Lex Luthor
Man of Steel

Author: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Titan Books
RRP: 8.99
ISBN 1 84576 211 8
Available 24 February 2006

Billionaire industrialist Lex Luthor is one of the smartest, richest and most powerful men in the world. He wields vast wealth and almost unchallenged power... but never total control. Luthor seeks to rid the world of what he perceives to be a dangerous alien threat to all humankind: Superman...

This graphic novel turns the spotlight upon Superman's arch nemesis. The story is told from Luthor's point of view, in what is quite possibly the most in-depth analysis of the character's psyche to date.

I'd be lying to you if I said that Lex comes across as an entirely sympathetic chap. Though we see him pulling strings for the sake of his janitor's son and facilitating the rescue of a kidnapped scientist, he achieves these aims by ruthless means, which respectively involve jeopardising another child's education and hiring a professional killer. However, we can at least understand Luthor's viewpoint - something that Superman evidently never will. Writer Brian Azzarello makes it abundantly clear that these two diametrically opposed characters will never see eye to eye.

I dare say that this characterisation has been aided by the groundwork laid down by Michael Rosenbaum's portrayal of the young Lex in the TV series Smallville. And just as we can see hints of Rosenbaum's likeness and performance in Azzarello's writing and Lee Bermejo's artwork, so their interpretation of Bruce Wayne/Batman, who makes a guest appearance at the mid-point of the book, seems to be informed by Christian Bale in the movie Batman Begins. Both the look of the character and his assumed role of obnoxious playboy are clearly inspired by Bale.

One thing that is less evident to me, though, is how this story fits in with the rest of the Superman mythology. This graphic novel isn't billed as an Elseworlds parallel universe narrative, and yet the relationship between Superman and Batman seems at odds with that presented in the regular monthly comic books. Here we see Bruce/Batman obtaining a chunk of kryptonite from Luthor, and Superman battling with him as a result. Didn't Superman once entrust Batman with some kryptonite?

Are the two heroes heading towards a Frank Miller/Dark Knight Returns kind of rivalry? Bermejo's visualisation of the Man of Steel certainly echoes the creepy, shadowy, red-eyed figure depicted by Miller in his seminal work.

Heavy on atmospheric artwork and light on dialogue, Lex Luthor: Man of Steel makes for a fairly quick read, but, no matter how you regard this tale in relation to the rest of the Superman canon, I guarantee that it will leave you with something to think about.

Richard McGinlay

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