Lexor, where he used his scientific genius to rediscover the planet's technology and rebuild society for the inhabitants. Luthor used the planet as a base for his operations to strike against Superman using equipment such as the distinctive and flight capable purple and green suit he took to wearing in stories starting in the 1970s. The last such attempt on Lexor destroyed the planet and killed all of its inhabitants, including his wife there. Though aggrieved, Lex refused to accept that he was responsible and blamed Superman.
In Action Comics #544 in 1983, Lex was given a makeover for Superman's 45th anniversary in comics, by gaining a purple-and-green colored battlesuit that gave him the ability to take on Superman singlehandedly.
Superman himself has acknowledged that Luthor is a man of his word who would honor promises he made. Luthor had a younger blond-haired sister, Lena Thorul (shamed by Lex's criminal acts, Lex's parents, Jules and Arlene, disowned him, moved away and changed their name to the anagram "Thorul"), an empath who grew up unaware of her familial connection with the noted villain. Protective of his sister, Luthor had strived to hide his connection and had been assisted towards this end by both Supergirl and Superman.
In 1986, John Byrne's "reboot" of Superman's mythos in the miniseries The Man of Steel rewrote the character of Lex Luthor from scratch, intending to make him a villain that the 1980s would recognize: a corporate white-collar criminal (the idea was originally suggested by Marv Wolfman). Under other writers, he eventually became a behind-the-scenes manipulator.
In the post-Man of Steel mythos, Luthor was born in the Suicide Slum district of Metropolis. In his younger years, Alexander Joseph "Lex" Luthor grew up in a household where his cruel and short-tempered father abused Lex's mother and belittled his son's dreams of leaving the Suicide Slum district for a better life. His only friend was Perry White, who encouraged Lex's dreams of making something of himself.
Lex's big break would come in his early teens, when Lex's parents were killed in a car accident and left Lex with a rather large insurance policy that left the teen incredibly wealthy. Years later, an unauthorized biography would accuse Lex of not only causing the death of his parents but also of obtaining the insurance policy on his parents without their knowledge.
Lex was put into a foster home while he waited until he became of legal age to collect the insurance money. However, Lex found that his foster parents were even worse than his biological parents. Greedy and manipulative, they schemed to find out the location of Lex's money and steal it from him. Shortly after Lex turned the age in which he could have access to his money, he secretly put the money in a savings account with it explicitly stated that only he could withdraw money from the account. When his foster parents found bank documents Lex had hidden from them, Lex's foster father confronted his daughter Lena and demanded that she seduce Lex (who had fallen in love with Lena) into giving her parents the money under the lie that they would use the money to pay for their daughter's college education, which they had no plans on doing.
Lena, who had feelings for Lex, refused and for her trouble was beaten to death by her father. Lex was absent from the home at the time, having been talked into going to a football game by his friend Perry. When Lex returned home, he was heartbroken to find Lena murdered by her father. This event would serve as the turning point for Lex Luthor, who vowed to do whatever it took to gain power and to destroy anyone who got in his way.
Perry White was the first target of Lex's turn to evil. Lex blamed Perry for keeping him from being at the house when Lena died and got his revenge by seducing Perry's wife shortly after their marriage and getting her pregnant with Lex's child. The offspring Jerry White, would later learn of his true parentage during his late teens before being killed by a local streetgang that Jerry had associated with. Years later, Lex would on several occasions purchase ownership of the Daily Planet, much to Perry's shock, and attempt to kill the newspaper out of complete spite for Perry.
Rise to Power
Lex used his money and natural genius to create a multi-national corporation known as "LexCorp" that would ultimately come to dominate the city of Metropolis. One of Lex's earliest projects was an experimental airplane and other similar technology themed enterprises would be the hallmark of LexCorp's output.
Lex became the most powerful man in Metropolis, both financially and in the world of organized crime. Lex would create havoc on the streets by selling weapons to the gangs of Metropolis and using his primarily female staff of underlings to keep blackmail files on all of the major organized crime groups in the city, so that Lex could use them to further any schemes he had planned. However, this all ended with the arrival of Superman.
