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Lex Luthor- Psychology of a Supervillain

Updated on May 16, 2012
"I'd hate for you to miss what comes next."
"I'd hate for you to miss what comes next."

To wit, my formal psychological qualifications are pretty much...nil. I've had maybe one class at what I suppose compares to first year university level, and I remember very little of it. The following is based on my own reading, with a heavy emphasis on the work of Theodore Millon. I will only say that comic book villains are, by their nature, pretty easy to profile, so a formal qualifications isn't strictly necessary. But I will submit to the wisdom of the learned




The Arch-Enemy of Superman and one of the most recognisable and established villains in any fictional medium, Lex Luthor needs little introduction. Brilliant scientist, billionaire industrialist and criminal mastermind, Luthor has a deep, obsessive and pathological hatred for the Man of Steel, the hero who endlessly thwarts his evil schemes and who pushes him into his shadow by dint of his mere existence.

Biography

Luthor was created in the Golden Age of Comics and, like many villains, his exact origins have been rewritten several times, though at present and since the 80's and 90's he is an industrialist who made his fortune through a combination of his scientific genius and dubious, and often outright illegal, business practices. He is quite possibly the smartest man in a world filled with aliens and futuristic scientists, but uses his incredible mental powers for selfish and evil purposes.

Early Life

As a consequence of his frequently rewritten origins and goals (he was originally simply a warlord and later a mad scientist and criminal mastermind, not a successful industrialist) Lex's family background is somewhat inconsistent. In the Golden and Silver age, his parents were good people who disowned him after he became an infamous villain and changed their surnames in shame, and he had a younger sister, Lena, who was kept in the dark about her brother's true identity- he agreed to this, and he cared for her. He comes from Smallville and has a moderately middle-class background.

In most later depictions, however,Luthor's parents are depicted as negligent at best and abusive at worst, and almost always trying to exploit his gifts to make money off of him. In The Man of Steel, he grew up in poverty in the Suicide Slums of Metropolis until they noticed how brilliant he was, and forced him to enter science competitions and otherwise profit from his gifts while keeping the money for themselves; in retaliation, Lex secretly murdered his parents for the insurance and in expanded versions of the story was taken in with a foster family, where Lena was his foster sister and where again his new family attempts to con him out of his money, this time resulting in Lena being beaten to death by her own father. Luthor responds to this by killing him personally after he has made his fortune, after paying him to assassinate the mayor of Metropolis who was getting in Luthor's way.

Lionel Luthor
Lionel Luthor
LexCorp Tower
LexCorp Tower
Lex blaming Superboy for his hairloss
Lex blaming Superboy for his hairloss

Superman: Birthright and subsequent versions tend to merge the two histories- Lex spent all or part of his life in Smallville; his father was Lionel Luthor (adapted from the Smallville character- Lex's fathers original name was Jules) and again either expoited Lex to make the family wealthy or was an abusive alcoholic where the Luthor's lived in poverty- both times, Lionel dies as a result of Lex's actions, though in the former case it is an accidental fire and the same incident that causes Lex to lose his hair. During the New Krypton event Lena is alive, but Lex does not care for her at all, and abandoned her with their aunt. He makes her catatonic just to prove how little he cares for her. In these versions he tends to be friends with Clark Kent, and is a budding astrophysicist, interested in life on other worlds

LexCorp

In any case, the modern Luthor is a successful businessman who made his fortune legitimately, though still engages in criminal activity to secure and expand his power and advance his interests, including theft and murder. After graduating from MIT he founds the aerospace engineering company LexCorp, which very quickly becomes a multinational conglomerate with a wide range of divisions, mostly but not exclusive relating to science and technology, as well as the media. He uses LexCorp to transform the city of Metropolis, where Lex lives and where his company is based, into a futuristic (metaphorical) kingdom with LexCorp as its nerve-centre. He attracted, and sought to attract, the best and brightest scientists in the world to his company, and he managed to do just that even though rival science and technology firms like STAR Labs and Wayne Enterprises were set up in Metropolis too, providing his company with healthy competition and making Metropolis even more spectacular.

The HQ of LexCorp is Lex Tower, the tallest building in Metropolis, which Lex claims to have built- and spent obscene, not to mention excessive, millions of dollars on- mainly for the purpose of being able to stand at the top (where his office, and possibly his home, are both based) and look down on everyone beneath him. One of his issues with Superman, in fact, is that when they meet there Superman often hovers above him so Lex is forced to look up at him.

In the Silver Age, Lex had another company called the Thunder Corporation, which was profitable but mainly served as a front to fund his evil schemes. Every version of Lex has access to a sizeable fortune and no version of him is especially interested in money for its own sake, but as a means to finance his plots against Superman or as a way or keeping score or taking power. At more than one point, it is pointed out that LexCorp is actually losing a lot of money because so many projects are dedicated to undermining or destroying Superman, financially frutiless both in itself and especially thanks to how often each of them inevitably fail.

