"In which the blogger discusses (1) his sincere regard and respect for the world-renowned criminal psychologist Dr Robert Hare, (2) touches on the issue of diagnosing psychopathy, and (3) asks whether Lex Luthor can be said, in a amateur-diagnosis-sort-of-way, to be psychopathic."
1. Who Is Dr Robert Hare & Why Should Comic Book Fans Care?
I've got lots of heroes. Lots and lots of them. Many of them are fictional, but many hundreds more are not. Doctors, nurses, care workers, teachers, vets, police-people, fire-folks, ambulance drivers. Folks who live with pain and make other people's lives more splendid. Folks who are good to their neighbours and principled in their dealings with strangers. Honest craftsmen and women, skilled artists, decent chaps and chapesses. The list really does go on and on.
Sometimes I think I have more heroes than there actually are - or ever have been - people.
And then there are the individuals who have done something brilliant and significant, something which one way or another ended up benefiting everybody who I'd like to see benefited. (So, not Nazis and paedophiles, and the like, obviously.) And of these folks, one of the least well-known and yet most admired in our little bolthole here at TooBusyThinkingAboutMyComics is Dr Robert Hare, the criminal psychologist.
Now, you may be thinking, if you haven't already done so and since disappeared, that you have no idea why you should care about Dr Robert Who-ever-he-is. And being that this is a blog about comic books and not criminal psychology, that thought is a pretty fair one. But, if you don't already know, then you should know, because, unknown even to himself, Dr Robert Hare is actually a comic book super-scientist who by some cosmic accident - and to our great common benefit - was rocketed from somewhere not unlike Marvel-Earth or Earth-DC only to arrive here on our tawdry little globe in 1934 instead.(*1)
(*1) - I may be lying here, but stick with it. It's relevant.
In a comic-book universe, Dr Hare would be a colleague of Dr Leonard Samsom, helping to diagnose and treat super-villains who threaten the fate of the solar system. Or he'd be the only man that Batman could turn to when he couldn't diagnose whether Villain-Y was schizophrenic or just plain pretending-to-be-wacky. (Any qualified psychologists will notice how I'm applying actual psychological terms here in a very impressive fashion indeed.) In the worlds of Tower, First and DC, Marvel, Pacific and Image, Dr Hare would undoubtedly play the role of the hero's donor and the heroine's dispatcher. He'd be Metron inventing the Boom Tube, Reed Richards discovering Unstable Molecules, Tony Stark improvising the construction of the heart-stabilising chest-plate out of scrap metal and old radio transistors in Vietnam.
Because that's the kind of achievement Dr Hare and his team have contributed to the discipline of criminal psychology in our world. For here, on Earth-Real-Earth-Not-Comic-Book-Earth,
Dr Hare is the man who painstakingly worked out how to reliably diagnose psychopathy, a fiendishly impossible conundrum whose solution couldn't even have been dreamt of just a relatively few years ago. And that diagnostic method has quietly and vitally revolutionised our world. Earth-Real-World.
That slightly duller and safer Earth without the costumes or the planet-eating aliens.
Or: let me paraphrase this in a Ghostbusters vibe: "He's discovered shit that will turn you white!"
*1. Maybe it happened because Superboy was hitting dimensional walls or something. I don't know. Does everything need a continuity-based explanation? OK. Superboy was hitting dimensional walls and the vibrations reached back in time and .... and .... why am I losing the will to live here?
Before Dr Hare set to work, the standard method for diagnosing criminal psychopaths was to, er, well, ask them if they were criminal psychopaths. I am not making this up. Self-report was the only method that psychologists could devise to use in the diagnosis of psychopathy. And many of you will immediately notice a slight problem with this approach. Yes, you've guessed it. (I can't sneak anything past you.) The problem was that one of the qualities which defines a psychopath is their ability to lie and cheat and manipulate others without conscience, meaning that their faking their way through a self-report diagnosis was often no problem for them at all.
Now, Dr Hare's approach to diagnosing psychopathy is a very complex business, and I'm only going to attempt the briefest summary of it here. (Anyone who wants to learn more ought to visit the good Doctor's web-site, or buy his books "Without Conscience" and "Snakes In Suits", which I highly recommend.) But, essentially, Doctor Hare designed a diagnostic pincer movement to trap the psychopath, and the pincer movement is known as the PCL-R checklist, which can and should only be used by highly qualified criminal psychologists.
And not me, of course.
Especially not to try to playfully diagnose whether Lex Luthor is a psychopath or not.(*2)
*2. And especially-especially since I was terribly biased when I began this. I thought Luthor was a psychopath. I thought nothing would challenge that point of view. A-hem.
