Positive and negative. Matter and antimatter. Superman and Lex Luthor.
One man wields matchless physical power; the other, matchless genius. One stands for justice and heroism, while the other stands for self-interest and arrogance. Small wonder their rivalry has lasted almost eighty years and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
And small wonder some writers have decided that the most interesting thing to do with such a feud is reverse it. Have Superman and Luthor work together, instead of against each other. Sometimes, it's a twist in the plot, sometimes it's Luthor running a scam, and every now and then, it's Lex listening to the better angels of his nature. It’s happened not only in comics but in TV shows and Superman novels. Here are fifteen examples of the times Luthor and Superman found it better to work separately than apart.
15 Luthor and Clark Kent — Brothers
Silver Age “imaginary stories” filled the same role as Elseworlds or What If did in later decades, telling stories outside of regular continuity. Superman #175, for example, asks what would happen if the Kents didn’t die before Clark became Superman (as was true until a 1980s continuity reboot). The answer: Superboy stays in Smallville longer, giving teen Luthor a chance to his discover his identity. Superboy leaves town so Luthor won't strike at him through the Kents, but that doesn’t stop Lex. Pretending to reform, he befriends the Kents, who eventually adopt him.
By the time Clark returns home, the Kents' trust in Lex really has reformed him. When Clark moves to Metropolis, his new brother and their parents come along. Everything would be perfect, if Clark's friend Pete Ross wasn't obsessed with Lana Lang. Knowing she prefers Superman, Pete collects an arsenal capable of destroying the Man of Steel. Lex saves his bro by giving himself superpowers, even though he knows the treatment is fatal. At Lex’s grave, Clark wonders how he could ever have imagined Lex might become his nemesis.
14 Superboy and Luthor, buried alive
Sherman Howard’s malevolent, murderous Luthor was one of the high points of the 1988-92 Superboy syndicated series. In the Season 3 episode “Mine Games,” Luthor uses green kryptonite to trap Superboy, but a cave-in leaves Lex trapped alongside him. Obviously, the only rational thing to do is work with the weakened Superboy to escape.
Luthor, however, isn't rational. He can't resist tormenting his helpless foe, insulting him and throwing kryptonite in his face. Lex doesn't back off until it finally sinks in that he's facing death. By this point, Superboy is so weak that Lex is forced to give inspiring speeches about heroism and duty to keep him going.
When they finally make it out, Luthor pulls a double cross with a final piece of kryptonite. Then he realizes even he isn't ruthless enough to backstab Superboy after what they've been through. To ensure his escape, Luthor weakens Superboy with the green k, but leaves him alive — though Lex grumbles he'll hate himself in the morning.
13 To save a world, Lex has to save Superman
In Superman #164, Lex and Superman agree to settle things hand-to-hand, on a red-sun planet where Superman’s depowered. When Superman wins, Luthor flees into a ruined city inhabited by the last survivors of the drought-stricken world.
Luthor impulsively uses the city’s ancient technology to drive off some predators. The inhabitants, who don’t understand the tech, look on him as a hero, and Luthor likes it. When they ask him to end the drought, he struggles to find a solution. Superman shows up, but the people see him as the villain, nemesis to their new hero.
At Luthor’s command, they let the battle resume. This time, Lex almost wins, only to weaken at the last second. As Superman takes him home, Luthor points out a nearby ice planet — you know, Supes, if you just threw some ice from one world to the other, the drought would be over. Which is totally not why he lost. Because he's totally not going soft.
Spoiler: he went soft. The planet, later named Lexor in his honor, would figure in several more Silver Age stories.
12 Bizarro Luthor saves Bizarro Superman from exile
In contrast to Superman/Luthor, Bizarro #1/Bizarro-Luthor are less like mortal enemies and more like a comedy team, with Luthor as the straight man. Sure, he's is annoying — as a defective duplicate of Lex, he’s constantly nudging Bizarro to do good — but annoying straight men are a comedy tradition.
Bizarro-Luthor debuts in Adventure #293, after Bizarro #1 is exiled from the Bizarro world, Htrae. Bizarro creates Bizarro-Luthor to help him fix things and the daffy doppelganger agrees, provided Bizarro does four good deeds on Earth first. These go as well as Bizarro helpfulness usually does, culminating in Bizarro exposing Superman’s identity — yes, it’s being helpful, he’ll never worry about being exposed again, right? Fortunately Bizarro-Luthor gets things straightened out in time, then solves Bizarro’s problems on Htrae so the unlikely allies can return home.
11 Parallel-world Luthor, superhero
You’d think by the time World’s Finest #148 rolled around, Superman would know better than to activate every mysterious scientific device he comes across. But nooo … As a result, he and Batman wind up in a world where their counterparts are supervillains and Luthor and Clayface are the world’s greatest heroes.
