Well, no…obviously he’s not Superman, why what an idea, Lois…
Which is good, because I’ve had a thought in that direction myself. How to put some drama back into Superman? Andrew grabs firmly onto the Morrisonesque, the saviour, the symbol. Me? I’ve gone to astronomy instead.
And continuity. You know, there are a lot of things I miss about the Superman of my youth, and chief among them is Kryptonian Exceptionalism. Not that I miss all the crazy stuff they used to put in there like: Kryptonian aspirin, it cures a super-headache! But I do miss the “one and only” stuff, the super-iconicity that you can still get even in quite lousy movies featuring the Man of Steel. Here’s this guy, and he can do things you and I can’t imagine, he’s a streak of strangeness across the sky. Sent from the satellite of the red sun, where they scoff at Earthmen for being so primitive that we don’t even have X-ray vision yet, I mean c’mon, what kind of shoddy excuse for a planet is this? Jor-El sends his son across the gulf of space to escape planetary cataclysm, knowing that when he gets here he’ll have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. But you have to wonder: how does he know that, eh?
What makes him so sure?
And why does it work?
And what’s so special about Superman anyway.
WARNING TO READERS: it gets geeky from here. And it goes on for quite a long time.
…So, roll the clock forward a few decades and suddenly there’s all this stuff, alien races galore, slightly “harder” SF (which just means more previously-exotic knowledge being streamed into general science education, but you can read all about that in a week or two hint hint), and you can’t go back to the days of the one-and-only. Because this isn’t the world of the Thirties and Forties anymore, this is a world with a Superman in it, and in this world the slum-smashing, building-scaling, you’re-not-fighting-a-woman-now Superman is as out of place as…well, the world he comes from. Which means he starts to not add up, slightly. For one thing, red giant stars are common in the universe, and satellites around them are common too. So, say you had an Earthlike planet orbiting about as far away from its star as Jupiter is from Sol — and why such a planet would be habitable isn’t super-simple to explain, but you could say it had some weird internal heat-process going on, Krypton had those “fire-falls” and such…if Krypton had actually been the moon of a giant planet like Jupiter you could chalk it up to tidal forces, but oh well…
…But say you had such a planet, and it was life-supporting, and the life was all kind of photosynthetic: sucking up the low intensity of light from its star, which at that point would be a “yellow” star pretty much like our own. Okay, then the star begins to expand, and get cooler, which means redder. So the amount of luminosity the planet gets goes way up, which is good…but the spectrum-peak of the sun’s output slides way down. So Kryptonian life gets a boost of energy, but can’t process it as efficiently since their adapatation is to the “yellow” spectrum peak (it’s actually a green spectrum-peak, but never mind that now)…and of course if you were to figure life in the yellow-sun days was pretty rough way out there at the Jovian-scale orbit, you might expect all the Kryptonian organisms to be using the energy they derived from their sun, like a LOT, just to survive. And if you figured that, you’d probably also figure it’d be an evolutionary habit they’d have no reason to break. Hence you might expect to see the fauna (not to mention the flora!) get very charismatic as soon as light starts getting dumped in buckets all over the planet, instead of trickles. Even if it’s red light; all it means is that Kryptonians could only go “Superman”, could only develop a huge energy-surplus in their tissues despite their high energy-use, if it was a yellow sun they were under. And the inherited “heavy use” of the absorbed energy could still explain why Superman can blow through his energy surplus so quickly under certain kinds of extreme stress/special irradiation…
But I don’t want to go down this road too far, since I’ve promised Nathan a very chewy bit of unapologetically geeky fan-fix along these same lines, for his blog. Suffice it to say: okay, that would make sense for Kryptonian life, to develop an adaptation like that. Stars like our own spend ten billion years “yellow”, about ten million years as red giants…then they turn into white dwarfs, and sit around waiting for the universe to end. So this is all demonstrably a long enough time for ecosystems to evolve, and it gives the Kryptonian civilization itself, which I think we’ve been told at some point was 500,000 years old — not the species, the civilization was 500,000 years old! — more than enough time to a) never ever have known a different stellar environment than one with a big red sun in it, and b) be reasonably sure their world will just go on and on, and on and on, pretty much as it is until some incredibly distant time. And this pretty much accounts for everything in the Superman story, except for just a couple of things. Except they’re big things.
