In both the corporate and supervillain worlds, Lex Luthor and Norman Osborn are at the top of their games in their respective universes. Not content to bedeviling just Superman and Spider-Man, both antagonists have threatened and nearly completed world domination, requiring either the Justice League or the Avengers to put an end to their nefarious schemes.
Their successes are due in no small part to the nature of their characters: ambitious, calculating and ruthless. However, the one trait that sets them apart from other supervillains is their genius-level intelligence, which begs the question: Who is smarter, Lex Luthor or Norman Osborn?
10 Financial Failsafes
A man of guts and vision, Norman Osborn founded Oscorp with Mendel Stromm, having financed the lion’s share of the investment himself. Aside from that, Osborn ran the business end of the company while also contributing to the research in genetics that would eventually give him his augmented strength, reflexes, and healing factor.
Osborn’s raw intellect also helped develop his vast array of Goblin-themed weapons, including his infamous glider. However, his actions as the Green Goblin led to the combination of Stromm’s death, his loss of public image, and insanity. This was enough to lead to Oscorp’s downfall, but Norman was smart enough to set up a dummy corporation under an assumed name to ensure his grandson’s legacy.
9 Business Acumen
Lex Luthor’s business acumen is unparalleled in the DC Universe, as LexCorp’s net worth and diversification portfolio dwarf any other company’s, including Wayne Enterprises. Originally founded as a scientific research firm with a specialty in aeronautics, LexCorp has grown in scope and reach, with subsidiaries in all areas of the world and domains as varied as private security, weapons manufacturing, and computer software.
This success is due in no small part to its CEO, Lex Luthor himself. Aside from his formidable business knowledge and instinct, Luthor is not above breaking the law to ensure his company’s growth and a robust bottom line.
8 Genius, Genetics, Goblins, Gadgets
Although Norman Osborn holds degrees in mechanical engineering and chemistry, it’s genetic engineering that he excels at, as that is what gave him the formula for his Green Goblin serum. Although heavily aided in this endeavor by his mentor Dr. Mendel Stromm, Norman’s scientific contributions and willingness to serve as a test subject were the key factors in granting him his enhanced strength, agility and resilience.
As if this feat were not impressive enough, Norman also designed his own weapons—some deceptively simple as the razor bats, and some requiring intricate knowledge of engineering and physics, like his sparkle-blasts and glider.
7 Maven of Tech
In his early appearances, most of Superman’s adversaries were mad scientists, and Lex Luthor was chief amongst them. Modern incarnations of the character have often depicted Lex as a wealthy captain of industry, but his aptitude for scientific research, particularly in the technological field, has not diminished.
Aside from funding cutting-edge research, Luthor personally engages in advanced weapons development, reverse engineering of alien tech, and the search for alternative (usually kryptonite-powered) energy sources. In some continuities, Luthor is even responsible for creating some of the Man of Steel’s most deadly enemies, like the kryptonite-powered Metallo. His most recognizable accomplishment is the creation of his battlesuit, allowing him to go toe-to-toe with the Man of Steel and cementing him as an evil scientific genius extraordinaire.
6 Master of the Slow Burn
Aside from his intellectual prowess in science and business, Norman Osborn is also no slouch in the strategy department. With considerable resources at his disposal and the patience of a slow-burning wick, Osborn is capable of crafting intricate long and short term plans designed to bring an unsuspecting opponent to their knees.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the immediate events following his 'death' at the end of the Gwen Stacy affair. Allowing Spider-Man to believe he was gone for good, Osborn went about orchestrating the systematic destruction of his foe by faking Aunt May's death, absconding Peter and MJ's baby, and perhaps most unforgivably (to both Spidey and his readers), perpetrating the Clone Saga.
5 Walk Softly, Carry A Big Brain
A formidable intellect like Lex Luthor's also breeds a formidable ego. A master strategist, whether he's planning a corporate takeover or his latest attack on Superman, Luthor walks with a grandiose swagger and self-assuredness that matches his considerable IQ. Ever the opportunist, Luthor is even smart enough to use his reputation for being smart to his advantage; his expertise on something is rarely questioned, and if so, his clout and considerable connections will usually silence his adversary for him. For Luthor, intelligence and intimidation go hand-in-hand, and he's not above using the former to ensure the latter to fulfill his aims.
4 Director Osborne
Norman Osborn's ambition has often gone far beyond making Peter Parker's life miserable. Following the events of Secret Invasion and the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D., Osborn used his considerable influence to lobby for the creation of a new American defense program, with himself at its head. Now director of H.A.M.M.E.R., Osborn used his considerable resources and intelligence to further his own political agenda.
No fool, his first act was to try to neutralize his predecessor, Tony Stark. Next, he tried to gain access to all metahuman civilian identities gathered during Civil War. When that didn't pan out, he resorted to restructuring the Avengers with members of the former-villains-turned hero superteam, the Thunderbolts, all in an ingeniously evil plan to give him almost unlimited power.
3 President Lex
Of all Lex Luthor's accomplishments, perhaps the greatest was becoming President of the United States. His massive ego bruised by the sheer adulation Metropolis and the world gave Superman, Luthor decided to put his formidable intellect and resources to use and procure himself the presidency. Aside from winning the most powerful seat in world governance, Luthor had the foresight to leave LexCorp in the hands of Talia Al Ghul, a similarly intelligent and devious individual.
Once in office, Luthor coordinated the defense of the Earth during the Our Worlds at War storyline, including the risky but brilliant idea of siccing a mind-controlled Doomsday on Imperiex.
2 The Cabal
Having achieved a position of extensive power and influence by being appointed the new director of H.A.M.M.E.R., Osborn did not rest on his laurels. Instead, he called together several of the most powerful supervillains in the Marvel Universe together to form the Cabal, a dark mirror of the Illuminati and a secret group of heroes who got together to covertly discuss and enact unofficial policies in the superhero world. In this act, Osborn exhibited intelligent foresight, as now there would be nothing to stop him and his cadre of nefarious contemporaries from doing whatever they wished.
If Lex Luthor is Superman’s greatest enemy, then a strong argument can be made for Brainiac being the second. A superior intellect that roams the universe amassing data on countless worlds and miniaturizing whole cities for cataloging and storage, Brainiac’s digitized intelligence contains galactic repositories of knowledge, which he has used in schemes against Superman for decades.
In many continuities, Luthor has sought out Brainiac and merged with him, creating a completely new entity. This fusion of an already genius-level intellect with an inter-galactic database created an extremely deadly and ruthless adversary whose intelligence and cunning were second to none.