Whatever Luthor Wants, Luthor Gets

I love villains. Is there anyone who doesn't love a good villain? The old fashioned-bright costume- henchmen-long-monologue-mustache twirling-NO-I-expect-you-to-die-Mister-Bond, kind- those villains are the best. We don't see much of them, not anymore- partially because our understanding of villainy has matured a little bit, but mostly because comics are a lot grayer than they used to be- our good guys aren't always good guys, our bad guys aren't always bad guys, and life just isn't as clear cut as it used to be.

No, when Captain America can be a war criminal, when Norman Osborn can be the most powerful man in the world, and when Jason Todd can be the Red Hood; who is a hero and who is a villain isn't always as obvious as we would like it to be. With this understanding comes a little bit of a vacuum or, to put another way, in order to understand villainy in this context we need a good case study. Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's The Joker is a decent one, although if memory serves the main character is just a mid-level henchmen and not the big man himself. Marvel's currently ongoing Shadowland event could have been this kind of study, but it focuses too little on Daredevil himself and would suffer anyway because Matt Murdock is, ostensibly, a hero. A hero who is, right now, being seen as a villain, even if he doesn't see himself that way.

Like I said, things are blurry these days.

Into this discussion steps Paul Cornell, and he both provides that case study that we're looking for and muddies the waters a little bit with his Action Comics run- of which two issues have been released and which will continue at least until AC #900 in March- featuring Superman big bad Lex Luthor. Drawn by Pete Woods, Cornell's arc centers around Luthor's search for a Black Lantern ring, a ring that he believes will grant him the kind of great power that he's always desired. Power that he, of course, can't be allowed to have.

Now, isn't that just a killer set-up?

Unfortunately, it's also the kind of set-up that can be difficult to follow through on- making Luthor suitably heroic (or, at least, a suitable protagonist) can't be an easy task. Luckily for us, Paul Cornell is up to it, and issues #890 and #891 are both excellent. The former is mostly foundational but, as far as prologues go, it's pretty fantastic stuff. The Lex Luthor that we're given is very clearly a Superman analogue, and Cornell's vision for this villain-as-superman character is surprisingly complex and layered, from literally giving his main character his own Lois Lane all the way on up to establishing his will to power. Lex Luthor is, quite literally, steeped in the Superman mythos, a mythos he can't help but replicate. It's a brilliant conceit, and one that Cornell pulls of even more flawlessly in #891, which features a number of (surprisingly Inception-like) dream sequences which give us a hysterically telling, if not particularly surprising, view of Luthor's psyche and psychosis.

In this, Pete Woods is an excellent collaborator. Although his work is a little too thin and a little too shiny for my tastes, it has this classic Superman feel that just kind of works. His faces are lively and his imagination is sharp, which really gives him an edge in that second issue. Between an Old West dream featuring a villain sporting a red bandanna called Big Blue and a Godzilla style fight with Mr. Mind which begins with a classic Superman sequence, it's really clear that Woods is more than capable of delivering on the slightly wacky premises of Cornell's scripts, and to be sure these are issues I'm going to remember not least because of the art, even if the execution is sometimes nowhere near as solid as the imagination behind it.

All in all, if you haven't taken a look at this stuff yet, I say give it a try. Cornell's Lex Luthor is steeped in villainy, he's too self-centered to be a good hero in that term's most loaded sense, but he's a villain who wants nothing more than to be Superman, a villain who legitimately believes he's looking out for the interests of humanity- interestingly enough, this is the flip-side of the Shadowland coin, but it's a side I think we've seen far less often recently and, as long as it keeps living up to its potential, Lex Luthor's Action Comics is bound to be a wild ride.

No comments:

Post a Comment