There’s much I’ve been enjoying about Joshua Williamson and Jamal Campbell’s Superman since it debuted last month, not the least of which is that Superman’s rivalry with Lex Luthor seems to once again be at the heart of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like new villains and adversaries just fine—in fact, I think they’re crucial to the long-term health of comics and superheroes. But there’s a reason why Lex is as iconic as the Man of Steel. The best super-villains serve as warnings as well as entertainment. Consider what’s being said by the Joker and his message of how close we all are to madness or Sinestro’s ability to harness the power of fear. Lex is very much the same. He’s the epitome of toxic capitalism—what happens when professional success and intelligence are left to proceed unchecked for far too long.
But here’s what I find particularly interesting about the first two issues of Williamson and Campbell’s Superman. While I’ll side with Superman over Lex Luthor pretty much every time, Superman’s viewpoint is pretty limited as well. It’s why Lois Lane is so important to him—she offers a real-world perspective that Superman is often lacking. And so far, that’s been Lex Luthor’s primary point. He’s calling Superman’s unwavering rose-colored perspective out.
True, he’s doing it in the most obnoxious—and one could say, effective—way possible. Knowing that Superman is always listening in on him, Lex has started directly speaking to him, telling him how he thinks Superman should handle whatever problem the Man of Steel’s currently facing.
“Use your ice breath to create a fog that obscures her vision,” he directs Superman during a battle with Livewire. “Then break her arm or leg. Your choice. The brutality will disorient her.”
Superman would never fight like that, and Lex knows it. But he also knows that some heroes—including some that Supes has fought with—likely would. Can you honestly say Batman wouldn’t use those tactics? He totally would.
Now, I’m not advocating for Superman to start fighting more like Batman, and certainly not like Lex Luthor. But as is starting to become clear, Lex isn’t entirely wrong in his advice and listening to him likely would have prevented issue #2’s twist at the end. That got me thinking a bit about superheroes and the way that they operate.
Just about every major superhero uses a team of some sort. Sometimes they’re less formal, sometimes they’re a family (hello, Shazam!), but most superheroes surround themselves with allies and sidekicks for good reason—they want the additional perspective. Any time you need to make a hard choice in life, what do you do? You talk to the people in your life that you trust and get their advice. Well, superheroes have to make hard choices every day. And if they make the wrong choice, people can die.
It's the same reason presidents have cabinets or why public companies have boards of directors. It’s all about getting other perspectives, preferably ones that are as different as possible.
Superman has started working with a team these past couple years. There’s Lois and Jon, obviously, but there’s also Kara, Conner, Kenan, John Henry Irons, Natasha Irons and the newest members, Otho and Osul. That’s a great team, but I’d be lying if I didn’t point out that as far as perspectives go, it’s lacking a bit. Nearly half of the team is directly related to Superman, while Otho and Osul are siblings and John and Natasha are uncle and niece. Only Kong Kenan offers an international perspective, unless you want to count Otho and Osul…but they’re kids. I’d argue Lois and John alone are probably worth about a dozen of your average folks, but still, the team could arguably benefit from someone who isn’t related to or directly inspired by the guy they’re supporting. An outside-the-box perspective that perhaps comes from a much different place. Someone who will zig when everyone else zags.
Someone, perhaps, like Lex Luthor.
Okay, that might be going a bit too far, but that’s essentially Luthor’s argument and he’s not exactly wrong. For 85 years, Superman has been fighting for truth, justice and a better tomorrow, but he’s essentially done it the same way, alongside like-minded individuals who more often than not, supported his decisions without challenging them. Usually, it works out, but it hasn’t always. And with a world that’s becoming more jaded, polarized and angry, it’s possible that a less optimistic and ethical perspective may be valuable.
I think that’s why Lex’s unsolicited advice has been irritating Superman so much. There’s a part of him that’s wondering exactly this. It’s likely thinking that Lex’s advice, as horrifying as the thought may be, may have some merit. And that maybe he should try following it every now and then.
I wonder if that’s what we’re going to see happen after issue #2’s disastrous climax. If it does, it would amount to a victory for Lex Luthor and a loss for all of us because that’s not what the lesson is here. Once again, Lex is assuming he knows best. He believes, as always, that his way is the absolute right way. But I was talking about adding a perspective like Lex’s to a team, where his isn’t the only opinion being offered, and Lex Luthor doesn’t do teams. (There’s a reason the Legion of Doom has never truly succeeded—there are some brilliant criminal minds on it, but they can’t put aside their own individual egos to truly become something greater.) The point is, advice from Lex or someone like him should be part of an array of perspectives Superman considers when he needs help. It’s not the one sole source of truth that Lex Luthor seems to think it is. Just another viewpoint.
Ultimately, that’s why Lex will fail. He doesn’t realize this. I’m not sure Superman realizes it at this moment either, but he will. I can’t guess as to what will happen when he does—there’s a lot going on in this story and we don’t yet know how all the pieces fit together. But I don’t expect it to work out all that well for Lex, and that’s more than a bit ironic. That’s because in saying that Superman won’t succeed if he doesn’t work with him, Lex Luthor is the closest he’s ever been to the truth. What he doesn’t realize—and likely never will—is that the same is also true of him.
Superman #1 and #2 by Joshua Williamson and Jamal Campbell are now available in print and digital. Ultra subscribers can also read issue #1 on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, writes our monthly Superman column, "Super Here For...", and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our recurring television column. Follow him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Tim Beedle and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.