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The Greatest Lex Luthor Stories Ever Told!

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5. “The Secret Revealed!” Superman Vol. 2 #2

This is one dark story. John Byrne (and inkers Terry Austin and Keith Williams) decided to deal head on with the idea of a man as brilliant as Luthor being able to figure out Superman’s secret identity. Luthor goes through some deplorable methods of finding out Superman’s secret but once he does, can he even believe it himself? Byrne explores Luthor’s motivations beautifully in this story as we see how Luthor applies his personal beliefs to Superman and the result is both humorous and depressing. Plus, Luthor’s disdain for women is hinted at with his treatment of the female scientist who helps him find Superman’s secret. More from Byrne on this point in a bit…

4. “Metropolis 900 MI” Superman Vol. 2 #9

In this back-up story, Byrne and inker Karl Kesel show us the little games that Luthor plays with “normal” people. This is likely the cruelest we’ve ever seen Luthor, which is saying something since the guy can be pretty damn cruel.

3. “The Gospel According to Lex Luthor” All-Star Superman #5

Grant Morrison and Frank Quietely have Clark Kent spend a day in prison with Lex Luthor and their take on Luthor is fascinating. They humanize him while still keeping him clearly evil. It is just an evil that almost seems to have a point behind it. Plus, the visual depiction of Luthor is out of this world (the eyebrow bit alone is worth the price of admission)!

2. The Unauthorized Biography of Lex Luthor

James Hudnall and Eduardo Barreto give us a glimpse into Luthor’s past as a down on his luck writer has his chance for his last big break by writing a biography of Lex Luthor. Things, as you might imagine, do not go his way. This book has a particularly compelling sequence where Luthor blackmails Clark Kent. This might be the most frustrated Superman has ever been.

1. “The Death of Superman” Superman Vol. 1 #149

Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff created one of the greatest “Imaginary Story” of all-time as they show us the depths Luthor will sink to to kill Superman. In this story, Luthor actually CURES CANCER! And why does he do this? Simply to get Superman to trust him enough so that Luthor can KILL HIM!! How twistedly awesome is that? However, Luthor gets what is coming to him in the end in a brilliant sequence where he can’t seem to understand how things are not going his way.

That’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let us know!

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32 Comments

Of these, I wrote in: The Einstein Connection (no. 1), The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman (no. 2), and the Death of Superman (no. 6). I also picked Luthor’s Gift (no. 3), The Luthor Nobody Knows (no. 4), and Red Son (no. 6). I should really read more Luthor stories. You may have noticed that my list is dominated by Elliot S! Maggin stories.

Only 1 of my top 5 (the Secret Revealed) was on this list. Surprised at no Birthright, For All Seasons, They Saved Luthor’s Brain or President Lex.

The Death of Superman is pretty good but I probably wouldn’t put it top. I wasn’t a big fan of Morrison’s Lex or 900 MI.

I’ve never read Einstein Connection or The Unauthorised Biography. I’ll have to dig them out.

It says something that a list like this (which tends to be biased toward recent, top selling stories) has so many stories from the 60s to the 80s.

It might be worth noting that “The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman!” from Superman Vol. 1 #164 had three “sequels” of sorts in Superman #168 and Action Comics #318-319. I don’t remember if they were billed as a single story in the actual issues or not, but they did basically form a single larger connected plotline (even if the issues were published non-consecutively).

THREE Byrne stories? Wow!

Not that I’m complaining. It’s nice to see that run get so much recognition.

Biggest surprise: The Unauthorized Biography of Lex Luthor making the list at all, let alone at #2 (!). I didn’t know that story was so popular.

Biggest omission: The final showdown between Lex and Supes from All-Star. I thought for sure that was a shoe-in.

Can’t argue with the top 3. The Unautorized Biography… is worth seeking out. All-Star Superman is one of the few modern stories in which criminal scientist Luthor works. “Death of Superman” is arguably the best Superman comic ever.

joe the poor speller

April 7, 2013 at 1:01 pm

no red son? now that’s a surprise.

WhyDon'tYouPutTheWholeWorldInABottle?

April 7, 2013 at 3:21 pm

The fact that Red Son is not on this list is a travesty; for shame CBR.

These are all great, but man, “The Luthor Nobody Knows” is so fantastic, too.

900MI is my personal favorite Luthor story. To my mind, it does a flawless job conveying the self-perceived distance between Luthor and everyone else, which so nicely sets up why he wouldn’t understand the affection ordinary people have for Superman.

