Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, et al.
Publisher: DC Comics. $12.99 US
Collects: Lex Luthor: Man of Steel #1-5
One of the Star Wars prequels' dumber moments comes right before Skywalker and Kenobi cross sabers for the final, pre-good-movie time. Annakin says something along the lines of "Well, from MY point of view, you're evil!" It's dumb because if Annakin really believed it, he would have no reason for adding that "from MY point of view." It's dumb for the same reason that names like the Masters of Evil, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and the Injustice Gang are dumb. It's dumb because, more often than not, the bad guys don't think they're bad.
The notion of a bad guy who doesn't think he's bad doesn't sound particularly novel, but it's rare that the genuine portrayal of such an animal appears in the funnybooks. Brian Azzarello's Lex Luthor: Man of Steel is a bold attempt at such a tale. It gives us a Superman vs. Lex story that is utterly familiar, but seen through Luthor's lens. We learn exactly why Lex sees himself as humanity's best hope, and sees Superman as our greatest nightmare.
Lex is a pleasure to read. Under Azzarello's care, Lex Luthor's dialogue is surprisingly much more elegant than the usual, generic smartypants bad guy scripting. This is probably the first time that a writer has actually made me believe in Luthor as not only a supervillain, but as a ruthless capitalist. And Luthor is ruthless. It's to Azzarello's credit that he never tries to give us some watered down, tame, philanthropic Luthor - something none of us could ever believe. As early as the first chapter, Luthor's having people killed and overall being as much of a bastard as ever. The difference is he convinces us that, whether or not he actually is, he genuinely believes he's working towards the greater good.
Ultimately, while Lex is a good book and better than most supervillain stories you'll find out there (and most superhero stories, frankly), I think it falls short. Luthor's problem with Superman comes off as largely academic. The irony that Luthor sees Superman as perfection achieved, and damns that perfection because he believes Superman's example will stop humanity from striving towards its potential, is insightful and interesting. But I don't buy it. At least, I don't buy that that's the end of what's going on between these two. It makes the conflict between Lex and Superman largely a cold, intellectual argument. There is something much more basic and visceral that fuels Lex's obsession with destroying Superman, and that doesn't come through here.
Also, on a minor note, I felt the battle between Superman and Batman was unnecessary and hurt the story's integrity. I loved the chemistry between Luthor and Bruce Wayne, but up until Batman and Superman tussled over a piece of kryptonite, I didn't feel like there had to be anything particularly Elseworld-y about Lex at all. It could've been just another Supes vs. Lex story, wedged right into continuity, from a point of view we weren't used to.
Still, you have to give Azzarello credit. He takes one of the oldest conflicts in comics, shows it from the bad guy's perspective, keeps him bad, but convinces us he thinks he's the hero. Whether or not he completely succeeds doesn't seem as important as getting one of the most human and believable portrayals of one of comics's most enduring villains.