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Meta-Messages: The Origin of Lex Luthor's Terrible Cake-Stealing

In this feature I explore the context behind (using reader danjack's term) "meta-messages." A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I'll give you the context behind one such "meta-message." Here is an archive of the past installments!

Today we look at the secret origins of Luthor's terrible cake-stealing...

As you may or may not know, in 1978, as part of a special deal where they would put out some educational comic book readers (basically just edited comics from that era to turn them into readers, complete with questions at the end of each story), Warner Educational put out the Super Dictionary, which used its superheroes to illustrate words in the dictionary. Joe Kubert was in charge of the art, but most of it was repurposed original DC art, and as we have seen from many notable artists who just swipe artwork whether it works in a scene or not, some of the art used did not really fit the word that it was assigned to, so you would get these really bizarre mixtures of words and art, like this Wonder Woman balloon definition where lines are just added to turn something that clearly was not meant to be a balloon into a balloon...

Plus, each definition would try to somehow work into a paragraph multiple uses of the word in question to show the plural (I'll save the balloons!), the past tense or stuff like, in the case of the number forty, how it is written as a number as well as how it is written as a word. So it led to some ridiculously repetitive entries, including the most famous one of all, the aforementioned definition of the word "forty"....

Luthor likely needed the cakes for his birthday...

Okay, so fair enough, it was a really weird thing. However, this being the internet, eventually this really weird thing was turned into a meme. Forty. That's as many as four tens. And that's terrible. The whole thing became a recurring shtick.

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