Of course, the other stories here are awesome too :)

Glad to see so much Byrne here, including Unauthorized Biography which is the Wolfman/Byrne Luthor. I much prefer the evil Lex to the one who would be a great guy except he hates Superman.

I did like the pre-Crisis story where he hypnotized himself into reforming to get close to Superman was good though.

I am glad President Luthor did not make the list. I think it was a flawed idea to have Superman not try and stop Luthor, and then once he was President, Luthor hardly ever used his new position and power for evil/his own gain.

I really don’t care for Lex. He just doesn’t seem like a worthy foe for Superman. But when he squares off against Batman it just works.

I probably would have voted for the “Luthor Fights for Good!” trilogy from Action #’s 510-512, by Cary Bates and Curt Swan, wherein Luthor falls in love with a bald chick and turns good. Anybody else like that one?

The Einstein Connection is missing the credit of what issue it’s from.

Pretty good list. I would have voted for that Byrne backup, ASS 5, the Death of Superman, maybe another of the Byrne ones. Forgot about The Showdown, but that is dang good.

A personal favorite, and not one many others would have picked, is Action 466. http://www.comics.org/issue/30472/cover/4/

Check out that cover! “I turned Batman and Flash into kids and killed them, and you’re next Superman!” How could you not buy that? One of the first comics I ever bought, many years after it was released. And many years after that, I got it signed by Neal Adams and got to tell him how his cover helped get me hooked on comics.

I honestly haven’t read it in ages, but it has something to do with Lex realizing he hates SuperBOY, not Superman, so he gets Superman reverted to a kid so he can beat the shit out of him. There’s a flashback to the balding accident, and it’s got a goofy ending, but damn, that cover is sweet! I’ll have to dig that out this week….

I was an avid Marvel reader in the 80s. One time my dad wanted to bring home some comics for me and didn’t really get the whole Marvel vs. DC thing so he brought home a bit of everything, including DC, which I normally didn’t like. A few of them weren’t bad, to my surprise, but one of them was the Einstein Connection. I thought it was one of the worst stories I ever read. I found it so bad I never read a Superman comic again until post-Crisis Superman because I was a real John Byrne fan. I had no idea until very recently that it’s considered one of the most fondly remembered Superman stories ever.

The reason I hated it then was that I was shocked at how this was supposed to be Superman’s greatest enemy and it’s made clear throughout the story that Superman is basically toying with Luthor. I remember reading the story and thinking okay maybe Superman is clearly his superior in raw power but surely Luthor must be way smarter, right? Like the Leader vs. The Hulk. But then there was one scene where Superman even explicitly points out that he’s just as smart as Luthor and that Luthor underestimates him in the intelligence department. So now I really didn’t see the point. Superman not only has godlike power to Luthor’s regular human power, but on top of that the writer is telling me that Superman is just as smart to boot, so Luthor basically has zero advantage to Superman? And this is his archenemy, a guy he just toys with like a pet, for his own amusement?

I didn’t really feel that Superman was especially heroic or admirable, just a smug, arrogant underachiever squandering his powers. I read other Eliot S Maggin Superman stories in more recent years and I really just can’t see the appeal. Just constant fawning in-story over how wonderful Superman is, while he just continues to underachieve.

Luthor’s role in the comics (or any other media) has more to do with him creating problems for Superman to solve, and not about him being a “threat” to Superman. Luthor has shown better longevity in the comics than any other Superman villain because he’s Supes’ most interesting adversary despite not really being able to pose any threat to Superman.

And for that matter, the only things that really can consistently harm Superman are kryptonians, kryptonite, and maybe the Parasite (and I guess Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bizarro, though they aren’t really malicious). Though in the case of those characters you always know that they will lose in the end, whereas Lex is still interesting even in defeat.

@irritant
That was the hypnosis story I referenced a couple of posts before you, so yes, at least one other person.

“I didn’t really feel that Superman was especially heroic or admirable, just a smug, arrogant underachiever squandering his powers. I read other Eliot S Maggin Superman stories in more recent years and I really just can’t see the appeal. Just constant fawning in-story over how wonderful Superman is, while he just continues to underachieve.”

And THAT is why I never liked Superman before John Byrne showed up, ladies and gentlemen.