The first one is: then what in the hell’s so special about Superman? Red giants are common; why would just this one produce such phenomenally universe-beating adaptations? Hell, having two of them would make it even weirder…you know how many red suns are out there in the Milky Way? Why wouldn’t the place be teeming with potential Supermen?
And here’s the second: given that the Kryptonians were, for whatever reason, super-asskickers under a yellow sun…well then, why in the world weren’t they? Asskickers, that is: I mean, how hard would it have been for them to whip up a massive galactic empire? Alternatively, if it would’ve been so easy, then why didn’t the Guardians of the Universe slap a big-ass cordon around their solar system, to make sure they never got out of it?
Or weren’t they, after all, that special.
But damn it, they must be special!
So, okay…red giants worked well enough in 1938, maybe even in 1958, 1978…but now they’re not quite special enough to do the job. So how about a red supergiant instead? Red supergiants (you may know them as the stars that go supernova) have a far shorter lifespan than ordinary stars, way too short for ecosystems to form…no one would even look for people around them, astronomically it’d be a crazy waste of time. Or, even better, how about a red hypergiant? Much like a supergiant, but bigger: hypergiants are stars that are pushing the limits of how much crap a star can have in it before it flies into pieces — the odds of finding people around a hypergiant would really be next-to-nothing, they don’t even last five million years from start to finish, heck it’d probably be a shock even to find a planet around one. Hypergiants, at least we can hypothesize, would make for a very scary stellar neighbourhood — little bits of star flying around at significant fractions of the speed of light, you wouldn’t want to fly any ships around in it! Even if (somehow — but this is comics, it’s all about the “somehow”) a planet were to form, and an ecosystem were to develop, intelligent life were to evolve (somehow…), one thing you just wouldn’t get out of any of it would be a race of star-travellers! Because that’s just crazy.
So if Krypton was a planet orbiting a red hypergiant, that’s a pretty big “somehow”…which bodes well for us, because we’re going to need all the somehows we can get to explain how life evolved on it, and even why in the hell that life would have any sort of energy-sucking adaptation…because it sure wouldn’t need it, in that environment!
And so that’s a somehow too far, for my purposes here today. We’ve made the Kryptonians special only at the cost of making them so massively unlikely we’d need a somehow that was Very Special to account for anything about them…but most of all what needs to be accounted for is why in the hell anyone living around the most short-lived (and in the case of the hypergiant, most super-volatile) of stars would ever be the slightest bit complacent about their world coming to an end in some gigantic catastrophe! In the old red giant model, it’s fine: the Kryptonians are a latecoming species on their world, born at just the right time to flourish and become great…ironically in their star’s senility. That late-born magical child they said you were too old to have: a wonder. Of course the big debate on Krypton would then be, “did we come along nearer the beginning of the red giant phase, or nearer the end of it?” Because 500,000 years is a long time, and if the Kryptonians were anything at all like us they must’ve spent about another million or so as prehistoric…and if they spent more time than that, it’s getting up to a significant chunk of their star’s life expectancy as a red giant. 15%? 20%?
But there’s still wiggle room, and no one likes a doomsayer, Jor-El. You can imagine all the bushwah flung around throughout the ages of the Kryptonian civilization, probably a lot to do with how “Rao wouldn’t let it happen” (hey, isn’t that the name of their sun, too?) or how the unbelievers must be stoned to death…lots of bad, self-serving, self-congratulating science for the proud Kryptonians who compete so well in their mad, wild, charmed world…
Well, it’s not too bad, eh?
