By: Charles Soule (story), Raymund Bermudez (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Ulises Arreola (colors)

The Story: After a nice prison break, Lex Luthor is refreshed and ready to get back to work.

The Review: I’ve made a vow to WCBR to reveal my biases whenever I actually recognize them, and thus I have no choice but to tell you that despite the short amount of time he’s been at work, Soule has got me almost wholeheartedly trusting his output, whatever it may be.  We’ve all got writers where we’re willing to, sight unseen, buy into any and all of their products and, more dangerously, appreciate for their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.

I promise you that I’ll do my best to pick at every flaw I find, but from what I’ve seen, Soule has such a firm grasp of his craft that he really does very little wrong.  In a limited format like this one, in which his goal isn’t so much to advance an overarching story but rather to provide a character study, Soule can focus on that one goal without distraction from extraneous logistical details.  In this case, the plot is subordinate, like so many things, to the life of Lex Luthor.

And from the very first line, where Luthor, about to depart from a brief prison stay, states, “I’ve enjoyed my time away,” Soule proves that he absolutely gets the iconic villain to a tee.  Writers tend to emphasize aspects of Luthor—his bottomless wealth, his intellectual genius, his strategic acumen, his amorality—without ever identifying the umbrella appeal of all those things.  From the first page, as Luthor lists all the world-changing things he can do with his government-mandated phone call, Soule correctly captures the core of Luthor’s character: a man for whom nothing and no one is an obstacle.

Well, almost no one.  You all know whom I’m talking about.  Luthor doesn’t even need to mention him by name, perhaps indicating how constant and prevalent this figure is always on his mind: “I know he knew I’d be out today.  He’s obsessed with me.”  To him, it’s “inconceivable” that his usual foe wouldn’t go into action as soon as he does, apparently not recognizing his own obsession with Superman.  Without a Man of Steel to get in his way, there’s nothing to break Luthor’s stride, and it soon becomes clear that he likes nothing better than an impediment.

The way Soule sees it, Luthor’s callousness may stem from a kind of frustration with the rest of the world’s incompetence.  Notice how lavishly he rewards his plastic surgeons for their “excellence” and how he threatens dismissal for a group of scientists who collectively can’t see the design flaws with his war suit that he does.*  He grins in anticipation when a smalltime competitor makes an inflated attempt to roadblock his business ventures.  He’d rather choose his escort by competition (“Tell the last three to get out their cell phones and prove how much they’d like to spend an evening with me.”) than simply choose one of the many women eager to accompany him (“Ignore the first thirty-nine.”).

Luthor loves a good struggle, but his talents are at such a level that he’s also a perfectionist.  It’s not enough to simply win; he must crush the opposition.  Yes, he can save his own employees, but his goal lies elsewhere.  It’s not about boosting his own reputation; it’s about destroying that of his rival.  Rather than invite even the risk of failure and color the totality of his victory, he prefers to let his triumph stand unstained, at the cost of human lives.  And that, folks, is the perfect summation of Luthor’s particular brand of evil.

Bermudez’s art is tolerable enough, even with Green’s strangely shaky inking (which, in hindsight, may explain some of the hang-ups I had with Alberto Ponticelli’s art back on his and Green’s Dial H days).  It’s not nearly sharp or edgy enough to do justice to Soule’s script, and there are times when the awkward, aimless gestures of the characters blunt the impact of the whole scene.

Conclusion: Though dragged down by mediocre art, Soule captures the essence of Lex Luthor’s villainy, but also his appeal.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Although, let’s be frank here, I could just say I see fourteen different ways to fix something and tell people to do it, without ever once giving specifics on what they are.