NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Action Comics" #970
They say that every villain is the hero of their own story, and it's hard to think of a heroic nemesis who best sums up the idea than Lex Luthor. Long categorized as a monster, madman, master manipulator or arrogant megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur, the actual writers of "Superman" comics have adhered to a more... complicated character. In short, Lex believes that he, and not some alien savior, is the best suited to lead humanity upward and onward. And in the pages of DC's "Rebirth" initiative, the New 52's version of Lex has proven himself to be more heroic than usual - even claiming the title of DC's new Superman (with noble ambitions, to boot).
But things have taken a turn away from the heroic of late, with Lex Luthor finding himself the target of two alien warriors intent on killing him. It isn't a bounty or nefarious plot behind it, either: for these virtuous killers, they're taking Lex Luthor down before he can grow to become a galactic tyrant. But as "The Trial of Lex Luthor" begins, there's one witness standing in his defense: Superman.
Lex Luthor, Future Darkseid?
It isn't just any galactic tyrant that Lex Luthor is charged with one day becoming, but the new lord of Apokolips and successor to the throne of Darkseid himself. For those who jumped into the DC Universe post-Rebirth (or whose memory has faded since "Darkseid War"), a strange twist of fate has actually led to Lex being appointed the new ruler of Apokolips - a fact he's keeping quiet as he works to establish himself as a hero on Earth, aided greatly by Apokoliptian armor and a Mother Box of his own. His absence from the throne had implied he valued a reign on Earth higher than one on a distant, Hellish planet. But when the being known as L'Call The Godslayer shows up to incapacitate and capture Lex (as his ally handled Superman), Lex's future was revealed.
Despite his apparent heroic tendencies, a vision of the future confirms that Lex will succumb to the power of Apokolips, leading a campaign of invasions and mass slaughters across space, killing billions and reducing his home planet to ash. The intervention of Superman prevents L'Call and his partner from executing Lex where he stands, instead returning him to their base of operations. And even if they're downright positive that a vision of the future will happen without the slightest variation, everyone present is convinced that killing an innocent man is acceptable if he will one day become a despot.
Superman Saves The Day
Needless to say, that's not the kind of compromise that the Man of Steel is willing to accept. As a reminder, this Superman also happens to be the one from the pre-New 52 DC Universe - the one in which Lex Luthor went to every end imaginable to kill the Kryptonian and gain the accused power over planet Earth and its people. It's that experience that led Superman to monitor the activities of this universe's Lex from the moment he arrived. But for all his suspicions and instincts, even Superman was forced to eventually accept that not every version of Lex is a ruthless, malevolent, power hungry villain. Which gives the hero two reasons to seek out the alien kidnappers: to defend Lex from accusations that seem baseless, and prevent the murder of an innocent for the sake of a 'greater good.'
It's not every day that Superman steps up to defend the innocence of his greatest enemy... but then, DC's "Rebirth" era has been full of surprises. That's a double-edged sword where Lex is concerned, since Superman's confidence in his super-rich ally is shaken almost immediately. The Godslayer and the judges he serves can't really make a compelling argument against Lex's rise to Darkseid being just one possible future, immediately ruling - after a momentary "trial" - that Lex is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. And Superman is prepared to remove Lex from the danger by force, if necessary... until an Apokoliptian trinket comes tumbling into the open.
The Trial of Lex Luthor Takes a Twist
When Lex's jailers discover the Mother Box he had stashed upon arrival to help him escape, Superman's confidence is shaken. Not only does the artifact prove Lex's ties to Apokolips, but his decision to hide it is far too close to deception for the Man of Steel to ignore. And even for Kryptonian superheroes, judging a book by its cover is tempting, especially when evidence supports the worst suspicions Superman has harbored for any and all versions of Lex Luthor in existence.
And just that quickly, Superman shifts from Lex's most devoted defender to yet another voice condemning him as guilty. At least, that's how it appears. Even if Superman isn't just joining the chorus of voices as he attempts to concoct an escape plan, it's hard to believe he would support the idea of killing Lex because he will do evil (why start now?). We can't guess what Superman has in store, but it sounds like "The Trial of Lex Luthor" won't be over as quickly as we believed.
Where Superman will stand in the next chapter... that's the real question.
Action Comics #970 is available now.