Psychopaths have a common and distinct way of thinking and behaving, of course, and Dr Hare's long years invested in studying them - which included some periods of being fooled and manipulated by them - has revealed statistically significant data which allows the difference between one of them and one of us to be reliably established. (I'm assuming that you are one of "us". If you're one of "them" psychopaths, I'd ask you leave, but then, if you were one of them, you wouldn't go, would you?) So his PCL-R checklist involves, on the one side of the pincer movement, the criminal psychologist assessing the mass of evidence from the subject's past in a case study, and you'd be amazed how much evidence of, say, promiscuity and impulsivity and the habit of parasitically preying on others can pile up. (Because that's what psychopaths do. They don't suddenly become psychopathic. They're psychopathic from an early age, at least, and they then follow the psychological stages of a psychopathic career.) So, the case study is one thrust of the pincer movement, if you'll allow that I'm massively simplifying here. And the other thrust is an extended clinical interview, which is brilliantly structured so that the psychopath simply can't avoid showing typical factors such as a glib charm, a manipulative nature, a complete lack of regret, and so on. Because psychopaths behave predictably, and they can't resist revealing themselves when the appropriately controlled circumstances are presented to them.
Dr Hare's PCL-R has been tested across the world and found to be reliable, which means that the same results can be expected to be found regardless of which trained professional administers the test. And the tests are excellent predictors of who is likely to go on and display dangerously psychopathic behaviour in the future too, which means that Dr Hare has developed the holy grail of criminal psychology. Not only does the PCL-R mean that we have a valid, reliable and representative descriptor of psychopaths, but it also predicts how the subject psychopath is likely to behave in the future.
Boom tubes. JLA teleportation devices. Quinjets. Time bombs. The PCL-R checklist.
It's all so brilliant that I'm in awe. And yet it's so much more complicated and beautifully elegant than I can explain here, so I know I can trust you to just sit yourself down one afternoon and study it yourself. But, and here the neophyte might want to brace themselves, there's a few other things I haven't told you about yet, and which, if this is new to you to one degree or another, you really ought to steel yourself against.
Those psychopaths? The conscienceless creatures who neither care nor can care about anyone else except themselves? The violent ones who use physical aggression without reference to principle or regret? The "industrial" breed who may not be directly violent, but who bully and manipulate and break people around them just because that's what they do?
There's alot of them.
An awful lot of them.
In fact, it's estimated by Dr Hare that about one in every hundred people in America is "highly psychopathic". (*3)
(The figure is estimated by other authorities at about one in every two hundred in Britain.)
And the figures rise considerably in urban environments as a percentage of the surrounding population too.
Worse yet, although Hare and his team, as well as many other fine researchers all across the world, are working on treatments, there are no effective treatments for psychopathy and no likelihood that a psychopath reintroduced into the world from being detained, whether or not they've been treated, will in any way reform.
In fact, some studies indicate that treatment actually intensifies psychopathy.
So, "Secret Invasion" didn't tell the half of it. We're not knee-deep in Skrulls. Folks, we're knee-deep in psychopaths. I mean, if you're American, that figure of 1% of your population is just the "highly psychopathic" group. That's just the really bad ones. There's lots more who, to one degree or another, aren't "highly psychopathic." (*4)
It's an incredibly important business, this psychopathy. Our societies are in, shall we say, a fair degree of denial about it. (America isn't really thinking about the social problems caused by 3 091 070 "highly psychopathic" citizens, nor Britain about its' own 306 915 psychopaths.) But sooner or later, this is something folks are going to simply have to deal with.
*3 Think about it. How many people were in your school? Do the maths. The figure you get won't actually give the truth of how many psychopaths you shared a locker-room with, because that depends on the gender distribution in your school, and whether you were in a rural or urban environment, and chance, and lots of other variables too. But it makes you think, does it? Does it? Don't care? It doesn't bother you? Mmmmm. Take the test!
*4 They're the "just middlin'" psychopaths, I guess or the "sometimes-slightly" ones. That's OK, then!
3. Comic Book Criminal Psychology
So, those of you with a little knowledge of criminal psychology are thinking two things;
a - That's a damn poor summary, Col-boy. It's so simplified it's practically a lie
b - What's this got to do with Super-Villains? What's it got to do with Lex Luthor?
The rest of you, if you've made it this far, who are newer to this psychological stuff, are asking two things too;
a - How many in every hundred? You're frakking kidding me? My milkman looks mean ....
b - What's this got to do with Super-Villains?
I can't tell you about your milkman.
But one of things that has always confused me about comic book writers is why most of them don't read just a little bit more of criminal psychology. It's not as if there aren't popular books about it stacked up all over the place, and some of them are even worthwhile reading. But, better than that, why not read some of the work written by the key players themselves which they've targeted at a more popular audience. (I'd highly recommend "Mapping Murder" by the splendid David Canter, a bloke I have another of my mind-respecting man-crushes on, as a starter.) Because the literature about why folks commit crime, from the everyday crimes of impulse-mismanagement to the making-Mum-into-a-car-rug specialisms, are so well described now, if not understood, that it's as if there were hundreds of "here's-your-next-convincing-story/villain/conflict" textbooks just lying around for the taking.