Superman

The origins of Luthors' emnity for the Man of Steel is another detail rendered inconsistent by continuity problems. Originally, he and Superman had never met before Superman thwarted his originaly scheme (to start a war in Europe) and Lex wanted simple revenge and to remove an obstacle; shortly after, however, it was establsihed that Lex grew up in Smallville and knew and was friends with both Clark Kent and his alter-ego Superboy (in typical fashion, not making the connection) and Superboy accidentally caused one of Lex's experiments to backfire, resulting in his hair loss- Luthor, enraged, accuses Superboy of doing so out of jealousy.

In most other versions, whether he knew Clark Kent and once lived in Smallville or not, Lex does not turn against Superman until after he arrives in Metropolis, though in Birthright he does so almost immediately and seemingly with no provocation other than Superman being "the alien" (and upon remeeting Clark, he denies knowing him or having ever lived in Smallville). In The Man of Steel, he arranges an attack on his yaucht by terrorists (with a party in attendance) to see Superman in action and to offer him the opportunity to combine their forces for their own mutual benefit; Superman's disgust with Luthor and scheme leads to Lex instead trying to kill him, and later growing obsessed with destroying him after each failure and with Superman's quest to bring him to justice.

Death and Return

Luthor began carrying a Kryptonite ring on his person, hoping to one day use it to finally kill Superman, but he later learned that it had given him terminal cancer, which he blames on Superman. He fakes his death and has his brain transferred to a younger, healthy clone and in that body poses as his own son and heir, and retakes his company poses as a benevolent philanthropist, and seduces Supergirl (not Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin, but an alternate universe Lana Lang), but his true identity and extensive criminal activities- up to and including mass murder- are exposed by Lois Lane after his clone body degenerates, resulting in hair loss and a severely weakned body, left in a near-vegetative state- he is arrested, and vows revenge on Superman.

In the middle of this, Lex nearly destroys Metropolis as a last hurrah with a missle barrage, but is talked out of it by Superman who asks him if he wants to be remembered as a crazed mass murderer (one of Lex's assistants sets them off anyway, but the demon Satanus redirects most of them); it is also revealed he had several similar plans set up years ago in the event of exposure or to conceal his crimes, including drugging the city with a hallucinagenic gas that accidtely goes off as well.

Luthor is restored to full health after selling his soul to the demon Neron- reasoning that souls don't exist, and if they do he does not have one, so he is gaining something for nothing. He succesfully blames his crimes on a degenerate clone, is acquitted of all charges and retakes his company.

President Luthor

In the late 1990s Gotham City, following a major terrorist attack, an earthquake and the breakout of its supervillain population, and due to its notorious crime rate, is declared a "No Man's Land" by the United States government over protest. Luthor capitalizes on this and organizes a massive rescue and rejuvination effort in defiance of Congress, though his plan to destroy all of Gotham's public records (and thus steal any land he wants) is thwarted by Batman. Nonetheless, through his efforts Gothman is restored and given a futuristic overhaul, and returns to the United States. With this, and his reputation as a benevolent philanthropist and innovator, Lex gains enough popular support to become President of the United States.

President Luthor
President Luthor

In the run-up to this, Metropolis is attacked by Brainiac, and then Brainiac's future self Braniac 13, who attempts to conquer the world and cybernetically takes over the minds of nearly everyone in the city. The original Brainiac is trapped in the body of Lex's infant daughter Lena, by his last wife the Contessa, and helps Superman and Lex to defeat his future self. However, Brainiac 13 offers Lex knowledge of an impending attack on Earth by the powerful alien Imperiex and offers him knowledge of this and access to some of Brainaic 13's technology in return for custofy of Lena- Brainiac; Lex agrees and surrenders his daughter, and uses the tech to boost LexCorp's monopoly on the scientific industry.

After clashing with Superman and other heroes on several occasions, and even making a hybrid clone of himself and Superman that would become Conner Kent, the new Superboy, Imperiex attacks as Brainiac promised, triggering the event called the Imperiex War, and Luthor allies with numerous alien races, even Darkseid and Apokolips, to combat the threat, as Imperiex's goal is to trigger a new Big Bang and remake the universe. Superman, after failing on his own and seeing the casualties, agrees to follow Luthor's lead in the battle, and in the end both Imperiex and the traitorous Brainiac 13 are destroyed.

Luthor's Presidency is marked by numerous shadowy criminal dealings and public attempts to control the planet's superhero community, as well as many other attacks by alien forces and others, but he is in many ways a successful President, as America's economy booms under his leadership and many scientific advances are made and funded. He briefly is given Supermans' idenity from the telepathic anti-villain Black Manchester, though Manchester decides to remove it later. For the most part, publicly, he is a popular and successful President.