Unfortunately, though, there are two problems with it. The first being that red giant stars are not fucking SPECIAL!! And the other is…well, why does Krypton even blow up, then? In a supergiant or hypergiant system, we can believe it might: those stars go through some relatively rapid changes, one can imagine tidal stresses becoming a factor, perhaps. Massive ejections of stellar material or something. Somehow. But the good old red giant’s a placid beast by comparison…and besides, we’ve been over this.
But then it can’t be a super- or hypergiant either, and we’ve been over that too!
But it has to be one or the other, and worse than that it pretty much has to be both, and it even needs a great big fat Somehow to make any of it work…!
So what’s the solution?
Happily, there is one, and it doesn’t involve rewriting all the broad strokes of DC’s published internal “history”, either. Just one small part of it. And it wouldn’t even be the first time: why did you know that, so far from being the one, the original, the one-and-only, Superman’s been relegated to the status of Pretty Strong Guy who Came Late To The Party? Not only doesn’t he have any justification for being the Best anymore, he doesn’t even get to be the First.
So…it just came to me one night…
Why not make him the Last?
“The Man of Tomorrow”, they called him way back when. Let’s make it literally true, and restore some of that old Red Giant glamour. The late-arising race, the wonder children. Want to know why the Guardians didn’t slap a big cordon around this scary bunch of overachievers? It’s because there weren’t any Guardians around anymore, to do it. And there weren’t any yellow stars for the Kryptonians to conveniently go to, anyway. Night falls on the universe, and most of the stars have long since moved off the Main Sequence. No alien races, no Legion, no Space Cabby, no Starman…no nothing, it’s all just too far out there, past the fences of time-travel. Even the Time-Trapper’s not around. As far as anyone would know (if they were there, which they’re not), the universe is already as good as dead. Galaxies slipping back over the edge of the Hubble Volume, fading from the night sky. It’s the end of everything.
Except for the star Rao, and its lone satellite Krypton, waiting there on the edge of the dark, completely self-involved.
Well…not completely. One thing the Kryptonians can do, is look at stuff: they’re the luckiest practitioners of telescopy there ever were, as all the light from all the events that ever happened is theirs to catch, sort, catalogue. Seeing out for billions of light-years, they observe all…uh, that is until the things they’re observing fade out, vanquished by cosmological expansion. There is, as it happens, a cut-off point past which the Kryptonians can see no more, and it’s always advancing on the past. In the records of their observatories, events are marked down which are now (bizarrely) too recent to be witnessed with any telescope…and Krypton’s long-ago Dark Ages mark the point at which they stop knowing their deep history, which is our far future, at the same time.
But our past…that, they still know quite a bit about.
Rao, as the last of the great stars, has a peculiar chemical makeup: lots of elements that in our day are rare, run through it in profusion. Since this is comics, some of them are elements we ourselves know nothing of: futuristic, way-out stuff. So therefore, Rao is weird: it’s very big, bigger even than a hypergiant, but it holds its form and it keeps on going. Somehow. It isn’t on the Main Sequence; it’s on a whole other kind of sequence, the sequence of the Last Generation Of Comic-Book Universe Stars. Krypton, its planet, is full of all this stuff too, since of course it was part of Rao’s solar nebula (as we still call those things)…not “just” radioactive, but pulsing with unimaginable impulses, Krypton doesn’t have anything so simple as a nickel-iron core. Its rocks and plants and animals and people aren’t just made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Krypton’s got a lot of things going on, things in every science we just can’t conceive of. Except, that is, for astronomy.
Which they used to worry about: were they born at the beginning of Rao’s red giant phase, or more toward its end? 15-20% of a red giant’s ten million years (it’s big and it’s dim and it’s cool, but crazy Rao’s also stable, so that says “red giant life-cycle” to any casual observer…besides, everyone knows life wouldn’t have time to evolve around a star with a super- or hypergiant’s evolutionary history) is a heck of a lot of time, you know! Ages ago on Krypton, there was serious millenial panic that lasted a thousand years, and tore up everything…until they were released from fear by an advanced analysis of their unique star. Rao, the Eternal — in functional terms, it might just go on and on, limitlessly. The last of the universe’s civilizations might also be its longest-lived ever.
