For years, Lex Luthor has claimed that were it not for Superman constantly foiling his plans, Earth would prosper under his rule. Now, thanks to the acclaimed Flintstones creative team of Mark Russell and Steve Pugh, he’s finally getting his chance…and shockingly, it seems to be going well. Future State: Superman vs. Imperious Lex explores what would happen if the Man of Steel’s greatest foe had his own world to rule. This three-issue limited series takes place in the not-so-distant future, where Lex has left Earth behind to become the beloved ruler of the planet Lexor, a prosperous planet that seems to be thriving under Lex’s authority. But is everything as it seems? Not according to Superman and his wife—and United Planets rep—Lois Lane. They’re determined to get to the bottom of what’s really happening on Lexor…and will stop at nothing to uncover the truth.
In that spirit, we recently sat down with series writer Mark Russell to get to the truth of what we can expect from his highly anticipated follow-up with Pugh. Russell gave us the lowdown on why Lex is an effective dictator, the joys of working with Pugh on a DC Universe project and why he hopes Joe Biden will pardon Porky Pig. (Much like with his comics, you never know where a conversation with Russell is going to take you!)
I'd love to hear about the genesis of this series. Was this a pitch you had been holding on to for a while, or did you come up with it when you heard about DC Future State?
They actually came to me with the basic concept of the planet Lexor—Superman confronting Lex Luthor on a planet that Lex is the boss of and Superman is the most hated figure. I built a story around that, around what that would entail, Lex Luthor trying to become beloved on a planet that he owned. It sort of morphed into a story about how dictators hold on to power, and about how they use disinformation to further their agenda. But it really started with just that basic concept of how this is a reverse of the normal order, where Lex Luthor is the hero of the planet and Superman is seen as its greatest villain.
Your first project for DC was a reboot of Prez, which like Imperious Lex also dealt with politics. Is there something that draws you to that spectrum?
I think that whatever is eating you up at the moment is probably what you'll be best at writing. I try not to compartmentalize what me the person and me the writer are passionate about. I feel like the things that you're most passionate about at the moment, whether it's woodworking, or politics, or philosophy, whatever is really sort of occupying your subconscious is going to be the source of your most powerful writing. Those are usually the things I try to channel into my writing.
I look forward to your Green Lantern woodworking limited series.
(Laughs) I've got at least five woodworking novels coming.
This series reunites you with Steve Pugh, who collaborated with you on the critically acclaimed Flintstones series. Can you talk a little bit about your partnership with him? Did you specifically request him for Superman vs. Imperious Lex or was that just how it worked out?
It just worked out. We had just finished working together on Billionaire Island, so we were at that point where we finished one project at the same time and were ready for another, and the Superman vs. Imperious Lex thing just sort of fell into our laps. It really was sort of good timing—kismet, you could call it. Steve is just fantastic. One of the things I really love about working with Steve is that he gets the subtle emotions in the scenes. He's really good at balancing the wackiness with the sadness. He understands it's not just satire, it's not just humor. There's some deep human pain that's resonating in the background, and he always manages to capture that, which is why I always look forward to working with him.
I love that you brought back Lexor for this, it's one of my favorite concepts from the Silver and Bronze Age. Did you go back and read any of those stories in preparation for this? Were you a fan of them?
Yeah, I went back and read them. I love the concept. The one thing I didn't really like about the story is that Lex's greatest plot is to bring Superman to Lexor just so he can beat him in a fair fight, which to me seems like a little seventh grade. I imagine that Lex's motivations would be a little more nuanced than that. In my story, it's really more about how Lexor is to Lex what he always wanted to have for himself on Earth. He imagined himself someday conquering the Earth and ruling it as a dictator, but Superman interfered with those plans. He was the fly in the ointment. So, Lex went to Lexor and was able to do there what he was never able to successfully do on Earth. Now he's got the perfect life, he's got everything just the way he wants it, and who shows up again to ruin it, but Superman.
The first issue describes Lex through the eyes of his citizens, through the eyes of Superman, Lois and the United Planets. We get a little bit of Lex's POV when he's talking to his robot, but it's mostly Lex from the perspective of others. How do you personally view Luthor, and how do you think he views himself?
I think he views himself as a victim. He feels like he was the smartest guy on Earth and his birthright was to control and rule it. And everyone would have loved him on Earth if he'd just been able to take power. In his eyes, Superman ruined all those plans. He sees himself not as a villain, but as someone whose birthright was stolen from them by Superman. I view Lex Luthor as someone who is too in love with their own genius. Someone who thinks that because they're a genius that entitles them to subjugate others. He might have had good intentions when he was trying to take control, he might have even convinced himself that he was going to save the world somehow. But he made the fundamental mistake of thinking that it was his to save.
I'd love to talk about Lois Lane too. Her identity has been wrapped up in her career as a journalist, yet this older version of her is among the ruling council of the United Planets. What drove Lois to make the jump from journalist to politician?