However, Lois Lane later uncovers the evidence that Luthor knew about the attack in advance; sometimes after, a Kryptonite meteor is discovered to be heading towards Earth, and Lex publicly blames this on Superman and puts a billion-dollar bounty on his head; increasingly irrational due to a reliance on the super-steroid Venom, President Luthor even attempts to kill Superman, by himself in a power suit before he can stop the meteor. He is defeated, the stock of his company is sold to Wayne Enterprises' by its new CEO Talia Al Ghul, whom he had put in charge, and in the face of damning evidence (including admitting to Superman that he did indeed know about the Imperiex crisis in advance and, further, sold Doomsday to Darkseid in return for weapons, unaware Batman was recording the whole thing) and his public maniacal behaviour, is impeached and removed from office after a 3-year term in absentia after disappearing in disgrace.

Infinite Crisis, 52 and Final Crisis

However, after a brief return to his mad scientist roots, Lex seemingly organizes a new Secret Society of Supervillains and orchestrates the Infinite Crisis event that includes the Society destroying Bludhaven (adjacent to Gotham) and an attempted World Domination scheme. In reality, this is his formerly heroic alternate reality counterpart Alexander Luthor, who wanted to turn Earth into a Utopia with his plans. Lex defeats him, lets the Joker kill him, and dumps his body in alley and makes it out to look more like himself; when the body is discovered and proven, as he planned, to not be the real Luthor, Lex once again frames his own actions on a lookalike impostor and restores his reputation, and retakes control of his company.

Lex Luthor - 52
Lex Luthor - 52
"You could have saved the world years ago if it mattered to you, Luthor."
"You could have saved the world years ago if it mattered to you, Luthor."

In the proceeding year, in the 52 event, Superman and several other heroes are absent from the world, but a hero with similar powers named Supernova begins fighting crime in the city- Lex mistakenly believes him to be Superman, and thinks he is trying to mock him. He founds a new church, the Lutheran Church, and organizes what he calls the Everyman Project, whereby his company offers to give ordinary people superpowers, providing they have the Metagene, starting with a group who would be his first voluntary test subjects and would form the latest incarnation of the superhero team Infinity Inc. under his control. The group includes Natasha Irons, neice of John Henry Irons, the superhero Steel and an old enemy of Lex, who performed the autopsy on Alexander and tries to warn his niece against trusting Lex. Unknown to Irons, the chemicals for the Everyman Project were hidden in Alexander's body and he was exposed to them, and his skin is turned into living iron that he cannot turn off.

Lex has the power to turn the superpowers of the Everyman Project on or off at will, and in testing it out kills a member of Infinity Inc. One of his scientists, not trusting him, lies that he does not possess the Metagene and cannot give himself superpowers- enraged, and still convinced that Supernova is Superman, Lex engineers a mass-shutdown of every superpowered individual apart from the members of Infinity Inc.- since Flight was a common power, this results in hundreds of deaths and damage that causes the deaths of hundreds civilians more as well as resulting in massive damage to the city, but Supernova- actually the hero Booster Gold in disguise- manages to save several people anyway, ruining Lex's plan which was aimed at discrediting him by making him look impotent.

Lex discovered he could gain powers after all and gave himself the powers of Superman, but he was defeated by the efforts of Irons and Infinity Inc. before he could conquer the planet (planning to rename it "Lexor"). He avoided imprisonment for his crimes but in the face of massive public backlash is financially ruined once again and the citizens of Metropolis turned on him, several scathing articles written by Clark Kent villainized him further. He became an active supervillain again and was embroiled in various schemes against Superman and occasionally involving other villains, and eventually became a member of the new Secret Society under Libra, who was actually an agent of Darkseid, who had discovered the Anti-Life Equation and hasd begun using it to enslave humanity. Deciding he preferred "Life", Lex and several members of the Society teamed up with Superman and other heroes and helped to defeat the evil god.

New Krypton,The Blackest Night and attaining Ultimate Power

Nonetheless, Luthor was arrested for his crimes, but was secretly smuggled out of prison by members of the government- including Lois Lane's father General Sam Lane, long thought killed during the Imperiex War- to work on Project 7734, aimed at preparing Earth to fight alien menaces, including Superman, now, and the population of the Kryptonian city of Kandor, who were freed by the Man of Steel after he recently fought and killed Brainiac, whose body Lane gave to Luthor to study. The citizens of Kandor were now living, uneasily, on Earth, but using Brainiac's technology create a new planet Krypton near Earth. Lex revived Brainiac and eventually allied with him, escaped custody by murdering his guards, and started working with Brainiac to provoke a war between the two worlds in return for ruling the Earth.

Orange Lantern Lex Luthor
Orange Lantern Lex Luthor

New Krypton does indeed declare war on the Earth and, through a chain of events, Luthor helps cause its destruction and kills the majority of its inhabitants, saving the Earth from his own disaster. He receives a paradon for his crimes and again ressurects LexCorp. During the Blackest Night event, after trying to hide it out for fear the ressurected zombies included the vengeful corpses of many of his victims (they did). He joins the fight against the Black Lanters, including a possessed and undead Superman, and gains an Orange Power Ring which represents, and is powered by, the emotion of Greed, Lex's proves overwhelming that the sole other Orange Lantern, the alien Larfreeze, is horrified and disgusted, and infected with its power Lex starts stealing the rings of everyone on the battlefield, despite that risking a Black Lantern victory.

