The Reboot Of The Villain Lex Luthor, By The Wastrel Blogger Plok

Aha, what fun!

I’ve tried this a couple of times now, and Richard especially keeps me on my toes — on top of all his other enviable qualities, he also has refreshingly strong opinions about Lex Luthor! — yet so far I have not quite cracked the nut. I’ve thought up a Lex Luthor who badly needs a Superman whether he’s willing to admit it or not, because (as I said before, saying that I said before) “in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is King, but the two-eyed man is BORED…!, which is about as near as I think I come to a true Elliot S! Maggin Luthor, a guy who could almost be you, a guy who knows what Johnny Carson said in his monologue last night…and just a couple of days ago I had Comrade Luthor, the hardworking and principled ultratalented total failure, who aims to remake the world as one where “meritocracy” means more than just good looks…who analogically is the darling of the Movement, but who then gets thrown over by the world for bloody stalwart lantern-jawed Superman, a real man with real prospects in the classic bourgeois formulation…

And this was my, hrmm, “social realism” Luthor, the rival of Superman who didn’t need him, didn’t want him and wishes he’d never been born…who sees Superman as having blocked his own opportunities. Both of these Luthors are, I believe, constituent elements of the “real” Luthor…that remarkable fictional individual who (as Richard so acutely pointed out to me) has managed to maintain a thoroughgoing consistency of character over the decades, sometimes in spite of the efforts of his writers…

And one day, I promise you, either I will make him write a post called something like <Choke!>: Emotion, Empathy, and Sophistication in Superhero Comics”, or I will write it myself…but better for us all if he writes it…

…However neither of my slices of Lex Luthor, as interesting (at least to myself) as I’ve tried to make them, can quite cover for the absence of all the other things that make Luthor “himself”, even though in my opinion the man really could use a little updating. Refreshing? This sounds more hubristic, really, even than saying Superman himself needs rebooting…Superman can fall out of touch with the times, sometimes, but is Luthor really subject to the same clock-creep? As a villain, and thus not our identification figure even if he’s got some attractive texture on him (because who in the world would be crazy enough to take the villain as their identification-figure?), he’s pretty much guaranteed to run like a top, isn’t he?


Maybe so, but it isn’t like Luthor himself hasn’t done any changing. Remember Luthor the mature man, portly, sedentary, and of a likewise immovable disposition? And then we’ve also had the youthful and sprightly Luthor, the star athlete of super-villains, quick-witted and facile. I tried to get at that one too, in my Comrade Luthor take, with “Lex Luthor: Scientific Adventurer!”, the man who tested how Superman can possibly do the things he does by stealing a march on Lois Lane as far as getting into super-rescuable scrapes goes…all to a hidden purpose…and also stealing a march on Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal, whose 70s sobriquet “Mr. Action” I also had Luthor claim first for his own dark purposes. And something about that does appeal to me, in a rebooty kind of way, because aren’t reboots generally exercises in tightening-up the associations that’ve accreted like old cobwebs around such decades-old properties as Superman? Not that these associations just “happened”, we must remember — they were consciously and carefully embroidered on the existing work by many artists, thinking hard about what had gone before — but if every reboot is a consolidation of what’s already there, it means simply drawing firmer lines of cause and effect between already-connected elements, and it pleases me to have drawn on something so trivially everyday as the “getting into scrapes” thing, so to have made of it a tiny continuity. In the heady morning of the day of Superman, Luthor finds worthy things to screw up at in order to test his enemy, and thus makes Lana Lang’s attempts to expose young Clark Kent as Superboy look embarrassingly imitative — not her fault, it’s just that Lex tends to sow bad feelings in the people he’s around! — but when Lois Lane, Investigative Reporter, tries the same thing on it is like she’s the real version of what Lex only pretended to be…and likewise Jimmy, but then Superman gives him that signal-watch just for the purpose, doesn’t he? The Daily Planet staff is clearly a tonic for Clark Kent, nobody lying or dissembling…in the version I outlined, Smallville starts to look a bit like Lumberton and Twin Peaks: there’s always something sneaky going on! And, as I said, it’s kind of a trivial thing, but that’s why I like it…in the TV show Smallville, too, there is always some deceitful tomfuckery going on in that damned town! As in small towns everywhere, but big bright and clean Metropolis is too fast-paced and important for mere petty deceit to reign, and also I flatter myself that “Lex Luthor: Scientific Adventurer!” may recall the falsely-reformed Luthor of an older and greater day…

But anyway: many Luthors, from the fat old spider to the lithe prison boxing champ, but what interests me most about those different Luthors is how they were seen by their writers and artists and readers, in the days they were created. Not too long ago I mentioned that if you look at the rise of the American television sitcom, and if you squint, you can see that these are stories by, for, and about the scant survivors of a terrible war…half the men of America were killed, right?…but I confess again that throughout most of my life, I have only thought of them as things that help to explain who I am, not things that explain the people of the times they were made in, who actually made them, and watched them. And, it’s pretty dumb, but didn’t the generation before me make the same mistake, in thinking that to understand them you had to understand Howdy-Doody? All in neglect of understanding Howdy-Doody’s makers, and what their motivations were. So, I grew up in an age where references to the Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch gradually became de rigeur in social settings, largely because they didn’t start out that way…were not seen as connecting influences of any deep social worth by the Establishment, maaan, until my peers and I made them so…