I think it's because she had a greater understanding of Earth and its people, and all of the different sort of competing interests on Earth, because of her work with the Daily Planet. She was sort of uniquely positioned and also respected enough that people would trust her to make these decisions because she had removed herself from the combat arena of economic and political power. Because she spent her career learning about people, listening and discovering all the different sort perspectives on Earth, she is now uniquely positioned to actually do that position well.
Continuing on that thread of Lois, there's been a lot written about Superman and Lex's rivalry over the years. It's been examined in different ways, how the two drive each other, but one thing that's overlooked is Lois and her own relationship with Luthor. It looks like with Lois sponsoring Lexor, that rivalry is going to take center stage in this book. How do you view Lois's relationship with Luthor?
I think she's the one that probably has the most accurate beat on him, in which she does not trust him at all. She doesn't trust him as far as she can spit a rat. She doesn't think he's inherently evil, she just thinks he's completely untrustworthy and he's going to do what's best for Lex at every turn. It goes against every fiber of her being to sponsor Lexor as a member of the United Planets, but she does so anyway out of compassion for the people who are trapped on Lexor, who might not be able to escape being a planet ruled by Lex Luthor any other way.
This first issue talks about bias a lot, starting with Lexor citizens and how they view Lex. We see some of Lois's lingering anger towards Lex, and even though Superman proposed that Lexor join the United Planets, it is safe to say that he carries his own bias towards Lex. Can you talk a little bit about bias and how it shapes the characters in the story?
We all have to look at the world through our own set of eyes, and so we all have implicit bias. Superman's bias comes from being an all-powerful person, somebody who's really not very vulnerable at all. He has the luxury of viewing other people more generously because he realizes, if only subconsciously, that nobody's a serious threat to him. It tends to make him a good person to be the spokesman for compassion and mercy because he doesn't feel threatened, he doesn't feel vulnerable himself. He tends to view things more objectively. But it also makes that sort of compassion and trust a little more dangerous to the people who don't share his invulnerability.
Lois sees the world through the eyes of a journalist, where she is constantly looking to smell out a rat, to figure out who's telling the truth and who's lying. Her alarm bells are set off all over the place by the way Lexor is run and by Lex Luthor. She is the perfect complement to Superman's high idealistic compassion. She's more of a realistic voice. Lex sees the world through the eyes of someone who feels he's the rightful ruler. His propaganda network, Lex News, sort of mirrors that. It feeds that worldview into Lexor, so that the average Lexorians who may not benefit from Lex's rule nonetheless see the world the same way he does, like he's this ultimate genius and all good things on Lexor come through Lex, and they couldn't have hoped for a better dictator.
Is there a moment in the DC Universe—whether it’s from a comic, television show or a film—that defined Lex Luthor for you?
I think the first time I was ever exposed to Lex Luthor was when I was seven or eight years old and I was watching the Super Friends cartoon. He actually started out as friends with Superman, but then a fire broke out in his lab and Superman used his super breath to blow out the fire, and in doing so, his breath was so powerful that he also blew out all of Lex’s hair. And Luthor swore from that moment on they would be enemies, and I remember at the time just being kind of horrified by that. There was a sense of pettiness that now he's going to build his whole life around getting revenge on Superman because he's bald. Most guys tend to bald a little more gracefully than that.
Just buy a wig or use your science to grow hair!
Or maybe say I'm happy that you saved my life. I'm less happy about the baldness, but we'll move on from here. We all have those moments with friends where it's like, well I'm not entirely on board with what you did, but we got enough in the bank that we can build on this, but not Lex Luthor.
Without giving too much away, what can readers look forward to in upcoming issues?
The second issue is about what happens after Lexor is taken into the United Planets and about the problems that causes, and it's really about Lex Luthor looking to the United Planets to bail out Lexor and his horrible mismanagement. But then there's a twist, which I won't get into, which then suddenly makes Lex not want to be in the United Planets. And then the third issue is the resolution of this. This planet could not be in worse shape, and what can possibly save the situation where people have been lied to for so long and they no longer know truth from fiction?
With Future State anything is possible in terms of continuity and canon. We've seen lots of aliens and creatures in this first issue, so I have to ask, is your Lex Luthor and Porky Pig story canon in this universe?
I think it is because the carryover of Lex News. There was a Lex News moment in the Porky Pig/Lex Luthor story and it has almost the same iteration in this one. So, I think that if they're not in the same room, they're in adjacent rooms.
In that case, I have to ask if poor Porky was ever released from prison, or is he still serving that sentence?
I think he's doing some hard time. They had to make an example of him. Maybe Biden will give him a pardon. If anyone deserved one, it was Porky. He was a patsy.
Future State: Superman vs. Imperious Lex #1 by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh and Romulo Fajardo, Jr. is now available in stores and as a digital comic book.