He is stopped by Wonder Woman who, with her Lasso of Truth, forces him to confess that he secretly wants to be Superman, and after the crisis is over Larfreeze takes the Orange ring back from him. Later, he is obsessively studying a Black Lantern ring in order to regain the power he lost, whilst an attempt on his life by an unknown LexCorp employee is foiled and shrugged off, and his investigations, and plans to kill Superman culminated with him accidentally unleashing an all-powerful entity from the Phantom Zone into the universe, which threatened to kill everything in it. He merged with it and attained ultimate power, but when the creature was cured of its malevolence Lex learnt that he could not use it to harm Superman or anyone else- in disgust, he gave up the power, feeling that it was worthless. He seemingly dies after falling into a Phantom Zone hole created by the creature, but the Flashpoint reboot of the DC universe rendered all this moot.

Luthor destroys Lexor and blames Superman
Luthor destroys Lexor and blames Superman
Superman as Lex sees him
Superman as Lex sees him
Lex bullys an employee into a "romantic" dinner with him
Lex bullys an employee into a "romantic" dinner with him
The Contessa- Wife Number 8
The Contessa- Wife Number 8
Lex with Hope
Lex with Hope
Lex and his daughter Lena- "Everything I do, I do for you."
Lex and his daughter Lena- "Everything I do, I do for you."

Personality

In the Silver Age, at one point Luthor finds and conquers an alien planet and renames it Lexor; he marries, starts a family and turns it into a blissful utopia and forgets all about his hatred for Superman, but when Superman himself comes to the planet, Lex turns against him again and ends up destroying the planet and his beloved family in the process; weeping, he blames this on Superman, and vows to renew his efforts to kill him.

In Lex Luthor: Man of Steel and many other modern works, Lex has accused Superman of being an enemy of humanity. He argues that Superman, whom he calls "the alien", with his phenomenal power that he can't or won't share with the human race, sets an unreasonably high standard for humanity to compete with, whereas Lex offers scientific advances that everyone can enjoy (though he puts profit ahead of this and has even held cures for diseases off the market because he feels he can make more money off of placebos, and possibly for the power). He often claims that he could turn the world into a utopia if Superman was not always getting in his way, namely by not admitting Lex's superiority (or letting Lex kill him). In Superman: Red Son, a world where Superman grew up in the Soviet Union, by the end of the story he has defeated Superman and done just that, taking over the world and kicking off a golden age that lasts millions of years.

For Superman and his allies, Lex's claims are just a sign of his egomania, since even when Superman is absent from the planet for lengthy periods or even appears to be dead (by anothers' hand) Lex still wastes much of his money on anti-Superman schemes. Lex has no qualms about working with other aliens, like Brainiac, who are genuinelly hostile to the human race, though Lex has proved capable of defeating him. On several occasions, Lex has claimed that Superman' heroism is an act ("no one can be that heroic") and that he is actually trying to make Lex look bad and steal Lex's glory.

In the The Man of Steel continuity, in a detail that is largely adhered to, Lex has been married 8 times before Superman arrives in Metropolis, his most recent wife being the Contessa del Portenza, a marriage based on mutual greed and personal advancement, and which is inherintely unstable. The Contessa at one point blackmails Luthor with the pregnancy of her child; he responds by drugging her and keeping her catatonic until she has given birth to their daughter, who he names after Lena. After many power struggles with and subsequently divorcing Lex she escapes to a private island away from his influence and with a portion of his wealth, but upon achieving the Presidency one of Lex's first acts is to order a missle strike on the island, killing her.

The modern Lex, in his relationships with women, can reasonably be described as a sexual predator. He has several failed marriages behind him, at least one- and probably most if not all- based on personal gain, hoping to gather from it connections, money and power. He is not above bullying women, even women in his employ, into "romantic" and sexual relationships with him. In Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Lex creates a robotic superhero named Hope, who is unaware that she is a robot, and programmes her to have relations with him, but later in the story kills her in order to frame Superman for her "murder".

Lex is an incredibly arrogant and self-centred individual who enjoys manipulating and outwitting people, but rarely partakes in physical violence personally (though he is unafraid to). He is utterly fearless to the point of recklessness, as demonstrated foremostly by the fact that he has waged a blood war on a nigh-invincible alien being possessed of a wide range of superhuman abilities, and his involvement in a range of criminal enterprises that would merit him the death penalty thousands of times over if caught and convicted. In All Star Superman he is actually on death row throughout the story, but is more concerned with killing Superman than his impending demise. None the less, he is unwilling to sacrifice his own life for the sake of anyone else, though from Red Son and others it can be inferred that he would accept death if his ambitions in life were realized first, above all an ultimate victory over Superman.