Some of my picks that made the list:

-Action Comics #890 – 900 (Paul Cornell’s run)
-Superman (1986 series) #2 by John Byrne, “The Secret Revealed”
-Superman (original series) #149 – The Death of Superman
-“Lex Luthor: Unauthorized Biography” one-shot

A couple that I had that I wish would have made the cut:

-Superman (1986 series) #131, the birth of Lex’s daughter
-Lex’s appearances at the end of No Man’s Land (ex. Batman #573)

@Travis, you weren’t the only person who picked that story (which really needs to be an I Love You But You’re Strange one of these days.)

I had Death and All-Star from the list, and nothing else. I’m surprised; I expected more of my picks to make the list, but most by the lack of Swamp Thing #53 and Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite.

I had the distant followup to ‘Showdown’, Action 544, Adventure #300 [Luthor and Ulthro versus the Legion! Hate Tapes!], and DCCP Annual #1 and Crisis on Infinite Earths #9 as my more obscure picks.

I actually think that the best Luthor versions are Maggin’s and Byrne’s ones (Morrison’s is also great, but he owes Maggin a lot and is more similar to the humorous movies’ Luthor). They are pretty different, but both strongly human and complex and they both put Superman’s defeat over everything: I love them both, but, strangely, I see almost everybody likes one and despises the other. Both Luthors fail to understand that Superman is a hero beyond his tremendous powers, therefore they only see a threat and for the same reason they are heading for sure defeat. At the same time, Luthor, in both versions, is able to give Supes many headaches: in Maggin’s tales because of Superman’s belief that Lex is not as bad as he looks (but he is, and that’s Superman real weakness!) in Byrne’s is Luthor’s power to drive society in thinking he’s good (in this case Supes is aware Luthor is pure evil).
I understand marvel fans prefer Byrne’s Luthor for this reason, as he’s more “real”, but, in the end it’s the same concept. Other authors have stripped the character of this features, coming up with a more cliche’ed world domination crazed villain who is not a believable match for Superman, therefore losing his primary-villain status. Rosenbaum’s Luthor was very close to get this point in “Smallville”, but the show never allowed the character to full potential and focused on Lionel as the main villain: actually Lex is more on the Maggin side and Lionel is more Byrne.

Rick – Nice analogy about Lex and Lionel on Smallville and the Maggin and Byrne versions of Luthor in the comics. I never thought of it like that but that really works!

my first pick for this list was the metropolis 900 miles story for it shows that luthor is not above playing with people acting like he is god . even though some over the years have tried to show luthor has a good side.

If I’d been voting (late to the party), I’d have picked Luthor’s Conquest of Superman–the one in which he robs Ft. Knox, outwits Superman then gives the gold back because all he did was beat a Superman robot. It’s another that shows his obsessions (like the Reminder Room where he marks off every day he’s spent in jail on calendar pages).
Travis, i like that “turned into kids” story too. Partly because it was the first time I’d seen a super-hero cry when his friend supposedly gets killed (spoiler: nobody dies!).

I did like the pre-Crisis story where he hypnotized himself into reforming to get close to Superman was good though.

That’s almost an excellent story, but the ending really made me angry – and made me hate Superman.

SPOILER ALERT….

Faced with the following options:
1 – Allow most of Luthor’s plan to go through, thereby allowing an innocent clone to be zapped off to the L Zone and then catch Luthor after he gets his memory back so that he can go back to being evil.

2 – Divert Luthor’s plan so he stays good, and keeps doing wonderful things to humanity and allow him and the innocent clone to live happy productive lives

– Superman chooses option 1.

Prick

Superman is such an awesome dude that he’d rather allow Luthor to have free will than to keep him as a mind-controlled slave.

Free will my arse. Luthor did that to himself of his own free will.

And that still doesn’t address the innocent clone woman getting sacrificed for no good reason.

Maybe it’s another example of clones not counting as real humans (a subtext I see now and again). One thing I enjoyed about Busiek’s Power Company was the Manhunter clone blowing off that line of thought (“I’ll feel bad about being a clone as soon as I meet someone who picked how they came into the world.”).

I agree with T. and Pedro.

In the Pre-Crisis Universe, Lex Luthor was either a clown, like in the movies, or a pathetic man that served only to accentuate how supposedly “wonderful” Superman really is.

The John Byrne version was a real villain that you felt was a threat to Superman.

By far the most glaring omission on this list is the time he stole 40 cakes.

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel should be at the top. Its there for the sole purpose to show us the real Lex Luthor and it does.
Everything else can be placed whatever you feel like. I almost like the list but Red Son should be there and Black Ring should be higher

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