Uhh, in youthful frenzy, and as it turns out that’s a frenzy that only youth can have, because holy crap I must tell you that as you get old then so does that remember-when connection stuff…! Because let’s face it, you can only establish that other people also remember Danny selling Keith’s pickle so many times, before you start insisting there must be more to it all, that if we’re going to exalt this stuff then we ought to be able to reason on it a little better, that there must somehow be something to say besides just “yes, I remember that too”…

(makes note on calendar: “today explained for the benefit of exactly no one why I like writing about comics on the Internet…”)

But, lost in all that frenzy were some peculiar facts, such as: do you know that for decades I thought American TV sitcom families described normativity? WOW, yes, I know…! Lucy and Ricky didn’t have a child ’til they were in their mid-thirties (with Lucy being the older spouse), Shirley Partridge was a widowed mother of like seven kids or something, the Brady Bunch is a frankly insane set-up that should shake off dark prequel plots like a terrier shakes off water, and I do have to tell you that it isn’t even just the “family” stuff, but the workplace comedies reflect it all too. Yes, the workplace comedies with all their painfully-single people…and what do you want to bet that Mary Richards didn’t come to Minneapolis from a smaller town?

Looks a bit different when you think of it that way, doesn’t it?

And don’t even get me started on Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith…or, actually, do, but just not right now…because weren’t we talking about Lex Luthor?

Oh, indeed we were! Because all villains look like something, you know…they look like the frights of their times, and more importantly they look like the frightful people of their times! Lex Luthor, long in advance of John Byrne’s 1980s businessman-reboot, looks fat and soft and arrogant as only a true plutocrat can, his meritocratic pretensions revealed as deliberately self-serving lies…and, sure, he doesn’t own factories yet, but in my opinion it’s kind of the point that he doesn’t, because when Superman is cleaning up a world of corrupt mine-owners and slumlords — criminals, with a veneer of repectability — then doesn’t Luthor make sense as the same sort of criminal only stripped of that veneer? From jail, Luthor sends out implacable waves of hate at Superman…he does not choose to be rehabilitated, and he will get out, and we will keep doing this dance over and over again, because Luthor doesn’t even care if he goes to jail…! But he is just hell-bent on his bad behaviour, and Superman can throw him in jail but he can’t make him stop, and he can’t polish him off either.

Because the system is not prepared to pay the cost it would take, to cease encouraging criminality?

We see the same thing in the NHL these days, with all the talk of the problem of head injuries. But if they were prepared to pay the cost of getting rid of the problem, then there wouldn’t be any talk…


Maybe that’s a subject for another time. Anyway! Some of the stuff I am not getting about Lex Luthor in my re-renditions of him is, I know, the stuff which is some of my very favourite stuff about Luthor, which is the stuff that is extremely time-bound. <choke!> In older Superman comics Luthor’s thought-processes are interesting, even though they’re always about the same thing, because they sound a bit strange today, weirdly simple and dated and insufficiently lugubrious…where are his ruminations on mortality? Where is his neurosis? Where, his self-reflecting inner commentary? Where is his big confessional moment, for heaven’s sake? Well, but he’s not stamped out of the villainous mould of today, so none of those things are there. None of the expected beats of extravagant introspection that modern writers use as lure to hook the readership’s, or audience’s in the case of movies, sympathy. I’m not saying it’s a crutch, you understand, this business of the extravagantly introspective beats…but it’s a style of our times: motivation, motivation, it must be all the time motivation, and so “simple” just won’t do, because you get to the end of it too quickly. But if you were a reader of the 40s or 50s Superman, you wouldn’t need it all introspected for you, because Luthor looked like a particular sort of bad guy, back then: the sort of guy you used to see sometimes, who is just a very, very hard case. Tough, dogged, and thoroughly unsympathetic! And for the most part unconcerned with the appearances of virtue, because always with his mind on the calculation of what he wants, and simply how to get it. Mind you, I really like the physical-culture Luthor too: the self-improvement guy! The dick at the health club who always wants to beat you at racquetball! The showboater, whose every microgesture is a sophisticated put-down of all those not as superb as he, whose pretensions he mocks by pretending them better. And the cool non-perspiring Luthor in a businessman’s suit, well, he may not be to my taste…but I can see the appeal? As well as the continuity he partakes in with those other Luthors, though I would suggest to John Byrne that the corpulent dude in the charcoal pinstripes, the sweaty super-glutton who seems always on the verge of a temper-tantrum, well that might just be gilding the lily a bit…

Or whatever the opposite of lily-gilding might be, I guess, but I suppose it’s fine too? Hmm, though it’s interesting to roll around just what implications there may be, in changing an out-of-shape scientific genius to an out-of-shape corporate raider…because, you know, what then the import of Superman’s physical excellence, in contrast? I guess that’s why I like the trim and athletic Luthor, myself: his commentary on Superman’s physical excellence is like the commentary Bugs Bunny makes on Elmer Fudd, with the only discrepancy being that Elmer never beats Bugs, but Luthor never wins against Superman…and anyway he isn’t really that insouciant and mercurial guy, and actually maybe that’s why it doesn’t happen.