That said, Lex has shown a genuine fondness for his children, though likely because he sees them as an extension of himself and he rarely if ever put their best interests ahead of his own. He once discovered that he was the father of Perry White's son Jerry, who then died in a car accident (Perry White, in this version, was an old friend of Lex' from school; Lex had a relationship with his wife, but only when both of them believed he was dead)- Lex mourned over his grave and regretted not knowing him better. He cared enough about his daughter to name her after his sister Lena, though he gave her up for Brainiac 13's knowledge; and he has a genuine interest in the life of his half-clone Superboy, though in his worst moments (after escaping custody after being convicted for his crimes, and having lost everything) he considered him a "failed experiment" and went out of his way to mistreat his sister just to "prove" how little blood means to him- this may not be genuine and might be the equivalent of a temper tantrum, but his care for them is likely related to seeing himself in somebody else, and not straightforward love.

Lex deludedly believes that his enemies are motivated by personal envy against him, and who himself is motivated largely by personal jealousy versus Superman. He has made several attempts to clone Superman including Bizarro and Superboy, and many others to imitate or surpass his powers. Prior to Supermans public "arrival" Lex was driven entirely by a selfish quest for money, glory and power and believed that he was entitled to it- much of his feud with Superman rests on his notion that he, the smartest and most successful man on the planet, is the real Superman, whereas Superman is not a man at all, but a godlike alien.

Luthor considers himself to be an ethical atheist- though he accepts that, in the DC universe, God almost certaintly exists and caused the Big Bang, and though he acknoledges the existence of the various pantheons of other gods that are involved in the origins of heroes like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, and have made themselves known, he is not a religious man and espouses a secular humanist worldview (or such a view as he likes to interpret it). He believes neither in souls not the afterlife- he sold the former on that belief, and denied the existence of Death as a psychopomp even when confronted by her in person.

"I'm the hero!"
"I'm the hero!"

He refuses to believe that he will face some kind of ultimate metaphysical reckoning for his actions (ie. Judgement, or Hell), or that there are absolute notions of Good and Evil that are fundamental to the universe, though he accepts that humanity as a whole tends to lean towards this view and that he would be seen as "evil", and has no problem describing himself as a villain or even taking pride in that fact- this is mostly to mock or parody such an ethical outlook, as when being told that Superman is a hero he has been known to angrily retort that he, Luthor, is the true hero, and Superman is a fake unworthy of worship. It should go without saying that he has absolutely no respect for the law except when it can be used and abused to further or defend his own interests, and rarely if ever gives it any other consideration apart from concealing his involvement in his crimes from the authorities.

In short, his idea of heroism owes more to classical values that modern notions- he believes that heroism should be measured in terms of great deeds and personal ability, not in acts of altruism, and though he often poses as a generous philanthropist he personally believes that nothing is, nor should be, offered without something expected in return. He believes that Superman is only acting heroic because he enjoys the praise, the fame and the glory that comes with it (arguing that no-one could be that noble) and is perplexed, and even angry, that he is not using his power to openly dominate the Earth- as this is what Luthor himself would do. By not acting like this, Lex feels, Superman is causing humanity to be dependant and impotent, though he may simply be upset that his own achievements seem to pale in comparison.

It can be reasonably surmised that Lex cares more for the idea of humanity than for humanity itself. He seems to believe the average person has little to contribute and exists to serve or glorify him and exceptional people like him, a category that may include Superman and some other heroes and supervillains, whom he regards as healthy competition to a degree. In alternate media like Smallville or Batman / Superman: Public Enemies (the animated adaptation) he has been willing to kill off the vast majority of the human race and create a new world led by himself and carefully chosen brilliant people. The achievements of humanity hold more worth for him than the human race itself, though perhaps less than Great Men like him whom he holds to be responsible for these achievements.

In The Man of Steel era one of Lex's scientists mathematically "proves" that Superman is secretly Clark Kent- Lex refuses to believe it and destroys the theorem, believing that someone as powerful as Superman would never pose as someone as meek as Kent, though in a later story while he is President he accepts the idea easily (though in this case, the proof was given to him telepathicaly; further, whereas the previous example occurred early in their feud, by the time Lex is President Clark had proven himself to be a bold and daring journalist who had confronted Luthor directly several times, in print and in person, and was a world-famous writer- in short, he may have earnt some of Lex's respect).

Lex Luthor- The Revenge
Lex Luthor- The Revenge

Apart from his pride, envy and greed, as his glory-hogging nature, Lex Luthor is marked his pathological need to get even or take revenge on those he feels have slighted him. As a youth, he stole a number of cupcakes from the school diner after was refused entry to a science fair at that school (his entry being a fission powered toaster); in adulthood, more sinisterly, he once lost a sparring match with a karate instructor who was teaching him self-defence in front of Supergirl and Lois Lane, who both laughed at this- he retaliated by breaking her neck and dumping her body in a land fill. His obsession with Superman lies largely on the fact that Superman has managed to thwart his plans several times and because he feels he is humiliating him, and he is willing to risk bankrupt his company in order to find a way to defeat or kill him. He had Alexander Luthor killed mainly for daring to pose as him. He regards the ability to harm, humiliate and kill ones enemies and victims to be of such paramount importance that he will surrender even nigh-omnipotent power if he cannot have it.

