Between Bruce Wayne losing his fortune and Dick Grayson gaining his, I’ve been doing an awful lot of writing about billionaires lately. Now Lex Luthor, another notable DC Universe billionaire, has entered the chat, and things are about to get interesting. Joshua Williamson (who has one of the greatest first names in history) is the latest Batman writer, and his story kicked off with fireworks, cosplay and murder last month in Batman #118. The first chapter ended with the Dark Knight learning that Lex Luthor has taken over the funding of Batman Incorporated, which can only mean trouble for the world.
Over the years, creators and fans have delighted in pitting Batman and Superman against one another, but I always thought Lex Luthor was a more interesting adversary for the Dark Knight. Superman and Batman work better as allies who keep each other in check, whereas Luthor presents an interesting challenge for the Dark Knight. Batman can’t punch his way out of a Lex Luthor scheme, and the maniacal mogul can hold his own against Bruce Wayne’s wallet. Of course, now that Bruce Wayne has lost his fortune, the power dynamic between him and Luthor just got a bit more interesting.
When you think about it, Luthor’s takeover of Batman Inc. makes sense. How many times have you seen a business get absorbed by a larger corporation? Now it looks like one of Bruce’s creations may come back to bite him in the butt. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, since Williamson’s run has just begun, but knowing Lex, I think it’s safe to say his intentions are less than pure.
The difference between how Bruce operated as a billionaire and how Lex does can be summed up in how each man describes Batman Inc. Bruce describes the members of the organization as “heroes” and talks about their “mission,” while Lex refers to them as an “investment.” The contrast is clear. Bruce sees the group as real human beings, whereas Lex views them as another way to grow his portfolio. Luthor only appears in one short scene in issue #118, but Williamson tells potential new readers everything they need to know about Lex with that one short piece of dialogue.
Lex Luthor is universally known as one of Superman’s greatest foes, making it easy to overlook what a deadly threat he’s been to Batman. Years ago, in a storyline known as “Bruce Wayne: Murderer,” Lex Luthor framed Bruce Wayne for the murder of his girlfriend Vesper Fairchild. This move alienated Bruce from his closest allies, ruined his public reputation and almost ended his career as Batman. Lex has done more to ruin Batman’s life than Killer Croc or Penguin ever have.
And don’t forget, Lex Luthor was once the President of the United States. We recently concluded a storyline where Scarecrow took over the city, but Lex took over the entire United States government. When you look at all the evidence, next to the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul, Lex Luthor is probably one of the scariest villains Batman has ever faced, and now the power dynamic between them has shifted since Bruce Wayne lost his fortune. Once, Bruce’s business empire and wallet made him a formidable foe for Luthor, but now he doesn’t have the big bucks to counter Lex’s financial frenzy and with Batman Inc. under his thumb, Lex can use Bruce’s own weapons against him.
Speaking of Batman Incorporated, we can’t talk about the Bruce Wayne/Lex Luthor war without looking at the heroes caught in the crossfire. Once a global empire of vigilantes, Batman Inc. is now made up of Dark Ranger, the Hood, El Gaucho, Bat-Man of China and Man-of-Bats—all of whom have been accused of murdering a villain known as Abyss. How could a group of heroes who idolized Batman break one of the most important rules of his code? The answer is that they probably didn’t. Detective Cayha presents the possibility that they’re being framed, and there is still a lot we don’t know about who Abyss is.
When Batman investigates the crime scene with Cayha, he admits that he stopped keeping track of Batman Inc. after its dissolution. Would these heroes have fallen into Luthor’s grasp if Batman had been more attentive? Perhaps Bruce should’ve done a better job of disbanding the group to make sure a corporate shark like Luthor couldn’t seize the existing infrastructure and initiate a takeover. Maybe I’m the last one who should be giving billionaires advice on how to manage their holdings, but it’s hard for me to ignore Bruce’s admission of neglect.
Batman has his brains and utility belt, but Lex Luthor has his billions and his own army of Batmen. We’re only two issues into Joshua Williamson’s run, and I’m already hooked. Don’t sleep on this title Bat-Fans, something tells me things are going to get wild.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.