Lex Luthor hasn’t changed a great deal over the years (Anyone miss his red curly locks? No? Me either(Of course now that hair is attributed to Earth Two’s Alexi Luthor, but you know)). He’s still evil, he still wants to kill superman and he still wants to take over the world. He’s the perfect blue print for your every day, comic book villain.
But what people tend to forget about Lex is that he is intelligent and notably so. In fact, throughout his entire run as a villain in the DC universe he has been portrayed as the most intelligent human on earth (of course even if he wasn’t, Luthor wouldn’t recognize anyone who may have an IQ higher than his. There is no one, except for maybe Braniac that he sees as his peer). He has mastered ostensibly every recognized area of science, including (this one’s from pre the pre crisis era folks) time travel. People like to scoff and make fun of him for coming up with outlandish schemes that always seem to be thwarted by Superman.
(Of course most of that was in the early days, when his whole shtick was that he was a mad scientist with lots of money and a knack for Robots and man that dude loves Robots.)
But he’s clever and not all of his campaigns have failed. Hell, depending on the continuity you follow, Lex either inherited his fortune or built it up after taking out a large insurance policy on his parents (then cutting the breaks on their car) either way, he kills his parent(s) and expands the LexCorp Empire exponentially.
And never by means, that have ever fallen underneath the title of good.
He’s a villain ladies and gentlemen, through and through.
I’m sure he’s had some good guy arcs over the years… although none come to mind immediately.
One thing he regularly comments on, is that fact that he could have just as easily helped the human race, if not for (those meddling kids and) Superman, by giving them an example of something they could realistically endeavor to. What this really means, is that Lex’s ego is so much more important to him than actually helping people. He’d rather go out of his way to kill Superman, than to turn around and pick up a fallen man. Why? Because Superman makes him seem weak, Superman is all brawn and no brains (not true, but the man does do a lot more punching than thinking sometimes), Superman has ruined everything he’s ever wanted.
Superman is everything he isn’t.
And although he hates him, although he despises him with all of his heart, he respects him in that right… and of course that only makes his rage worse.
He wants Superman dead, but by his hands, by his plans, by his schemes.
At the same time, he’s got this (and you’ll forgive me for this) Megamind thing going on. What happens when he defeats Superman? What happens when he gets the world? Would it satisfy his need to fight? Does he really want Superman dead? Or are the games enough to gratify these needs?
He gets close to something in the Public enemy’s plot, but because of, well, himself, everything goes to hell.
He underestimates the meteor and he underestimates Superheroes. He thinks they’ll follow him just because he’s president and for a while some of them do. He thinks that if he can keep these Meta humans under control, under his control that no one will care what he does.
Superman cares, Batman cares.
And that’s where he fucks up.
His ego sometimes is bigger than his brain. Most of the time they’re one in the same, but sometimes, under the right circumstances, when things start to go well, his ego swells and well.
Of course I won’t even begin on his use of a steroid created by mixing venom and kryptonite. You’d think after he got cancer in a previous continuity, he’d have known not to fuck with that shit.
Of course there’s also Superman Doomsday where Superman is thought to be dead, so Luthor in all his glory begins cloning a Superman army. Of course taking his time to beat the fuck out of (the clone) in a lead lined kryptonite room.
Because that’s how much he hates loosing. He didn’t kill Superman, so to satisfy this need to have an adversary worthy of his time, he clones him, and like in Public Enemies, attempts to control him; but of course that doesn’t work as well as he wants.
See a pattern?
He takes every precaution, he see’s every element.
But the human element.
The clone decides he needs to do his own thing and take keeping the people of Metropolis safe in to his own hands. But because he isn’t Superman and he doesn’t have the morality that was instilled in his growing up, it’s kill the bad guys and everyone is a bad guy.
Luthor doesn’t see this, because he didn’t know.
He doesn’t know Superman is Clark Kent, so how is he suppose to give his clones that chewy moral center? He can’t and doesn’t think to, because again, he doesn’t see the human element.
So here’s what I’m saying.
Lex Luthor is a super genius.
But he’s also a grade a, egotistical, maniacal, dick with no care for anyone in the world but him.