Profile

Lex Luthor meets the criteria for a number of personality disorders including Anti-Social, Narcissistic, Histrionic and Paranoid, and has signs of several others. He is a high-functioning example, none the less, and is capable of hiding it to an extent or bluffing or bribing his way out of it when his psychosis is exposed in the form of his extensive and serious criminal activities. He does not consider himself to mentally ill in this or any other respect, nor does he usually give thought to the idea.

Lex fearless against a Kryptonian
Lex fearless against a Kryptonian

Using the subtypes of Theodore Millon as a model, Lex at his core is a Covetous Antisocial, a type often drawn to the world of business. Covetous types are a variant of Anti-Social Personality Disorder combined with Narcissistic traits.

The basic Anti-Social temperment has little to no respect for the rights of others, shows a pervasive disregard for and willingness to bend or break the law, has a profound sense of entitlement, and has a diminshed if not outright non-existent capacity for empathy, guilt or remorse. They are often pathological liars, show a reckless indifference to the welfare or themselves or others (with an implicit suggestion that an adrenaline rush can only come with highly risky activity, such as drug-abuse, extreme sports or flouting the law) and lack an ability to plan for the long term.

Lex Luthor meets virtually all the criteria, though the failure to plan for the long term is mitigated by his extraordinary intelligence and ability and his immense personal ambition- it is still somewhat present, though, in his addiction to plots to kill Superman or other supervillain-style schemes. In the Covetous variant, the the sense of entitlement is grossly inflated and the subject possesses an abnormal level of envy and greed, and typically a capacity for extreme vengefulness.

Covetous types feel that life has not given them their due. They believe that they have been cheated out of their fair share in life, be that money, comfort, love or whatever, and that the must take it for themselves, and as antisocial subtypes are willing to violate social norms, laws and values in pursuit. Lex, in most versions of his origin story, was manipulated by his parents, especially his father, into using his gifts for profit in the form of winning science fairs or making intuitive guesses on the stock market, or through other means. His parents forced him to do this while taking charge of whatever money he made for themselves, but were either neglectful or outright abusive towards him in private, and his sister in many tellings. Even worse were the versions where he encountered similar behaviour in his foster home.

In short, Lex was cheated out of money that he had earnt by the people who should have loved him. This not only taught him that he has to take and secure his own fortune in the future for himself, however; it taught him that kindness was weakness and one can gain what they want by exploiting other people, lessons he would internalize even if, as a youth, he found this thoroughly disillusioning. Furthermore, since he was exploited because his mind was so brilliant, and since he even managed to get away with the murder of his parents, Lex gained an even larger sense of entitlement along with a sense of destiny, that he had the potential to be the greatest and most successful man on the planet and to compensate himself for his losses a million times over, though of course he might have wanted to try just to see if he could as well.

In addition, along with the sense that they have been cheated out of their lot, Covetuous types are often prone to believing that others have taken more of their fair share, and are consumed with envy and a desire to take what others have for themselves, or gain something else as a substitute, preferably a superior one. When Lex looks at Superman, he sees someone who has what he should have, and who does not deserve it as much as he, Lex, does.

His capacity for vengeance is demonstrated in his patricide, but it could also be that it helped drive him and keep him disciplined as he went through college and laid the foundations of LexCorp- his vengeance on his family and on the world would be to far greater than any had imagined, and to keep that greatness and all the wealth and power that came with it for himself. It is, of course, also demonstrated in his acts of petty spite such as murdering his karate instructor because he felt humiliated, and in his quest to destroy Superman.

Such behaviour also hints that Lex possesses a Reputation-Defending Antisocial disorder, another blend of sociopathy and narcissistic traits. This type wants people to see them as they wants themselves to be- tough, strong, amazing-, and will vengefully attack any perceived slight or try to prove themselves to be as ruthless and strong as the want their followers- their gang, or whoever works for them- to perceive them. This combination of the Covetous capacity for revenge along with the Reputation-Defendings' tendency to feel slighted and desire to prove themselves helps to explain Luthor's obsession with Superman and the petty extremes he goes to when he feels someone has embarrassed him.

As a Narcissist, Lex embodies the Unprincipaled-Elitist types. The former believe that the normal rules and morals, and sometimes laws, of society do not apply to them, and are related to the Covetous Antisocial type- they may be said to be opposite sides of the same disorder, though a subject can certainly possess both; which is dominant at the time depends mainly on the situation and who they are interacting with, and whether they regard them as a victim or a threat. The Elitists are egomaniacs who create the self-image of a superperson as a goal and identity for themselves, and may have a deep-seated fear of being average, but never regard themselves as being inferior.

