NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Action Comics" #967
The greatest fictional heroes are almost guaranteed to have one famous nemesis with which to share the spotlight. Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. Inspector Gadget has Dr. Claw. Batman has The Joker. And for Superman, well, history has shown that billionaire megalomaniac Lex Luthor isn't going anywhere. But after decades of scheming and treachery, the DC Rebirth brought with it a new path for Luthor - one of heroism, sacrifice, and social consciousness. The weirdest part? Lex is actually doing it for the right reasons.
It's that intriguing twist that makes the latest development in the pages of "Action Comics #967" so interesting. While Lex Luthor is working to protect the citizens of Metropolis with a Superman 'S' on his chest (and the deceased Superman's cape upon his shoulders), his true destiny is being seen by outsiders. And one such outsider has arrived on Earth to prevent the future from unraveling as it might - seeing Luthor ascend to the heights of Apokolips, and dominate the world as a brand new Darkseid.
Lex Luthor is Already The Lord of Apokolips
Since the story of Lex Luthor in DC's New 52 was carried over into the "Rebirth" (remember, it's not a reboot), his path to this current status is a long story. Keeping things short, this New 52 version of Lex wound up saving the world from invading enemies (the famous Crime Syndicate of evil Justice League doppelgangers) and earned himself a spot on the League. When the "Darkseid War" broke out in the pages of "Justice League," Lex wound up stranded on Apokolips, the enslaved planet ruled by the New God Darkseid.
A group of rebels arrived with word of a prophecy: that on this given day, a being from Earth would be found walking the surface, and they would be chosen as the new ruler of Apokolips - and bearer of Darkseid's deadly Omega Sanction. It was supposed to be Superman that the people flocked to, but Lex lied and accepted the title for himself. The action of the story moved then to Darkseid, the Anti-Monitor, and the Crime Syndicate's showdown with the Justice League, and things worked out relatively well.
But in the closing pages of the story, Lex Luthor found his way back to Apokolips, with his now loyal subjects having crafted a new version of his signature armor. Built using Apokoliptian technology, bearing the Superman 'S' and coming with its very own Mother Box, Lex donned the armor and sat on his new throne (since Darkseid was briefly dead, but now starting his life over in the body of a newborn... another long story).
The Brand New Superman
Readers probably assumed that granting such power, technology and followers to a man like Lex Luthor would make him a major villain in just a few short issues, things have played out differently. For starters, the "Rebirth" titles have featured little to no glimpses of Lex returning to Darkseid, or any signs that he actually wishes to rule a distant planet. He's an Earthling if nothing else, which explained why he dove into the vacant role of Superman so swiftly. In fact, he even beat the older, returned Clark Kent to the punch.
No harm, no foul, though, and having the two superpowered heroes to take on a new Doomsday was invaluable. Both men were suspicious of the other: Clark, knowing that the Lex Luthor of his world was always looking for a villainous opportunity, and Lex, having seen the previous Superman die before this older doppelganger emerged without any explanation. But they went on their merry way, following their own paths even as they intersected indirectly, with Clark's wife Lois Lane now replacing this Earth's version in a Lex Luthor interview.
And in "Action Comics" #967, a new batch of characters emerge on the scene to make sure readers haven't forgotten about the new rank and role of Lex Luthor in the world of the New Gods.
Lex Luthor, Meet The Godslayer
The issue actually opens far in the future of Earth, as part of a nightmare vision of the fate that may befall it. After Batman V Superman more comic fans than ever can picture the scene: Apokoliptian technology turning Earth into a deserted, flame-belching hellscape, as Parademon soldiers fly and march across its surface, killing heroes and herding a world of prisoners. The vision of their ruler - born in the midst of Earth's heroes - stepping over the ashes of the world is shown to be just that: a premonition offered to a new character by the name of L'Call, also known as 'The Godslayer.'
We'll let you use your imagination to decipher that nickname, but he and his ally Zade are not to be trifled with, hailing from an unknown species and planet, but capable of overpowering both Superman and Lex Luthor's Apokoliptian armor. Lest the reader thinks that L'Call and Zade are villains of any kind, the two make it clear that their lives have been spent slaughtering would be tyrants and brutal conquerors, with this visit to Earth being the Godslayer's "final mission." Having seen the face of the destroyer of Earth and more worlds to follow, L'Call zeroes in on the man responsible for bringing the horrors of Apokolips to Earth.
And his name is Lex Luthor.
Lex Luthor's Darkseid Destiny?
The issue concludes as L'Call tracks down Lex Luthor, raising his massive sword prepared to kill the Lord of Apokolips. Behind him sits the clear image the Godslayer sees as Lex's future: seated upon the same throne as the Lord of Apokolips, wearing his 'S'-emblazoned suit of armor, and Mother Box pinging his own name in front of him. It's a recreation of the same image from "Justice League" #50, but with one key difference: Lex now sports the same scowl, and open-faced helmet made famous by Darkseid before he was dethroned.
The message is clear: when L'Call says that Lex Luthor is "destined to take Darkseid's place," he means literally. How this rise to the heights of brutal tyranny begins, gains steam, or becomes unstoppable has yet to be revealed, but assuming L'Call fails in removing Lex's head from his body, some explanations could be forthcoming. Frankly, we're just worried that the Godslayer explaining what future lies in store for Lex will actually cause it. After all, he's nothing if not opportunistic. But destroying Earth, too? We hope he has a very good reason.
Action Comics #967 is available now.