Really, if you think about it Lex is more like Elmer…!

But maybe that’s one for another time too. Anywhere, where was I? Oh yes:

The stuff I can never manage to get into my thinking about How To Do Luthor. Well, let me make another stab at it today, anyway, even if I can’t shoehorn in that tough nut of the Forties…at least, not directly as what he was


So here, perhaps, is the deal with the “real” Lex Luthor, branching out from what I said in the comments in that last Superman post. That in his Superboy origin, Lex is not jealous of Superboy, not one bit! But he’s just really happy to have a friend…and really crushed when he discovers that Superboy actually wasn’t his friend, but was secretly always jealous of him! Now, of course Luthor is wrong about that, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sour him, and most importantly it doesn’t mean that he really was jealous of Superboy, because he totally wasn’t! Perhaps alone out of all the people Superboy ever met, young Lex was absolutely absent of awe where Superboy was concerned, because Lex could do incredible things too. Especially when someone believed in him? Over in Batman, Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face not because of an encounter with fantasy but because of an encounter with reality…and goes just as wrong as Lex does, and for the same reason: not because he’s inherently evil, but because he isn’t inherently evil. And over in perhaps my favourite re-envisioning of Lex Luthor at Tom Strong’s place, Paul Saveen proves in “Crisis In Infinite Hearts” that he doesn’t have to go bad either, being given just one friend. Though, notably, when he cracks he cracks ugly, just as Luthor did, and you really never can tell about people, can you…?

What they will do.

Though his reasons, Luthor’s always got. They’re perfectly fine reasons, they just happen to be based in egotism and they just happen to be wrong…and Lex turns out to be not that nice a person when push comes to shove, and the one thing about all versions of Lex Luthor is that there never is a time when push doesn’t come to shove. For some reason, he just has to have it that way; and you’re not smart enough, even if you’re Superman, to keep him from taking it all to that level. Not smart enough, even if you’re Superman, to chill the guy out. Because by the time you get there, even if Luthor’s still to all appearances a nice young man with a full head of hair, he’s already outgrown any authority figures in his life who might’ve been able to balance the scales of injustice for him, on his behalf! I think I mentioned something recently about Marvel’s great villain, Dr. Doom, always insisting on living in the past, or at least in a stuck present: a present that can never get any better because he won’t be there in it. But Luthor’s exactly the opposite, and refuses to spend any time in the past…he won’t change, simply because the clock doesn’t go backward: he’s got nowhere to go but on. A real tough nut? In All-Star Superman, Clark Kent practically hollers at Lex while he’s in prison, “for Christ’s sake Lex, I’m tired of doing this dance with you!” But Luthor barely notices. Because Luthor never looks back. His thoughts are always interesting, but they’re always about the same thing: always stuck on the bubble of the eternal present, never looking anywhere but to what he wants…so the one thing he never sees coming, is anything he didn’t already know he wanted, that it turns out he actually does.



My Lex Luthor, from the story of Black Hole Superman, who has a Smallville origin as my last go-round at this lacked one…and it’s a complicating thing, the Smallville origin! Because you have to start with Good Lex, the helpful young redheaded boy. In an origin without Smallville, Luthor simply notices Superman one day along with everybody else, but in a Smallville origin without Kryptonite it isn’t clear how he and Superboy become friends…so what the hell, let’s go with Lex Luthor, Scientific Adventurer, after all! And it isn’t a lie, at first; and Lex is not jealous of Superboy, so that’s no problem either. But if Superboy can do something for Lex (like saving him on an occasion when he overreaches himself), then there will always be something Lex can do for him, and in this case that means becoming his confidante. What does Black Hole Superboy know of his origins? We won’t have any magic green crystal here; the rocket ship arrived, and the baby came out of it, but there’s very little else in the way of information that young Clark Kent gets. Possibly the Navigator of the rocketship carried a little artificially-intelligent Jor-El-in-replica, who was able to tell Jonathan and Martha a thing or two about his son — or maybe not! — but either way, if you want to get all kings-in-disguise about it then the one thing the foundling boy never gets to know until later, is where he came from and what his inheritance is. So Young Lex actually makes quite a good friend for Superboy, because only a genius like himself could hope to reason out anything about Superboy’s origins, simply starting from what Superboy can do.

But, that’s before he knows Superboy is a liar, right? And it is indeed an odd coincidence, that Kal-El should happen to land right in the town where the only universal genius on a par with his late father lives…just as odd, really, as being landed in the outskirts of the Orion Spur, just one step short of being lost forever in the interstitial gulf that lies before the Perseid Arm. If you look at closely, it just seems like an awful lot to ask, for all that to be happenstance! Not that anyone knows about it yet, but just give Lex time and he’ll get there…and when he gets there, will it not give him just that much more justification, for doubting his former friend’s honesty? Lex begins by toying with the idea that Superboy is some kind of evolutionary fluke, then he considers the possibility that Superboy may be the product of some kind of genetic engineering…but as more and more time goes by, all of that seems less and less likely, and eventually he reveals his conclusion, that his friend must be some sort of alien life from elsewhere in the cosmos, fallen to Earth like a star. This sits very poorly with Young Clark, as you can imagine, and the poor fellow flies off somewhere to grapple with his feelings…so in the meantime, Lex feels like he’s got to pick up the slack for his disturbed friend, therefore Mr. Action springs into just that! And what a job he does, too: it’s really impressive.

