Superman 1.66: So Below

“… Some sort of fantastic hoax,” says the man on the TV, and he’s right; as hoaxes go, this one is terrific. An angelic figure from beyond the stars has appeared in the night sky, righting wrongs and gathering up loose housepets. “Your guess is as good as anybody’s,” the man on the TV continues. “True or false, miracle or fraud?”

Miss Teschmacher!” shouts the man in the swimming pool. “Turn it off!” He’s something of a miracle or fraud himself, and he’s not used to competition.

As above, so below: tonight, the secret king of the sky is revealed to an awestruck city, while the emperor of the underworld stews in his cavern, doing the backstroke.

You couldn’t ask for a stronger contrast: Superman soars through the air in full view of the public, and his archenemy lurks in his hole, underground and underwater.

It’s nighttime in the world above, but down here, it’s an artificial afternoon on the Costa del Lex. Cut off from the surface world — as much by choice as by circumstance — Lex Luthor and his hangers-on amuse themselves with tanning sessions under stolen sunlamps.

They have a world of their own devising, a tiny empire of heaven or hell, as they choose to construct it. Down here, they play out their little Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-meets-The Book of Genesis domestic drama, starring Eve, the serpent and their idiot child.

The only thing that penetrates is the daily drumbeat of the journalists, bringing bulletins from above in the form of newspapers and TV news broadcasts. Typically, Luthor appreciates new information — it all adds up, as he continually expands the galactic scope of his schemes — but tonight, it’s delivering truths that he doesn’t want to hear.

As usual, Eve wants more knowledge from the serpent — that’s basically her job, just requesting one apple after another. “What’s the story on this guy?” she asks. “Do you think he’s the genuine article?”

And look, down in the water: it’s a crook, it’s a shark, it’s Lex Luthor, who grumbles, “If he is, he’s not from this world!” Eve asks why, and he announces, “Because if any human being were going to perpetrate such a fantastic hoax, it would have been me!

And that is the point, really; that’s why he’s unilaterally declared war on the sun. Lex is jealous.

It’s not about the money, for Lex; it’s about quieting that voice in his head that tells him that he hasn’t achieved enough. He is the greatest criminal mind of our time, and he’s going to prove it, through the medium of mass murder and property damage. Nobody can stand in the way of him showing the world how brilliant he is.

And then along comes this impossible amateur that Lex has never heard of before, amazing everyone with his gifts. Lex was planning to occupy a major portion of the world’s collective mindshare, once his plan went into effect, and Superman has stolen it from him, effortlessly.

“It all fits somehow,” Lex declares, “his coming here to Metropolis, and at this particular time. There’s kind of a cruel justice in that. I mean, to commit the crime of the century, a man would just naturally want to face the challenge of the century!”

That’s what he needs right now, in order to soothe his wounded ego — to take this civilization-changing discovery of extraterrestrial life, and make it part of Lex’s own story. In his version of the world, the handsome sky-god is just an obstacle that Lex can overcome, as part of his ascension from skulking underdweller to universally-admired emperor of the West Coast.

As Lex emerges from the water to be dressed in his royal colors of green and purple, Otis suggests that maybe Superman is just passing through town.

“Passing through?” Lex says. “Not on your life — which I would gladly sacrifice, by the way, for the opportunity of destroying everything that he represents.”

It’s kind of too early for Superman to represent much of anything, as far as the world is concerned; we’re still trying to figure out the “miracle or fraud” thing. But Lex is talking about what Superman represents for him — an ego-destroying spectacle of a man that’s even more amazing and accomplished than Lex himself.

From now on, Lex’s lifelong motivations have shifted. It’s not just about power and money and applause anymore; it’s about crushing the fantastic creature that threatens his self-concept. This ought to go well.

Tomorrow:
Why did they cut the gauntlet
and the volcano scene?
1.67: The Gauntlet

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

5 thoughts on “Superman 1.66: So Below

  1. Casting Gene Hackman as Lex really was a stroke of genius. The set design, costuming, dialogue, and everything else about this scene are straight out of Batman 66; no actor other than Gene Hackman could simultaneously respect what he is given here and remain a 1970s dramatic actor.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The touch of him wearing the bathing cap is perfection. Lex is BALD. The only reason he needs a cap is that he wears a toupee in swimming, which is Nth Level Lex.

      Liked by 2 people

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