The evil Superman and Batman are happy to let the superheroes take the rap for their crimes. While the good guys rot in jail, the villains will visit their Earth with the device, free to rob without Luthor/Clayface stopping them. Alt. Luthor, however, figures out Superman really isn’t his Superman, and the four heroes join forces. After taking down the bad Bat and sinister Supes, Luthor brainwashes them into becoming good guys. Now he can pal around with his world’s Superman too.
10 Luthor and Superman save the galaxy
Back when the first Christopher Reeve Superman film was a big, big, big deal, Warner Brothers cashed in by having comics writer Elliot S. Maggin turn out a Superman novel, Last Son of Krypton. Despite being a movie tie-in, it’s very good, as is the follow-up, Miracle Monday.
Maggin’s Luthor is a show-stealing schemer who, between battles with Superman, maintains multiple false identities (songwriter, reporter, artist, inventor) and reveres Einstein, the one man whose intellect might be greater than his own. This Lex seems to enjoy hanging with Superman, even if it's only to insult him. Midway through the book, Luthor attempts to steal a secret document written by Einstein, but an alien steals it first, so he and his arch-nemesis end up investigating the theft together.
It turns out that the same alien who stole the document is also plotting a cosmic scheme that will prevent the Green Lantern Corps from interfering with the alien’s galactic war plans. Superman and Luthor thwart the plan, Luthor gets a presidential pardon — Earth was one of the first targets — but it doesn't take long for his old criminal habits to reassert themselves.
9 Luthor joins Superman in the Justice League
One of the major story arcs in the New 52 Justice League involved the Crime Syndicate of the parallel world Earth-Three coming to Earth-One to take over. The villains blindside the Justice League — the League’s female Atom was one of the Syndicate — crushing them and the rest of Earth’s heroes in the Forever Evil crossover event.
With the heroes defeated, the villains step in, led by Luthor. While some criminals are happy working under the Syndicate, Luthor rallies the remaining crooks and surviving heroes to fight back. He also removes the kryptonite brain implant the Syndicate used to disable Superman.
In the aftermath of Forever Evil, Lex, celebrated as a world saver, joined the Justice League. Superman accepted this, but only so he could keep watch on his longtime nemesis. Luthor, Superman and the other Leaguers would work against the Amazo virus and also lead an assault on Apokalips. A prophecy that Lex would someday become lord of Apokalips, however, has since re-soured the relationship.
8 Superman becomes Luthor's defense attorney
Escaping prison is a cinch for Luthor; it’s evading recapture that’s the problem. In Action Comics #292, Luthor decides there’s nowhere on Earth to hide, so he takes off into space. Landing on the planet Roxar, he destroys a security robot that demands Luthor give up his weapons.
Big mistake: Roxar’s a robot world where AIs are the dominant life form. For destroying the robot, Luthor is now on trial for murder. Fortunately, Superman shows up to defend his archenemy, though only so Luthor can be taken back to prison on Earth.
Superman goes all out to save his foe, even building a duplicate robot so that the charges against Luthor get dropped (that Luthor's actually guilty doesn't seem to bother the Man of Steel for some reason).
As Superman has no police authority on Roxar, Luthor then refuses to go home. The joke's on Lex, though: as Supes used Lex’s ship’s power cell to activate the duplicate robot, Luthor has no way to leave Roxar (not for a couple of issues, anyway).
7 Luthor reforms for love — or does he?
In Action #510, Luthor falls for Angela Blake, a terminally ill woman. He cures Angela and reforms to be worthy of her, fighting alongside Superman against villains such as Terra-Man. When he marries Angela, the Man of Steel serves as the best man.
Superman is not dumb enough to take such a miracle for granted. Yet every test he devises proves that Lex is on the level. Except one bit of Lex’s memory — his marriage to Ardora, a woman of Lexor — has been erased, leaving Luthor free to fall in love with someone else. Hmm …
Sure enough, Luthor’s faking it, though even he doesn’t know it: to ensure his plan’s success, he wiped his own memory of its existence. When Superman kisses Angela at the wedding, it’s supposed to hurl them both into an inescapable dimensional prison. Instead, Superman escapes and Luthor’s left sobbing when he realizes that his love for Angela, now trapped forever, still feels real.
6 Earth-Three's only superhero — Luthor
Just as Luthor battles Superman on Earth-One, on Earth-Two, the Golden Age Superman battles Alexei Luthor, who's not only brilliant but also has a full head of hair. In DC Comics Presents #1, the two Luthors switch enemies, figuring neither Superman will recognize them as a Luthor until it’s too late.
When that plan fails, Lex teleports them to the Crime Syndicate’s world, where the only superhumans are villains. The two Supermen pursue them, but find themselves facing not only two Luthors but Earth-Three's evil Kryptonian, Ultraman.
Fortunately, Earth-Three has its own Luthor, the reclusive genius Alexander. When Lois Lane shows him what’s happening, he steps up to the plate, becoming Three’s first superhero. Ultraman and the two Luthors go down, and Lois and Alexander become a couple.
