Lex Luthor is Superman’s number one nemesis. In most versions of the Superman / Lex Luthor saga Mr. Luthor hated Superman from the moment he knew he existed. Superman represents truth, justice, and the “American way” (whatever that means) while Lex Luthor represents narcissism, profit, capitalism, and every despicable component of corporate institutions. If anything Lex Luthor appears to be the epitome of the American way. But most versions of the Superman story has Lex Luthor making the assumption that in his pursuit of whatever he wants, Superman would be a hindrance to his plan.
As the chief executive officer of the high technology defense contracting conglomerate Lex Corporation (think Halliburton on steroids), Mr. Luthor is a seriously powerful individual in the comic book world. The scientist and engineers and communication specialist and mercenaries at his disposal can do nearly anything the boss wants. And they do it all without question or objection. Let’s say that Lex Luthor wants to develop an AK 47 that shoots kryptonite tipped shells. Such a weapon has only one application, to kill Superman. In the comic book world kryptonite is Superman’s Achilles heal. But the employees will put that weapon together in record time. And Lex Corp develops a lot of weapons. But somehow Superman and his associates who do what they do without payment are usually able to thwart Lex Luthor and his profit driven enterprise.
Nevertheless, Lex Luthor is powerful enough to have nearly anything he wants. He is the king of his domain. The problem is he wants to be the king of everyone else’s domain. Despite all his power Lex Luthor wants to be in total control. Superman represents a lack of total control. He thinks more socially. He doesn’t rescue people because they are willing to buy rescue. He does what he can because with great power comes great responsibility. Thus, Superman is just one of very few thorns in Lex Luther’s side.
In the version of the Superman / Lex Luthor saga played out in the cartoon series Justice League Unlimited, Lex Luthor forms an alliance with another one of Superman’s nemesis, Brainiac. Brainiac is the supercomputer android built by Superman’s father Jor El. Brainiac played a significant role in the destruction of Superman’s home world Krypton. Brainiac was able to escape the destruction of the planet and used technology and knowledge to study and gain as much information as possible from other planets throughout the galaxy. Brainiac knows the significance of information and knowledge. And to make the knowledge more valuable it must be kept secret. Others must be prevented from gaining access to the knowledge. Therefore, once Brainiac has studied every aspect of a planet, it will destroy the planet in order to keep others from gaining the knowledge.
When Brainiac set his sights on Earth and discovered Jor-El’s son Kal-El, AKA Superman, AKA Clark Kent, Brainiac salivated with the idea of a twofer, destroying the sole survivor of Krypton and all of Earth in one fell swoop. Superman was able to stop Brainiac. But Brainiac was able to survive by embedding a copy of his intellect inside Lex Luthor’s brain. The Luthor / Brainiac hybrid had the benefits of Brainiac’s access to information from across the galaxy combined with Lex Luthor’s imagination, cunning, and arrogance. The Justice League defeated the Luthor / Brainiac hybrid and in the process was able to separate Brainiac from Lex Luthor. This time, Brainiac was utterly destroyed.
Their merger was a brief one but Lex Luthor had a taste of power and knowledge beyond his wildest dreams. He no longer wanted to rule the world. He wanted to rule the galaxy. Brainiac had access to information that would make gods envious. It was as if the superintelligent android had given the man the ultimate form of cosmic crack leaving him instantly and hopelessly addicted. Luther had to get Brainiac back. Luthor had remembered that Brainiac had an asteroid filled with technology that everyone assumed was destroyed by Superman with the help of other members from the Justice League. Luthor had surmised that his best chance to rebuild Brainiac was to find some remnant of Brainiac’s technology in the cloud of debris from the destruction of Brainiac’s asteroid. However, when he was able to implement his plan, all Lex Luthor did was resurrect a third Superman nemesis named Darkside, the ruler of Apokolips. Darkside was killed when Brainiac’s stronghold was destroyed by Superman and the Justice League. His consciousness floated through the debris cloud waiting to be reactivated. The ressurrected Darkside was pissed and Earth was about to pay big time.