What a relief!
But unfortunately, planets aren’t stars…and the same thing that makes Rao “eternal” makes Krypton a doomed world. Deep in its core, exotic materials interact and fluctuate, begin to separate into strata over time. Eventually, according to Jor-El’s research, an extremely energetic layer of anti-gravitic metal (“Negative Metal”?) will form around the core, crushing it as it explodes off all the rest of the planet into cosmic debris. Let’s say he knows this because he discovers the Phantom Zone, which exists throughout all time and space: but Krypton is its farthest point of extension in time. In fact he can get a pretty good date for the planet’s destruction out of his Phantom Zone analysis. Gee, too bad you can’t use the Phantom Zone to escape into the past! But although the materials exist on Krypton to fashion a machine that can open a portal to it, once you’re inside there would seem to be no way out into a time that doesn’t also possess such a machine, and the exotic power-source necessary to drive it. Whoops! So logically, what you’d want to do is figure out some way of making a time machine, send some people out in it to some other region of space, have them set up a Phantom Zone portal, then you all go into it and get pulled out again back in the past. Unfortunately, if no one even believes you that the planet’s going to blow up, you won’t be able to do that, so. Might as well load your infant son in a time-travelling rocket ship and send him off, then…to that funny litle place you can just still make out in your telescope, where he’ll have powers and abilities blah blah blah.
So here’s what results from that: as the elements in Krypton stratify out, the crust turns to Kryptonite and the Negative Metal starts to sheathe the core…then boom. Powered by that explosion, and the tremendous radiative force of Kryptonite, little Kal-El’s rocket ship hops over the fences of time-travel, to land in Smallville several billion years before the star Rao even condenses from its cold cloud, and out he pops with his personal future a mystery: as what hasn’t been seen, hasn’t been set. Dragged along in his wake, a few tons of the deadly green glowing stuff, which sort of lands all around the planet at random. And that’s all the Kryptonite there is or will ever be: not just the rarest substance on Earth, but the rarest substance in all the universe.
Anyone care to guess what the second rarest substance in the universe is?
Must remember to save some stuff for Nate…meanwhile, now that the long preamble’s over, let’s get to the new Pop-Drama Superman. Which for me needs that “specialness”, that “either First or Last” business…and a set of superpowers resulting therefrom that’s practically unchallengable. Sure, some other species under a red sun might develop amazing energy-sucking capabilities too…somehow…but they weren’t from the last red sun, the Sun at the end of the Universe! And that makes a big difference: bigger and cooler and much more ancient, my proposed Rao would’ve operated for a lot longer as a red star, giving Kryptonian organisms much more than a mere three or six million years to improve their energy-absorbing adaptations through competition, and the species that came to tame that planet were the most efficient energy-absorbers of all (it says here)…retaining their sensitivity to the particular spectral distribution Kryptonian life started out with in the “yellow” days, their general sensitivity to light just went way up, perhaps to take better advantage of their star’s very occasional variabilities. So: super-duper powers for Clark Kent.