The Puny Ants
The Puny Ants
Lex mocks Truth, Justice and the American Way
Lex mocks Truth, Justice and the American Way

Unprincipaled types feel that the rules do not apply to them for any number of reasons; they may believe that they apply to no-one, but they are the only ones with the insight to see it and the superior ability or genius to get away with it. Alternatively, they do not apply to them because they are a superior type of person and such rules are for lesser mortals. Unprincipaled Narcissists are con-men who feed their ego by duping and manipulating, and then usually discarding others, thus "proving" their cleverness or superiority. In Lex's case, his front as a benevolent and philanthropic businessman is an extension of this side of him, and he likes the fact that people believe him and his lies, especially given how often he has been exposed. This likely is the attitude he brought to his many marriages as well, and the reason they failed- once he had gotten what he wanted out of them, his wives were disposable. It is also reflected in his contempt for black and white morality.

His Elitist narcissism is manifested in Lex's belief that he is a Great Man and that he is in competition with others of this type- Superman, other heroes and other villains in this case, though Superman he resents for either not playing or for effectievly rigging the game by virtue of his (for Lex, superficial) altruistic behaviour and incredible power, though as these types tend to take defeat poorly these might just be rants made out of frustration. Lex was exploited in his youth because his parents thought he was an extraordinary genius; his financialy successes proved that he was. For Lex, it was probably the only good thing his family ever did for him- prove to him how special he was, and he didn't need to rely on others who would parasitically exploit him for it.

But Lex is also a Histrionic, a pathological attention seeker. Building the tallest tower in Metropolis just so he can look down on everyone reflects the Covetous and Narcissistic sides to his personality, the former especially likes to rub the faces of others in their victories; but it also suggests that he likes people looking up at him, and wants to be acknowledged. That he only cared about being a hero when Superman appeared and started getting attention and love is a further sign of this.

Lex, as a Histrionic, is most likely a Disengenous subtype, which again is related to the Unprincapaled Narcissist type- the differences between them, again, can be accounted for by what Lex wants or expects out of a given situation, out of his audience or relationship. In youth the closest he got to any kind of love was the attention he got out of winning prizes and proving how smart he was, and it is not surprising that he takes attention and praise as suitable and desirable substitutes for love, which he craves on the one hand but deeply distrusts on the other, and has trouble believing is real or has depth.

Whereas the Unprincipaled discards their victims without a second thought, and may even enjoy doing so, the Disengenous wants to hold onto their attention and respect even though the put them through an otherwise idenitcal pattern of maipulation and abuse. This may be where Lex's love of humantiy, or the idea of humanity, comes from, and it is certainly part of his resentment of Superman. No matter how low his opinion of the vast majority of the human race and maybe everyone he ever meets, Lex wants and needs people, and will always need humanity to give him the praise he thinks he deserves. He won't destroy the human race unless there is someoe alive afterwards to praise or, if not, at least hate him. Hate, after all, is another form of attention, and Lex does not mind if certain people hate him, at least so long as it doesn't cost him his possessions. Superman is a rival for the attentions of Metropolis, but he is also a source of attention himself.

"I could stop famine, cure cancer. My mind is capable of anything. But none of that can happen as long as Superman takes up my time."
"I could stop famine, cure cancer. My mind is capable of anything. But none of that can happen as long as Superman takes up my time."

The Disengenuous type is a blend of Histrionic and Antisocial disorders. These types believe that the main and only reason people like or respect them is because of what they themselves did or are, that they are making people like them through their own manipulations or efforts, that they are even tricking them into doing so. On their worst days this can make them resentful of the people whose affection or attention they are after, making them paranoid about the depth of their feelings and bitterly viewing others as parasites or obstacles. During the New Krypton arc, Lex went out of his way to be cruel and spiteful to his sister Lena and son Superboy, because he had lost everything and the people of Metropolis had jeered him when they found out what he was. He felt betrayed by them, whose affection he had bought with his facade of generous entrepreneur and with the city he built for them, and was taking it out on others.

All the same, this is partly why a world ruled by him might not be so bad- he wants to prove that he can solve all the worlds problems for the sake of his ego, but he also wants people to like him for it. The tension is that he is in turns much more manipulative, abusive and self-centred that disengensuous types tend to be due to his other disorders, and can't make up his mind about whether he needs other people because he wants their attention and / or love, or because they are tools to work his great deeds for the sake of his own desires. It is, of course, why he sees Superman as unfair competition, and why he tends to think everything Superman does is about him but also why he thinks Superman cannot be as noble as he seems- aside from the narcissistic sociopathic contempt for kindness and inability to see its worth, there is a fear that Superman really is that good, and he can't compete with that.

This also reflects the inherent instability of these various disorders all together in one man. As a sociopath, Lex cannot and will not empathise with or care about others, and as a Covetous and Unpricipalled type sees everyone as a potential victim or a potential threat. Yet as a Histrionic and as a Covetous he craves love, or at least attention if love cannot be trusted, while as a Narcissist of the Elitist type he wants recognition but imagines himself to be self-reliant. He wants people to love him and can live with them hating him, but he cannot abide losing them at least when he loses all the possessions and power that he holds dear, and he loathes the idea of those same people taking it from him and then trying to forget about him. Further, his sociopathy interprets love as either weakness or deception, so he is inherently suspicious of and predatory towards the very people whose love he craves. He is prepared to kill to either preserve his reputation or to avenge it. How likely he is to do that is dependant on his mood, whether he is particularly narcissitic and predatory or histrionic and caring about what people will think of him.