Meanwhile Superboy is starting to feel a bit guilty about neglecting his responsibilities — has he been yelling at Ma and Pa, has he been talking to Legion members during this, his first crisis of faith? Lex has done a great job, but Lex is only…<choke!>…human

…And maybe he’s been leaning on him a little too hard, so he sends him a message. With super-ventriloquism? The details don’t really matter all that much…Lex is on a big case, and can’t be reached by ordinary means, but Superboy reaches him indirectly, places a message where he can find it, and tells him he’ll be back on the job tomorrow, apologies apologies…I dunno, maybe he’s in space, and that’s why he’s setting a time for when he’ll be back? Anyway, Lex counts on it; these new villains he’s chasing, they’re really tough to catch, and he’s about at his wit’s end. They have some really weird technology, that he doesn’t understand, and though he’s been a real thorn in their side he just can’t seem to get to the centre of their operations. He’s been sneaky, he’s been undercover, but it’s all just taking too long, and after all he is only human! Superboy, with his weird powers, could do what Lex can’t, and penetrate to the heart of the conspiracy…that is, if he knew about it what Lex knows, which he doesn’t. However…

…Superboy, his pal, is coming back tomorrow. Lex knows the exact time of his arrival, even. And wouldn’t it be something, to have a little “glad you’re back” present all giftwrapped for him? So Lex allows himself to be captured by the conspiracy, because he’s got a secret weapon they don’t know about…and just as they’re lining him up for the big kiss-off, he does whatever crafty thing he’s thought of to do in order to let Superboy know exactly where he is…

But nothing happens.

Lex Luthor is in the tiger’s den, he’s allowed himself to be stripped of all his gizmos in an all-or-nothing gambit, and it’s worked…but where’s his secret weapon? He’s out there without a net, deliberately without a net, he’s about to take the real plunge and he’s relying on Superboy to catch him, and Superboy is nowhere to be found…!

…And meanwhile out in space (or wherever, but probably space), Superboy is trapped, unable to make it home to save Lex. Maybe he even hears him calling? But whether it’s Zod or it’s Mxyzptlk, or it’s naturally-occurring Kryptonite, or it’s Brainiac or it’s Terra-Man or it’s some other damn thing…or maybe it’s that he has to go to the future with the Legion!…he’s not able to be where he said he would be, when he said he would be, and so Lex realizes that he’s totally on his own, and only human after all. Naturally he thinks fast and gets out of it by some lucky chance, but that’s the first moment when push comes to shove, for him, and he’s not going to forget it. Superboy, no doubt jealous that Lex was about to bring in a mutual crimefighting victory for them that neither one could have accomplished alone, sabotaged him by giving him false information…no doubt he was jealous at just how well Mr. Action was making out, even without superpowers…

(Say, Lex could’ve been the one to name those powers, couldn’t he? “Super” powers, powers that don’t seem to work in accordance with the limitations of physical law…and maybe the name “Superboy” could’ve been a riff on that coinage?)

…And so that’s it for Lex and Superboy, even if Superboy doesn’t know it yet, and even if he feels bad about it and has a good excuse that he can talk about…which, you know, if it’s the future or something then he probably can’t talk about it, can he? But even if he could, it wouldn’t make any difference. Through relying on Superboy, Lex came this close to being killed, and was lucky to get away just being permanently balded…Lex may now have an advanced form of whatever that real disease is that causes your cilia to lie flat, only in addition all the hair on the outside of his body is just gone…but seriously, that disease is serious business, it affects your protection from environmental contaminants, it affects your breathing, it affects your immune system…people do manage to live with it, but it’s dicey stuff, and let’s just say it’s a good thing Lex is a genius? It’s a good thing he’s a genius, because otherwise from this condition he could die anyway, despite having cleverly escaped the clutches, and set back the plans, of…

Oh, go on. Take a guess.

Anyway it is not just that he’s bald, all right? Heck, he might’ve gone prematurely bald anyway, for all he knows, and anyway what kind of a crazily petty person would he be, if he swore eternal vengeance on somebody just because they caused him to go bald?

(Well…the petty one that’s in the shaving mirror, maybe?)

But the point is, even though he got away from the dangerous choke-point of his young life, he didn’t get away unscarred, he didn’t get away scot free, but he got TAGGED…and Superboy’s probably laughing about it right now, that inhuman bastard, but it’s no joke! Why if he hadn’t invented a treatment for that follicle condition (which of course he is not in much of a mood to share at the moment!), his life expectancy would be seriously in doubt, and anyway he’ll still have to live with the fact of the condition his whole life, because you know what? You know what? Some of us aren’t fucking invulnerable, Superboy, and oh boy what a laugh riot it must seem to you, you stinking alien, and what was Lex thinking ever believing they could be friends

…When Superboy probably doesn’t even know the meaning of the word.

