An Unassuming Debut (ACTION COMICS vol. 1 #23, 1940)
In Lex Luthor’s first appearance, he was a standard-issue “mad scientist,” who used the technology at his disposal to attempt to start a war between two European nations. Clark Kent and Lois Lane were sent to investigate, and Lois ended up getting kidnapped by Luthor. He used a green ray (although not Kryptonite) to fight the Man of Steel, but Superman defeated him soundly. This was the first of many times Luthor would use technology to hold countries ransom or try to set himself up as ruler.
A Friendship Shattered (ADVENTURE COMICS vol. 1 #271, 1960)
After disappearing from the pages of Superman comics for many years, Luthor returned, and this time his backstory, and the origin of his villainy, were tied into Superman’s boyhood in Smallville. The broken friendship of Luthor and Superman led to a lifetime of schemes to humiliate and later murder Kal-El. During these years we learned that Luthor’s family, including his sister Lena, changed their last name to Thorul to distance themselves from his infamy.
The Man Who Owns Metropolis (MAN OF STEEL #4, 1986)
When Luthor was reintroduced post-Crisis for the first time, he was a heavyset, balding man running the mega-conglomerate LexCorp. He essentially owned all of Metropolis. Daily Planet reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent were invited to a party on Luthor’s yacht, and when terrorists attacked the event, Superman saved the day. Lex attempted to pay the Man of Steel with a personal check, hoping that everyone at the party would believe the new hero was on Luthor’s payroll.
Lex admitted he arranged the attack to see what the Kryptonian could do. The mayor of Metropolis, outraged at the way Luthor put the lives of his guests in danger, deputized Superman and allowed him to arrest Luthor.
Farewell, Lex Luthor, Hello, Lex Luthor II (ACTION COMICS vol. 1 #660, #700, 1990-1994)
Lex Luthor was so paranoid about his enemy that he had a Kryptonite ring fashioned to keep Superman at bay. Although the radiation from Kryptonite was usually harmless to humans, prolonged exposure ended up giving Luthor incurable cancer. Knowing the end was coming, he faked his own death and transferred his mind to a younger, cloned body.
He passed off this clone as his own heretofore-unheard-of son, Lex Luthor II. This second, younger Lex tried to win the hearts of Metropolis and prove to everyone he was not like his “father.” Nevertheless, he was exposed by Lois Lane. In retaliation, he set bombs off all over Metropolis, killing thousands. Luthor’s cloned body then deteriorated to an approximation of his real age.
Luthor then turned himself in to the authorities. During his trial, he concocted a story in which he was kidnapped by renegade scientists, and Lex Luthor II was an impostor made to ruin his family name. He was acquitted, much to the disgust of Lois Lane and the staff of the Daily Planet, who knew the truth. Luthor again took control of LexCorp, but his greatest bid for power was still to come.
President Luthor (SUPERMAN: LEX 2000 #1, 2000, SUPERMAN/BATMAN vol. 1 #1-6, 2003)
Upon clearing himself, Luthor contributed to many philanthropic causes, earning back the good name he’d destroyed. After helping save Gotham City after a disastrous earthquake, Luthor decided to run for president of the United States. He sought to use his presidential powers to destroy Superman once and for all.
When a giant meteor of pure Kryptonite was discovered headed for Earth, he found a way to blame Superman. But once again, his hubris was his downfall. This time Superman, along with Batman, helped expose Luthor for what he was to the entire world. Despite attempts at explaining away his crimes, Luthor never regained his standing. After losing the presidency, he again ended up in jail.
New 52 (2012-2016)
A New Lex for a New Decade (ACTION COMICS vol. 2 #1, 2011)
In the new DC Universe that resulted after the Flashpoint event, Lex Luthor was once again a tech genius, but he also served as a sort of troubleshooter for the U.S. government. When Superman first appeared in this reality, both the U.S. military and the corporate establishment didn’t trust the new alien, despite all the good he did, and Luthor offered his expertise to defeat him. Ultimately, however, he double-crossed General Sam Lane and Glen Glenmorgan, the billionaire who ran Metropolis, exposing their illegal activities. With Glenmorgan out of the way, Luthor and his company LexCorp took control of the city.
Lex Luthor, Super Hero (FOREVER EVIL #1-7, JUSTICE LEAGUE vol. 2 #34-50, 2013-2016)
When evil versions of the Justice League from Earth-3 known as the Crime Syndicate invaded Prime Earth and imprisoned the Super Heroes of the Justice League, Luthor and several notable villains formed an Injustice League, which saved the world from the evil doppelgängers. Now a hero in the eyes of the world, Luthor joined the Justice League, claiming he was a changed man.
Reluctantly, the League’s members agreed to let him join, although none of them trusted him. During the so-called Darkseid War, Luthor traveled with the League to Apokolips. In the ensuing battle, he absorbed much of the defeated Darkseid’s energy, becoming, for the first time, a powerful metahuman.
Following the events of DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1, Lex Luthor returned to Earth from Apokolips, only to find that his enemy Superman had died. Mysteriously, another Superman had appeared on Earth, claiming to be from the previous, post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint DC Universe.
In honor of the dead Superman, Luthor constructed a power suit for himself and used the fallen Superman’s cape as his own. For a time he protected Metropolis as its second Superman. But the older Superman was never convinced Lex was anything less than a charlatan. Realizing they could never be allies, Lex ripped the S shield off his chest and denounced any truce with the Man of Steel.