Alas, Earth-Three died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, taking Alexander and Lois with it. Later reboots re-established Earth-Three, but the reboot Alexander is kind of psycho.
5 Luthor reforms and becomes Superman's friend, then kills him
Superman #149 is another imaginary story. Where #175 showed Luthor at his noblest, here, he’s at his worst.
At first, it appears Luthor has genuinely reformed. He finds a cure for cancer, gets a pardon, then finds that the criminal underworld is determined to kill him for switching sides. To protect Luthor, Superman sets him up in an orbiting lab where Lex can work on a cure for heart disease. It’s perfectly secure, but it’s also a perfectly secure trap.
When Superman visits Lex, Luthor catches him under a kryptonite ray, with no risk of anyone busting in to save the Man of Steel. For once, Luthor wins and Supes dies. It’s a short-lived victory, though, as Supergirl soon brings Luthor to justice.
Given it’s a twist story, it’s a shame that both the title (“Death of Superman”) and the cover make it clear from the start that Lex is faking his redemption.
4 When Smallville turns against Superboy, teen Lex saves him
There’s something irresistible about the idea that mortal enemies Luthor and Superman were once friends. Even though the 1980s reboot erased Lex and Superboy meeting as teens, the idea has cropped up again in the likes of Superman: Birthright and the TV series, Smallville. Superboy #139 milks the irony of the titular hero and Lex being teen BFFs, unaware how things will change.
As the story starts, Lex is working on a cure for kryptonite using “Gas X.” When things go wrong, Superboy saves his buddy by venting Gas X into the atmosphere outside. Soon after that, Superboy’s super-vision causes monsters to materialize. The town is so terrified that it turns on Superboy and drives him out. Fortunately, Lex Luthor is on the case. He discovers the real problem is Superboy’s vision powers interacting with traces of Gas X to enlarge microbes in the air. Once Superboy purges the gas completely, everything’s back to normal, thanks to his buddy Lex.
3 Luthor and Superman vs. Zod
After the 1980s reboot, Superboy didn’t exist. That caused continuity problems for DC’s 30th century Legion of Superheroes, which had deep ties to the Boy of Steel. The solution: Superboy existed, but in an artificial pocket universe, created by the villainous Time Trapper to manipulate the Legion. That Superboy dies fighting the Trapper, but his memory lived on (well, until DC retconned him away too).
After Superboy’s death, the pocket universe Lex Luthor accidentally activated Superboy’s Phantom Zone projector. General Zod and two of his lackeys came through and proceeded to ravage the world. Luthor could have stopped them with Superboy’s emergency kryptonite stash, but wanted to defeat them without Superboy's posthumous help. He failed.
To save his world, Luthor swallowed his pride and brought Superman from Earth-One. Despite Superman’s help, Luthor died, but he gave Superman the location of the kryptonite. To stop the Kryptonians forever, Superman used it to kill them, though breaking his no-kill code tormented him deeply long afterwards.
2 Lex Luthor, freedom fighter
The third season of Superboy had the Teen of Steel popping in and out of multiple parallel worlds. One where his counterpart is a ruthless vigilante who killed his world’s Luthor. One where Clark has grown into Superman and helped build a utopia. And one where he's the world’s supreme leader, the Sovereign. This Clark was discovered not by the Kents, but by a greedy, grasping neighbor who raised his adoptive son to take whatever he could get. Now, he’s taken the world.
When the “real” Superboy arrives on that Earth, he joins forces with the resistance, headed by Lana Lang and her lover, Lex Luthor. Lex dies heroically taking down the Sovereign; with his dying words, he asks if Superboy's version of Lex fights for justice too. To spare the near-death do-gooder any more pain, Superboy lies.
Lana subsequently destroys the Sovereign with a kryptonite suicide bombing, and Superboy returns home.
1 Lex and Clark, buried alive (again)
In the early seasons of Smallville, Lex Luthor dreamed of rising to greatness, rejecting the path of his conniving, ruthless father. He saw Clark as the brother he never had; Clark reciprocated (for many fans, the relationship was pure slash).
But Clark, of course, had secrets he couldn't share. And Lex didn’t find it easy to walk an ethical path, which made Clark even more wary. Their mutual interest in Lana Lang only made things worse.
Season 6’s “Nemesis” put the Clark/Lex relationship front and center. After Lex is trapped underground, Clark goes to save him, but loses his powers due to kryptonite dust. As the guys try to find a way out, Clark ponders if they were ever truly friends. Lex replies that “you’re the only real friend I ever had, Clark — but somewhere along the way you saw me as your nemesis.”
When Clark winds up trapped under rubble, Lex appears to abandon him, but he's only searching for tools to dig Clark out. As they climb up to the surface, Clark repays Lex by saving him from a fatal fall. Yet at the top, Lex and Clark realize their friendship can never be what it was.
Got a favorite Luthor/Superman alliance we didn't mention? Tell us in comments.