But additionally, a unique cosmological status: as Superman’s personal timeline is the only one that goes “back” all the way to the end of time. Other folks in the DCU might have time machines, but they can’t step into them and rocket back to their own past, to change anything but the past; Superman’s past, on the other hand, is the future itself. And along with that dazzling fact, one even more dazzling: his past is the only route “back” to Krypton, the very last world of intelligent life, the very last home of all universal history. If you were Lex Luthor, you’d say “screw making Kryptonite-powered machines, I want to go there!“ If, that is, you ever figured it all out. Which there’s no reason to think you would, except you happen to be Lex Luthor, and so that means if anyone’s ever going to figure it out, it’s probably just down to you and Brainiac-5. And maybe Brainy already knows the story, somehow…
But enough with hints. Here we have a Superman very much like our own, disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, with co-workers Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and fitting into the general sweep of the existing DCU quite smoothly. Lana and Lex, Ma and Pa, Pete Ross, Smallville, Lori Lemaris, Patty and Violet and Shermy…the whole shebang. Fortress of Solitude, Legion of Super-Heroes, JLA, World’s Finest, even CoIE if desired, basically just all the stuff you would ever want to stick in there is fine. Only, a couple of things would be different: one major one being that Krypton returns to its “Amazing World Of Krypton” portrayal, and another one being that Doomsday never existed…or if he did, he had a completely different origin. Also, the story of the space-travellers Kryp and Tonn is apocryphal as it obviously must be even without my changes, though I wouldn’t rule out the idea that it hints at a real historical occurrence, since many folk-stories do. (That Kryptonian schoolteacher was like one of their fundamentalists! She wasn’t supposed to be telling those kids that story! The Science Council probably put her in the Phantom Zone when they found out!) But outside of that, it doesn’t really matter all that much what gets stuck into this Superman of mine, so long as it pays attention to the loose handful of things I’m attempting to stick onto it.
Which are, in no particular order:
1. What’s Superman’s hobby? Superman’s biggest hobby is collecting Kryptonite, the amazing, world-transforming power source that powers a great deal of advanced Kryptonian technology, and that also happens to be the only thing that can kill him. Which seems only fair: uranium kills us, after all!
2. What replaces the justification for Clark Kent being a reporter, now that it obviously wouldn’t help his crimefighting efforts? Madeley and I have discussed this before, in his “Delineated” posts. Clark Kent is a reporter, and not just a reporter but a freakish throwback of a reporter, because there are some things Superman can’t do. He can’t expose corruption, topple governments, smash vast conspiracies, or act politically. But Clark Kent can do all these things, because he’s not only a very good writer and researcher, but he’s also secretly Superman. Perry White doesn’t even know what to do with the guy, he seems to have imbibed a lot of old crap about the intrepid investigative reporter with the press pass stuck in his hatband, he’s just a big dumb cluck of a farmboy who happens to be able to write — Clark Kent’s dangerously naive, and should’ve been killed about a hundred times by now, but he always turns in the story, and he sells papers. He just happens to trip over his own big dumb cluck feet every time somebody shoots at him. Guy is to crooks what Scud missiles are to Patriots. Huge problem for Perry! Like it wasn’t bad enough when he just had to deal with Lois Lane, but at least Lois understands what the words “stupid” and “dangerous” mean. She doesn’t care, but at least she gets it. Clark Kent just seems to lead such a charmed life that he’s got no concept of getting in over his head — he’s an awful coward, but he doesn’t see things coming, so he just goes mildly along writing articles about Intergang and such. So then certain other people seem to take this blithe attitude on board, Jimmy Olsen for example seems almost to idolize Kent, but Jimmy’s life is far from being charmed…despite the outstanding pictures he gets, Perry was all set to fire Jimmy until Superman showed up and gave him that signal-watch, promising he’d keep an eye on him. And Perry feels like he was a bit railroaded there, but Superman or no Superman he can’t really blame anyone but himself for letting Jimmy stay on. That damn Kent’s infected him too, he sometimes thinks: he looks at Cat Walker and wishes he could fire her, strip her useless (but popular!) gossip-column garbage out of his paper, and fill it with more…well, more what? More 40s-movie intrepid-style newshound stuff like Lois and Jimmy and Kent bring in? It’s ridiculous, he catches himself looking at Steve Lombard thinking “why do I tolerate this clown?”, and then he remembers that any paper in town would love to have Lombard in their sports section, for Christ’s sake what’s happening to Perry, he’s becoming a Hollywood parody of a newspaper editor, next thing you know he’ll be chomping on stogies and keeping a fifth of Scotch in his desk drawer, slamming down his receiver all day on one of those old-style telephones…
