Paul Cornell's run on Action Comics has been delving into the devilish mind of Lex Luthor. And in December, the writer will go back into the character's history to reveal his first meetings with two other DCU villains, Darkseid and Ra's Al Ghul.
In Action Comics Annual #13, Cornell works with artists Marco Rudy and Ed Benes to uncover two untold tales of Lex Luthor's formative years.
In the first, readers will discover a hidden tale of Darkseid's time in Metropolis and how he met a young Lex Luthor. The second, which is told in a poetic narrative, shows the first meeting of Lex and Ra's Al Ghul.
It's all part of Cornell's ongoing exploration of Lex Luthor within the pages of Action Comics, where the character interacts with Android Lois Lane and pursues the mystery of the Black Lanterns power.
Next month, the writer will team up with Neil Gaiman for the appearance of Death of Sandman fame, as we discussed with Cornell when the landmark issue was announced.
But after that issue, Cornell also has a crossover with Secret Six planned and more surprising villainous guests coming, as well as the Annual's stories from Lex's past.
We talked with Cornell to find out more about the Annual and what's coming up in Action Comics.
Newsarama: Paul, what stories will we see in this Action Comics Annual in December?
Paul Cornell: It's two stories of the young Lex Luthor and two villains he met as he climbed on the path to power.
First off is his encounter with Darkseid. As a kid growing up in Britain, I never knew if he was called Dark-"side" or Dark-"seed." I used to call him Darkseed for the longest time. The story is all about Lex coming to Metropolis, and his early interaction with some characters that you get to know much better later -- before Superman arrives in Metropolis, before Clark Kent does. So there's a whole unseen story of Lex and Intergang and Darkseid.
The second story is about Lex's young encounter with Ra's Al Ghul. They're almost two stories about substitute father figures for Lex, having got through one, he's after another. The second story is told entirely in the form of rhyme. It's not rhyming, exactly. It's done in the form of a kind of poetry, it's narrated poetry.
I don't know why I opted for that form. It gives the whole thing an attempt for beauty and lyricalism.
Nrama: Narrated by Lex?
Cornell No, no, no. [laughs] I'm not sure has the ability to do that in his soul, to be honest.
Nrama: Have we ever seen these characters first meeting before, or is this completely new?
Cornell: This is completely new. Both were editorial suggestions. We played around with a few things that might have happened. The interesting thing is that Darkseid is definitely in Metropolis, setting up Intergang and sorting all that stuff out by Desaad. And this was while Lex would be on his path to power there.
So we thought, well that's really interesting. Maybe there's a story to be told there.
With the Ra's thing, you know, one of the interesting things about writing Action Comics with Lex Luthor is discovering how few of the DC villains have interacted. We couldn't find much in the way of Lex and Vandal Savage either, from the regular run. I think it was Mark Waid who said to me, just chatting comics, that he wasn't aware of any panel in which Ra's and Lex have even appeared together. I'm sure there must be one.
Nrama: If there is one, I would think Mark would know. Are the events shown in this Annual going to come up at all in the regular series? A lot of times, annuals are just one-shots that have nothing to do with the regular series, and other times they're almost like another issue of the regular series. Which is this one?
Cornell: I think we're a little in between those two options. Lex has his hair in these stories, and the second one involves him losing it. So it's pretty important in the life of Lex Luthor, both of these stories. And I think they demonstrate lots of interesting things about him. There's nothing that specifically contributes to the ongoing mystery of what the black spheres are and what's going to happen with them, but if you like Lex Luthor in the books, this is more of him.
This is a way into his psyche, and it's kind of a Secret Origin continued. So I think that's a good balance. You wouldn't want to put anything in the plot in here that's vital to the understanding of the main run. But at the same time, this is full-on Lex Luthor.
Nrama: As you've been writing all these Lex stories, what's it been like getting inside his head? And are these stories inspired by your efforts to figure out what made him the way he is?
Cornell: Oh absolutely. They're the next step in a kind of a continuing origin story. And yeah, I'm continually fascinated by him. I'm kind of obsessed by Lex Luthor. I think one of the really interesting things about it is the extent to which one can identify with some of the things he wants and the reasons he is how he is, without ever falling for his charm. He hasn't really got much charm, in a lot of ways. I always say he's just a couple of notches away from being a hero, but in those couple of notches is all human weakness and awfulness. I think he's fascinating. I honestly could write him as an ongoing forever.
Nrama: That's kind of scary.
Cornell: Is it?
Nrama: Not scary as an ongoing, but scary to write a villain that long.
Nrama: Oh, OK, I wasn't sure if I should be flattered. Paul doing an ongoing? That's scary.
Nrama: No, I meant scary for your head! Scary to be delving into the criminal mind of Lex Luthor so much.
Cornell: And for those around me, I'm sure. I'm tempted as we speak to take over a missile base and hold the world to ransom.
Nrama: As long as we're talking about an ongoing, what's coming up for the character in the next few months of Action Comics?
Cornell: We're about to enter the great crossover. I've just written the first issue of Lex Luthor-Vandal Savage. Then in the second issue, Lex summons the Secret Six to take his side in a story that I think is going to end up being called the Siege of Lex Corp. And then Gail Simone will finish that story in an issue of Secret Six.
I really love Vandal Savage. Do you know the British actor Brian Blessed who was in Flash Gordon? He's Vandal Savage. I always like to base characters on actors' speech patterns. I think Gorilla Grodd talks like Sydney Greenstreet, the guy on Casablanca. I think Vandal Savage talks like Brian Blessed. Even in his quieter moments.
I'm having a tremendous time writing that.
Nrama: And I assume we'll see more villains down the road?
Cornell: Yes. I can't reveal the names of our remaining villains, although there are a couple of real big-time characters there, and ones that I think will get a reaction from the audience.