EMPIRE’S! 50! GREATEST! COMIC! BOOK! CHARACTERS! [5 of 5]
THE SUPERMAN EDITION
With the Superman Returns sequel, The Man of Steel, still without a confirmed start date (or even a script, for that matter), being honoured with the top spot on Empire’s list will have to serve as Kal-El’s 70th birthday gift.
Though Lex also being on the list could put a damper on things…
32 Lex Luthor (aka: Alexander Joseph Luthor, Mockingbird)
When you’re as strong, fast, invulnerable and flat-out powerful as Superman, it’s hard to find a nemesis of sufficient menace to actually provide you with a workout.
Enter Lex Luthor, the bad guy’s bad guy.
He doesn’t (usually) have superpowers, but then he doesn’t need them, even against the Man of Steel.
No prison can hold him, it seems, no setback is too great to overcome, and there’s pretty much no scheme too outlandish for his considerable brain power to cook up.
Since Superman remains reluctant to just break Luthor’s neck, there’s always tomorrow for this perpetual rebounder. Talk about try, try and try again—Robert the Bruce’s Spider had nothing on Luthor.
FIRST APPEARED IN ACTION COMICS #23 (1940)
CREATED BY JERRY SIEGEL AND JOE SHUSTER
1 Superman (aka: Kal-El, Clark Kent)
Being first counts for a lot, but it’s going the distance that elevates Superman from the run of flying caped superguys who followed him.
How many other characters from disposable 1938 fictions have appeared consistently for eighty years and are still as famous as ever?
Superman’s peers aren’t really Spider-Man or Wolverine, but Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and James Bond—pop culture mainstays who stay current through consistent reinvention but are classically themselves all the same.
Superman has taken a beating from time to time: his fight for ‘truth, justice and the American Way’ is nobler but less easy to relate to than Batman’s vengeance-driven war on crime (especially when we get antsy about what ‘the American Way’ actually means); his powers are so vast that it’s hard to come up with threats worth his time (so it’s incredible that for decades, his biggest problem was a pudgy bald guy with a laboratory); and his clean-cut, super-square looks and attitude are always being challenged by someone who momentarily seems more contemporary, edgy or pragmatic.
That's perhaps why the comics have often experimented with his essential ingredients, recasting him as a Commie (Red Son) or a Brit (True Brit) or creating twisted, dark reflections of the eternal do-gooder, like Bizarro, in endless permutations that attest to his popularity and instant recognisability.
If it weren’t for Superman, there wouldn’t be an entire genre of superhero stories—every single tights-and-powers character who has come along after him is defined by how similar or how different they are from Kal-El.
FIRST APPEARED IN ACTION COMICS #1 (1938)
CREATED BY JEROME SIEGEL AND JOE SHUSTER
Superman is the foundation stone upon which the entire superhero genre is built, and without him, today’s comics (and multiplexes, for that matter) would look entirely different.
The above write-ups are from Empire’s list.
For more on the above characters, just click on their names; the entire list will be accessible from there.
Parting shot: I believe Empire miscounted when they note Superman has been around for eighty years…
(Images courtesy of dccomics.com [Luthor, art by Ed McGuinness, Superman, art by Tony Harris, and Superman, art by Alex Ross]; britfilms.tv [Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor]; and kal-el.org [Brandon Routh as Superman].)