And then there’s the other justification for Clark Kent working as a reporter, specifically a reporter at the Daily Planet…because Lois Lane works there. Lois Lane, who does everything he does only without the benefit of having bulletproof skin and X-ray vision and super-hearing, and all for the same reason: that business about truth and justice. Clark Kent is a Lois Lane fan, in part because he knows that she’s actually a better reporter than he is; he wanted to work at the Daily Planet because he admires her. Then he gets there and he can’t really understand her: she does interviews with people like Lex Luthor, and seems somewhat sympathetic to his point of view about Superman keeping technological advances from the world. She seems suspicious of Superman, he’s just another story to her. Everything’s a story to her, and she’s brash and she’s cutting and she’s all that stuff, but she’s kind to animals and blah blah blah, and she’s still uncompromising and he still admires her, and wants to know what makes her the way she is. She gets the Superman interview because he wants to convince her he’s good and Luthor’s bad; the more she’s attracted to him the more rigid her objectivity about him as a public figure, the more committed her critical weighing of his actions. Is Clark Kent occasionally playing this for all it’s worth? Hey…if it were me, I might do a little of that myself, you know? Yes: it’s time to mainstream a little superdickery. Not much! But just a little. Lois Lane likes Superman, but holds his feet to the fire when she feels it’s necessary — cannot be said to fully trust him, because wow, yes let’s all trust and adore the Superman what a marvellous plan! Not that he doesn’t think it’s an admirably principled stand. But would he snicker a little when someone at the Planet mockingly called her “Superman’s Girlfriend”? Sure he would. Might he not, as Clark Kent, rattle her cage a bit both by writing gushing Superman pieces, and borderline anti-Superman pieces? Yes, he might. And then as Clark Kent he can get close to her, as Superman he can be all handsome around her as he saves her from falling to her death…oh, Superman, what a game you’re playing, are you sure you want to go down this road? You know it isn’t exactly the most ethical thing you’ve ever done…oh, but come on, this is a unique situation, there aren’t any ethical codes set up for this, and besides he’s just got to know what makes that woman tick…! He’s fascinated by her. Hmph, “fascinated”, oh Superman, if only you could admit to yourself that you’re falling for her a little bit, come on wake up, man…
Don’t worry, he’ll straighten up and fly right soon enough…remember, he’s just a farmboy, he’s got a big secret, he’s fairly young yet and he’s feeling a bit at sea in big-city life…he’ll figure it out, he just has to figure it out, that’s all. And besides, it’s still not nearly as icky as “Superman Returns”…
3. What’s Luthor’s deal, is it gonna be that baldness thing? You know, I actually like the baldness thing, so maybe. But not mainly. The thing about Luthor is that he’s a scientific genius, so a thing that really interests him is Kryptonite…and where it comes from, and how, and why, and what the hell it even is. He puts a lot of this together in a hurry, Superman clashes with him more than a few times before he ever grants Lois her interview…so it’s Luthor that tells the world Superman’s an alien, Luthor who explains from his prison cell all the very acute stuff he’s deduced about who and what Superman must be…Luthor who’s studied Kryptonite the most extensively and perceptively of anyone on Earth, Luthor who explains all that it could do to help mankind, and how Superman’s secretly scooping it all up. The one thing they got right in “Superman Returns”: Superman really won’t share. He’ll stop some earthquakes and expose some government corruption, but he knows perfectly well he’s choosing not to do everything he could: heck, compensating for that is a big part of what the “mild-mannered reporter” identity is all about, after all! And to tell the truth, the split identity is indeed reflective of a certain amount of cognitive dissonance our man suffers. And that’s important stuff: shouldn’t he give STAR Labs a tiny piece of Kryptonite to experiment with? Shouldn’t he try not to indulge himself by rattling Lois’ cage? I mean there’s no instruction manual for any of this stuff, he has to figure it out as he goes…and so this particular underwear-on-the-outside psychodrama is all about finding your place, standing on your own feet, being your own man blah blah blah…in slightly less cliched terms, about developing one’s own ethical code.
