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Superman Returns: Lex Luthor

Superman Returns: Lex Luthor

Scheduled to arrive in stores: June 21, 2006

Cover date: August 2006

Story Adapted by: Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Writer: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Penciller: Rick Leonardi
Inker: Nelson
Cover: Adam Hughes

"Superman Returns: Lex Luthor"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Lex Luthor, in prison, wonders if someone can come back after five years of being away. He laments Superman's potential return with his cell mate in prison.

He remembers the past, more specifically, his lair with Otis and Miss Tessmacher from Superman: The Movie, when Superman bursts in to confront him. (Although it is of note they purposefully change everything to look more modern, including making Tessmacher a busty blonde and Otis a guy in business attire with suspenders who looks fairly normal).

It follows a similar path to the first movie, where Superman rails at Luthor for attempting to murder innocent people. Luthor recalls building a giant spider-like robot with guns on it, and tells Superman that the work is more than greed, it's a calling.

Lex Luthor recalls studying Kryptonite, and insists to his cell mate that they'll worship him when he saves them from Superman as a vanguard for alien invasion or disease.

Luthor recalls the real estate scam with the nuclear missiles, and how Superman foiled him. He recalls telling Superman about the plan, and Superman's reaction, stopping the missiles and putting him in jail.

Lex Luthor walks down the prison cells preparing to be examined before being freed. Kitty is in the examination room. She ruminates on how much of a perfect package Lex is.

Lex takes his clothes, burning the wig.

He recalls being assaulted in the laundry, and killing a fellow inmate for trying to extort him. Kitty sees him do it, but as he moves to kill her, she reveals that she's actually a big fan, and he lets her live.

Luthor is released after Kitty tells him about an old woman who can potentially aid him.

Later, Luthor meets with the old woman (presumably the character played by Noel Neill) and leaves prison, happy to return.

2Story - 2: That's a hard rating to give, too. I'm a Luthor FREAK. As I've stated before, on multiple occasions, you just put Luthor in a room with the colors green and purple and I'm likely to five that mother on principle.

And here, how can you screw up the lead in to the new movie? At all? I mean, you have Lex Luthor, you have an amazing back story to draw from, and you have the creative license to modernize the older version before the movie comes up.

So what do they do? They put in shoddy art, give Luthor the old feel without any of the flair, and they annihilate the old, classic movie Luthor in the name of contemporizing. I think. Because it's hard to figure out the motivations for the changes and strange things this book does.

Here's the long and short of the things that drive me nuts.

1) Luthor's in jail for five years for instigating a successful nuclear attack? WHAT? Read that twice, and see if you're not laughing. I mean, we've imprisoned SUSPECTS for five years now. If anyone DARED use a nuke in malice, he wouldn't get out for good behavior. He'd be DEAD. Granted, movie continuity put him in prison. I'll give them that. But five years? We're supposed to buy that? There's suspension of disbelief, and then there's... this. Why not a jail break? Why not pointy haired lawyers? How about a little exposition into how he got such a small sentence instead of pages of bad, cheesy ruminations? That's what I would have done, were I the writer.

2) Luthor actually builds a giant spider in this comic. I kid you not. Look. He builds a giant spider with guns on it. It has no relation to the story beyond showing that Luthor is a scientific genius who can build things...but then, that's not the Luthor that's being played here. Well, some of the time. See, that's the problem. In this story, Luthor has green eyes, but he speaks in hammy clichés. He's a brilliant guy who wants to stop Superman because he's the vanguard of an alien fleet, but he's also a shmoe who falls for women who are hot and has to beg an old woman for money. It's an inconsistent character, at least in this comic.

NO MORE GIANT SPIDERS IN SUPERMAN. That's like, the first thing anyone writing a Superman comic should be told.

3) They modernize the look, but they botch it. I understand that it's hard to make Luthor's plot in the 70s look new, and have it make sense with a current story, so you've gotta give Luthor a newer look, give him a different wig, give him a computer, I understand these things.

But why does Miss Tessmacher go from a character to a blonde with big breasts? Why is Otis now normal looking and in a business suit?

And if you're going to use that vague history, and showcase the part where Superman arrives and Luthor talks smack, where is LUTHOR TALKING SMACK?

It's basically capitalizing badly, as the first issue did, off the old story, which is why they needed to exposit more, to add character depth. The best I get from Luthor is that he hates Superman.

Well yeah, DUH. Now put some character on that character, huh? Why can no one get this? Luthor's EASY to write. It's a lot like Spider-Man, actually. It's not his motivation, it's how he executes it. Witty banter, plausible and ingenius motivations and actions...

He doesn't feel up nurses, seducing them with his body after shivving inmates. He plays Kitty from afar with words and scams her into helping him out of prison. He lets the inmate extort him and then the inmate spontaneously explodes later with no blood on Luthor's hands at all.

I'm not EVEN going into why Tessmacher, a relatively complex and intelligent female, was reduced to a bubbly looking blonde. You all know me, I'm the first to stand up to faux feminism, but I mean, what were they thinking here?

4) Typos: "I was so close to having it all, Stanford and every time...Superman ruined everything." (sic)

5) The sudden jump to anime Superman (This goes in art, but to keep the list consistent, I'll keep it here). Go to the page where Luthor points his stick at the picture of California, where on the right Superman stops the nuclear missile. Go to the bottom left.

Superman is suddenly Pikachu.

6) Two pages of Lex walking down a prison corridor nodding at inmates. Six pages of expository consisting solely of the old film's scenes. One page of Lex staring wistfully into the air for no apparent reason at the end. A two page spread of him sitting around in jail. This is what could have been actually fleshing out the henky stuff mentioned.

7) Kitty. From the previews (and I could be wrong here) she seems like a strong, capable, almost foil for Lex. She helps him, but she appears to chide him and be on equal footing as well. Here, she's a slobbering, sex-crazed brainless bimbo.

All in all, call the above niggling details. Tell me to cut loose, suspend disbelief and enjoy.

No. You know, honestly, in the movie I might forgive these things. In a comic book, a written medium with the ability to go beyond where a movie would in terms of character particularly, I won't forgive it. Particularly, and frustratingly, when I know that I could have written it better myself and am denied that chance. Instead, they let Singer pawn a concept off on a ghost writer, and then they assume that because it's related to the movie it should sell. There's a reason the first and third specials aren't being received as well as they should.

Take a cue from the Ma Kent book. CHARACTER, and RELEVANCE.

2Art - 2: I have a feeling that half of this is Nelson. I've read and heard a lot of mumblings about the work changing when he inks, and though I was loathe to attribute facts to rumors, as I watch over the years I see more and more of it. But then, there's stuff that just doesn't make sense in this art. Kitty's back arch so that her breasts are prominent for no real reason, blonde Tessmacher and the differing Otis. Superman and Luthor not even reasonably looking like their movie facsimiles (okay in a regular book, not in the movie comic). And just generally there's a very slack, random, nineties feel to this book.

5Cover Art - 5: Awesome use of perspective. This jazzed me up for the book, and really got me eager to read it. You know how you put your books from the last you want to read to the one you're aching for most, just to make it all the better? This was my "best" this week, and it turned out to be the worst book I read this week.

This cover earned it that spot.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2006

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