Why is Lex Luthor Superman’s Antithesis?

While discussing the "Wonder Woman" movie this weekend (it's awesome, go see it if you haven't already!), I started thinking about how DC organizes its heroes and villains into duos of opposites.

So Batman, the champion of justice, is opposed by The Joker, the champion of random meaninglessness. There can be no justice in a world where fate is usurped by chaos.

Wonder Woman, the champion of peace and all that is noble in humanity, is opposed by Ares, the god of war who believes all humans are evil and worthless.

Which brings me to Superman, and for the life of me I can't quite put my finger on why Lex Luthor is his opposite.

So I'm asking you -- what's your best explanation for why Lex is Superman's antithesis?

9 Responses to Why is Lex Luthor Superman’s Antithesis?

  1. Pure jealousy! Superman is the humble outlander (alien) who is all powerful and selfless. Lex is the elitist business man who is power hungry and truly self absorbed. Lex envies everything that Superman is which creates the conflict.

  2. I believe it started as a brawn/superpower versus brain/science. Of course, this has developed into the alien who cares for humanity versus the human who hates aliens and cares only for himself.

  3. Because Superman is, despite himself, a Hero, while Lex, despite himself, isn’t.

    I’m not using the word ‘Hero’ in the modern sense here; I’m using it in a variant of the original meaning. In Greek myth, the requirement for being a Hero was to be the son or daughter of a god or goddess… the word applied to demigods who remained among humanity.

    Lex Luthor has a massive ego, quite probably coupled with a large dose of narcissism . However, for all his money and all his power (and, at least in some versions, all his scientific skill), he is still limited to what mere humanity can do. Sometimes, this can allow him to fake it – as in Superman: Birthright, where his wealth made Lex (originally, at least) the man everyone in Metropolis went to, in hopes he would grant their desires, or provide for their needs. This version of Lex, in effect, set himself up as a tinpot god, reveling in the ‘prayers’ of the people who hope he might reach down and bless them.

    And then along comes Superman. The flesh and blood of Kal-El, a being so powerful as to -be- the modern equivalent to those ancient Heroes… or possibly even of their Olympian progenitors. (There’s a reason he gets paired with Wonder Woman, after all.) But that flesh and blood is guided by the spirit of everyman Clark Kent, of Smallville, Kansas.

    To the one side, we have the man who would be a god, elevating himself above all others and requiring their praise and worship, to the point of bitter anger when he does not receive it. To the other, the apparent (demi-)god who would be a man… walking among us, as one of us, requiring nothing of us, but much of himself as he seeks to serve.

    It’s not that surprising once you think about it.

  4. I’ll have to say, EnderX is correct ENOUGH, but I’d have to add that Supes predates some of that, and so is also ‘storied’ into place:

    Smallville went for the human nature side of youthful rivalry.
    But really, Luthor is just the only villain in his class, the same way Supes is the only one in his class. That means that Supes would never kill Lex, and Lex is too smart to kill himself, too smart to be held by a prison, and too set in his ways to turn good.

  5. imbatman123459

    A man who wants to be a god, and a god who wants to be a man.

    One of the my favorite Superman moments was in an episode of Justice League (not Unlimited. I think it was “Only a Dream”). Trapped in a nightmare world, Superman accidentally crushes Jimmy Olsen and then grows into this huge, grotesque Hulk-like creature that breaks everything he touches, because that’s how he sees himself. I think Superman has a bit of a Spiderman thing going, and wishes more than anything to be normal, but even if given the opportunity, wouldn’t take it because of the responsibility he feels. He’s a purely good person, given power to do an unbelievable amount of good, but afraid of the consequences.

    Lex Luthor, on the other hand, wants nothing LESS than to be normal. He desires power above all else. Where Superman is purely good and selfless, Lex is purely evil and selfish.

    Personally, I have always found Lex to be a bit of a boring villain because he is so purely evil. Joker is such an amazing villain not only because of how he’s a foil for Batman (well, there’s a lot of reasons), but because they are also the same. Joker might be pure evil, but he’s not selfish or jealous, and he and Batman even share similar goals. Joker doesn’t hate Batman, nor is he jealous- in fact, in his mind, everything he does is for Batman’s benefit. It’s not the opposites between them that makes them such a famous rivalry and fantastic characters, it’s the parallels.

    Superman and Lex aren’t similar in any way, really. They are exclusively opposites. Superman is a Mary-Sue character, which can only work if the writer knows what they’re doing. Lex, on the other hand, is fueled by nothing more than greed and jealousy, which isn’t exactly compelling. Superman works because the idea of a ‘perfect’ character has automatic inner conflict, so Superman is actually a pretty cool character if you do him right. Lex, though, is really just pure evil and that’s pretty boring.

  6. DiCicatriz

    To put it in a concise and nicely rounded blurb like you did for Batman and Wonder Woman:

    Superman is the alien with innate god-like abilities who embodies the very best qualities of the human spirit. Lex Luthor is the human with self-made abilities who embodies the very worst qualities of the human spirit.

  7. For me, imbatman123459 summed it up perfectly and made me think of it in a way that feels “right” — “Lex Luthor is a man who wants to be a god, and Superman is a god who wants to be a man.”

    Thank you all for your insightful and interesting thoughts, they were great!

  8. You could think of this As “Everybody’s All American”(so, much that he’s really TOO good to be true{and btb is an Alien*, who can’t be deported}) Versus a Xenophobic, Globalist, $ hungry Asp~pole, who would be happy to push a grandmother in front of a bus for money! (if he though he could get away with it!)

    *use both definitions please!

  9. DarthSidious

    How are they opposite? I think I would start by how they are similar. Both had great fortune given to them by fact of their birth. Both have attributes that are far beyond those of their peers. Both want for something more in life. Beyond that they diverge, so we can look at this on a series of axis:

    Brain/Brawn: Mentioned above and the most obvious contrast. Superman, while incredibly intelligent, is primarily known for his physical prowess. Likewise Lex, while not without physical capabilities, his known and is demonstrably the “smartest guy in the room” no matter what room.

    Money/Poverty: So Clark wasn’t exactly impoverished, but his family also wasn’t entirely comfortable financially. As farmers, the Kent’s had periods of struggle. Lex is affluent and has always been affluent. He has the money to do as he wished in life, no matter what it was.

    Urban/Rural: Lex grew up around the great cities of the world, surrounded by the bustling city. Clark? He grew up on a farm in Kansas. This is entirely different backgrounds and leads to different expectations on how the world works. Clark saw people working together, Lex saw “every man for himself”

    I think the fundamental tension is best summed up in All Star Superman. As always, we see Superman trying to save humanity, and being opposed in what he does by Lex. Lex, being jealous of Superman tries to attain the same level of power Superman has. Near the end of the story Lex says: “I could have made everyone see. I could have saved the world if it wasn’t for you!” To which Superman responds: “You could have saved the world years ago if it mattered to you, Luthor.”

    And that is the fundamental opposition. Superman thinks about others first, and tries to save the world every time. Lex? He thinks about himself first, others don’t matter (unless it impacts him). Superman even recognizes that Lex is his equal or even his better. Lex would NEVER recognize such a thing.