Friday, August 4, 2023

Review: Superman The Last Days Of Lex Luthor #1

A Mark Waid Superman book is always fantastic. A Mark Waid Superman book should always be trumpeted from the highest hill. Bryan Hitch is a modern comic legend. Hitch doing a DC book should be big news. And Hitch inked by Kevin Nowlan is a dream team! A Mark Waid/Bryan Hitch Superman book? That should be heavily promoted ... everywhere.

So how did Superman: The Last Days of Lex Luthor #1 sneak up on me? Because this is just what I would expect a Mark Waid/Bryan Hitch Superman book to be, near perfect. This is a modern book with Bronze Age sensibility and reverence. I was blown away by how spectacular this first issue was and I fear it will go unnoticed.

Waid gives us the Superman we need, willing to do anything to help people, even someone like Luthor. When Lex says he is dying, Superman agrees to help save his enemy. But we see some peeks that lead me to believe that Superman blames himself for Lex's turn to evil, an echo from classic DC history. Throw in action, the Fortress, and Kandor and you have a great milieu to tell a wonderful story.

I am not the biggest Hitch fan but inked by Nowlan (an artist I am a big fan of) leads to a sleek presentation. The story moves all around allowing the art team to stretch itself. I love the Chris Samnee variant cover I picked, especially because the wedding ring is so apparent.

But the best thing for me, again, is how Waid references the Lex/Superman origin I grew up with. Waid also opens and closes the book with that flashback, or that hint of a flashback, which just bookended the issue nicely. 

Much like World's Finest, if you are a Superman fan you need to get this.

On to details.

The book opens with a weary appearing Clark Kent typing a story for the Daily Planet titled 'The Last Days of Lex Luthor'.

But you can see that his thoughts are elsewhere.

We cut to this scene, a young Clark banging on a lab door begging Lex to let him in. He's apologizing. We see fire both inside and outside the lab. And there is a sort of sickly green hue to Clark, perhaps explaining why he isn't just breaking down the door. 

In classic DC history, Lex loses his hair when Superboy blows out a fire in Luthor's lab, splashing Lex with chemicals. That started Luthor's hatred of Superboy, thinking the Boy Of Steel did it on purpose out of jealousy.

This scene has to be an update of that story, a story that I think is out of continuity these days. In this 'Black Label' story did Superboy accidentally and actually start this fire? Is that why he is apologizing? Does Superman feel guilty thinking he put Lex on the path to evil?

Just like that I was hooked.

We quick cut to a giant spider-like robot tromping over a, island near Bangladesh. Luthor is driving it and even though Superman stops the thing, its very weight is threatening to sink the island. It is up to some old-school super-intelligence for Superman to save the day!

This isn't even Lex's robot. He killed the crew of it to send it on this destructive path just to get Superman's attention. He knew Superman would come in and save the day. He did all this ... killing people and threatening a whole island ... just to catch Superman's eye. That is deliciously evil and callous indifference to others, pure Lex. 

I loved this transition in the caption boxes as we switch from Clark's article to Superman's thoughts. Nice switch.

Why did he need Superman? He is dying. An exposure to Kryptonite has his cells burning out. He is not going to be around for a long time. And he wants Superman to save him. After all, Superman helps everyone.

After verifying that Lex is dying, of course, Superman agrees to help try to save the villain. 

But I love that throughout the book, every so often, Superman says something like 'if this is a trap now would be the time to spring it Lex'. Superman is no fool.

Superman recalls all the history with Lex allowing Hitch to give us a splash page with all sorts of images of Lex/Superman fighting in different times and costumes.

Our hero agrees to help Lex if it can be kept secret. But this is Lex. He is broadcasting all this. 

I mean, he needs Superman's help but he can still take down the Kryptonian a peg or two. Now the world knows Superman is going to try and save this despicable man. 

This is another good moment to show us just who Lex is. It felt both new and classic. 

We get a true series of flashbacks showing Clark and Lex when they were teenagers in Smallville. 

Lex is smart and brash. He isn't evil. He has good intentions. But he comes of smug and irritated to the bulk of Smallville. He is bullied and ostracized. Even trying to fix someone's broken tractor (without the person's permission) is looked down on.

It makes perfect sense for Clark to try and befriend this outsider. He and Lex have some common traits. But Lex won't listen to Clark's words about maybe reaching out to people in a friendlier manner.  They also have big differences.

Adding these scenes deepens the relationship between the two, even if Lex doesn't know Clark is Superman.

First stop on the healing tour is Kandor. But they have no cure.

I like Hitch's take on Kryptonian garb and architecture. I like Waid's use of Silver Age Kryptonese with words like Moliom.

And I even like Waid's take on Kandorian culture looking upon Superman as a savior figure and not one of them. 

When Kandor can't cure Lex, Superman thinks the next best thing is to send Luthor into the Phantom Zone to basically stop his cellular decay until a cure can be found. Hmmm ... shades of Mon-El there.

Superman even joins Lex in going into the Zone to explain its physics. When Zod shows up with his cronies to try and kill Kal, it is Lex (already mastering how to control his mass there) who saves Superman. 

Waid's dialogue is so spot on. I like, in this more physical brawl, that Luthor says something like 'I am Lex Freaking Luthor', a more brawler statement than his usual fare but still full of haughtiness. I also like that Lex was able to master the Zone so quickly. He has to be incredibly brilliant to be looked upon as a threat, as an equal to Superman.

With Lex's easy control, the rest of the Zoners use their mental abilities to throw him back onto the physical plane. Now this is the one part of the story I didn't like. Yes, you need Lex out of the Zone to finish this story. But if the Zoners could do that, why not just shunt Zod onto the physical plane?

Back on Kandor, the Moliom asks why Superman would risk his life to save such a diabolical figure. And we flash back to that page one scene of Clark outside the burning lab. It has to be guilt. Superman blames himself for Lex's turn to evil. Perhaps saving Lex will help him atone.


I have to say, that framing sequence looking back at this scene, one which mirrors a classic scene but is probably newish, just hit me right where I like to be hit as a reader. I immediately wanted more.

I feel like DC has hidden this book under a bushel basket instead of letting its light shine. So I'll do that here. Buy this book.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

I may need to seek this one out, Mark Waid seems to have a knack for "The House of El"...


Martin Gray said...

I’m glad you loved this too, if not surprised - we share terrific taste! This comic really does have a terrific Bronze Age sensibility, it felt like coming home, a little as did the Last Family of Krypton Elseworlds story a decade or so ago.

Would it be too much to hope for an appearance by a classic Supergirl?