But though Lex would totally blow his cool at Superboy if Superboy was around, since he’s not around then Lex thinks twice, and decides to keep his change of heart under his hat for a while, while he tests Superboy not in a friendly helpful way, but more in earnest. Before, you see, he was just looking for an explanation; now, he’s looking for weakness. And for Lex Luthor — any Lex Luthor! — vindictive motivation is what really turns on the old I.Q. Motivation, motivation, that’s always been Lex’s problem, you know? Because in the country of the blind, and so on…I mean they say he could’ve cured cancer, and he could’ve, but when your mind is always going everywhere at a million miles an hour then focus becomes a real problem. Befriending Superboy helped to clarify Lex’s genius wonderfully, and now that he’s un-befriended him it’s clarified it even more. And, look, the truth is that Lex is not 100% wrong even though he’s 100% in the wrong, because Superboy really never was honest with him. He didn’t tell him he was really Clark Kent, for example. And, he didn’t tell him why he couldn’t make it in time to save him, when Lex laid it all on the line for real in (mostly) the name of do-gooding and altruism. In fact Superboy’s life in Smallville is a rather interesting sort of growing-up story, right? He tells Pete Ross who he really is. He lies to his best friend Luthor every single day about who he is. He confides in Luthor about the nature of his abilities, and how they freak him out. He loves Lana, but he won’t make a move, so he ends up making her look like an idiot. Oh, Lana! Lex really does hide his motives by faking some “Mr. Action” scenarios in order to more thoroughly examine the Kryptonian power-set, and Superboy never suspects…but Lana is made to look like a fool because of it anyway. Meanwhile she’s the only one who ever puts two and two together and comes up with “Clark Kent is Superboy”, even freakin’ best-friend universal genius Lex Luthor never does that…and Pete Ross just sort of finds out one day, but Lana is the only one to suspect the existence of such a thing as the “secret identity”, and she’s dead on the target, and she can never prove it because Clark Kent is a coward when it comes to women, yet she never gives up on her reasoned conviction. You think she doesn’t know that if Clark were Superboy, then he could use his powers to make it look like he wasn’t? Talk about your scientific adventurers, Lana is all over that action…!

And in the end, Superboy builds Lex Luthor a lab, where Lex invents Kryptonite and tests it on his secretly-former friend…but Lana saves him, because she knows Clark is really Superboy, so when he goes missing she goes looking for him, that’s all. And she finds him, and he’s in trouble, and so does she really need any more proof than that? Lex’s grand plan of revenge is foiled, just after he’s revealed how much he HATES Superboy for what Superboy did to him, and so all the cats are out of the bag, except of course that Lex still doesn’t suspect that a “secret identity” is a thing…and Superboy gets away, but he’s weakened, so Lex seizes the opportunity to make his own escape, and now he knows about the 5D connection for sure, and it’s only a matter of time until he starts to reason out the rest of the story. Not the whole of the rest of story, mind, but that there is a “rest of the story”…

He’ll be there soon.

No one knows what Superman can do, like Lex Luthor does!

No one understands him more, and no one understands him less!

And that’s the whole sad story of it, and thus concludes our little play. And if we shadows have offended…!

Oh yeah, and one more thing. Just a thought, really.

About that time-travel business…

Suppose for a moment that the Legion can’t easily visit the present day (whichever present day we happen to be talking about) in a physical form. They can do audiovisual projection all right, but actual physical manifestation…that’s hard. Even to bring someone from the present to the future, is easier than going from the future to the present! And perhaps on certain occasions it is harder still. Brainiac-5’s intellect is certainly equal to the task of solving time-travel — he is the Third Universal Genius, after all! — but working the time-bubbles, that’s another story. Intellect is not in charge of that; that’s a practical matter, not an abstract one.

Physical laws still do apply, you know! Why if Brainy’s work wasn’t within the strictures of physical law, then he would really be a scientist at all, would he? But some sort of magician, instead…

But anyway. You will notice I never did get to the “tough nut” Luthor, but that’s because he’s a lot harder to get to these days, than he once was. However, to the Luthor who has to do with labour relations I think I may actually have gotten. Luthor is the disillusioned one here, you see, in the story of Superman as Marxist mirror…he believed more in the Movement than the Movement believed in him, or so he thinks. Absolutely Comrade Luthor, the revolutionary rival of Superman! But it isn’t that Superman pushed him out

But rather, it’s that Superman let him down. Which, if you think about it, he sort of did…

Because he’s the only person, that Superman never saved.


29 responses to “The Reboot Of The Villain Lex Luthor, By The Wastrel Blogger Plok

  1. No, no, no the the Wells quote. That’s almost as naughty as a Saramago one;)

    Hamilton really cemented Luthor didn’t he. It was never about the hair but rather because he isn’t Supes. If he was less brilliant he would’ve stayed on Lexor, but he’s addicted to the contest.

