Now, I’m admittedly not a DC comics fan; I’ve read two Superman comics in my lifetime—the one where they changed Supes’ costume and the one where Doomsday beat the bulletproof shit outta Superman. I don’t know Lex from the pages of comics: I know him from the Christopher Reeve masterpieces, the sub-standard Superman Returns, and all 687 episodes of Smallville (I cannot be only one who thought it took forever for Superman to learn HOW TO FREAKING FLY!).
Most of us have seen the 1978 Richard Donner pic with Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando and if you haven’t, stop, go out and watch it. Come back when you’re better prepared for class. And while you’re at it, watch Superman II—it was just cool. In that movie, we are introduced to a villain who wants to start an earthquake to make the entire western seaboard of the United States fall into the ocean just so he can make money on a brand new coastline. And he launches a domestic nuclear attack to give Superman something to do while his other plan is in motion.
Impressive, right? But wait, there’s more.
There are 2 human beings who know about Superman’s “aversion” to kryptonite. Both of them know who Superman is. Both of them are billionaires. One of them is Superman’s friend. The other one wants to kill him. In the movies, Lex discovers what kryptonite does, obtains it, then gives Superman a pendant made of it and tries to drown him. But that’s not all: he finds the Fortress of Solitude, turns it on, uses its information against Superman and makes Superman destroy his own home. We’ve even seen Lex shank Supe and stomp him like they were on D-block. And Superman is BULLETPROOF.
Here’s what it comes down to: Lex has balls.
That’s what makes him such a fantastic villain. Lex Luthor has balls. I know it sounds crass but think about it. Push aside his routine disdain for all manners of law enforcement. Ignore his idle willingness to sacrifice billions of human lives to achieve his aims. Brush away the fact that he teamed up with General Zod to take over the world. Consider this: Lex Luthor fought a god. On purpose. And figured out how to beat him.
When we think of heroes and villains, especially the super-powered variety, we often imagine a match in power and capability. Batman and the Joker, Spiderman and the Green Goblin, Harry Potter and Voldemort. Usually two sides of the same coin. But think about Superman. He can fly, shoot lasers out his eyes, live in space, lift full continents with his bare hands, turn the world backwards—you’d have a better chance listing the things he can’t do, right? But Lex is just a dude. A regular guy. Flesh and blood and addicted to gravity. And yet he is still willing, wholeheartedly, to tumble with the Man of Steel. And sometimes gains the upper hand. Who does that? A man with balls.
And that is why Lex Luthor deserves entry into the pantheon of great villains.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, we get the only Star Trek villain I know: KHAN! KHANNN! KHANNN!!! (that’s my version of the echo from Star Trek II)