Lex Luthor is in the clutches of the Machinist, who is forcing him to attack Superman. He is powerless against this mind-tick, however it activates the victim’s subconscious, so deep down, this is something Lex has always wanted to do. Superman tries to reason with Lex and get him to resist. Can the Man of Steel save the smartest man in the world?
The short answer is “Yes”. I mean, they have to continue on to the next chapter, of course. What is particularly interesting is how this issue ties into the overall narrative. I had criticized the previous issue as it appeared to be little more than a filler side-plot. Action Comics #986 proves to be much more than that. It wraps up the story of the Machinist, but also has shades of an earlier arc where Lex Luthor becomes ruler of Apokalips. Plus, the mysterious Mr. Oz shows up in a major way which will lead nicely into the upcoming Superman event. So, my apologies to writer Rob Williams and artist Guillem March for not seeing the bigger picture here.
The first half of this issue has Lex as a villain, which is something we’ve seen repeatedly over his storied history, however this time he’s wearing the Superman S on his chest. I was momentarily concerned about this, because I think Lex works better as a hero, or at least a frustrated one. The things that held him back from greatness such as Superman’s long shadow, are still in place, but he’s realized that he can make the world a better place by working on the side of the angels. The real question is whether or not he can put aside his own ego to accomplish this. We see him go through a rough personal soul search here that will certainly have him questioning his next move.
These traits make Lex appear like a demented Reed Richards. If Mr. Fantastic didn’t have a family to ground him, he could be Lex Luthor. Here we see that he’s in a constant struggle to stay on the straight and narrow. To turn to the dark side would be easy. He has the capability and resources to do it without a problem. It’s working for good that is the challenge. Lex has to overcome the odds to maintain that status when everyone, Superman included, has their doubts about whether or not he can do it.
We see this physically in Lex as he grapples with the mind-tick and his power suit. He has to out-think someone that has him under mind control and that takes a toll on his body. His suit is made of Apokoliptian technology which was never meant for humans to use. It would be similar if Iron Man’s armor was made out of Chitari weapons. March beautifully illustrates this struggle. The strain is noticeable on Lex’s face to the point where he closely resembles Darkseid for a number of panels.
The suit itself is rather impressive. We’ve seen it in action before, but not like this. Lex goes all out in his fight against Superman to the point where you wonder how all those weapons fit into that armor. Where was he keeping all those boosters and guns? I guess since it’s Apokaliptian, the thing could be covered in little boom tubes.
Of course, Superman gets a few moments to shine too. The final battle with the Machinist and his henchmen shows why the Last Son of Krypton doesn’t have many human enemies. He mops the floor with them in seconds without breaking a sweat. At one point he obliterates a robot tiger. One moment it’s rushing at him and the next it’s little more than scrap metal. It’s just gone.
Action Comics #986 serves as connective tissue for the larger Superman arc. More importantly, it puts the spotlight on Lex Luthor in an interesting character study. Yes, Superman is the main character, but you get a chance to see where Lex is coming from and really sympathize with him here. I would totally read a Lex Luthor comic if this is the kind of story we’d get from it. He’s a far more intriguing character as a tortured hero than a villain.