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The hardcover edition of this book is titled “Luthor”
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Includes Issues:Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel 1-5
Issue Dates:May – September 2005
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

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.

Verdict:
Very Good! Worth buying for the art alone, but the writing is also quite enjoyable.

Essential Continuity:
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!

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22 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar Daniel Davis wrote on at June 1, 2010 3:18 am:

    Great review, Ian. Can’t say I disagreed with you in any of your points.

    I’m really gonna have to be on the lookout for more work by Bermejo and Stewart. I’ve read so many Batman books over the years, seen him draw by so many artists, but his portrayal here (visually) is easily one of my favorites. These guys pull off the trick of staying true to everything we expect of Batman’s costume yet giving it a novel realistic look that’s really unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere.

    I wasn’t expecting a lot from this book, but the artwork alone was definitely worth the price for me.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 1st, 2010 at 3:22 am:

    Yeah, I honestly don’t usually buy books based on artist name versus writer name (I’m a story guy in general, with a few exceptions) but this definitely put them on my radar.

    Likewise, I hadn’t read too much by Azzarello before (just his Hellblazer run) but I enjoyed this one. It must have been a really hard thing to write, honestly, considering the amount already done with the characters, and the focused nature of the book. So I can forgive him the minor foibles.

    Now, I’d really like to check out some of his stuff that isn’t bound by 70 years of continuity.

    [Reply]

    avatar Daniel Davis replied on June 1st, 2010 at 3:29 am:

    Yeah, I’m the same way as you where artists are concerned. With a couple of exceptions (e.g. Alex Ross) I’m rarely attracted to a book based on familiarity with the artist, whereas there’s a huge number of writers that I always seek out.

    As for Azzarello, the only other thing I’ve read by him was Batman: Broken City. Which was a great story, but he gave Batman a Raymond Chandler/Frank Miller -esque hardboiled narration that didn’t really work for me. Still, a writer I’ll be paying attention to in the future.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 1st, 2010 at 3:34 am:

    My main artist draws for Superhero titles are Mike Mignola and Tim Sale. I can’t get over their stuff. It’s funny though, I haven’t read any Hellboy, just cause I haven’t had the time. But I know that one day I will, and it’s a really really savory thought.

    I love that Tim Sale has done so much DCU work though.

    The other artist I try to read everything by is Jack Kirby, but he’s kind of obvious. And obviously not producing anything new these days, though I’m always excited to see a new trade release with his name on it.

    Azzarello seems to be one of the Vertigo stable, and that means I keep an eye out for him just by default. As far as books I’ve read so far, with Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis quite yet, but I feel like he’s in that same family, if that makes any sense?

    [Reply]

    avatar Daniel Davis replied on June 1st, 2010 at 3:52 am:

    Yeah, Sale is one of my favorites too. I also really like Frank Quietly and Darwyn Cooke.

    One of my favorite recent discoveries is a penciller named Scott Kollins. I’m a huge fan of the Waid/Morrison/Johns run on The Flash, and for my money Kollins was the best artist in the entire run.

    It’s sad to say, but with my emphasis on the modern age I haven’t really read much by Kirby. That will definitely have to be rectified at some point.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 1st, 2010 at 4:03 am:

    Frank Quietly is good, though I don’t think I’ve seen enough he’s done for him to be a favorite yet. What I have I’ve really enjoyed.

    I’ll have to see what I think once I get to Kollins.

    Making this database has really helped me with recognizing artists, writers, and other creatives. I’m really looking at credits now because I have to do all those tags. I never realized how much Todd Klein lettered! Or that Siegel wrote The Spectre!

    I’m really excited about having all the tags working, long term, and being able to see the creator generated lists. I’ve always wondered how many books out there were touched by Julius Schwartz, and so on.

    [Reply]

  2. avatar Marc wrote on at June 1, 2010 10:50 pm:

    I’m a fan of Azzarello, although I haven’t read Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. Just a few days ago I read Filthy Rich, his Vertigo Crime OGN, and thought it was pretty good. It doesn’t really have anything to do with DC continuity, but there is at least one Vertigo Crime trade (that stars John Constantine, so I’d definitely keep an eye out for those books as possible timeline fodder for the future.

    Scott Kollins has gotten a TON of hate over the last few years, and I just don’t get it…I’m really glad to see someone else who appreciates his work! I haven’t read his work on Flash, but I have enjoyed his Marvel work, from Marvel Team-Up to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Both are worth reading if you get the chance.

