Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Action Comics #23: Lex Luthor is Not Bald

Action Comics (1938) #23 Page 7 Panel 5: Luthor plans to take Clark Kent out because he "knows too much."
The Lex Luthor of old is somewhat different from the Luthor I have come to know  (Michael Rosenbaum's portrayal of him on Smallville is still one of my favorites).

Respected business acumen, brilliant strategist, authentic rationalized fear of the other (in the form of the all-powerful alien that is Superman) -- these characterize Luthor for me.

Action Comics (1938) #23 Page 8 Panel 4: Luthor has kidnapped Lois (because Clark wasn't available) but she notes her guard is free of Luthor's "hypnotic powers."
Instead, Luthor makes his first appearance in Action Comics #23 as a red-haired megalomaniac who apparently has hypnotic powers (he also appears to die in this issue, but comic book deaths are rarely permanent, as we all know).

Most Amusing Panel Prize:

I cannot get over how often the classic heroes threaten the "bad guys" with violence and death; it's the vividness of Superman's threat here that amuses me; "brains dashed out against that wall" (that and the passive voice used in an attempt to obscure who will be doing the dashing).

Action Comics (1938) #23 Page 5 Panel 2: Superman threatens one of Luthor's henchmen with dashing his brains out if he doesn't talk.

Action Comics (1938) #23 Page 1 Title Panel: Clark Kent carries an unconscious Lois Lane to safety.As a nice touch to begin this issue, Clark Kent gets to rescue Lois for once (though she's unconscious so he still won't get any of the credit).

Though Clark and Lois are working as war correspondents, Clark ends up brokering a peace after Superman stops Luthor's plan to escalate a war so he can swoop in and take over everything once the nations at war are weakened.

Interesting Details:
Action Comics (1938) #23 Page 10 Panel 6: Luthor explains that he is a "super-genius" with aspirations to become "supreme master of th' world" to Superman (Is that a Brooklyn accent?).
Two key details are established here that will continue to inform Luthor's character: Luthor is a super-genius, and he is very rich. (It is debatable that he is, in fact, "yellow," as Superman indicates in the panel below. (Lex will eventually lose the hair, though.)

Last Notions:

Action Comics (1938) #23 Page 12 Panel 1: Superman threatens Luthor with his own death-ray, and Luthor naturally bargains for his life.Superman's arch-nemesis begins as just another archetypal villain; there is nothing personal in his animosity towards Superman, and he has no deeper motivation for his evil activities besides accruing power.

Given the lack of psychological complexity in the early versions of these classic heroes and villains, I can see why some scoffed at comic book readers back in the day.

Comics have not always been grand literature, challenging our underlying assumptions about the nature of the universe. And yet, this form of light entertainment has given birth to some phenomenal ideas that have produced epic stories ever since.

Series: Action Comics (1938)

Issue #: 023

Copyright: DC Comics

Cover Date: April 1940

Cover Price: 10¢

Page Count: 14 pages

Print Release: 21-February-1940

Digital Release: 30-July-2011

None Listed
Cover Art:
Source Links:
Story Title:
“Europe at War” Part II

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