Several months after Superman first appeared on the scene, terrorists attacked a society gala aboard Lex Luthor's yacht. Luthor observed Superman in action and then tried to hire him as a bodyguard after Superman defeated the terrorists. But when Luthor admitted that he'd anticipated the attack but allowed it to occur in order to witness Superman first hand, Mayor Berkowitz deputized Superman to arrest Luthor for reckless endangerment. Luthor vowed to destroy Superman for this humiliation, and he has since devoted much time and energy to that goal.
Luthor was a man driven to be the best, having fought his way up from lowly beginnings by his own (dubious) efforts, and was resentful of how Superman was given his powers by random fate of birth. Superman survived subsequent attempts Luthor made on his life, but had never been able to prove Luthor's role in the attacks.
Cloning and Cancer
Luthor soon acquired the only sample of kryptonite on Earth from the Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo, whom LexCorp abducted just before Metallo succeeded in killing Superman. Fashioning a ring from the alien ore deadly to Superman, Luthor began wearing it constantly to ward off his enemy. Unfortunately, Luthor suffered from a severe cancer in the 1990s, caused by long-term radiation exposure to his kryptonite ring. (Before Man of Steel, kryptonite exposure had not been thought to be harmful to non-Kryptonian life forms).
Luthor's hand had to be amputated to prevent the cancer's spread, but unfortunately by then it had already metastasized; it was eventually determined that the disease was terminal. Luthor faked his own death shortly afterward by taking his personally designed jet, the Lexwing, on a proposed trip around the world and crashing it in some mountains, using this as cover for the transplant of his brain into a healthy clone of himself which he then passed off as his hitherto unknown, illegitimate Australian son and heir, his deception helped by his new body having a full head of red hair and a beard.
Luthor used his new identity as his own son to seduce Supergirl and continue to torment Superman from the shadows. However everything quickly fell apart, when Luthor's new clone body began to deteriorate and age at a rapid rate (his being one of many clones that were becoming ill at the time). This caused Luthor to begin to slip, as Lois Lane discovered proof that Lex Luthor had years earlier murdered a female LexCorp employee and framed an innocent man for the murder. This led Lois to find out the truth about Lex faking his death and being his own son, which caused Luthor to systematically destroy Lois' life and have her fired from the Daily Planet. Lois fought back and with help from Superman, exposed the truth about Lex Luthor, his faked death, and his evil criminal activities to the public. Luthor, right before his body became so old that he couldn't move or communicate, activated a "Doomsday Plan" to destroy Metropolis. The city was burned to the ground and thousands killed as Luthor became a permanent prisoner in his cloned body. However, aid would come in the form of the demon Neron; Luthor promptly sold his soul in exchange for Neron restoring his body to perfect health. Returning to a rebuilt Metropolis, Luthor turned himself over to the police and was put on trial, where he was acquitted of all crimes when Luthor claimed to have been kidnapped by renegade scientists who replaced him with a clone, who was responsible for all the crimes he was charged with.
Lex Luthor had cultivated a popular image as a great philanthropist. He had been instrumental in reverse-engineering alien technology for use in general consumer goods, upgrading Metropolis into a true "city of tomorrow." When Gotham City was destroyed by an earthquake and then abandoned by the American government in the late 1990s, it was LexCorp that took up the massive task of rebuilding the city. Later, Luthor also played an instrumental role in assisting the Justice League in recharging the sun during the Final Night storyline.
Love and Marriage
Despite his hatred for Lois Lane for temporarily bringing down his evil criminal empire, Lex Luthor has an unspoken love for Lois Lane. On several occasions Luthor has commented that had Superman not arrived in Metropolis, Lex would have used his time and energy instead to romantically pursue Lois and marry her.
The Post-Crisis Lex Luthor has been married eight times, though the first seven marriages occurred off-panel in Luthor's past. While his previous seven marriages were hinted to have based on love (or as close to the concept of love as Lex Luthor understands it) Luthor's eighth marriage to Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza (or "The Contessa" as the characters call her) was a marriage that was based on mutual manipulation and greed.
