WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Action Comics #1000's "The Fifth Season," a short story by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque.
Action Comics #1000 is a celebration of all things Superman. Its various short stories cover the character's beginnings to his possible endings, his struggles to triumphs, and all of them manage to cut straight to the heart of the character, exploring the fundamentals that make him who he is. But Action is about more than Superman, so it makes sense that one of the entries focuses on the other half of the Superman coin: Lex Luthor.
Titled "The Fifth Season," this Silver Age influenced story is told by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. It's a surprisingly quiet tale that sees the two men standing side-by-side for the bulk of its 5-page length. But that's all this creative team needs to spin an essential Lex Luthor and Superman adventure, albeit one that (we hope) never actually takes place in continuity. It's a tale of friendships lost, and of man triumphing over God.
In this short story, Lex Luthor does the unimaginable: He defeats Superman.
The plot of Snyder and Albuquerque's short piece is relatively straightforward. It starts with Superman searching for Lex Luthor, in the hopes of stopping the supervillain's latest dastardly plot. But he doesn't find Luthor in the streets of Metropolis, or on the top floor of his high-rise company building. Instead, Superman finds his enemy in the confines of an unlikely location -- the Smallville Planetarium.
There, we learn that Luthor's scheme involves the Eye of Xotar and Chrono's Time Scissors, both of which are now in his possession. Together, we are told, these artifacts can cut a genealogical line from existence, wipe an entire family from history. At first, it appears as if Luthor has no ill intents. He tells Superman that he only wishes to stargaze -- but the readers, Lex and Superman all know that this is a lie.
When asked, Luthor reveals that he chose to come to the Planetarium because it was one place that offered him solace as a child. A long time ago, he had once gone there in the hopes of using the facility's telescope to send out a distress call into space, looking for someone to come down from the heavens to help him.
Although Luthor follows by saying that no one ever heard him, the irony is that a savior had already fallen from the skies to save mankind -- in fact, Clark Kent was in the very room with Luthor when he had sent the distress signal. Back then, the two were in grade school together, and they had worked on a laser as lab partners. While Lex was busy sending a message out for help, Clark used his heat vision to fix a mistake that could have potentially killed his friend.
Luthor never realized his call had been answered, at the very moment it was sent. The fact that Luthor can't recognize the correlation between sending a signal of help to outer space while an alien hero he has consistently maligned and attacked is standing right next to him speaks volumes to the character's Silver Age incarnation, and his utmost disdain for the superhero.
While Superman tries to appeal to Luthor's better side, the villain finally uses both of his alien artifacts to erase his Kryptonian rival from existence, mid-sentence. Superman simply disappears, and Luthor stands victorious. After returning to the place where he learned that the only person he could depend on was himself, Luthor finally achieves what he had sought for for so long. But this ending isn't presented as a jovial victory. There's a sadness to it -- a haunting melancholy that stretches all the way back to the friendship between two grade schoolers; a sense of respect between enemies, and a hate that will never, ever be quenched.