DC Graphic Novel Review: Lex Luthor: Man of Steel (2005)
There is a famous saying: "Perception is reality". Lex Luthor is one of Superman's oldest and most epochal villains and has usually been portrayed as an megalomaniacal narcissist--but is that really the case? What if he is just a man that want to see the betterment of humanity? This is the theme of Brian Azzarello's five issue comic arc Lex Luthor: Man of Steel.
The narrative is told from Luthor's point of view and it paints him as more of an altruistic billionaire than an evil supervillian. We see him doing favors for his employees and wanting to build a "Science Spire" in the city of Metropolis which will house many different levels dedicated to human achievement. While all of this is going on, Superman is in the background occupying the peripherals of the Luthor's attention. Superman doesn't represent hope as much as he encapsulates all of Luthor's trepidations for the fate of humankind. The fear that humanity will stagnate because Superman will fight all of their dangers for them and that they will never be able to rise to his level. It seems that Lex (or Azzarello) has been reading some Ayn Rand in his spare time.
However, this version of Lex Luthor is complex and layered as the audience is privy to his internal monologue and this makes his motivations much easier to understand. Eventually he creates his own superhero named Hope and this is where everything begins to spiral out of control. Ideologies only exist in a perfect state while in the vacuum of one's own mind and once you involve other people then it becomes subject to interpretation and distortion. This sounds like a lot of unpack for a damn comic book, but Azzarello's writing makes everything flow naturally and organically. Nothing comes off too heavy-handed or preachy. Is Luthor an "evil" man? The reader is presented enough information to come to their own conclusion and that's what makes this story special.
Like writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, Azzarello and iconic artist Lee Bermejo (Batman: Noel, Joker) go together like peanut butter and jelly. Bermejo's work is like a moodier version of Alex Ross's painterly style but with more shadows and texture. You can read the emotion in every furrowed brow or upturned eyebrow and his work with the contrast between light and dark is exceptional. His depiction of Superman makes him look like a monster or some sort of malevolent god, all billowing cape and deep-set glowing red eyes. Again, perception is reality. Dave Stewart is the colorist for this run and his deep shading and rich backgrounds give the art a cinematic look and feel.
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel is a novel way of experiencing what it's like to be on the other side of a conflict and just may change your understanding of Luthor forever.