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Power Suit Up: The History of Lex Luthor’s Iconic Armor

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
Power Suit Up: The History of Lex Luthor’s Iconic Armor

Throughout the second season of “Supergirl,” the Luthors have become an important part of the series. Between Lex Luthor’s mother, Lillian, perpetuating his villainy to his (adopted) sister, Lena, trying to do good to make up for her family’s evil history, the Luthor family name has been front and center. In this week’s episode, Lillian Luthor revealed a veritable treasure trove of weapons and other items of power. One of the items that we saw was the famous Luthor war suit…

RELATED: Supergirl Promo Teases Debut Of Lex Luthor’s Iconic Warsuit

Seeing the war suit displayed on the series, it shows just how iconic the Luthor battle suit has become over the years. Here, we’ll take a look at how Luthor’s power suits have evolved in the past few decades.

When Lex Luthor debuted, he was hilariously enough a redhead warlord! As it turned out, artist Paul Cassidy saw Luthor’s first appearance in “Action Comics” #23 and got confused who Luthor was supposed to be. He thought that the bald guard was Luthor (the bald guard is oddly heavily featured in the story, so while you would understand that he wasn’t Luthor if you read the story closely, it is not crazy if you only glanced at the issue to think that the bald guy was Luthor).

For the next few decades, as Luthor became Superman’s greatest enemy, he typically fought Superman in either regular clothes or a general nondescript prison jumpsuit, like the one he wore here in “Action Comics” #277.

Generally speaking, Luthor did not attempt to fight with Superman on a hand-to-hand combat level (unless Superman was powerless due to, say, a red sun or something like that). He fought Superman through elaborate plots often involving some sort of machine built by Luthor. It was not until 1974 that Luthor finally made a change to become more active in fights against Superman. In “Superman” #282 (by Elliot S! Maggin, Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenbeger), Luthor uses a special ray to reduce Superman in age to being just a young man. Luthor determined that that was enough to make Superman weak enough for Luthor to take him down with a special battle suit that Luthor had designed for himself…

That purple jumpsuit also contained a number of powerful weapons that Luthor had devised to take Superman down. It was this costume that appeared in the hit TV series, “Challenge of the Super Friends,” as Luthor was the leader of the Legion of Doom…

The purple jumpsuit look continued throughout the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s. In 1983, though, DC was preparing for a new toy line that was going to debut in 1984. Dubbed “Super Power,” the Kenner toy line opened up an interesting way for artists to make money. If you designed a figure, the company would pay you a design fee. Thus, DC used this to have some of their more prominent artists do new designs for characters so that they could get a cut of adapting that character into a figure. DC specifically used this approach to have Jack Kirby re-design some of his Fourth World characters and therefore actually indirectly get paid for his early DC comics work. One of these artist was George Perez, who designed a new, much more powerful battle armor for Lex Luthor that debuted in “Action Comics” #544 (in a story by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson).

In that story, Luthor had retired to Lexor, but couldn’t help but create a more powerful suit, just in case. However, while he had retired, a robot he had built still tried to fulfill its programming and attack Metropolis. So Superman headed to Lexor to find Luthor. Luthor put on the new armor and the two battled, but in the process, Luthor accidentally destroyed Lexor when a blast from his suit ricocheted off of Superman and hit a power rod in the planet, exploding the planet and killing all of his subjects, including his wife and young child. Now he really hated Superman (despite it being totally his own fault that the planet blew up).

Due to its inclusion in the “Super Powers” toy line, the Luthor battle armor from this time period is perhaps Luthor’s best known look for a while generation of comic book fans…

RELATED: The Worst Things Lex Luthor Has Ever Done

After “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Lex Luthor was revamped into a businessman who was only secretly a super-criminal…

Because of that, he could not very well go around wearing a suit of armor. Instead, he had a series of goons working for him at his company, LexCorp, wearing special LexCorp battle armors. During a period where Lex Luthor was presumed dead, he actually returned to life in a cloned body, pretending to be his son, Lex Luthor II. As Lex Luthor iI, he actually did wear a suit of battle armor and fight alongside his other LexCorp armored members (at this point in time, young Lex was dating Supergirl). He helped pick up the slack in Metropolis during the period where Superman was presumed dead…

Soon after Superman returned to life, so, too, did Luthor return to his older body (part of a deal with the demon Neron). Luthor then ran for and was elected President of the United States. Things like that could not last for Luthor, so finally, he snapped in the opening story arc of “Superman/Batman” dubbed “Public Enemies,” where he was unable to turn the world against Superman and Batman, so he decided to kill them himself wearing a special suit of armor given to him by Darkseid. This was his newest war suit…

Over in the DC animated series, in the “Superman” animated series he was mostly like the Post-Crisis businessman Luthor, but he eventually had a downfall and by the end of his stint on the “Justice League” cartoon series, he was wearing the classic war suit.

He wore a variation of the classic war suit in the comics for the next few years, until he was given a new armor during a period when Paul Cornell wrote Action Comics and Luthor was briefly the main character in “Action Comics”…

That was the set-up when “Flashpoint” occurred and everything rebooted into the “New 52.”

RELATED: Lena Luthor’s Behind Bars in Latest Supergirl Photos

When the “New 52” happened, Luthor was once again revamped so that he was a brilliant genius who did not use suits of armor to fight Superman directly, but rather he worked behind the scenes to hurt Superman, either as a military consultant or just a straight out criminal. Over time, though, he could not help but find war suits that he could use. One was an over-sized unit that ended up being used on the covers of the “Villans Month” comic books….

However, soon afte that, during the “Forever Evil” crossover, when the Crime Syndicate of America showed up on Earth and took out the Justice League, Luthor had to fight back alongside other supervillains. Luckily, he had been on the side developing a new suit of armor that he debuted in “Forever Evil” #2 (by Geoff Johns and David Finch)…

After helping to save the world, Luthor joined the Justice League for a time, using a slightly different armor than the one he debuted in “Forever Evil.” Soon after that, the New 52 version of Superman died in battle. Luthor decided to become his replacement, and he had a new suit of armor built with an “S” on the chest that he is currently using in the pages of “Action Comics,” where the real Superman is dealing with this interloper…

As we can see, the concept of a “war suit” is such a compelling one that the writers can’t help themselves from returning to it, time and again. It seems likely that even though the warehouse with the Luthor armor in on it this week’s “Supergirl” wad destroyed, we will see a member of the Luthor family wearing that armor at some point in a future episode.

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