    • It’s my horrible Sighted Privilege, I admit it! I do try to think about these things, though…try not to just use them because they’re there. For example, “blind with rage”? I think that’s okay, but I never use it without trying to reason on it, ever-conscious of Holly’s upset if someone should use “blind” as synonym for “ignorant”. If the thought is “ignorant”, then the word shouldn’t be “blind”.

      It’s political correctness, it’s gone mad hasn’t it Stew

      So in this case, though I know you weren’t looking for an explanation, I think I’ve been a bit clever to use it, because actually it’s Luthor who’s “blind”, as in strictly speaking “not able to see”…you know, actually in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is probably just as fucked as he is in the country of the sighted? Because “blindness” is not simply synonymous with “having a lack”…

      Oh no, I am about to offer a Dickensian criticism of Wells, or something. For the love of God, somebody stop me. SUPERMAN WHERE ARE YOU?!

      • Ha ha you took the bait and missed my comment about Luthor (feint east and strike west;)

        In Ozland the prime description is vision-impaired but that suggests a lack of vision, so I use sight impaired these days or just blind.

      • ever-conscious of Holly’s upset if someone should use “blind” as synonym for “ignorant”

        Aw, thank you.

        It’s weird how quickly that’s come on; I never used to think about it until a year or two ago when someone was complaining at being criticized for using the word “lame” and they were going on about how ableism was a pretty stupid idea anyway, wasn’t it, because if there were really any such thing then blind people would have to be upset at stuff like “colorblind” (used in a metaphorical way about race, not about the actual inability to distinguish colors).

        And I thought about that — and my thoughts were colored (ha) somewhat by the fact that “colorblind” is incredibly racist and has been superseded by better terms for the “I’m a white person who wants to show I’m right on” purposes, but then I thought, actually, goddammit, all these metaphorical uses of the word “blind” are signifying either “don’t know” or “don’t care.” And ever since then it has bothered me, increasingly. I think it’s pretty funny that this was started by someone saying “well obviously this could never be a problem for anyone” and that helped me realize it is a problem for me.

        Anyway, just to be clear, it’s the words that upset me, not you that upsets me. I know you don’t think blindness means ignorance or indifference. But it’s great that you think about this and don’t use the words lightly, and that you say so. This is how language changes. As well you know.

      • Oh my gosh, you’re reading my turgid Superman fan-fic posts!


        “Ableism is pretty stupid really”…well in a way that’s true, because as you’ve pointed out to me before, to adapt public spaces for disabled people is also and at once to make them more functional for non-disabled people, so that fucking idiot there has, weirdly — backhandedly — a good point?

        You remind me, also, of the conversation on Andrew’s blog about the use of the term “Oriental”. This was a bit hard for me to get my head around at first, because in Vancouver most people can tell a Korean from a Vietnamese from a Chinese person…so we don’t actually have to use “Asian”, at least not in 2013 instead of 1973…so sometimes you get people remarking on how there’s actually nothing technically wrong with saying “Oriental”…

        Which: they’re right, and there isn’t, but still no one ever has used a word “technically”, so “Oriental” is used mainly in a comical context here:

        “What are you all laughing at? Wait, it’s cool, right? Oriental? So yesterday I bought a peculiar gold coin from an old Oriental gentleman at a vanishing curio store, well what of it?

        But it came to me after a time what the problem was: “Oriental” would be fine, except that so many people have used it, and still use it, to mean “he said he was Laotian or Cambodian or some other Lord Of The Rings elf-category, whatever, well if these Orientals can’t bother to keep themselves straight then I don’t see why I should bother to…”

        So usage, obviously, is important. Historically, in English, “Oriental” means “go fuck yourself, slanty-eyes”, where the more modern “Asian” means “you know what, it costs me nothing not to be a dick”, and it isn’t the fault of either of those terms that they carry the freight they do, but it’s all down to us. And, hey: “it costs me nothing not to be a dick”?


        And besides, “blind” is an EXCELLENT METAPHORICAL WORD, one of the very best we’ve got! It would be such a shame to continue in the (recent) habit of applying it slapdash in a non-precise way. “Blind”…it’s really good, right? Just look at the way it sounds, just take it in your hand and feel the steel heft of it. It’s one of the greatest. most melodic, most flavourful words we’ve ever come up with. “Deaf”, goddamnit, that’s a hell of a word too, so beautiful, like a shard of flint so expertly knapped….it’s so painful when people misapply it, like when someone says “Movember”…


        What was I saying?

  2. Yes, this. You’ve nailed the one thing I thought was undersold in your earlier post: the sense of inevitability, the quality that makes Luthor and Superman a classical tragedy.

    The thing that got me so fascinated by Luthor was the question: what if he was right? What if Superman’s presence really was a bad thing for humanity, no matter how pure and noble his intentions? We have 75 years worth of indoctrination telling us that’s impossible. But the deck has been stacked. It’s been stacked by the people selling us Superman comic books and movies and television shows and toys and peanut butter — of course they’re not going to play fair with us!

