As I stated before: Superman represents a type of mythological god. He is an angelic protector sent to Earth to protect and inspire humanity. He’s a god trying to be man. Many of Superman’s enemies are evocative of different types of gods. Darkseid is a satanic corrupter seeking to rule a ruined universe like Lucifer. Doomsday is equivalent to the Jörmungandr Serpent of Norse mythology, who will come about during the twilight of the gods and try to poison the sky. Thor kills the beast walks nine steps an then falls dead. Mr. Mxyzptlk is a trickster god like Pan, Anansi, or Puck who toys with those around him. But none of these characters are Superman’s true ultimate enemy.
Ask almost any non geek lay person, and they will tell you Superman’s greatest enemy is Lex Luthor. I would agree with them. Through Luthor’s many portrayals he’s had the personality of a used car salesmen, a raving lunatic, and a Charles Manson level psyco. Each version fails to do the character justice. Unlike other villains, Lex is not a being of power. He has no abilities other then a vast intellect. How is a normal smart guy the “Man of Steel’s” greatest enemy? Well, if Superman is a god trying to be a man, Luthor at the other end of the spectrum, is a man trying
to be a god. The most effective portrayal of Luthor is not that of a pure evil but of a completely ruthless master mind, who truly believes himself to be a modern Prometheus trying to steal the fire of the gods for the benefit of humanity. Kevin Spacey’s Prometheus speech was one of the few moments I enjoyed about Returns. Then Lex tries to destroy billions of people in some kind of ass backward land scheme. A man who does evil because he thinks he is the hero of the story would never
do this. Smallville, strangely enough, has gotten very close to an ideal Luthor. That is, if you ignore tedious love triangles and angsty melodrama directed at teenage girls. He is a power hungry genius cursed with success, who views super-humans as dangerous and wants to ‘protect’ the world even if he has to kill people to do it.
My ideal Lex Luthor in the Superman reboot would be taken seriously. They would loose the shyster personality of Gene Hackman. He’d never scream “WRONG!!” There would never be a wig joke. Every Action he’d take is to acquire more power. Like Superman, he’d want to help humanity but in a sinister manner. Lex would start as a mad scientist, and use his talents to start LexCorp. Lex would be a Donald Trump level superstar. He wouldn’t be content as the most wealthy man in the world and try to extend his influence into politics, organized crime and terrorism. The world would largely be ignorant of this. Maybe Lois Lane and and Clark Kent would be suspicious of him as intrepid reporters, and try to reveal his schemes. In person Luthor would be charming and friendly to meet. Everyone who works for him would see him as an inspirational American hero like Henry Ford, or Howard Hughes. The only people who could get Lex to reveal his sociopathy would be Superman and Lois Lane. He’d view Superman as the a danger to the world, not just because the invincible man could go rouge, but more because people as a whole would stop trying to strive for greatness. Superman would stop evolution. In his scheme to kill Superman, Luthor would create supervillains. Just like Dr. Frankenstein, who also tried to play god, Luthor’s creations would be bastardized monsters. Bizzaro, the Parasite and Metallo would fit this role well. The most important factor of this type of Lex Luthor would be his effectiveness. Often in fantasy the hero lets the villain go based on some flimsy excuse, like “we can’t play god” or “he’s in the authorities hands now”. The writers do this for plot purposes so they don’t dispose of useful villain. Superman: The Animated Series of the 1990’s came close to this interpretation but at the end of every episode, Lex’s scheme blew up in his face, Bizarro or Metalo would try to kill him, and Superman would have to save him. In the upcoming reboot, Superman shouldn’t out and out stop Luthor for one simple reason. He can’t. Every scheme Lex carries out will be a ‘Xanatos Gamit’. Even when plan A is thwarted plan B by default would be accomplished. Superman/Clark Kent will know he’s dirty somehow but a level of mystery would be involved in trying to uncover his villiany. This could make Lois Lane, as a muck-raker, every bit of Lex’s Nemesis as Superman is. Her quest would be to dethrone Lex Luthor as metropolis’s golden boy.
If he were a secondary villain, I wouldn’t want to see him sniveling to the greater power, like Hackman’s Luthor did to Zod in Superman 2. I wouldn’t mind seeing Lex in a Kryptonite powered battle suit, if Metropolis came under siege by Brainiac, Darkseid, or Zod, but I wouldn’t want him to get his hands dirty very often. The only time I would want to see him truly in battle with Superman would be when Lex finally attains his quest for godhood. This should be the climax of the film series. There are many ways this could be carried out. He could succeed in replicating Superman’s powers. He could find a Orange Lantern Power Ring alla Darkest Night. This option is viable if they decide to cross over with the Green Lantern movie that’s coming out. My personal favorite would be to have Luthor merge with Brainiac just as he did in Justice League Unlimited. He could pull this off by either reprogramming Brainiac, or convincing Brainiac it lacks creativity and he would improve his programing. Which ever option was chosen I’d want to see Luthor and Superman have a brawl that would make Agent Smith vs Neo in Matrix Revloutions look like a tea party.
Lex Luthor is one of the greatest villains in comic books. He’d have to be to maintain popularity since Action Comics #23 in 1940. Although many of the adaptations have fallen short, the Superman reboot has a chance to get it right. Now don’t screw it up Warner Brothers!