SLIDESHOW: Lex Luthor, The Badness and the Baldness
SLIDESHOW: For the greatest villain of the Superman universe, Lex Luthor had the worst reason for turning evil: hair. But who else can Superman turn to for a good battle? Brainiac? Bizarro? Mr. Mxyzptlk? The Japateurs? Superman has always had a supervillain problem and the default winner was Luthor.
1950: We first saw him onscreen in “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950), played by veteran actor Lyle Talbot, who had recently finished a stint as Commissioner Gordon in 1949's “Batman and Robin.” His Luthor is even-keeled, never raises his voice. But for much of the movie he appears ...
... like this. That's the titular Atom Man on the right, which, to producers at the beginning of the atomic age, must have sounded cooler than “Lex Luthor.” He just doesn't look cooler.
1966: Jackson Beck, the voice of Bluto in the classic “Popeye” cartoons, and narrator of Woody Allen's “Take the Money and Run,” became the second actor to take on Lex, in Fimation's “The New Adventures of Superman” in 1966.
1978: Ah, what a joy! Gene Hackman took the role because Brando was involved, but Hackman got all the good lines. “It's amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.” “Otis, it isn't that I don't trust you …. I don't trust you, Otis.” “That's krytponite, Superman. Little souvenir from the old hometown?” At the same time, Hackman refused to do what Brando had done in “Apocalypse Now”: shave his head.
But he does show off his pate at the end. When he's serving notice. To you. That these walls ...
1988: In 1986, John Byrne rebooted Lex as a CEO and the Lex Luthor of Ruby-Spears' Superman (above) was the first screen adaptation to follow this conceit. Voiced by Michael Bell, who was also the voice of the Parkay margarine tub in commercials, this Lex has a fondess for milkshakes.
1993: John Shea's Lex Luthor, in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” was also a CEO, who battled Superman for control of Metropolis (eh) and the affection of Teri Hatcher's Lois Lane (smart).
1996: The first episode of “Lois & Clark” ended with a tete-a-tete between Superman and Luthor outside Luthor's office and “Superman: The Last Son of Krypton” does the same. Luthor here is voiced by Clancy Brown, a good actor doomed to be forever known as Capt. Hadley, the sadistic prison guard of “Shawshank Redemption.”
2001: “Smallville”'s Lex, Michael Rosenbaum, loses his hair in the kryptonian meteor shower that pummels Smallville but becomes friends with Clark Kent, who saves his life in the first episode. This is a Lex with Daddy issues before he has Super issues.
2006: “Superman Returns” was less reboot than grand recycling effort. But Kevin Spacey is more terrifying, and less funny, than Hackman's Lex ever was. He reveled in the badness and the baldness. Interesting stat: Between them, Hackman and Spacey have four Academy Awards. That's: Luthor 4, Superman 0.
1950 Henchman: I know what you're thinking: “Why is the most brilliantly diabolitical leader of our time surrounding himself with total nincompoops?” Although Luthor's first henchman, Carl (Rusty Westcoatt), was at least efficient.
1966 Henchman: The second, Blinky, showed up in Filmations' Saturday morning cartoon. His strongest trait was cackling.
1978 Henchman: Most people go their entire lives without having the kind of chemistry with another person that Gene Hackman had with Ned Beatty in “Superman: The Movie.”What more could anyone ask?
1987 Henchman: Unfortunately, by 1987 Beatty's Otis is gone, replaced by Lex's nephew, Lenny (Jon Cryer, hot off playing Ducky in “Pretty in Pink”). Everyone looks horrified here. They should.
1988 Henchwoman: Here's Lex's henchwoman in the Ruby-Spears cartoon. Consider her a dumber, sweeter, less booby version of...
1978 Henchwoman: Miss TessMACHAAAAAAH! I'm surprised they didn't rate the movie “R” for Valerie Perrine alone. Do we ever find out what happens to Miss Teschmacher? In “Superman II,” she's in the Arctic with Lex, heading south, and ... that's it. Eve, we hardly knew ye.
2015: A hue and cry went up when Jesse Eisenberg was cast as the latest incarnation, but: 1) he's a good actor, who 2) plays smart well. He is a bit young for Lex but then so are most of our digital-age CEOs. He's Luthor as Zuckerberg. But is he smart enough to outwit the dumbing down that Zack Snyder brings to any project? We'll soon find out. FIN