The Contessa had bought controlling interest in LexCorp after Luthor was exposed as evil, forcing Lex into a marriage with her in order to regain control over the company. The marriage was doomed from the beginning as the two fought constantly and never loved each other. The Contessa quickly became pregnant with Lex's child and began using the unborn child to dominate Lex into doing her bidding. Luthor's response to Contessa's actions was to use her desire to be unconscious during child birth to lock her in the basement of his corporate headquarters in a permanantly drugged unconscious state.
Luthor took over as a single father to his daughter (named Lena after his childhood sweetheart) and vowed never to marry again, stating that he wanted to never have to share his daughter's love with anyone else. It was later implied that Lex killed the Contessa months afterword, though no body was ever found.
President of the United States
Lex became the 43rd president of the United States in 2000, winning the election on a platform of promoting technological progress (his first action as president was to take a proposed moratorium on fossil-based fuels to U.S. Congress in hopes of putting "a flying car in every garage").
Despite Luthor's more villainous traits, he was assisted by the extreme unpopularity of the previous administration due to its mishandling of the Gotham City earthquake crisis. Ironically, Batman would ultimately learn that Luthor was involved in the mishandling of the entire Gotham City rebuilding process, resulting in Bruce to sever all military contract ties between the U.S. government and his company Wayne Enterprises in protest of Lex Luthor's election as President. Luthor responded in kind by ordering the murder of Batman's lover Vesper Fairchild and framing Bruce Wayne for the murder.
An early triumph of his political career was the Our Worlds At War crisis, in which he coordinated the U.S. Army, Earth's superheroes and a number of untrustworthy alien forces to battle the story's villain, Imperiex. However, as it would later be revealed, Lex knew about the alien invasion in advance and did nothing to alert Earth's heroes to it.
Discovering Superman's Secret Identity
Lex Luthor finally figured out Superman's secret identity in 2002, when a lowly scientist was able to get a meeting with Lex and reveal top secret government documents showing the rocket containing baby Superman crashing near the farm of Martha and Jonathan Kent. Killing the scientist, Lex surprisingly decided to keep the knowledge a secret even as Clark Kent took the fall for Lois publishing proof that Lex Luthor knew of the alien invasion of "Our Worlds At War" but had opted not to make any defensive plans to save the people of Kansas from attack. Clark was fired from the Daily Planet as a result of the flap, when another Superman villain Manchester Black used his telepathic powers on an unknowing Lex to allow him to pass an assortment of lie detector tests (including Wonder Woman's lasso of truth) to prove that Lois and Clark's story was a lie. When Manchester Black tried to kill Superman and his friends and family members, Luthor surprisingly came to Superman's aid when Black tried to kill Lois. In the end, Manchester Black was defeated and as revenge for Lex helping Superman defeat him, Black erased all knowledge that Clark Kent was Superman from Lex's mind before taking his own life.
Fall From Power
In 2004, Luthor once again overplayed his hand, as his success at framing Bruce Wayne for the murder of Vesper Fairchild caused him to get arrogant. In an attempt to blame Superman for a kryptonite meteor approaching the Earth, he instead raised questions about himself as Superman and Batman uncovered a plot of Luthor's to further torment Batman that involved tricking Batman into thinking that the Superman villain Metallo was the man who killed Batman's parents. In desperation, he used a variant combination of the "super-steroid" Venom (a steroid mainly used by Batman villain Bane), liquid synthetic green kryptonite, and an Apokaliptian battlesuit to battle Superman directly. Unfortunately, the madness that is a side effect of Venom took hold, and he revealed his true colors during the battle. The final straw was the revelation that Talia Head, the acting CEO of LexCorp, had sold all the company assets to the Wayne Foundation. He has since gone underground, leaving the presidency to his vice president, Pete Ross. Ross later abdicated, however, leaving the presidency to a man named Jonathan Horne.
Retcons & Revisions
The 2004 12-issue limited series Superman: Birthright once again altered aspects of Luthor's history, such as Luthor's youth in Metropolis and his first encounter with Superman, in favor of introducing elements from the 2001 television series Smallville. Among the elements of Smallville introduced into the comics' canon include Lex's problematic relationship with his wealthy father, Lionel Luthor. Birthright also reintroduced the notion of Lex spending a portion of his youth in Smallville, as well as befriending Clark Kent.
