Superman The Last Days of Lex Luthor #1 cover cropped

Comic Review: Superman: The Last Days of Lex Luthor #1

When it comes to supervillains and petty grudges in the DC Universe, Lex Luthor has no equal. Threatening the world and Superman on multiple occasions, he considers himself “the greatest intellect in human history.” The rest of the world, however, sees him as the evilest man alive.

That will not be the case for much longer.

When his latest experiment with a piece of Kryptonite blows up in his face, Luthor is left with an incurable case of cellular degeneration. This forces him to do the first thing so many people in need do, and the last thing he ever wanted to do – ask Superman for help. With the world watching, Superman can hardly say no. Even if he were the sort of man who could refuse any request for help. Even that of his worst enemy.

Still, there is the question of what angle Luthor is playing besides simple self-preservation, because the one thing Superman’s as sure of as he can’t answer a cry for help is that Lex Luthor always has an angle.

Lex Luthor asks Superman for help in Superman The Last Days of Lex Luthor 1
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Many classic Superman stories have explored the question of how Superman deals with death, both his own and that of a loved one. Superman: The Last Days of Lex Luthor takes the opposite approach, examining issues of mortality and morality through the lens of Superman’s arch-nemesis.

It is no surprise that Mark Waid should be the one to tell this story. Waid is best known for two seemingly paradoxical things. He has written a number of great stories based on old-fashioned superhero values, such as Kingdom Come and The Flash. He is also known for deconstructing the same tropes he celebrates, as in his original series Irredeemable and Incorruptible.

Waid draws deeply upon the Silver Age of DC Comics here, with flashbacks to Smallville showing Superman and Luthor as teenagers. In the present, Superman plays the Virgil to Luthor’s Dante, taking him from the Fortress of Solitude to the Phantom Zone in search of a cure for Luthor’s condition.

Young Lex Luthor and Clark Kent in Superman The Last Days of Lex Luthor 1
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At the same time, Waid dissects the Luthor/Superman relationship while hinting that Luthor’s hatred of Superman may be subconsciously driven by his unknown reasons for hating Clark Kent. The overall effect is familiar yet shockingly unique, and it is clear why this story had to be told through the DC Black Label imprint. While there is no overt adult content, this is a complex story that will only be appreciated by mature audiences.

The artwork by Bryan Hitch is equally complex. Hitch is famed for the amazing level of detail he puts into his art and his work on Superman: The Last Days of Lex Luthor is no exception. Every panel is filled to the brim with intricate line work and one hardly needs Waid’s text to get some sense of the story from Hitch’s expressive faces.

The only real weakness to Hitch’s art is an unfortunate tendency to force poses. While few can match him when it comes to rendering a dramatic splash page, there are some panels where his photorealistic designs seem at odds with the melodramatic stances some characters adopt. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.

Lex Luthor and Superman fly in Superman The Last Days of Lex Luthor 1
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Hitch’s pencils are expertly inked by the equally acclaimed Kevin Nowlan. Nowlan is one of the most praised inkers in the business and he adds the perfect layer of depth and definition to Hitch’s work. The colors by David Baron are also noteworthy for their complexity, as is the lettering by Richard Starkings and Tyler Smith of Comicraft.

While some might be reluctant to give this Black Label series a shot given the line’s reputation for shock humor and bloody business, Superman: The Last Days of Lex Luthor is the kind of comic aimed firmly at adults that doesn’t feature any adult content beyond a complex story about life and death. It is highly recommended to everyone who ever believed that a man could fly and those who ever wondered how he might fall.

Rating: 9/10

Superman: The Last Days of Lex Luthor #1 is now available in comic shops everywhere.