comic book characters

The Psychology of Lex Luthor: A character analysis

lex luthor art

(Credit: Dc Comics)

Okay so I recently discussed the possibility of Lex Luthor appearing in the Suicide Squad film, but now let’s discuss his character. What’s so great about his character? What does he tell us about humanity, and why is he such a great antagonist to Superman? Well let’s get into a character analysis of one of the best bald baddies: Lex Luthor.

First appearing in Action Comics #23 Lex Luthor has been portrayed to be Supeman’s main nemesis in almost everything including the comics, live action movies (Superman, Superman Returns, upcoming Batman v Superman), live action tv shows (most famously Smallville) and animated movies/tv shows as well. When people think about why Lex Luthor is the most famous villain of Superman’s, the discussion of brains vs brawns comes up. Many people say that Lex Luthor is a great villain for Superman because they are complete opposites, well because Lex Luthor is brains and Superman is brawns. Ugh. I don’t like that simplistic interpretation purely because it makes it seem as though Superman is kinda stupid, and he’s not, he’s got a freaking super brain! Sure he’s not as smart as Lex, but he is far from stupid.

For me the reason Lex Luthor is such a compelling villain for Superman is because of the aspects of humanity they both show, and both contrast with each other. Superman often reflects the goodness of humanity, humanity’s capacity to do and be good. Lex Luthor on the other hand reflects the ugliness of humanity. Lex Luthor is an extreme reflection of the insecurities and flaws of humanity. Luthor’s hatred for Superman stems from very real emotions that most of us at one point of another have felt before: jealousy, inferiority, fear, egotism. These are practically everyday feelings, and demonstrates the destructive nature that these everyday emotions can have if we allow them to take over us.

Really we can all identify with Lex Luthor a little bit. He thought he had everything figured out. He thought he could make sense of this chaotic world, and then all of a sudden this guy comes and screws everything up, not cool! Lex Luthor reminds us that it is hard being human, and having to deal with all these emotions. Superman shows us that there is a way to overcome those emotions, which is why there is such a great dynamic between the pair.

Ben Saunders who wrote the great novel “Do the gods wear capes” wrote something really interesting about Lex Luthor. He wrote that since the tale of Samson and Delilah, the shaving of a man’s hair was a signal of emasculation, and from that we can see that Luthor’s baldness might not just emphasise his “evil egghead” look, but is also a physical manifestation of his wounded masculine ego and his feelings of inferiority. It obviously doesn’t help that some attractive alien with massive muscles comes and intensifies those feelings for him.

And with that Lex Luthor also reflects what’s so great about Superman, and the aspect of humanity Superman portrays. Where Lex Luthor represents the side of humanity who lets their petty emotions take over them, Superman represents the side of humanity who are able to overcome those petty emotions and be more resilient to feelings of hate and envy.

Let’s look at an example from Grant Morrison’s ‘All Star Superman‘ shall we: in the story Clark Kent goes to visit Lex Luthor in prison to write an exclusive on the man who is now on death row for his crimes against humanity. lex luthor all star superman

The judge pretty much just sums up what i’ve been saying about Lex Luthor and his emotions.

lex luthor panel

Here Clark Kent pretends to be clumsy so that he can delay the electrocution of Lex Luthor. Even though Lex Luthor has tried to kill Superman many, many times, Superman does not let feelings of hatred overcome him, and instead is still trying to save Lex.

lex luthor character analysis

Again surfaces Lex Luthor’s innate insecurities ” don’t feel in any way diminished by his very presence”.

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Here Clark Kent again shows his goodness, still trying to bring out the goodness in Lex Luthor. Lex on the other hand is too fueled on his hatred towards Superman to even care about improving himself. He has let those petty emotions become the driving force for his motivation.

lex luthor all star superman panel

Yep, Superman is still trying to turn this situation around, Lex will have no part with it though.

lex luthor panel

And here’s Lex Luthor’s simple reasoning for his hatred for Superman. Lex is unable to find that the root of his problems lies with his insecurities, his fear, his jealously, his narcissism. He represents the ugly side of humanity who places the blame of their problems onto others, and cannot find the faults within themselves. It’s a narrow minded way of thinking, which is ironic for a man who believes he has the greatest mind in the world to accomplish wonders. And the sad thing is that Lex Luthor had the potential to be one of the greatest heroes, but instead he let his petty emotions get the hold of him. Superman on the other hand is able to overcome those emotions and become one of the greatest heroes.

And by that they represent the beauty and ugliness of human nature. This is exactly why Lex Luthor is such a great villain for Superman. It isn’t just about brains vs brawns, it’s about our way of thinking, and they way in which we deal with our personal insecurities and pain. Do we let them take over us like Lex Luthor, or do we overcome them like Superman does. And don’t think that Superman can overcome his insecurities and pain because he doesn’t have any, because he does. I’m actually working on a character analysis of Superman, which will hopefully be up in a couple of weeks, and which will hopefully show people that Superman is not a boring character (You can find that post here).

Anyways there’s my character analysis of Lex Luthor. What do you think about Lex Luthor? Do you think that he is a good villain for Superman? Let me know!

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16 replies »

  1. This is fascinating… I knew Luthor’s reasoning, that he thought Superman was holding people back rather than inspiring them, but I’d never made the jump from knowing Luthor’s opinion to the actual emotional process behind it. This makes their conflict a lot more interesting than just an intellectual disagreement about the best route toward human achievement.

    He’d also make an interesting allegory for anti-feminism. i.e., “Look, all I wanted to do was blow up the town with my crazy robot, why do you keep getting in my way? You’re ruining everything!”

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    • Yeah the conflict between the two of them is really interesting, Lex Luthor is more than just you’re crazy evil villain his conflict is more with himself than it is with Superman, but of course it’s just easier for him to project his conflict with his insecurities to Superman

      That’s really interesting! Never thought about it from that perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know much about Supes or the JLA (I hate superpowers), but the way you make it sound, Lex Luthor isn’t that awesome. It is given that Lex Luthor is incredibly intelligent. There is a type of behavior called emotional intelligence which suggests that Lex Luthor would be able to control the emotions he has. You make it sound like Lex Luthor contradicts himself as an intellectual, the figure Lex is known for being. On that note I’m put under the impression that Lex Luthor is a poorly thought character who doesn’t have a consistent persona like he should. I understand that Lex has been around for quite sometime and that my impression is probably wrong and I was hoping that one may alleviate my confusion.

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    • How does he contradict himself as an intellectual? Is he a genius? Yes. The only thing is that his hatred for Superman resonates from his inner flaws. That has pretty much always been his character, he has such an amazing mind that could probably solve a lot of world problems, but because of his deep rooted insecurities he wastes his time thinking of maniacal plots to end Superman. He has always viewed himself as the hero for humanity and Superman as the villain. He’s a great character because he isn’t just some one-dimensional character

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  3. Luthor was such a dick in All Star Superman, hilariously so. Yet still menacing and so self-involved to the point of almost being delusional. I loved it! All Star Superman and Lex Luthor: Man of Steel are my favourite two stories for Lex shenanigans. Cool write up.
    Let’s see some more character profile Nav!
    I nominate any of the JLA, or other main TV/Movie characters people are eating up.
    Martian Manhunter would be a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good evening, Sir. My name is Vegas Johnson and I am writing a paper about a character analysis of Lex Luthor for my English 411 class here at the Air Force Academy. I was wondering if we could get in contact and chat about some good sources I could use in delving deep into his character? I can be reached at vegasj21@gmail.com.

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