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We’ve been working pretty hard to place this trade over the last few days, and now that it’s got its spot in the reading order I figured it was time to update the book listing and write a mini-review.
This book collects a miniseries written by Brian Azzarello and penciled by Lee Bermejo, assisted by a small army of inkers and letters. The colorist, Dave Stewart, is worth a specific mention, for his excellent work. I’ve been reading a lot of Showcase Presents volumes lately, so the jump to this trade was like being tossed out of a moving van onto a highway. While the experience was pretty intense, luckily I feel like I’ve been hit by a very enjoyable bus.
The book is a character study of Lex Luthor, longtime Superman foe. I’ve heard it described, sometimes in advertising blurbs, as a book where he is the hero and Superman is seen as the villain. However, I don’t think it can be said to go that far (it’s not an Elseworlds). While it humanizes Lex to an extent, it’s not Smallville either.
What it is is a story starring a villain of the very best sort.
Modern comics have become a lot more sophisticated in their presentation of villains, and Azzarello doesn’t fall short here. This is the kind of villain whose actions, while wrong and sometimes terrible, seem motivated by human thoughts and feelings instead of plot points. I’d be wary of anyone who says they agree with his actions, but it’s easy to understand his concerns. Like any good classic myth, his failings are his own and his fall is internally driven.
The book as a whole seems to be from Lex’s perspective. We get to hear his internal monologue and follow him in his daily business.
I think that this perspective includes the art – the best placement I’ve found for the book, time wise, is around the 80s Man Of Steel era, where Lex was large and unattractive. Here he’s lithe and muscular, but maybe that’s just how he sees himself – the greek hero again. Superman is dark and foreboding, his shadowed eyes glowing a subtle red. Women are (perhaps literally, in this one) objects – though this might just be a general comics thing, unfortunately.
The art is dark and detailed, at times showing the character in every wrinkle of Lex’s brow. The eyes of Bermejo’s characters are alive and full of expression – even when they are hidden or obscured. Maybe I should be absolutely clear – the art is excellent. There are two panels on the 4th to last page where, at first glance, Superman seems to be drawn almost identically. The subtlety of the changes in expression and posture is amazing, and the movement between the two panels is perfect. The amount of emotion expressed there is impressive – while Superman is not really the star of this story, Bermejo and Azzarello manage to say everything needed with just tiny strokes – a far cry from the pin-up lectures given to Superman by some other creative teams.
Story wise, of particular note is the appearance by Bruce Wayne, for a very enjoyable interaction. I don’t think that playboy millionaire business mogul Bruce gets enough screen time.
The Superman/Batman sequence, though, seems a little out of character. Without spoiling too much, their meeting in this book seems to directly contradict a page 7 mention by a supporting cast member that Superman has been around since she was a little girl. Unless this obviously past-puberty woman thought she was a little girl the year before, this doesn’t make any sense according to the DC timeline.
To a continuity minded reader like myself, that the book is from Lex’s might explain some of the major holes – if it’s kind of in his head, then it doesn’t matter so much. But the couple times the book is tied to continuity (like the mention of the Justice League by a newscaster) could probably have been tightened up a little without really effecting the story. It’s one of my only complaints with the writing. Besides that, it flows well and has some absolutely perfect moments.
I could nitpick that it doesn’t bring much new to the character, who has been explored many times over the past 30 years of modern monthlies, but I think Azzarello manages to bring it all together to sum up his motivations quite nicely. Lex doesn’t really need anything new, if he’s treated right. If one was to suggest a single Luthor centric book, this would be it.
Very Good! Worth buying for the art alone, but the writing is also quite enjoyable.
No, in fact, the only major downside to the writing is that it doesn’t seem to take continuity into account very well. It seems to suggest a time period for the book, but contradicts itself heavily. Essential reading? In the running, but for continuity nerds it might present a headache.
What Should You Read First:
Ideally you’re coming to this book having encountered Lex Luthor quite a few times (I’m not sure how you can live and not know his name!) but you should at least make sure to read the Luthor stories in the classic 80s volumes collecting the Superman: Man Of Steel miniseries (in vol. 1) and the first monthly post-crisis titles (in Man Of Steel Vol. 2).
What Should You Read Next:
If you like Luthor, besides working your way down his reading order list, you’d probably be interested in a lesser known prestige release from 1989, Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography. It’s a very different approach art wise, but I won’t say anything about the story just yet. Worth checking out!