    Letterers don’t get the attention they should from most comics readers, so I’m glad to see you mention Todd Klein…he’s won a ton of awards, and he’s even written a few books about how to letter comics! Aside from Klein, two of my favorite letterers are Richard Starkings and Chris Eliopoulos. Letterers control so much more of our reading experience than we tend to think about, and it’s always nice to open a comic and instantly recognize a particular lettering style.

    But getting back to the point of this post a bit, I’ve read a few different incarnations of Lex Luthor, including in the first Superman: Man of Steel trade. I haven’t read the beyond that first trade, though, so I may do that before tackling Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it somewhere else in this long, rambling comment, great review! I wasn’t totally aware of what this comic was all about before, and now I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on it.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 1st, 2010 at 11:31 pm:

    There’s a Vertigo crime trade with Constantine? Really? Which one? I have almost every Hellblazer trade and I’ve actually read them, haha, unlike a lot of books I currently own (I’ve been building and putting in order, and what you find cheap isn’t always the next book you want to read… not to mention the few months I’ve fallen behind in reading while working on this site!)

    I noticed Todd Klein long before I did this site. It got to the point that I’d make guesses on the quality of the book based on his presence in the credits. He’s great.

    Another person that has an amazing grasp on lettering is Dave Sim, though I don’t really know what he’s done besides Cerebus. Now that was an interesting read.

    Thanks a lot for the feedback on the reviews, again. I’m really just starting out in this area and the positive responses I’ve been getting are really encouraging!

    [Reply]

    avatar Daniel replied on June 2nd, 2010 at 2:02 pm:

    Hey Marc –

    I don’t keep up with the comic fan community that much, so I didn’t know I was in the minority on Kollins. That’s too bad. I may have to break my Marvel embargo to check out the books you mentioned.

    As for Vertigo Crime — I’m a huge fan of that series. I had forgotten that Azzarello did Filthy Rich…I liked that book quite a lot. But I’m just generally a fan of the hardboiled crime/film noir genre. The Constantine book in the series is the only one in the series I haven’t picked up, cause I’ve never read any hellblazer and didn’t know if it was going to be continuity-heavy.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 2nd, 2010 at 3:12 pm:

    You’ve got to check out some of Hellblazer at some point. It’s not always amazing, but it is the longest running Vertigo title for a reason.

    [Reply]

  3. avatar Marc wrote on at June 1, 2010 11:57 pm:

    The Vertigo Crime book with Constantine is called Dark Entries. I haven’t read it, but it sounds interesting and apparently requires no prior knowledge of the character. The hardcover is already out, and the trade is on its way.

    I haven’t read any of Dave Sim’s work yet, but it’s funny you mention him because I literally JUST got the first Cerebus trade today! It’s a pretty thick book, so it’ll probably take me a while to finish, but I’ve heard so many great things about the series and I’m really looking forward to it.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 2nd, 2010 at 1:47 am:

    Awesome, I’ve added that book to my list. Didn’t know about it, but I’m a sucker for anything Constantine.

    I picked up all of cerebus from someone on craigslist. It was an interesting read. It is a lot of different things at a lot of different points, but the art and design in it evolves and fluctuates in some very cool ways. The plot is sometimes all over the place, sometimes it is great, sometimes it is insane (in a “the writer is actually kind of nuts” kind of way)

    [Reply]

    avatar Daniel replied on June 2nd, 2010 at 4:40 pm:

    Oh yeah…there’s a couple of long-running Vertigo titles I really need to collect and read and that’s definitely one of them

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 2nd, 2010 at 4:42 pm:

    It was the first thing I ever made an effort to collect in trade, actually. Well, there was Swamp Thing, and then that – but Swamp Thing was a little easier what with numbered trades and nowhere near as many.

    [Reply]

    avatar Marc replied on June 3rd, 2010 at 3:33 pm:

    It’s too bad there are such huge swaths of Hellblazer that have never been collected (there’s one big gap after The Devil You Know, and another after Rake at the Gates of Hell). DC seems to have lost interest in collecting Vertigo material that old (see also: Books of Magic, Swamp Thing), so I’m not sure we’ll ever get to see them in trade, unfortunately.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on June 3rd, 2010 at 5:37 pm:

    Yeah, I’m a big fan of complete sequential collections versus the “best of” method. They may do them all eventually though, they’ve been releasing books collecting old stuff on and off, and they just started releasing Swamp Thing again in hardcover. It would be awesome to see them collect the rest of the post-moore stuff in anticipation of a new Swamp Thing ongoing.

    Same with Books of Magic. I had to download that to read the rest, because they never bothered collecting it and it was almost impossible to find in issues, which I hate buying anyway.

    [Reply]

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