As I type this from the bar, the first east coast polls soon to close in just over an hour, a long thread continues to garner debate on my best friend’s Facebook page, prompted by her post inquiring as to whom she should vote for in the presidential election. Amidst the passionated politicking and vicious vitriol, my own humble contribution to the conversation came in the form of a picture of fictional presidential candidate Lex Luther (circa his campaign arc in the comics), accompanied by a caption reading “Legitimately a better candidate than anyone on the ballot this year.” The joke, of course, comes in comparing Clinton and Trump to the most notorious supervillain in the history of the comics medium. And yet, sans any sarcasm or hyperbole, I was quite serious in stating that I’d more easily entertain a Luthor presidency, and not merely out of a deep dislike of 2016’s nominees. I’d made the argument in recent months that Luthor, as he’s been portrayed since the New 52 reboot, and especially since Rebirth, may well be more deserving of the “Superman” mantle than the post-Crisis Superman as he’s currently being written. And until this week’s Action Comics #967, that argument still stood.
It turns out I was very, very wrong.
Action Comics #957 (DC Comics)
It was a reasonable mistake to make. Even midway through this issue, when Lois presses Lex as to why he should be the sole Superman in the eyes of the public despite the fact that a genuine Kal-El of Krypton had stepped up to fill the role of the recently deceased New 52 Superman, Lex quite correctly comments that the intentions of the latest mystery man to sport the “S” insignia were a subject of speculation, not fact. Unsaid but implied is the bitter memory of Forever Evil, when a doppelgänger every bit as exact as the New 52 and post-Crisis Superman to one another proved that split curled-face could become a symbol of destruction and oppression just as easily as it is associated with truth and justice.
Having written this review Monday, I don’t know who’s president-elect, but I assume this is the result.
And yet, fearful as I and many others are as to what might happen to this country no matter who wins, such apocalyptic presentiments pale in comparison to the Apokoliptic portent presaging the dark days descending upon Earth Prime – indeed, the entire multiverse – as a result of Luthor’s actions. The issue’s open paints a fearful picture of Earth as Apokolips, replete with firepits and parademons, but it’s the image of Luthor cutting the familiar silhouette of Darkseid – evil incarnate himself – that most disqualifies Lex from either the American presidency or the name “Superman.”
I’m baffled as to what could turn this version of the character from hero to heel. This issue indicates somewhat shady practices on his part – particularly his private PRISM-esque surveillance of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But considering Kent’s providence is a genuine mystery, with Superman secretly spying on Kent as well via the signal watch, not to mention the fact that Lois replaced her New 52 counterpart Stepford-style, and Luthor’s quest for the truth of the matters – invasive as his methods may be – is not without cause and is comparable to the monitoring performed by Batman, Oracle, and even the post-Crisis Superman himself (both while hiding in the shadows of Earth Prime and even presently still).
Villains are always at their most interesting when they straddle the line of anti-hero, when their intentions appear as noble as the heroes they fight against. Magneto has often straddled that line, as did Sinestro during Johns’ tenure and Black Adam when written by the same. The Marvel Netflix shows have perfected this formula: Fisk’s plans to gentrify Hell’s Kitchen were no less noble than Murdock’s defense of the disenfranchised, and Kilgrave, at least initially, demonstrated the same moral fortitude in restraining his ambitions and abilities as does Superman himself. Luther had seemed to be moving in a similar direction over the past several years… until now. It should prove fascinating to discover what drives the real super Man to utter villainy.