When I first heard that Lex Luthor was going to 'star' in the Rebirth Action Comics as Superman, I cringed. I was yearning for old fashioned excellent Superman stories. Rebirth seemed like the right time to return to greatness. Why give Lex the title?
Well, it turns out my concerns were misguided. Superman is definitely the lead in this book. But Lex is definitely an important supporting cast member. Rather than a 'twice a year' villain with a new gizmo, Lex is part of Superman's life, part of Metropolis' elite, and out in the open.
I sometimes miss the days of the conniving, hiding Luthor biding his time to unleash something horrific. But I have to grudgingly admit that since Rebirth I have been interested in Luthor and his character. There are layers here ... whether onion or parfait ... and peeling him back to try to get to his core has been a very engaging read.
Action Comics #971 continued the 'Trial of Lex Luthor' storyline in which Luthor is being tried for crimes he has yet to commit. Hearing Luthor plead his innocence and seeing him hope for a Superman rescue has been intriguing. But this issue, we flip things on their head. Suddenly it is Superman that needs the saving. It is Superman who might be judging people too harshly. And it is Lex who has to stand up as the hero. And that is fascinating.
I live for the day when villains can all be villains and not have sympathetic back stories. But if I am going to be reading this sort of Lex, a character awash in gray areas, then I am glad it is being written like this.
The art on the book is by Stephen Segovia and I am impressed with his breadth. This issue flips from Metropolis to Nideesi to some unknown jungle world. That can't be easy.
On to the book.
The issue starts with Lois Lane bringing Jon to Metropolis. She has work to do while living the life of the Daily Planet Lois. She needs access to that Lois' computer. And given the mess of a kitchen we saw last issue when Jon was left to his own devices at their Hamilton home, Lois brings him into the big city.
I like how slowly but surely Jon is discovering elements of his parents' lives now that their 'real identities' have been revealed to him. Jon is being exposed to Superman's history ... villains, the Fortress, etc.
Here he sees aspects of Lois' life. He has never met General Lane. It seems like he has never even heard of the General. It must be very weird for Jon to be on this new world wondering how much of his parents lives were mirrored here.
Still don't know if I buy that Lois could so effortlessly take over the 'real' Lois' life.
Meanwhile on Nideesi, it at first seems as if Superman has decided to side with the God-Killers. But just when you think that Superman is going to execute Lex, we see it was a ruse.
I liked this panel progression, zooming in on Superman's face to show his conviction, as he declares that a premonition of a crime is not proof that it will happen.
How interesting and odd that Superman is so demonstrative in his defense of Lex. I get that Superman wouldn't let Lex be killed. But he doesn't trust this Lex even if they have little interaction together.
With the God-Killers and Remnants temporarily distracted, Superman is able to swoop away with Lex, have Luthor open up a Boom Tube, and hopefully get back to Earth.
Unfortunately, L'Call is able to disrupt the Boom Tube before it closes, dumping Superman and Lex somewhere else.
But I thought this panel was telling given what happens the rest of the issue. Here Superman is clearly the hero, carrying Lex like he's flying with Margot Kidder. We know who is in charge. But that is about to change.
But the planet L'Call dumped them on is a red sun jungle planet. Suddenly Superman is nearly powerless. And the Godslayers have blocked the Mother Box's ability to open up new Boom Tubes (a little bit of a deus ex machina). The two are marooned.
Neither of these guys likes the other too much. I love how exasperated Lex looks. Even in this instance where the two have been working together, it isn't easy.
And Superman isn't going to take any of Lex's guff. Even with normal strength, he still is able to floor Luthor with a right cross.
And this is where we get into the meat of this conflict. This Superman has a relationship with a different Lex. This Luthor has a relationship with this Earth's Kal. They are bringing those preconceived notions of other versions of themselves to this interaction.
So hearing Lex actually voice it ... that this Superman is quicker to act ... reminded me that these guys almost need to start fresh.
(I also wonder if that was a side-swipe at the New 52 Superman who seemed to plod along a bit in his stories.)
And then we get a lot of deep conversation giving is a look into Lex.
First off, he accuses Superman (rightfully) for breaking into Lexcorp to try to dig up incriminating evidence on Luthor. Superman is convicting Lex for crimes there is no proof of. Despite Superman's haughty talk of justice, he is a whisker away from L'Call's outlook.
Next, we hear how Lex turned towards the light during Forever Evil when he couldn't save someone from the Crime Syndicate and ended up aiding the Justice League. This Lex adopted the S-shield because the dead Superman accepted him. And Lex truly wants to help.
Luthor makes a strong case here for his own 'innocence'. And his judging Superman a bit is a very nifty turn of the tables. I have to say this might be the first time that I like the New 52 Luthor. He suddenly has depth.
Then the tables turn completely. L'Call and Zade show up.
And now it is Lex's turn to defend a weakened Superman.
This is just a great panel. And his words are powerful.
Will Lex truly defend Superman with all his might? Or would Lex not mind if Superman fell in action?
Is the 'Luthor hates Superman/aliens for holding us back' belief still the foundation of Luthor's philosophy? Or has that gone away?
Regardless, the flip of the roles here is fascinating to read.
The issue ends with something of a cliffhanger.
Lois has ordered Chinese food for her and Jon. But who should be at the door to deliver them? The other Clark Kent.
Was he stalking Lois and so knew to intervene? Was he hoping for an impromptu date via the 'pop-over'? And how is she going to explain who Jon is?
This whole Clark thing is getting creepier and creepier. I have run out of guesses on who/what he is. I can't wait for March.
So I very much liked the character beats of this issue. While the 'marooned on a red sun world' felt a little contrived to up the ante, it certainly lead to some great character moments. I really liked the whole Lex/Superman back and forth here, especially since it gave me a little more insight into this post-Rebirth Lex. The entire section just clicked.