Lex Luthor 1

I personally find the Lex Luthor of the past fifteen years to be one of the most fascinating characters in DC’s stable. Despite this, his older incarnations barely show up on my radar, very much taking the case-by-case route. These two versions of Lex, the self-appointed messiah and the mad scientist, have been at war of late and I very nearly didn’t pick this issue up for fear of stretching my wallet just before a Con.

Which Luthor will you find inside? I’m afraid it’s not as clear-cut as one might think, but come in and I’ll tell you why I’m happy I invested in Mr. Luthor. You’re welcome not to, but I can’t be held responsible if something…unfortunate happens.

As the archnemesis of DC’s biggest hero, Lex Luthor has been guaranteed a place of honor  in the chaos of Forever Evil. We last saw him in the first installment of the event’s miniseries, where Geoff Johns defined him by his ruthlessness as a businessman. Charles Soule neither fights this interpretation nor remains bound by it, instead diving, head first, into Johns’ set up and deepening our understanding of this incarnation of Lex. At times this can lead to some repetition; however, I’d say that Soule’s smaller scope allows him to give us the better version.

Soule has a talent for writing Luthor. He excels at finding ways to make a unified whole out of Lex’s long and complicated history. Admittedly there’s a long history of great writers who greased the way for him, but it doesn’t change the strength and energy that he brings to good Mr. Luthor. Page two, in particular, reminds me of a classic Luthor moment that I recently rediscovered and, as such, channels something of the same awe-inspiring superiority complex that John Byrne’s Luthor possessed.

It doesn’t stop there though. Some of the strongest moments of the issue are the brief glimpses we get into Lex’s mind. Lex’s unique belief that he’s a hero protecting this planet from an alien invader has always required a certain egocentrism, but I’ve rarely seen Luthor’s self-importance put to page with such force and simplicity as Soule manages here. He wastes not a second, Luthor thinking to himself on the way out of prison that, “It’s time to stop being selfish. The world needs Lex Luthor.”

Even in his generosity, Lex is a narcissist. But this, and a couple of well-chosen other moments help make the case that he really is a brilliant sociopath, as well as showing how he gets so far and remains so respected in spite of that. Something in the way that Luthor explains that “they don’t let you shoot things in prison” is simultaneously horrifying and yet unsurprising for a ruthless CEO. The fact that that’s the way he thinks of a test of one of his prototypes only further sells the chilling implications.

Many of the Villain’s Month issues have struggled to find purpose in the absence of heroes, but Action 23.3 does fine, thanks to strong character work, a quick-moving plot, and the inclusion of a strong character in the form of…I want to say Katie (“Casey, sir.” You’re fired). Actually I find it rather interesting that Luthor does remember her name. Does it imply long-term employment prior to Lex’s incarceration, or does he just keep track of employees? I’m afraid that that will likely remain a mystery.

For all the clever writing and intelligent connections that Soule brings to the issue, it stumbles on the home stretch. With a single panel, Soule tips his hand and spoils an excellent twist. That choice leads directly into the book’s finale, which seemingly jettisons much of the taste and subtlety I’ve described.  It unfortunately seems as though Bronze Age Luthor pulls a come from behind victory over his more modern counterpart. I’ll never understand why creators don’t seem confident in Lex’s evil; this issue in particular highlights that Lex can be just as villainous as an executive as he can as a tyrant, perhaps even more. Worse still, it almost feels like an admission of inconsistency, and this Lex would never drop his veil of perfection.

Raymund Bermudez’ art changes rather distinctly from page to page, but to his credit, they always suit the moment. It’s possible that things looked more uniform uninked, but it’s a stretch to think that’s all it was. Look at the rounder face and deeper nose Lex has as he tells Casey to pull up an image on the small screen (a line I adore, as the small screen appears to be some sort of holo-screen that’s as wide as Casey’s upper body. Details are wonderful things), compared to the Luthor-esque face he possesses one page later with his gentler brow and larger forehead. Then turn the page past the ad and see the same character’s sharp hawkish features while he makes a phone call. Each one is appropriate to the moment and rather lovely, but it’s a little weird to watch his face stretch over those few pages.

Casey is the only other major character and she doesn’t fare quite as well. There are moments when she looks decidedly off, but most of the time she’s fine. It goes on like that with the quality of art given to a character generally aligning with how many times we see them. It’s rare that we get bad panels, but many are mediocre.

Bermudez’ compositions are strong, though they tend to be just a little emptier than I’d like. Perhaps my favorite detail (and/or conspiracy theory) is actually on the first page, where Luthor’s pose and the way the fabric of his jumpsuit falls recalls the classic Super-suit reveal.

One other thing to be said of Bermudez is that he’s quite skilled at drawing inanimate objects. From the helicopter that picks our dashing host up, to the shuttle he launches, to the exo-suit he dons all of the he tech in this issue looks worthy of the Luthor name and moves with a cinematic dynamism. Likewise, the Luthor mansion looks as tasteful as Lex’s ego could allow. Rather than bowl you over with the sheer grandeur of the place, or play into Luthor’s obsession with science and technology, Soule and Bermudez craft an abode that suits the themes of their issue, sneaking hints of the afore-mentioned elements into sweeping apartment that calls upon Lex’s nearly mythopoeic love of culture and tricks you into feeling at home.

Supported by a solid art team, Charles Soule delivers a top-notch rendition of Lex Luthor and confidently puts himself on my radar. Though the ending let me down a bit, Lex Luthor joins the Riddler and Cyborg Superman at the top end of my Villain’s Month experience. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, he’s Lex Luthor, for God’s sake.