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Superman's Lex Luthor Before There Was a Lex Luthor!

This is "Just Like the Time Before," a feature where I examine instances from comic book history where comic book creators did early versions of later, notable comic book characters and plot ideas. Essentially, the "test runs" for later, more famous characters and stories.

Today, sort of based on a suggestion from my pal Avash I., we take a look at the Ultra-Humanite, the forerunner for Lex Luthor!

Obviously, the hook for Lex Luthor over the years has always been the idea that while Superman is the physical ideal, Luthor is the intelligence ideal and so we get a battle of brain versus brawn, only with the good guy being the brawn and the bad guy being the brains. Interestingly enough, before Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster went this route with Luthor (he did not get a first name for decades), they actually tried a whole other similar approach with a different character, the Ultra-Humanite!

The Ultra-Humanite's debut is one of the strangest debuts in the history of the Golden Age. This is because he shows up out of nowhere in a seemingly unrelated comic book story. In "Superman vs. the Cab Protective League," Superman learns that there is someone trying to muscle in on all of the independent cap companies in Metropolis...

Superman investigates and finds the head of the Cab Protective League...

He gets the guy to confess in front of the cops...

The head of the Cab Protection League gets convicted and sent to prison, but he then escapes! Superman tracks him down and now, all of a sudden, we see that the guy BEHIND the Cab Protection League was actually a new villain called the Ultra-Humanite!

A few things about this. 1. It is cute that electricity knocks the Man of Steel out like that. 2. The "Ultra-Humanite" is the most old fashioned sound villain name ever, right? There are certain times when you're startled into the whole, "Oh, right, this stuff was written nearly A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, so of course it sounds super old fashioned at times" deal and 3. Siegel and Shuster took the brain vs. brawn approach and ratcheted it up a notch by having Ultra-Humanite not have the ability to use his legs. So it really is just about his brains.

Anyhow, Superman escapes and the cabin burns down (Superman notes that he is lucky to make it out of the burning cabin alive. He knows he is Superman, right?). He tracks the Ultra-Humanite down and his plane crashes...

I don't count any situation where there is no body as the person actually dying, so I wouldn't count this as the death of the Ultra-Humanite.

In the next issue, Superman investigates a mysterious subway crash and finds a city inspector also on the case...

Together, they got the proof about the bad guys who sabotaged the subway line as part of some elaborate scheme. They get away and when Superman is tracking them, they seem to disappear!

This is our hint that the Ultra-Humanite is involved again, and sure enough, when Superman tracks the bad guys down, they are with that jerk, the Ultra-Humanite...

It is hilarious how easily the Ultra-Humanite gets away from Superman here...

With the situation resolved, we get an awesome teaser for future Ultra-Humanite story. I expected him to say, "I will get you, my pretties!" and pretty.

The Ultra-Humanite appeared a few more times over the next half of a year before finally being written off in Action Comics #21. Guess who showed up in Action Comics #23?

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