Good Versus Bad: The Man of Steel and the Man with No Hair
Lex Luthor is one of the most high profile and universally recognized comic, TV and movie characters of our culture.
Every superhero needs an arch foe. Batman knows the Joker is no laughing matter. Spider-Man’s spider-sense goes all tingly when the Green Goblin is near. The X-Men would love to X-out Magneto.
And Superman, the Man of Steel, would love to be rid of Lex Luthor, the Man with No Hair.
Now, everyone who has read even one superhero comic book knows that you have to cheer for the big muscle-bound galoots on the side of truth and goodness. By the time you reach the last panel of the story, you’re ready for Mr. Justice to soar off into the sunset while Evil Joe gets hauled off to prison. That’s what you want.
But that doesn’t mean that you don’t think the super-villains are pretty darn cool, even if they are on the wrong side of the law.
And Lex Luthor is the coolest of them all. First, he’s got smarts. Way more smarts than Superman. Plus, Luthor came by his brains honestly. Superman’s intelligence is an accident, a result of his Kryptonian birth and the way his brain was boosted by the unique radiations of our own sun. Luthor, on the other hand, is a certifiable, self-made genius. Sure, he had a head start on most of us in the gray matter department; but he worked hard – devilishly hard, some might say - to develop that brain into the wicked piece of machinery it is.
Luthor’s also rich. Super rich. Mega rich. Super-mega-ultra rich. The kind of rich that Bill Gates only WISHES he could be.
Anyone that rich is bound to be powerful as well. Luthor’s got the kind of “connections” that allow him to make one quick phone call and destroy the life of a person hundreds of miles away, no questions asked. (In one story arc, Luthor was even President of the United States – for a short time.)
He’s also physically powerful. Unlike most rich, brainy guys, Luthor’s in remarkable shape. He may not be able to physically beat up Superman – even with the aid of his cool exo-skeleton strength-enhancer – but he’s got enough muscles to put up a good fight with your regular first class boxer.
Finally, Luthor’s so cool that he doesn’t need to run around in spandex or drape some silly cape around him. Granted, every now and then someone at DC Comics decides to throw him into an ugly skintight outfit. But that never lasts long. Lex Luthor knows that any suit he wears is a power suit, so why not stick with some slick Armani?
How did Lex Luthor lose his hair?
He’s the perfect foil for Superman. Which brings up the question, “How did Lex Luthor develop this incredible grudge against Superman? What did the Man of Steel do to make Luthor devote his entire life to Superman’s destruction?”
The answer: Superman made him lose his hair.
First, a point of clarification: Superman has been around in comics, films and television for over 70 years and Luthor for almost that long. Over the years, their origins have been rewritten and revised more times than John Travolta has had comebacks. Luthor’s hatred of Superman being linked to his loss of hair doesn’t exist in all of the versions, but it’s arguably the one that most Superman fans remember.
This all goes back to the days when Lex and Superman were teen-agers, living in a bucolic little town called Smallville. Superman was only Superboy then, and Lex was a brilliant student who was intent on doing good for the world.
One day, Lex was conducting an experiment in his lab when something went wrong. The building caught fire, and Lex cried for help.
Meanwhile, Superboy saw smoke pouring from the lab and heard Lex’s cries. He used his powerful Kryptonian lungs to blow out the fire. In the process, however, he also blew a batch of chemicals onto Lex’s head, causing his to hair fall out and rendering him permanently bald.
In the manner typical of comic books of the time, Lex somehow knew immediately, without the need for tests, that his hair was gone forever and would never come back. Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, he foreswore using his genius for good and took an oath to devote his life to evil in general and the destruction of Superman in particular.
A bit of an over-reaction, to be sure. But many who have been unprepared for the rate at which their hair has fallen out can at least identify with his anger, his confusion – and his desire to be able to pin the blame for the hair loss on something or someone solid and tangible.
As extreme has Luthor’s reaction may be, it’s one that certainly strikes a chord with the (mostly male) readers of comic books. Even the younger readers understand that losing one’s hair can be a “big deal” and may make a person feel differently about himself.
Fortunately, most people deal with this in a more reasonable manner than Luthor. They either accept hair loss as part of their lives or else they find an alternative that restores their physical appearance in a manner with which they feel comfortable.
So as cool as Luthor is, as rich, powerful and awesomely intelligent as he is, he has still wasted and destroyed his life by his inability to move beyond this singular event in his life.
Thankfully, that’s the kind of thing that only happens in comic books…right?
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