How does one write Superman's greatest nemesis (and noted pastry bandit) Lex Luthor? We asked Action Comics author and Doctor Who screenplay scribe Paul Cornell for some advice on how to write the most diabolical villain with the shiniest head.
Despite his fancy armor, allegiances with colorful characters, and megalomania, Lex Luthor doesn't consider himself a supervillain. How do you get in Lex's head when you write him?
Lex is a couple notches below being a really great hero, from being actually Tony Stark. Those two have so many similarities, but in these couple notches are all of these bad things. Lex would like to think that he protects the planet from a dangerous, insufferable superpowered alien with heat vision, who will one day become cold and terrifying.
I think that if Superman had never come along, Lex would blame his monomania and lack of success on somebody else. It's truly ironic that the title of my new collection of Lex Luthor stories is Superman: The Black Ring — that's Lex in a nutshell.
It also comes down to good parenting, Ma and Pa raised Superman really well and he's much more human than Lex is. Lex had a terrifying relationship with a father he probably killed. It's about nurture rather than nature.
When you write Lex, are any rituals or method acting necessary to get into character?
No, but I wish there was! That would be fantastic. Obviously, I build myself a robot girlfriend [Editor's note: Lex Luthor built a robotic gal pal clone of Lois Lane] and I ritually shave my head bald every time I write a comic.
What is your advice to any author lucky enough to pen Lex Luthor?
I think that Lex has explored stuff that everyone knows is bad, but he's actually at the center of humanity. He's Promethean, he's humanity reaching as far as it can. There's an awful lot that's admirable about him. He's just a very intelligent guy who means good things, and he doesn't have superpowers. In of itself, that's admirable, but he's also despicable.
How did penning Doctor Who prepare you for writing comic books?
I'm not sure it did, my first-ever written comics were Doctor Who strips in Britain. Both are subjects of nostalgia for me. I grew up on Doctor Who, but I also grew up on Stan Lee comics.
You work in several media, such as novels and screenplays. What makes writing comics different?
You can do things in comics you can't do anywhere else. It's a group effort between yourself and several people in a short space of time as opposed to a group effort between you and lots of people in a long time. It's a good way to make really magical stuff under pressure.
You have a very prolific web presence. How do you maintain this with all of your projects?
It's more like, "How do I stop having such a big web presence?" I just love chattering, on Twitter especially. I enjoy talking to the audience and hopping in. It's a trap — if I lost all self-control I would be on there all day!
Paul's latest collection of Lex Luthor tales — Superman: The Black Ring — is out today from DC Comics.