Lex thinks Parasite was after him rather tha Clark / Superman.  "See what happens to anyone who crosses me, Kent?"
Lex thinks Parasite was after him rather tha Clark / Superman. "See what happens to anyone who crosses me, Kent?"
The joy of killing Superman
The joy of killing Superman

This instability, of course, leads to his primary paranoid delusion- that Superman, and sometimes others (such as in All-Star Superman where Parasite was chasing Clark Kent, interviewing Luthor in prison) are jealous or envious of him and that virtually all of their behaviour is really attempts steal from his, his glory, his fame, his money or whatever. This reflects his Covetous feelings of emptiness and the need to compensate himself for what life has cheated out of him, and Narcissists often assume that others envy them as part of their need to see themselves as superior to everyone else. But Luthor's Histrionic side also screams out at this, as he imagines himself to be the centre of attention and has worked hard to make that so, to make Metropolis in particular revolve around him. People like Superman, who act heroic for selfish glory-hogging ends, must envy Luthor for having found that glory already, and earned it through hard work, as Luthor sees it.

Luthor's personal philosophy, a pseudo-Humanism, is fed by his outlook. His concerns are with the material world and with material concrete concerns, because that is what he is good at and that is what he gets praise for. As a Disingenuous, though he is exploitative and abusive towards his own sources of attention- in this case, the human race- he is reluctant to discarf them and feels a warped sense of loyalty towards them, for lack of a better term. Alien races or spiritual planes of existence, however, are just that to him- alien, and he has come to see them mostly as something for humanity and himself to compete against or deem irrelevant. His antisocial nature and narcissism both scoff at the idea that he will face an ultimate reckoning for his crimes, especially as he feels that normal human ethics do not apply to him or "supermen" like him who drive human progress, while his histrionic side deems anything that belittles everything that gives him glory- his money, his success, his power- to be unimportant. Luthor may have been an atheist with or without these personality disorders, or whether or not he was a strongly ethical man, but his brand of atheism owes much to them.

Finally, Luthor is a sadist, but not in how the term is usually understood. Apart from his Unprincipaled love of outwitting and conning people, Luthor rarely hurts another for pleasure, unless he feels they have personally slighted him in someway and he is avenging a past wrong. But he surrendered unlimited power because it would not allow him to hurt people, not just Superman but anyone else, and he once left his sister catatonic to prove his ruthlessness and self-centredness, along with numerous other acts of petty cruelty. But he does not seem to care enough about the average person to take pleasure in causing pain for its own sake, nor is he especially abusive to those few who are close to him.

Instead, and in line with his bigotry against "the alien" and hatred of Superman, Luthor is a Malignant Paranoid and Spineless Sadist. Both of these types understand relationships in terms of power differences, and act out to prove that they are powerful, with ruthlessness being the idealised form of strength, particularly when antisocial elements such as his Reputation-Defending side are in play. Both types have come to expect to be on the wrong side of power relationships and seek to avenge and preempt this by being cruel to others, and in the latter case to mask and compensate for feelings of weakness. Versus Superman, a godlike alien, Luthor has come to feel weak and helpless, and he responds with violence and murder attempts.

It is also very likely that, much as he hates Superman, he has a sense that his hatred is a good thing and that hating someone gives him direction and purpose, and keeps him mentally tough and strong. In a broader sense, Superman by dint of his existence may have given humanity goals that it cannot realistically compete with, but Luthor himself does compete with him and actively tries to become him and imitate his powers. In essence, his hatred for Superman gives him purpose and his quest to replicate or destroy him challenges Luthor to make incredible scientific advances in his own right; culminating, he hopes, in superpowers for himself, powers comparable or superior to those of Superman himself.

Lex's Paranoia and Sadism are offshoots of his core personality defects, the triad of Covetous Antisocial, Elitist Narcissist and Disengenuous Histrionic. His Reputation-Defending sociopathy, Unprinicpaled Narcissism, Malignant Paranoia and Spineless Sadism stem from this core problem of Luthor being an attenion-seeking narcissistic sociopath with delusions of grandeur- worsened, not mitigated, by his perceived capacity to back them up, the belief that his advanced intellect and catalogue of achievements make him superior to everybody else, and give him licence to do as he please- and take merciless retribution on any who slight him or stand in his way. The latter two are in many respects a consequence of his lengthy war with Superman, and the numerous defeats he has suffered in it.

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    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 19 months ago

      WOW! What a hub. Awesome summary for anyone who doesn't understand the sociopath known as Lex Luthor and his dynamic with Superman the Man of Steel.

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      Van 18 months ago

      Fantastic write up. Lex is one of the most interesting villains in comics.

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      Kayla7 16 months ago

      Lex luther is an narcissists and all he wants is his self and wants to kill Superman

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