What Corrupts? Superman: The Black Ring Considered
It has been about a year or more since I read the first half of “The Black Ring” arc of Action Comics written by Paul Cornell for the first time. And now I’ve finally read the second half. In the aftermath of the destruction of New Krypton, Action Comics briefly starred Lex Luthor as the main protagonist as he pursued the power of the Black Lanterns.
That ambition, that quest, becomes ever greater as Luthor reaches for the powers of a god. But, rather than being corrupted by this immense power, Luthor himself is the corruption.
Normally in fiction, especially fantasy fiction, power is usually depicted as corrupting. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as it were. Jean Grey is corrupted by the power of the Phoenix (plus Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magick). Saruman is corrupted by the promise of the power that the One Ring represents (as is Galadriel for a brief moment). I could go on.
Yet is it really power that is corrupting or is it the individuals pursuing power who are already corrupt?
This is where Lex Luthor and his pursuit of a power ring/ godhood come in. Luthor is a brilliant scientist and ruthless businessman. He is already corrupt. But that does not mean that he is completely evil.
He does have his moments of heroism. He sees himself as a hero. He wants to be Superman. But his hatred for the Last Son of Krypton, as well as his disregard for individuals, continually corrupts his latent heroism.
At the conclusion of “The Black Ring,” Luthor confronts an entity of great power and, to save the universe, merges with it. This event grants him immense power, which he immediately uses to torture and attempt to kill Superman. However, Luthor has another option.
After discovering that he is limited by his negative emotions, he gains absolute power by letting go. And changes the universe for the better. No more strife. All bliss. The price? Luthor cannot kill Superman. So what does Lex do? He tries to kill Superman. And is stripped of his powers.
So, at the end of the day, it is Luthor’s own corruption that informs his brief existence as a god, not the power itself.
And I think the reason why Luthor cannot keep his power is revealed in his final (?) confrontation with the Man of Steel. Superman feels. He feels the death of Krypton, the tragic destruction of New Krypton, the death of Jonathan Kent, etc. Superman, despite Luthor’s protests, has empathy. But Luthor doesn’t.
Lex Luthor is a sociopath. He doesn’t care for individuals. His ordered hit on a callously fired employee, his nonchalance at the death of his employees, etc. shows that it is he, not Superman, who fakes empathy and sorrow. So, I wonder, how much of what Luthor ascribes to Superman is really a projection rooted in Luthor’s own character?
“The Black Ring” is an awesome and fun read, though the “Young Luthor” interlude does slow the narrative (should have been flashbacks rather than backups or a two part standalone).
Post Blog Script:
I’m working on ideas for April’s posts. I’m working on using writing as a theme. I’ll try to have more concrete plans later. And I’m working on a rant dealing with the X-Men film franchise.