REVIEW: Superman #33 Has Fun with Lex Luthor as an Actual (Maybe) Hero

Lex Luthor had seemingly been groomed to serve as the new ruler of Apokolips as seen a couple of years back in “The Darkseid War,” but upon the advent of DC Comics’ Rebirth era, he instead fancied himself as Metropolis’ new incarnation of Superman. Likewise, Action Comics recently posited that Lex is destined to become Lord of Apokolips at some point in the future. In between, though, is Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Superman #33, where Lex’s apparent abandonment of his throne post-“Darkseid War” hasn’t gone over well with some of his would-be subjects. Drawn by Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza, part one of “Imperius Lex” is a fun study of Lex’s reformed character and his relationship with Superman, as DC’s outwardly transformed flagship villain finds himself with a potential open road to even greater villainy.

As Superman and Lex, bearing his armor emblazoned with his one-time foe’s insignia, pursue a group of armed robbers, Tomasi and Gleason establish a new dynamic between the two — not as enemies, or even uneasy allies, but as genuine crimefighting partners. Mahnke and Mendoza’s energetic introduction of Metropolis’ own Dynamic Duo immediately recalls many a past classic where a reformed Lex proves himself to be a hero when he wants — only to eventually turn bad again. Here, though, the vibe sincerely feels different, as the chemistry between Metropolis’ most iconic denizens isn’t unlike that often seen between close friends — perhaps even more so, in fact, as their outright politeness is absent of any trash talking or sarcasm. The duo’s exchange carries a kind of refreshing Silver Age nostalgia.

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When the two part ways only for Lex to later run into trouble, it turns out that Superman is Lex’s go-to guy for immediate help, evoking Jimmy Olsen’s best dude-in-distress impression — another Silver Age staple. Clark’s unexpected response, though, is a modern-day twist that’s all too fitting for his new role as a family man, and gives Tomasi and Gleason the opportunity to explore classic Superman tropes, but play them out in a newer environment for the Man of Steel that itself has only begun to be discovered. Similarly, Lex’s response in turn reminds readers that, although he now appears to be one of the good guys, he’s still Lex Luthor, and he’s clearly still all-too accustomed to having his demands met.

Superman might be plenty used to getting caught up in Lex’s machinations, but this time, his family gets caught up along with him, and find themselves transported to a familiar location that’s definitely not a place for a family night out. The development not only sets up Tomasi and Gleason’s story for a compelling chapter next issue, but also the potential for exploration of more untrodden territory, such as Superman’s reaction to Lex, albeit inadvertently, putting his family in danger. There’s also the parademon-in-the-room question: what exactly happened to Lex in between “Darkseid War” and Rebirth, and will a career as a pseudo-Darkseid prove to deliver more satisfaction to the former criminal mind than one as a pseudo-Superman?

This pervasive Apoko-Lex idea is one that doesn’t seem to be going away, nor should it, as it tests Lex’s newly-developed status quo. Whether Lex can’t stay away from Apokolips, or vice versa, Superman #33 is a fun and insightful continuation.

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