These retcons were controversial, especially with series writer Mark Waid. According to Waid, the editorial staff at DC forced him to use the Smallville version of Luthor's origin. Waid, a longtime and extremely vocal critic of the 1986 Superman reboot, had originally planned to use Birthright to purge the Byrne version of Lex Luthor's origin from canon. DC, aware of the controversy involving Waid's outspoken criticism, opted instead to dictate to Waid that any changes made to Lex's character should be done to make him more in line with the Smallville version of Lex Luthor. It has been alleged that Waid initially refused to go along with such a compromise, resulting in DC Comics threatening to abort the entire project before Waid gave in into DC's requests. Although the changes in Lex's character and background were slow to appear in other titles, writers Geoff Johns and Mark Verheiden have referred to Lex's time in Smallville, reinforcing Birthright's canonical status.
2005 saw the release of the miniseries Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, which showed the motivation behind Luthor's distrust of Superman. (Events in this series that contradict current comics, particularly Lex Luthor's position as a legitimate businessman, make it difficult to place in context of recent continuity.)
Recently the situation involving Lex Luthor has taken a shocking twist. Lex Luthor has recently gone into hiding, preparing to try and activate mind control programming inside the brain of the current Superboy Conner Kent (created using Lex's DNA) to help him gain revenge against Earth's mightiest heroes. He also was revealed to have orchestrated, with help from the newly created robotic Brainiac, the murder of Teen Titan member Donna Troy, who is destined to play a critical role in "Infinite Crisis". He's also been carefully surveilling the new Supergirl, and has plans for her involving his newly-acquired black kryptonite.
With the real Lex Luthor acting in secret, the return of the son of the Earth-Three Lex Luthor, Alexander Luthor, Jr. has created havoc for the DC Universe. Assuming the Post-Crisis Lex Luthor's identity, Alexander has recently begun an elaborate scheme with help from the Earth-Prime Superboy. Alexander told Kal-L, the Earth-Two Superman that he wishes to restore his original universe (the world of DC Comics' Golden Age), but his intentions seem much more sinister, as he told Superboy Kal-L would help them "whether [he] likes it or not".
As one of the premier reformers of the "Secret Society of Super-Villains", Alex Luthor has recruited Black Adam, Doctor Psycho, Calculator, Talia Head, and Deathstroke as his inner circle. The new Society exploited the villain community's fear of mind-wipes at the hands of the Justice League to recruit a literal army of villains under the guise of creating their own "mind-wipe" device designed to erase the memories of Earth's heroes as payback. However, this is just another cover for his even darker scheme involving the kidnapping heroes, each representing alternate earths, to power the giant tower being used to perform a major act of alteration to reality. It is not yet clear whether Alex's goal is the restoration of the entire multiverse, the transformation of the DC Universe into a single universe resembling one of the pre-Crisis Earths (as he told the Golden Age Superman), or something else even more complex or dangerous entirely.
Not one to sit back and watch his identity be usurped, Lex Luthor took the identity of Mockingbird and formed a super-villain version of the Secret Six, whose purpose was to subvert the Society. He swore vengeance against the impostor for taking his place, though after finding Alex, he was forced to flee after it was revealed that Alex can subvert Lex's mind when they are in close proximity.
In much the same way that Superman and other heroes have evil analogs on the parallel world of Earth-Three, Luthor had a heroic counterpart there. Alexander Luthor was the only superhero in that world's history, and reluctantly decided to adopt a heroic identity to combat his world's analog of the Justice League, the evil Crime Syndicate of America. This version, who eventually married the Lois Lane of Earth-Three, died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but was survived by their son, Alexander Luthor, Jr.
In the late 1990s JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel, an updated version of Earth-Three and its version of Luthor were reintroduced to the post-Crisis DC Universe. The physical appearance of this Lex resembles the Pre-Crisis Earth-One version from 1983s Action Comics (down to the battlesuit he wears). In this version of events, the heroic Luthor travelled from his Earth (located in an anti-matter universe rather than an alternate positive one) to the mainstream DC Earth, and asked the Justice League to help him rebuild his world. However, since "evil always wins" in this alternate world, the attempt failed, and Luthor resigned himself to being the only noble character on his Earth until he formed the Justice Underground.