The Definitive Superman vs. Luthor Encounter
In my opinion, All-Star Superman is the best Superman story ever told. Not only does it capture the heart of the character, but it embraces all the crazy stuff from the Silver Age while somehow making it not suck. It’s a good example of how you can take even the silliest stuff from superhero comics and make them work by using them in a serious manner.
There are a lot of great parts in this 12-issue series, but my favorite issue doesn’t show Superman in costume at all. It’s the one that deals specifically with Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. The final exchange between the two summarizes the entire Superman/Lex Luthor relationship to me.
On death row for crimes against humanity, Luthor gets a visit from Clark Kent, who is trying to get one last interview out of him. Instead of providing his side of the events, Lex uses the opportunity to rage against Superman while also revealing something that he doesn’t think Clark knows: Superman is dying due to Lex’s most recent scheme.
In the midst of this, a prison riot occurs, which Clark stops through the surreptitious use of his super powers. All the while, Lex continues his ranting about how Superman ruined the world. By the end of the issue, Clark’s glasses have been broken and he makes one last impassioned plea to Luthor:
Those three panels pretty much make the Superman/Luthor relationship to me. Luthor is a brilliant madman. Superman wants him to focus on the brilliant part, using his last few weeks on Earth for good rather than evil. Moreover, there was a time when he and Luthor are friends, as they both grew up in Smallville. No matter how many times Luthor tries to kill Superman, Clark remembers the friend he once had.
It’s no mistake that Clark is looking directly in Luthor’s face without his glasses in those panels above – by this point, he wants Luthor to recognize him. Throughout the entire issue, Clark is slouching, stammering, and otherwise playing the part of the mild-mannered reporter to the hilt. Here he breaks the disguise and looks right into Luthor’s face, trying to get him to see reason.
Alas, Lex is too far gone by this point to realize that he’s looking right at Superman. This is a guy with billions of dollars and a brain that could have made life better for everybody on the planet. Instead, he wasted all those resources on his obsessed need to kill Superman.
The strength of All-Star Superman is its ability to capture all the aspects of Superman’s 70-year history as succinctly as possible. Here, we see the entire relationship between Superman and his most formidable nemesis summarized in three panels.