Lex Luthor is one of comics’ absolute best characters, hands down. Thanks to his incredible ingenuity, his brilliance and his overriding narcissism, a lowly, mortal human being manages to become the most defining adversary of the single most powerful being on the planet: Superman. Although Luthor spends the majority of his time in Metropolis opposing Superman, the cross-pollination inherent in shared comic book universes means that Luthor has crossed paths with the Dark Knight on many occasions.
In an odd way, the Batman-Luthor conflict is a very fitting one. Both men are “self-made,” with Bruce Wayne traveling the world in his youth to train himself to the peaks of physical and mental perfection. Luthor, on the other hand, has always believed in himself above everything else, and his keen intellect and overriding, amoral self-interest led him to become a powerful corporate mogul, and perceived savior of Metropolis until Superman ruined that for him. While there are a great deal of differences between both men, their drives and respective unrelenting wills make the conflict particularly resonant.
With the Man of Steel sequel featuring Batman, and with the first film dropping hints at Lex Luthor, the possibility exists that the two characters may potentially meet on film for the first time. The rumors seemed to hit a bit of a fever pitch this week due to a seemingly offhanded remark by director Zack Snyder. At the Man of Steel fan event shown by Yahoo! Movies and hosted by Kevin Smith, the two men talked a little bit about Superman’s villains, and when the subject of Lex Luthor’s affinity for pointing out that Superman’s not human came up, an informed Snyder said, “Yeah, Lex loves calling Superman an alien.”
Does that conclusively prove that Lex will be in the upcoming film? No, but it certainly ignites imaginations and possibilities. If Batman does clash with Luthor, then there are some notable examples of their conflicts in the comics that the filmmakers should definitely take notice of.
Batman: No Man’s Land
When Gotham City was struck by a cataclysmic earthquake and was decimated so badly that the federal government declared it a no-man’s-land, Lex Luthor saw an incredible business opportunity he couldn’t ignore: he could buy another city. In much the same fashion as his company helped to rebuild and renovate Metropolis, Luthor saw the earthquake as his opportunity to swoop in and buy most of the city’s property, all the while being lauded as a hero by the people and the man who “saved Gotham City.”
The only main problem was that Batman wouldn’t allow it to happen. After documents and blueprints detailing his true intentions are revealed to Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox, Luthor attempts to have Fox killed to secure his “transaction.” Batman intervenes and saves Fox, and reveals to Luthor that it was Batman that tipped Fox off. That, coupled with the attempted murder of the Wayne CEO and some precisely stern and threatening words from Batman cause Luthor to take his ball and go home. Even if it wasn’t a direct fight, Batman bested Luthor from owning almost an entire city. The ongoing story of No Man’s Land was a very interesting event, and this conflict between Luthor and Batman is one of its highlights.
Lex 2000 and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Did you know that Lex Luthor was once elected president of the United States? In the comics of the year 2000, Luthor’s hunger for power led him to launch a political career, and he was actually elected and served for the better part of three-and-a-half years. On the night of his election in the Lex 2000 one-shot released by DC Comics, the Dark Knight paid him a little visit in an attempt to intimidate him into giving up a Kryptonite ring. Luthor scoffed at Batman’s attempts, refused to give him what he wanted, and dismissed Batman while reminding him that the president had the ability to completely turn an extra-legal vigilante’s world upside down.
President Luthor made a short appearance in the popular Batman: Hush story monitoring his activities, but the true crescendo of the conflict came in 2003’s Public Enemies story. As a giant Kryptonite meteor heads to Earth, Luthor uses the storm of public fear and outrage to declare the Man of Steel an enemy of the state. Superman and Batman then decide that this is a serious overstep of Luthor’s authority in the office, and that when he makes his true final moves in his latest plot, they will expose him and get him removed from office. The ensuing battle sees Luthor desperately try to stop both heroes, but in the end, Batman helps put the final nail in the coffin of Luthor’s presidency.
Bruce Wayne: Murderer?
Eventually, Gotham is restored and rejoins the United States. After this happens, Batman learns that the entire debacle of Gotham’s declaration as an NML was the fault of Luthor as he attempted to take control of the city by forging deeds for the land in his name. This later causes Bruce Wayne to sever all commercial ties between the U.S. government and Wayne Enterprises, in protest of Luthor's election as president.
Never one to take slights lying down, Luthor responds in turn by hiring assassin David Cain to murder Wayne's lover, Vesper Fairchild, and frame Wayne for the murder. The incident causes Bruce Wayne to become the subject of the nation’s most intense manhunt in history, and nearly causes Bruce to completely shed his civilian identity and remain Batman full time. Only after the intervention of Bruce’s closest friends and allies, particularly Dick Grayson/Nightwing, does Bruce decide to go on a quest to clear his name.
After Batman catches Cain, he doesn’t yet go after Luthor. Instead, he waits and takes him down with Superman, as depicted in Public Enemies.
There are many more great moments of conflict between Luthor and Batman in comics (as depicted in the Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Infinite Crisis, and JLA: Rock of Ages to name a few), and in animation (the “World’s Finest” three parter teaming Batman and Superman, several episodes of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited), but the ones described here help to show some of the absolute best. If Luthor really is going to show up in the sequel to Man of Steel, there’s a great deal of terrific source material for writer David Goyer and Zack Snyder to draw from if the story calls for Luthor and Batman to square off.
Who do you think would win in a fight between Batman and Lex Luthor? Is that a fight you’d want to see on film? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll see you right here next week with another edition of Comics on Film!
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