Stew’s Reviews: The Unauthorized Biography of Lex Luthor
So back in… 2006 or so, Wizard (GOD! Remember Wizard? Wizard Magazine, the comic magazine that was such a BFD in the 1990’s? Unless you have gone to a Wizard Con in the last few years, how long has it been since you’ve thought of that?) made a list of the top 100 issues of… some span of time. Maybe the 25 years leading up to that issue? Which is an odd thing to do; Wizard wasn’t 25 years old at that point, so why do just the previous 25 years? Why not the best 100 comics ever? Who knows?
Anyway, it’s obviously a damn fun list, and there’s a little bit for everyone on there. There are some great books on that list I’d never read before, and there are some issues that made me raise an eyebrow. I have had designs on reviewing the actual Top 100 list itself in a special format, but I’d probably have to do it something like ten issues at a time (like #91-100, #81-90, etc on down to #1-10). Let me know if that sounds like something you’d like to read in the comments, or if the idea of reviewing a twelve year old list that only covered a window of time preceding it is a bit silly. I’m into it, I just need the motivation to spend ten volumes of this series on it!
As something of a teaser, I came across this book while I was reading the list today, and I thought it might merit its own entry in Stew’s Reviews because I had big feelings on it.
TITLE: Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography
Writer and Artist: James Hudnall and Eduardo Barreto
Protagonists: Peter Sands, Clark Kent
This book didn’t just make the aforementioned list, it was a fairly-high #33 on the list!
This is less a story of Lex Luthor and more the story of Peter Sands, a down-on-his-luck reporter who, while just looking to scrounge a few bucks to support his alcoholism, commits to writing a tell-all book on the rise to prominence of Lex Luthor. As he starts digging into the businessman’s past, he is both awed and shocked by what he finds. And it’s not long before the threats and violence start to follow…
The problem with this book is that there is absolutely nothing in the way of nuance at all. It’s actually ridiculously shallow. If you’re hoping that a peak into Lex’s life will show a slow burn development of his heel turn on the world, look elsewhere because here, Lex was born bad and just got worse from there.
It starts off with the typical story of the bad seed who offed his own parents by causing a vehicular malfunction. This gives him his insurance-claim-boosted start in life, and from there his power and influence grows. He stomps out his competition, threatens everyone who gets in his way, and, oh, rapes at least one woman. Because women are just props in bad comics.
There just at no point feels like there is any meat to this story. If I wanted to read the story of Lux Luthor’s past and THIS is what I found, I’d be incredibly disappointed. I’m not saying EVERY character needs a tragic or layered backstory, but we’re not dealing with Cletus Kassidy here; this is Lex Luthor! He’s a workaholic who pulled himself up from a backwater town to being the toast of the biggest city in the world and then to being the President of the United States. He’s a genius who can figure out everything from advanced robotics to alien cloning. He’s a powerless mortal who puts himself in position to oppose the most powerful man who has ever lived. To just tell me “Yeah, he was just always a violent douche” is doing the character a huge disservice.
What this generic tale hides just below the surface is a good story that it could have told instead. With Peter Sands increasingly feeling the pressure of Luthor coming after him, he reaches out to Clark Kent for help. When Kent meets Sands, the latter is a paranoid mess, begging Kent to get Superman to help and protect him. Clark promises to do so, but he is waylaid by a disaster in Japan. By the time he makes it back to Sands’ home, the latter is dead. What this leads to is Clark being arrested and interrogated for the murder of the reporter. What it should have led to is a distraught Superman realizing someone counted on him, and the Man of Steel failed him. This one-note story could have redeemed itself by looking at a Superman who has to come to accept that one man died so he could save many others, but instead we just get some tacked-on legal drama.
That’s really all there is to it. A nothing story about Lex Luthor’s developmental years and a half-hearted hero-in-trouble-with-the-law follow up. The Peter Sands character is fine; he’s a worthwhile protagonist as he finds the literally sobering history of Luthor, but everything around him is made of such “meh”.
Talking Point: This is hardly the first or only iteration of Sexy Lexy’s past, but… it’s certainly one of them! That said, what’s your favorite version of Lex Luthor that has ever been presented? Maybe the Smallville Lex? Perhaps the original evil mad scientist Luthor from Pre-Crisis? What about, uh, Jesse Eisenberg? Probably not that one.
It’s a disappointment. I would just want so much more from this idea than what this tale delivers. It just falls flat and feels empty.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
I will point out that I cross-post these Reviews over at 411Mania, and when I initially posted this there, Mr. Hudnall somehow got wind of it and commented his thoughts! So in the interest of fairness, here are what he had to say in regards to my review:
“There’s a couple things you don’t seem to understand. 1. My goal was to make Lex a credible villain because, at the time, he was portrayed as a silly joke in a lot of comics. If you weren’t reading comics back then you may have missed that. 2. It’s a one shot story. I could have added some nuance as you say, but again, because his past was so mysterious, this was a journalist view of Lex. Journalists tend to demonize subjects they don’t like, but in this case, he discovered more than he expected. 3. This was very unique for its time because it was a crime story with no superpowers or capes running around. It was more down to earth. 4. One of my goals was to show how Lex could be a threat to Superman without powers. It’s one of the things I like about him, that other writers miss. They often had him create a giant robot to attack superman which always failed,. I was trying to show Lex as a credible threat. 5. This story uses the method of showing Lex from other people’s views of him. I probably should have shown the nice side of Lex to give him more dimension that way, but that wasn’t the point.”
So, fair play to all that… I certainly did not give the book credit against the era from which it came. And I’m just one guy against the writer and Wizard Magazine, who apparently thought highly of it in their rankings. So I encourage you to purchase yourself a copy of this book at the link below and see for yourself if you think I am missing the mark or not.