Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Villains Tale, Luthor Is At Least Worth The Read!

The Good: Decent character work, Engaging plot, Some of the artwork
The Bad: Much of the penciling is rough.
The Basics: Through an elaborate series of machinations, Lex Luthor attempts to turn Metropolis against Superman in a largely successful anthology.

As I near the end of my Wonder Woman Year, I have been finding it increasingly difficult to get in the last five graphic novel (trade paperback anthologies) from the Amazon Princess and as such, I have gone out several times to find that I had nothing to read while out, save non-Wonder Woman works. Today, when Barnes & Noble let me down (why does every major outlet think the only Wonder Woman work they ought to carry is Love And Murder?!), I did see something new on the shelf which caught my eye. That was Luthor, the new graphic novel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo.

It ought to be noted that I have no real love of Superman and in the last year, I have only read one book from the Superman line because, well, largely, the character is monolithic and lacks subtlety, which tends to be of far less interest to me, both as a writer and a reader.  So, the promise of a story that focused exclusively on Lex Luthor was of more interest to me and that is what Luthor offered.  There I can offer the first public service of a reviewer: DON'T READ THE BACK OF THE BOOK!  The back to Luthor dramatically understates the character motivation of the protagonist and essentially rehashes the in-text big character moment of Luthor.  The key for a book about Lex Luthor would have to be making Lex Luthor a viable protagonist and one whom the reader wants to empathize with.  Sadly, once one truly understands his perspective, the book does not go beyond that and thus, reading the back of Luthor pretty much sells the reader out on the idea of Luthor's journey.

What the back of the book doesn't ruin is the plot.  I'm happy not to ruin that either, but I will say what Luthor is about . . .

After a conversation between Lex Luthor and his evening janitor, Stanislaw Levin, Luthor has Mona  - his assistant - get Levin's son into an exceptionally exclusive school which Lex endows.  At the same time in Chechnya, Mr. Ott, working for Lex Luthor, rescues a scientist, Dr. Sasha Ferov.  Ferov, an obvious victim of a setup returns to Metropolis and LexCorp with the assurances that he will be safe and there Lex Luthor begin utilizing his talents to have him rehabilitate a woman.

The function of that woman soon becomes clear.  Her name is Hope and she is charged with the task of protecting Metropolis.  Within a week of her arrival, she has captured the hearts and minds of Metropolis and is offering the citizens there a very human alternative to Superman.  Luthor also enlists the aid of fellow businessman Bruce Wayne to see his plot to fruition and the unlikely alliance develops into a plot wherein Hope must rescue Metropolis from a killing spree from the Toyman!

Luthor is a pretty tight conspiracy story and what makes it work so well are two things.  The first is that there is a lot going on on the plot level.  Lex Luthor has his hands in many pies and through Ott, the reader sees that he is a master player playing all sorts of elements within his own organization against one another.  Ott “rescues” the one scientist in the world who can help Luthor bring Hope to full power and to give her a mission.  But Ott also handles the wetworks for a union problem Lex is having and he is acting as an intermediary hiring the Toyman, which makes him one of the most valuable members of Luthor’s staff.  But while the story might have a tendency to drag, writer Brian Azzarello mixes it up enough to keep the pace interesting and the plot elements feeling new.  So, for example, while Luthor is busy meeting with Bruce Wayne to give him a gift of kryptonite, Batman and Superman have a battle which is intercut with the scene, from after the gift is given.  Luthor is a surprisingly adeptly told story with enough elements to keep readers interested, even if much of it is not a surprise.

What makes the journey so worthwhile are the characters: Lex Luthor and Hope.  Luthor has a perspective which becomes easy to understand in Luthor which is that Superman acts as protector and guide based only on his word and his sense of morals.  But Superman isn’t human and Luthor lives with a fear that Superman could simply change his mind at any moment and no one on Earth could stop him.   But more than being about fear, Lex Luthor is characterized almost equally (or more) by hope.  In Luthor, Lex is a visionary who wants to keep pushing the envelope of human evolution, cunning and development.  He sees Superman as an artificial barrier to that.  In other words, because so many people view Superman as the ideal, that is what they strive to be, not something better than or beyond him.  And Luthor considers that Superman isn’t human even, therefore making that limit is like giving up before humanity tries.  So, his mission is to discredit and drive off Superman so humans can achieve more and, yes, he can continue prospering  beyond any realistic sense of need.

To that end, Luthor has Hope.  Hope is a hot new number flying around in a silver suit, rescuing people and missing the first attempt by the Toymaker, which makes her appear more vulnerable and human to the populace.  Moreover, she knows all the buzzwords to make Metropolis fall in love with her as their “native daughter” and that plays remarkably well for her cause and for the purpose Lex is using her for.  Regardless, there is a charm to the naivite of Hope which makes her interesting beyond her comic book looks.

Unfortunately, Luthor is still a tough sell for graphic novel readers in its artwork.  The artwork is great in the coloring.  Panels oscillate between golden tones for rooms at sunset, dark clubs in Gotham with distinctive blue tones and a steel tone for work environments.  The colors are lush and some of the images of the title character look almost like presidential portraits.  But the penciling is wildly erratic.  Most of the pencilwork looks like sketches, with the images having a sloppy, less finished look to them.  What is interesting and distinct is Superman.  In the few scenes he is in Luthor, he is portrayed with an accent on his alien nature, his eyes always blazing red and that helps sell Lex Luthor’s perspective throughout the work.

And that is certainly enough to recommend the volume.  Anyone looking for a story that makes a good argument in favor of a villain and his perspective will find something in Luthor to enjoy!

For other graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Olympian
Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps


For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts.  May not be reprinted without permission.

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