    I loved The Incredibles, right? But looking back after all these years, how weird is it that the character who says “everyone in the world should have access to power, it shouldn’t be held only by the tiny elite while the little people get no say at all in their own lives” is the self-deluding villain? And look how they have to pull out all the stops in over the top villainous behavior to make sure we never doubt he’s the villain. Just because he’s arrived at that place out of wounded, rebuffed hero-worship doesn’t automatically mean that the opposite of what he says is true. Your Luthor could definitely work that way: just because he’s wrong doesn’t necessarily mean he’s all wrong.

    Also liking the way Lana has a real part here.

  3. I thought maybe it was time someone had a good word to say for Lana! What I perhaps could’ve sold a little harder is that when she rescues Superboy, that’s when she finally gives up trying to prove he and Clark are the same person…because she’s convinced of it, but Superboy could fake anything, even if she caught him out he could fake his way back in, but none of that — the proving, the faking, any of it — really matters if she KNOWS. My Lana’s the top student at Smallville High, excepting only Lex Luthor (Clark Kent is bound and determined to get a medium “A”, and no more), and any way you slice it those ar some pretty good intellectual credentials. I picture her going on to work for STAR Labs, dealing a lot with Oliver Queen…

    …Who, did I mention, inherited the world’s most high-tech waste-remediation company, when his parents died? QI doesn’t make cell phones, for heaven’s sake; they licence high-level clean technology research (the sort of thing STAR Labs always gets Superman to test for them) and put it into the mass market, sometimes at a loss and sometimes not. Do an awful lot of international business…lots of meetings with Bruce Wayne…

    But that, too, is a story for another day. Anyway, Lana: she and Clark could never be together, you know? Because he is not made of baryonic matter, as the instruments at STAR Labs will eventually show, and which Lex reasoned out from first principles before he was old enough to vote. By the time Lana finds this out, it’s only a somewhat late confirmation of something she already knew deep down…

    …And besides, Clark is stupid.

    I think there are probably more than a few reasons to find Luthor’s anti-Superman argument compelling, all only mitigated by the fact that he probably no longer really views Superman as a person…somewhere, Lana is rolling her eyes…but you could definitely take the view that we are being colonized by Superman, this hyper-energetic crypto-ideologue who came here under circumstances just so honestly suspicious. And is not the “American Way” crap mere cultural overlay for him, even more so than it is for people who hate beatniks and hippies and Communists? Superman, if he so chose, certainly could rule the Earth, but that’s not the real point…specific outcomes aren’t the real point, you could generate hundreds of them, all equally unlikely…because what the real point is, is what the theory of it all shows us. People do not embody beliefs, they don’t embody political points of view, they don’t embody ideals…that’s all crap. People are just people. They use beliefs, politics, and ideals; sometimes they even truly have beliefs and politics and ideals; but paint ideals on the casing of a nuclear bomb and it can still blow up just the same. This isn’t Nature vs. Nurture — Lex Luthor would tell you that Nature vs. Nurture is also just a distraction, also just a kind of political belief, and therefore just as beside the point — but instead it’s just plain facts. How can Superman be really “naturalized”, even by such an aggressively American place as Smallville, when Lex himself as a human being actually born in the United States can’t be? Nature vs. Nurture doesn’t work, because in that argument the “nature of nature” is misconceived — things don’t have “natures” of that specific useful kind, as any historian of science could tell you. We overstate “nature” constantly, because the belief in it as something more comprehensive than it is functions as an excuse for us. “Naturalness” justifies racism as easily as it justifies tolerance, you know? Justifies religion as much as science. So the values that flow from “naturalness”, just as the values that take up positions in opposition to “naturalness”, are essentially illusions…

    Which in the normal course of things presents no problem: such illusory living is insipid, and frequently harmful, but the circle of its potential harm as far as any one individual goes can’t usually expand very much before that person…oh, well, you know, get their mind expanded or something? Power is a hell of a psychotropic drug, you know! And those not willing to have a bad trip self-limit the expansion of their ability to affect others, by that choice. And at the very least, you naturally come to understand that all you once believed, all you were once inculcated with, was always just bullshit anyway…so one way or another, it’s a trial that many fail, and even most of those who pass it don’t continue on in the way of power and influence. Lex Luthor, you may be sure, knows this principle VERY WELL…having been one of the few who carried on, but then again was he really supposed to not carry on? It’s hard not to use genius…!

    But Superman’s a different story completely. Superman, if you like, is a threat in the way Hitler and Genghis Khan and even Lex Luthor have never been, because he has never experienced the trial, has never required the enlightenment and therefore never faced the choice that stems from it. Because Superman gets his power — the word tangles on the tongue — “naturally”, and never has to question a damn thing about “naturalness” because of it. No, we’re not worried he’ll go all World Dictator on us!

    The problem’s much more serious than that!