Luthor made it back to Earth to help the Justice League battle Darkside’s invasion. Luthor was pissed because Darkside destroyed his last chance to revive Brainiac. Lex Luther’s Legion of Doom and the Justice League were fighting side by side. But Earth was being destroyed in the battle. Metron, a benevolent godlike being, was fascinated by Darkside’s resurrection and Earth’s destruction. Earth would only be the first world to fall before the angry Darkside. Metron another super being who prefers not to interfere, stopped by to watch the battle, especially the toe-to-toe between Darkside and Superman. Lex Luthor caught sight of Metron and convinced the entity to tell him how he could stop Darkside. Out of some uncharacteristic sense of benevolence, Metron decided to grant Luthor’s wish. In a blink of an eye Metron and Luthor went to the edge of the universe in order to find the Anti Life Equation, the one thing that Darkside wants more than anything else. Metron takes Luthor as close as he dared to keep his humanity intact. However, Lex Luthor who had every desire to rise above his humanity, to improve himself more than his humanity was ever designed to do, rushed in where Metron feared to tread. And with an inhuman scream Lex Luthor gains understanding.
With the Anti Life Equation in hand Lex Luthor is instantly returned to Earth. After having his ass served to him on a silver platter by Superman, Darkside invokes an agony beam tuned to Superman’s physiology. Darkside is standing over Superman with a knife of light generated by the power of kryptonite. Darkside promises to be merciful when he cuts Superman’s heart out and puts him out of his agony. However, Lex Luthor interrupts Darkside’s soliloquy. Furious over the intrusion Darkside turns his full attention on Lex Luthor. But Lex Luthor is eerily calm. His costume as part of the Legion of Doom is replaced with his conservative but highly tailored business suit. He apologizes for the interruption but then shows Darkside the Anti Life Equation. Darkside is mesmerized. As he reaches for what is in Luthor’s hand the two men are embraced in a field of light and disappear together in a huge explosion. And Earth’s crisis is over.
Throughout the story it was interesting to see Lex Luthor’s character change. Although he had by far more than most people could imagine he always wanted more. Initially, when we meet him for the first time, all he wanted was more money. Already a billionaire he was looking around for his next billion. Money was the only measure that mattered. But when he meets Superman he sees an individual more powerful than him that eschews finances. Superman does what he does out of his social conscience. So money was no longer the ultimate form of power.
The power to destroy Superman, a symbol of power, replaced the need for to accumulate the power of money. In order to develop the ability to destroy Superman a variety of power had to be developed, financial, political, and technological. As a mere corporate mogul, Lex Luther had made a bid for political power and used the power of the press to promote his charitable donations and his change of heart to the public. But even with the power of politics and money Lex Luthor made a realization that he needed more. He became part of the Brainiac / Luthor hybrid and learned a taste of power on a galactic scale. No longer caring for the petty pursuit of money or global domination Lex Luthor now needed something bigger. Lex Luthor needed the ultimate. He needed godhood.
Godhood was virtually achieved when Lex Luthor found the Anti Life Equation. But instead of using his new found power to subjugate the galaxy he uses his power to save Superman, a planet, and the galaxy. I like to think that Lex Luthor actually learned that the petty pursuit of power and domination is just that, petty. Real power doesn’t come from the control of others. Power comes from the control of one’s self. It’s nice to be in a position to be financially secure. But financial security doesn’t come from having a number of bank accounts with a high number of zeroes in the balance. Power doesn’t come from ruling a planet or a galaxy. Sooner or later just having that financial and political and military and technological power is lost as soon as someone else comes along with anything that can threaten that power. The powerful will constantly consume more power in order to stay the powerful. The powerful will constantly subjugate the weak in order to remain powerful.
True power comes not from forcing people to your will. True power doesn’t come from manipulation or from deception. True power comes when others have gathered all the facts and have made the conscious decision to make the best decisions for the benefit of the community. True power isn’t about one’s self. True power is about the community and the future. There isn’t much of a future when it benefits a single individual. There is a world of possibilities when the future is for the welfare of an entire society. Individual power is petty. Community power is enlightening. At least that’s how I’d like to imagine it.