Doctor Doom vs. Lex Luthor: Which Supervillain Origin Debuted First?


Today, we look at whose origin debuted first, Doctor Doom or Lex Luthor (the answer is surprisingly close).

In Comic Book Questions Answered, I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at brianc@cbr.com).

Reader Derrick R. wrote in to ask about Doctor Doom and Lex Luthor’s respective origins. He noticed that they were both a bit similar to each other and he was wondering which one came out first.

You would think that this would be a simple situation, since Luthor debuted over two decades before Doom, but in reality, the answer is a lot closer than you might think. This is because of the rather bizarre behind-the-scenes origins of Lex Luthor.

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First off, he did not initially have a first name. For the first 20 years of his existence, he was simply known as “Luthor.”

In addition, the character was so ill-defined that his most distinctive appearance was actually an artistic MISTAKE! You see, when Luthor was introduced in Action Comics #23 (by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and Paul Cassidy), he was a redhead munitions seller who Clark Kent and Lois Lane were trying to track down and prove was behind the escalation of a foreign war (one of the interesting recurring themes in early Superman stories was Siegel’s belief that it was the munitions makers, the people that Bob Dylan would later dub the “Masters of War” who were responsible for most war in the world). However, you’ll notice that a prominent figure in that first issue was a bald guard of Luthor’s who Lois Lane blackmails into helping her…

If you read the issue closely, you’d notice that Luthor was the redheaded guy, but the bald guard was so oddly prominent that if you gave the story just a quick read, you could easily think that the bald guard WAS Luthor.

That story was quickly followed by a return of Luthor in Superman #4, by Siegel and Paul Cassidy and once more, a bald underling of Luthor was prominently featured in the story…

And as you can see, the bald underling is actually more heavily involved in the actual plot of the early parts of the story than Luthor himself, who barely appears in the story in the early panels (but then becomes the major villain of the back half of the story)…

While I cannot state with a certainty that those two usages of bald villains in Luthor’s first two appearances were the reason why the change happened, I suspect that that musst have been what was going through Wayne Boring’s mind when the early member of Joe Shuster’s studio drew a Superman comic strip later in 1940, featuring a baldheaded Luthor…

A few different things need to be understood about how early Superman stories were produced. One, Joe Shuster quickly could not maintain the artistic demands that were being placed on him to produce a whooole lot of Superman comic content. No artist could, really, but Shuster, in particular, had a problem with speed, and so he soon developed a studio of artists who would ghost for him. This was very normal for the time period. Some of his early ghosts were guys like Paul Cassidy, Wayne Boring (who would later become the definitive Superman artist of the 1950s) and Leo Nowak.

Two, the Superman comic books and the Superman comic strips were produced under basically the same system. Same editors, same creators, etc. So the people involved tended to not differentiate between doing a comic strip story or a comic book story. Because of this, once Wayne Boring had introduced a bald Luthor into the comic strip, it was only a matter of time before another artist also drew a bald Luthor in the comic strip and Leo Nowak was that other artist and then, in Superman #10, Nowak brought the bald look to the comics…

And when you’re dealing with a sort of assembly-line of artists, the next guy just copies the previous guy and so Luthor was now bald in the comics. However, again, he was just Luthor. He had no origin, he was just a recurring bad guy. There was no back story for him.

That changed in 1960’s Adventure Comics #271, in a retcon story (as Luthor had previously faced Superboy as a villain before this) by Jerry Siegel and Al Plastino, revealing Luthor’s first name, Lex, and that he was initially a fan of Superboy…

but then turned on Superboy after blaming him for an experiment gone wrong that left Lex bald…

That was his origin for the rest of the Silver Age (later, this was also presumed to be the introduction of Earth 1 Lex Luthor, with the earlier Luthor being the Earth 2 Luthor).

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When Doom debuted in 1962’s Fantastic Four #5 (by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Joe Sinnott), he, too, was the victim of an experiment gone wrong…

but it wasn’t until 1964’s Fantastic Four Annual #2 that Reed Richards was specifically brought into Doom’s origin story as someone who Doom accused of possibly messing with his machine before he did his nonsense…

although it is important to note that Doom did not initially blame Reed for the machine going haywire…

So yes, both villains had origins in which they went bad following experiments blowing up when they were young men (and disfiguring them in some way), but Lex’s story occurred in 1960 and Doom’s in 1962 and 1964. I doubt Kirby and Lee were following Siegel, I would assume it’s just both similar tropes. Mad scientist, after all, is a fairly standard trope for supervillains and experiments going wrong are sort of part and parcel with the mad scientist trope.

Thanks for the question, Derrick R.! If anyone else has a comic book question, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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