The devils don’t come from hell beneath us. No, No, they come from the sky – Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor and Superman’s rivalry on the big screen, in all three incarnations of their twisted relationship, is based on a hatred that has slowly festered and developed solely in the criminal mastermind’s twisted psyche.
Kal-El, for the most part, is unaware of Luthor until he forces him to acknowledge who, and what he is.
He drifts from being a genius obsessed with power and wealth who wants to punish the world for any number of unseen slights in Superman (1978) to two dimensional, megalomaniacal caricature in Superman Returns (2006) before becoming a deranged, sociopathic madman who sees himself, in his own mind at least, as the world’s avenger and protector in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016).
While all three cinematic portrayals of Lex Luthor have their own raw, visceral power, they tend to avoid the intricate, and at times incredibly complicated relationship that exists between “Mr. Loootor” (thank you Otis) and the Man of Steel, which means that it falls by the wayside and isn’t give the time that it needs to evolve and develop.
The only on-screen portrayal of Lex Luthor that even comes close to capturing the burning intellect, curiosity, and loathing that define the character and his long-standing animosity toward Clark Kent, was Michael Rosenbaum’s scene-stealing turn as the Machiavellian polymath in Smallville.
That animosity, the emotion that fuels Lex Luthor and Superman’s relationship, and the reasons for it have a long and storied four-color history, and to discover exactly why Lex hates Superman with a violent passion that burns hotter than a thousand suns, we thought we’d take a deep dive into their shared mythology to find the source of the initial spark that lit the unquenchable flame of Luthors hatred.
In The Beginning
Created by Schuster and Siegel in nineteen forty, whether Lex Luthor was indeed to become Superman’s ultimate nemesis is lost to the annals of time, but following his debut in Action Comics #23, the world’s greatest scientific genius who turned to crime, struck a nerve with fans and he returned time and time again, only to be brought to heel by Superman every time they crossed paths.
Originally portrayed as a red-haired super-criminal with a thirst for power that was only exceeded by his desire for knowledge, even in his embryonic phase as the villain of the month, there was something more to Luthor.
And even though he wasn’t even named during the story in which he “first” crossed paths with the superhero who would later become the locus around which his life revolved, Lex, whether Schister and Siegel knew it or not at the time, was here to stay.
The idea that a man could pit his intellect against Superman’s overwhelming brawn, was one that the readers immediately identified with, and eventually led to the character being retconned and given a backstory that saw him become inextricably linked to the Man of Steel.
And that shocking head of lustrous red hair? That became an incredibly important focal point, and for a while at least, was the only reason why Lex detested Superman.
My Hair, My Gorgeous Hair
It took another twenty years for DC to finally reveal Lex Luthor’s backstory, his name, and his connection to Superman, and it wasn’t exactly what the fans expected, or his original creators probably intended.
Lex was apparently one of Superboy’s best friends and became incredibly close to the fledgling hero after saving his life when they were both teenagers.
They’d grown up as neighbors and weren’t just pals, they were more like brothers, which makes the reason they became the bitterest of enemies even more profound, even if it does seem a little odd, and dated to the twenty-first-century sensibilities of a modern audience.
The reason Lex hates Superman is that he blames him for being bald. He thinks it’s Superman’s fault that he lost his hair, and while it’s true that Kal-El was there when it happened, the laboratory accident that made Lex’s hair fall out was just that, an accident.
But Lex being who he is, and was, and his monstrous ego being unable to comprehend that he could possibly be the root cause of his own misfortune or in any way responsible for the accident, he directed his ire at the only other person that was there, his former friend and soon to be lifelong enemy, Superman.
As a reason for more than eighty years of enmity, it’s actually quite powerful and strikes at the heart of the male ego and individual sense of identity, but it does seem to be a little anachronistic and feels a little out of step with the way in which the medium has and continues to evolve.
After all, while we’re happy that it remains such a crucial part of the ongoing feud between the two characters, it can’t be the only reason for Luthor’s hatred of Superman, can it? Surely there must be more to their eternal rivalry?
Forever In Clark’s Shadow
Losing his hair was simply a catalyst, the match that ignited the seething jealousy that fuels everything that Luthor does.
Credited with being the smartest man on Earth, Luther is unable to rejoice in his own successes and instead feels as though he will always dwell in the shadow of his former best friend.
Why does Lex hate Superman? It’s the same reason that Cain hated Abel and has driven men to hate other men since the dawn of time. Jealousy.
Lex hates Clark because he’s jealous of him and who he is, and he knows that while Superman is in the picture, he’ll only ever be second best.
This explains why Lex has spent the majority of his published history trying to find a way to eradicate the Man of Steel and assume what he sees as his rightful position as the savior of humanity.
It’s almost enough to make us wish that Lex Luthor’s all-encompassing hatred of Superman really was all about his premature baldness and wasn’t driven by his petty jealousy of his boyhood friend.