    We’re not worried Superman himself will cause megadeaths — they will certainly happen whether Superman exists or not! — but the problem is that you have this potential revolutionary force in the hands of some pathetic bourgeois Boy Scout, and the law of power is that power can never be inert, so…yah, it’s a question of human evolution. Superman can’t do other than but stand in its way, in effect stealing the power of others, by trumping them with his greater power, like a big fat super-evolutionary vampire. Even the megadeaths, they still happen because Superman won’t keep them from happening by becoming a World Dictator, but worse than that all those deaths change nothing, as at least they would if Superman were a Hitler or a Genghis Khan…

    …Or a Lex Luthor, who seriously wouldn’t balk at killing the shit out of people, if after they died the world was at least different from how it was before. Our Lex probably wouldn’t do such a thing when Superman’s around, though…choosing instead to just go after Superman. Still “Mr. Action”, as I said, and still with his main trick:

    “Oh no, Superman, I’m in danger, save me!”

    “Oh no, look Superman I’m robbing a bank, STOP ME!”

    Why he practically dresses up as a girl bunny, if you know what I mean.

  4. I should note for all, what I mentioned to Richard today…that it amuses me NO END that the longest posts I ever write are STILL posts about Superman. Which is crazy, because you all know how I tend to GO ON, yet writing about Superman is something I could go on going-on about…

    I think I could do the same with Dr. Strange, but that’s about it…

  5. It’s a good thing he’s a genius, because otherwise from this condition he could die anyway, despite having cleverly escaped the clutches, and set back the plans, of…

    Oh, go on. Take a guess.

    Nobody bit on this, but it intrigues me. It has to be someone whose villainous career predated the existence of Superman, which narrows the field considerably. Are we supposed to assume it’s Brainiac? Because I don’t like that option much.

    My first instinct is to say it’s the Joker, because this whole sort of epidermis-level permanent physical trauma is his thing too, in more than one way. But would the Joker be active yet? Before, one must assume, there’s such a persona as Batman?

    My next idea was that it was mixed up with the caper that turned Eel O’Brian into Plastic Man. And there’s a nice symmetry to that. But I don’t know, again, if the timing works out for us.

    So, what then. Vandal Savage? Boss Thorne? Tobias Whale? Ra’s al Ghul?

  6. Oooooh, shit, it’s the event that turned Eel O’Brien into Plastic Man!

    That’s good!

    There’s more than one thing to bite on, here. For example, why is it easier for the Legion to bring Superboy to them, than it is for them to go visit him? And what is that mysterious thing the Flash talks about (that they’ve never heard of, perhaps because there’s no such person as XS), called “the Crisis”?

    But as to the people Lex is investigating, I should’ve thought it was almost too obvious. After all, there were ham-fisted clues.

      • Oh okay; I just went back and reread it, and I now see two possibilities, the second if which I like better than the first.

        The first is, Darkseid and/or his minions, with their Boom Tubes and other weird technology.

        The second is, interestingly, not a villain at all, but some adventurers who are desperate to a) stay undercover and b) collect and assemble the technology they need to go home to the Baxter Building where they belong.

      • To be fair, you can catch those adventurers at their worst</I., and when they're at their worst they can screw up something awful…I would vote for the Englehart/Pollard “Lost…!” issues, where tensions were highest!

        But somehow the time-differential feels wrong, on that one.

  7. As for the Legion and Crisis stuff, well, there’s no point in biting on any of that because it’s whatever it needs to be this time. You set up your universe the way you want, arrange time travel and the Crisis to fit, and leave the continuity on the dresser.

  8. So bitter, Matthew!

    I don’t blame you.

    But this is world with SUPERBABY, and super-ventriloquism…and yes, I even figured out a way for there to be “super-hearing” although technically it’s got nothing to do with the ears…

    The Crisis doesn’t change the LSH, instead is bounded by its existence…!

    But, I guess you’ve heard that a million times before.

      • The Crisis doesn’t change the LSH, instead is bounded by its existence…!

        Yeah, well, I wouldn’t want to trust my weight to that branch.

        Anyway it was John Byrne’s Superman reboot that screwed up the Legion, wasn’t it?

        There’s an argument to be had about whether the Legion was ever really screwed up, but it’s too long to go here; if only someone out there ran a Legion blog where it would fit.

        But the answer is, sort of. I don’t blame Byrne; he went to the DC editors and warned them, look, this could mess up the Legion, somebody should get on that. And they just patted him on the head and told him it’d be fine. I’ve always heard that the real villain of the piece was Mike Carlin, who hated what Giffen and the Bierbaums were doing Five Years Later, and insisted that they strip out all references to Superman from their comic. Devlin O’Ryan couldn’t work at the Daily Planet, Mon-El couldn’t call himself Mon-El, nothing like that.

        Oh well.

        Another possibility that could work, although I can certainly see why we wouldn’t want to do it that way, is for Luthor to have run afoul of some scheme of Booster Gold, sticking his oar in a decade or two earlier than expected.

        Or! Or or or!

        Two words:

        Degaton Five.

  9. I think your interpretation of Lex is interesting, but I’d like to add a little bit. Lex is what Superman imagined his father to be. Think about it. Jor-el is this scientist that wants to save the world. Lex is also a very similar figure, someone who wants to use his science to better humanity. I think that’s why Superman doesn’t outright kill Lex or at least tries to rehabilitate him every time. Lex may believe that Superman is bad for humanity, but Superman truly believes that Lex is good for humanity…just like his father. He sees Lex as the father figure that has gone bad…the one thing he needs to repair in order for the world to be better.

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