Well, sure! You didn’t think these things came ready-made, did you Lois? You can’t buy ethics off the rack, after all…though it seems many people try. “Luthor must be bad in order for me to be or because I am so good…Lois must see that!” No, actually, that isn’t the way it works: that isn’t a mature ethical posture, and it won’t stand up to much. It won’t lead to “doing good”: because it’s neither truth, nor justice, and it certainly ought not to be the American way.
And isn’t that realization what’s really missing from Superman?
Doesn’t that “big blue Boy Scout” thing just get goddamn old, after a while? Prescriptive, idealized, perfect ethics that you receive just by standing there because you’re so awesome: never needing to perform any but the most minimal and formalized and safe actions to maintain your status as moral exemplar — a Scout is brave and clean and reverent, and that’s all there is to the story, now shut up and pose for the camera. Well, that’s not what Siegel and Shuster’s Superman was all about, it’s not what I’m about, and I trust it’s not what any of you are about — also, it’s not what any of the Superman stories I’ve ever liked have been about — so let’s jettison the thing with a big fat raspberry, and pay it no more mind. Boy Scout and Emo Whiner: we need to get rid of them both. Both caricatures of superhero ethicity.
Because they just won’t go with what’s on tap: Krypton can’t be found, and it worries Lex Luthor, the pre-eminent expert on All Things Superman. He’s found a way to synthesize small amounts of Kryptonite, though it’s at very high cost…but don’t think he’s planning to share it with anyone! In fact that’s why he’s a super-crook, you see: he always needs more money, to make more Kryptonite. It isn’t necessarily about having a beef with Superman — it’s about having power. It’s about being special. And in many ways, Luthor is a reasonable man: but his tragedy is that he’s an opportunist, and he knows it, and that’s what makes him dangerous even though he is in many ways a reasonable man. People always argue that Luthor’s character is motivated by jealousy, and in a way that’s true, but that makes it sound a lot simpler than it is…maybe it’s true anyway that Luthor might’ve been a great man if Superman had never come to Earth, but to Luthor himself the feeling is more like he would not have been a great man without his nemesis, and that’s true as well. Doing whatever he wanted to do would’ve been easy for Luthor, without Superman around; maybe too easy for him to have bothered with it. After all, what does he really want? To live in sybaritic luxury? But that’d be barely an afternoon’s work, for him. Couple of patents, boom. There you go. To be respected? Obviously, his intellect is respected. To indulge his scientific curiosity? He indulges it each day, whether he’s in a laboratory or a prison cell. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but the two-eyed man is bored…and there is no way for him even to explain to those around him the difference between having one eye and having two. So he sighs, and he closes one eye; what else is there for him to do?
And so Superman, Kryptonite, Krypton…these words are like rain in the desert, to him. In my version of the story, Jor-El never tells us the name of his home planet, and Superman never utters it. Instead, it’s Luthor himself who names it: mystery, occlusion, secret…as he opens his other eye. He longs to know what the Kryptonians really called themselves, longs to know what they knew. If he were Clark Kent he’d put his genius in the service of mankind, but he doesn’t have that sort of imagination, before Superman comes into his life he is aspirationally inert…and then suddenly, one day, he isn’t.
And it totally pisses him off! Oh, Superman is so special, eh? My specialness is just a byproduct of his, eh? Well screw Superman, I’ll have the bastard in little pieces on slides under a microscope by the time I’m done, I’ll have every bit of his magic specialness out of him. The hell with him.
Of course, he’s doomed to failure, because Luthor has no idea what and who Superman really is, where he comes from, why he’s there. Or anyway…
…Not yet, he doesn’t.
So, I dunno…I guess five thousand words on this is enough? Yeesh, I had no idea it’d take so long. Not sure I’ve succeeded in daylighting the theme enough, may have to return to it…
Oh, no. “Andrew’s Superman Returns”?
But that’d just be confusing…