Several days ago I got involved in a conversation with my friends Xavier and Cathy on Twitter discussing the character of Lex Luthor. In particular, we were talking about how one of Superman’s greatest foes has gone through several ethnic revisions in media depictions over the years. While most depictions portray him as a white man, Superman: The Animated Series gave Lex a Mediterranean influence inspired by actor Telly Savalas, while the recent Harley Quinn cartoon had an African American Luthor running the Legion of Doom. Cathy remarked that Luthor works no matter what ethnicity or race he is because he is a character defined by his concepts: arrogant brilliance, contempt for anyone who might be superior to him, an endless desire for power, and excessive hubris that often leads to his downfall. I agree with those sentiments completely, but the line of thinking got me wondering about another topic. If a Luthor of a different race could work, how about a Luthor of a different gender?
(art by Benjamin10mil: https://www.deviantart.com/benjamin10mil)
Keep in mind that I’m not talking about a female relative like Lena Luthor from Supergirl or a future descendant. This is basically a genderswapped Lex (it could be short for “Alexandra”). As we discussed the concept we came up with a few traits FemLex would need to have to stay true to the character. She wouldn’t use her sexuality to get an advantage in the business world, for one thing – that would be beneath someone of her intellect. And she wouldn’t have any romantic inclinations towards Superman either. She could still admire/envy his power, but to have a crush on him would be foolish. What about her backstory, then? Would she be a ruthless businesswoman made bitter and resentful by all the sexism she encountered in the industry, leading her to believe that she needs the power to fully crush her opposition in order to get the respect she deserves? When asking other comic readers about their take, one of them, Patrick Leigh, offered a very thorough and impressive interpretation. The following are Patrick’s own words:
“For starters, I would tweak an idea I had for my take on a male Lex Luthor – intense drive to attain greatness due to an abusive parent. For a male Lex, it’s a father who told him (repeatedly) that he’d never amount to a hill of beans. For a female Lex (or Fem Lex) it’d be n abusive mother who told her the only way she’d get anyplace was by sleeping her way there. Thus, she strove to study & train herself so she would never need to resort to sex to attain her goals (like her hypocritical mother did.) But there’s a little more to it than this.
See, my idea for Fem Lex is that she’s actually (and stay with me here) a misogynist. She DESPISES other women. Oh, it’s not “internalized misogyny.” No, she looked at her mother & all the mean girls who stabbed her in the back & concluded that women are the absolute worst.Fem Lex considers the overwhelming majority of women to be two-faced vipers who cannot be trusted further than you can throw them. In her view, they’re also too emotional, too petty, & too myopic to be considered reliable, unlike men, who when properly trained, are like dogs: reliable & loyal to the point they’ll sacrifice themselves for you. Fem Lex believes that a strong, intelligent woman has no reason to fear men but EVERY REASON to fear & distrust other women. There are exceptions, such as herself, but Fem Lex only respects those exceptions. The rest of women can go pound sand or, better yet, do the only thing they can reliably do – make babies. The species needs to be continued, after all, so unless a woman is exceptional, she should stick to her one true strength.
Next, Fem Lex doesn’t hate Superman, she hates what he’s doing to the human species: Making it complacent. After all, with beings like Braniac & Darkseid, treating Superman as our only line of defense, being DEPENDENT on him, is the best way to get ourselves killed or enslaved. Further, if (or more likely WHEN) Superman turns bad, humanity must be prepared to take him out. Fem Lex is VERY CYNICAL. To depend on others is to be a parasite & humanity becoming a race of parasites is something she WILL NOT ABIDE.
But there’s more to it than that: Superman can only be in one place at a time. If he’s off fighting Darkseid on Apokolips & Brianiac attacks Earth, how will humanity survive? Humanity must be prepared not only to defeat Superman but survive without him. Unfortunately most of humanity is too stupid to see that. But Fem Lex sees the truth. Further, she doesn’t shrink away from it. She’s gotten where she is by facing the truth HEAD ON, taking it by the horns, & beating the truth into submission. Superman will be no exception to her approach.
Fem Lex’s ultimate motivation is to push humanity to the next level, to make it a force to fear in the cruel, unforgiving universe, to make sure the Braniacs & Darkseids are too afraid to challenge it. But the biggest obstacle in her path… is Superman. It’s not that he’s evil (yet,) but his quaint, naïve optimism will be not only his own undoing but HUMANITY’S undoing. If he’d just see reason, he’d be such an asset to the human race but… he doesn’t! He lets fools like that TART Lois Lane mislead him. So, it falls to Fem Lex to do what needs to be done. If Superman won’t do what’s necessary to move humanity forward, then she will. Nobody will thank her, but she doesn’t do anything for other people’s thanks, so what’s the problem? It’s a shame, but, for the greater good, Superman has to go. A pity, but an acceptable lose in the grand scheme of things.”
I greatly enjoyed Patrick’s perspective. This is quite possibly the best-crafted origin for explaining why FemLex became the way she is. It betrays none of the core motifs of the character, and it uses her changed gender as a motivating factor without making it her sole defining trait.
Of course, given my personal preferences I had to ask a follow-up; how would Patrick explain FemLex’s “hairstyle”? Would she have alopecia, would it be the result of a lab accident, or would she shave it off. Once more, he provided a detailed explanation and rationalization:
“… given the way I’m approaching her, I think she’d shave it off. As to why, I think it’s because when Fem Lex considers female vanity, she would conclude that the only attribute a woman can truly take pride in is her hair. After all, a woman’s face will grow wrinkled, her breasts & butt will sag, & her skin will lose its luster with age. Even the eyes can yellow as she gets older. But hair, even when it turns grey, can remain beautiful. Fem Lex would have a pretty rockin’ bod because he takes care of it. (A sound mind needs a sound body.) But she wouldn’t see it as having truly lasting beauty. Her hair is the only physical attribute which would therefore be a cause for vanity… & that’s why it’s gotta go. Vanity clouds a woman’s judgement & Fem Lex will not have ANYTHING cloud her judgement. She will not permit herself to have any cause for vanity. So, removing the one thing that would cause her to feel vain is excising a potential weakness. (Plus, it allows her to avoid wasting money on hair products.)
I think the approach I’d take with Fem Lex would be that she is ruthless in riding herself of anything she believes will make her “weak.” Thus, I think she’d also prefer living in as spartan a manner as possible. Oh, she’d have mansions for hosting parties, but those would strictly be for business purposes, not for her own pleasure. Her actual living quarters would be minimalist, free of distractions & softness, & tailored to keep her from becoming too comfortable or complacent. I think shaving her head would also be something of a ritual for her, a way of casting off her vanity to ensure that she does not become distracted or lose focus. Her hair is the one part of her body she considers “soft,” so it’s also a way of “hardening” herself so she can face the cruel world with equal harshness.”
I don’t think I could have put it any better myself. So what do the rest of you think? Do you like Patrick’s character description? How would you personally write a female Lex? I’m interested to hear more ideas.