Friday, 18 January 2013

Criminal Mastermind

An early episode of the Smallville TV series begins with Lex Luthor apparently robbing a Smallville bank. Of course, it transpires that Lex was addressing a meeting in Metropolis at the time of the robbery and that the bank robber is a metamorph. But, initially, this was like the old days come back. The original Luthor was an acknowledged criminal whose unimaginative crimes would have involved robbing banks.

John Byrne pulled a few stunts like this during his revamp of Superman. The earlier, openly criminal, Luthor had acquired a flying battle suit that made him, effectively, a super-powered villain as well as a scientific genius and a criminal mastermind. Marv Wolfman, revamping Luthor while Byrne revamped Superman, had given Lex a much better look in a business suit.

One issue of Byrne's Man Of Steel mini-series opened with Supes addressing Luthor while holding up a battle suit, we think with Luthor in the suit, but turning the page reveals that Lex is sitting behind his desk. The suit, worn by someone else in the commission of a crime, contained Lexcorp parts but Lex could show that these had been stolen. Even Superman could not prove Luthor's suspected criminality although Luthor had to use considerable technology, eg, making some of his buildings impervious to super-hearing, in order to conceal his illegal activities. Many Lexcorp employees were known to be honest and law-abiding, thus not trustworthy beyond a carefully defined level of Company security, a far cry from the original Luthor alternating between prison cells and secret hideouts.

Later: Fellow fan, Ben, informs me that the comic book Luthor has been back in that battle suit more recently. Oh well. Comics with substantial characterisation and solid story lines are like islands of quality in an ocean of quantity.

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