And if writers and editors could just agree a little about the diagnosis of their villain's problems, we might get even more consistent and better-grounded stories.
Hey! Marvel! DC! Put out a call to Dr Hare to undertake a mass diagnosis of your characters.
Because, well into his seventies and engaged in such important enterprises as he is, I'm sure he'd be really pleased to help. (*5)
(*5) Dr Hare's website has written upon it the fabulous "don't-even-try" words "Please be advised that Dr Hare does not make clinical assessments." But Marvel and DC could try. If they can afford to give away thousands of plastic rings and variant covers, they can surely tempt Dr Hare away from his vitally important work!
4. One Final Warning: This Is A "Points-On-The-Curve" Blog Entry; This Is What That Means:
The "Points On A Curve" pieces on this blog are based on the premise that many of us don't rely on corporate continuity to inform our understanding of our favourite comic book characters. Instead, we build our own versions of our beloved heroes and villains and Foggy Nelson by selecting the stories, and even sections of stories, which we've most enjoyed and been most touched by through our long years of comic book reading. These individual and composite takes on corporate characters are to me far more interesting than the "real" things, and I, for example, was absolutely fascinated to read folks' comments about their own versions of Aquaman when we were discussing that much-maligned character. (There's such a rich and beguiling mixture of comic-book love, creative synergy and individual experience involved in the working out of a personal version of a character that I love reading other people's POAC takes on pretty much anything at all.) So, although I'm going to be discussing Lex Luthor here, be warned that he won't be synonymous with whatever version of the bald-but-splendidly-awful arch-villain currently holds in DC-land. (*6) In fact, it won't be the version of Lex that was ever, at any one time, the party-line. Naw. I'll be taking panels from stories all over the place, from the '40s and the '90s, from 'continuities' which are mutually exclusive, but which are perfectly compatible in my own head, in my own personal mythology of Luthor-ness. (*7)
And since I'm just bound to ignore key and relevant evidence, because I've either not read it or I've not enjoyed it or I've just plain forgot it, and since I'm being so selective that, frankly, I could fix any diagnosis of Lex Luthor that I wanted to arrive at, I'd like to make this as transparent a process as possible, so, please;
This is my truth: tell me yours!
If you think I've not touched on a brilliant, or even usefully relevant, example, or if I've misused a panel in a sneaky and unethical way, add a comment and let me know.
*6 - I nearly described Lexxy-boy as a "mastermind" here, but the PLC-R has made me think that might not be the most appropriate label for him!
*7 - And, as we'll discover, I come a cropper in trying to diagnose Luthor as a result of that choice too
5. The Psychopathic Personality (The Interpersonal & the Affective Dimensions Of The PCL-R)
But it does all feel a bit dodgy, something of an impertinence, to use the PCL-R to try to diagnose Lex Luthor, since (a) I'm the one who's going to be cherry-picking the evidence to support my own hypothesis that he is a psychopath, and, most importantly, (b) I'd need about 10 years of formal training and practise to be able to use the checklist adequately. But what I thought might be instructive to do would be to see whether there's any evidence I know of that supports a general picture of Lex Luthor as a psychopath. Let's imagine, if you will, that the following is being done by one of Inspector Henderson's young police recruits working in their private time, by a young officer who's studied something of Dr Hare's work and is thinking of recommending to his boss that Mr Luthor might need to be formally assessed before he's transferred out of the holding cell he's in for reckless driving in a very fast sports car and, of course, trying to take over the world on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday last.
So, in search of quite how psychopathic Lex Luthor is, let's begin with looking at some of the elements associated with the "aggressively narcissistic" personality that Dr Hare's PLC-R tests for. We can't cover the whole - or indeed even a tiny - part of the diagnostic criteria here, of course, but there's a few points we might productively touch upon.
One Of Dr Hare's major breakthroughs has been to establish that psychopaths aren't necessarily people who express their conscienceless nature in directly violent ways. More often than not, the "successful" psychopath will choose instead to steer as direct a path as possible to those high-status social feeding troughs where money, status and power are readily available, be that the armed forces, the world of entertainment, financial organisations or even - oh, shockingly! - the institutions of Government. (*8) (Dr Hare himself has said that if he couldn't study psychopaths in prisons, he'd look for them in the major financial centres like Wall Street.) And the typically non-violent, successful and exploitative psychopath tends to score particularly highly on the part of the checklist which describes the qualities that we're about to sneak a peak at. And Lex Luthor does indeed seem to display a significant number of those qualities which we'd expect to see in the "industrial" or "social" or "successful" psychopath.
*8 - Don't just think President Luthor. Think President Nixon, folks. Retrospective diagnosis is a dodgy business, but I've talked to criminal psychologists who've said they were willing to lay money that Tricky Dicky was a Psychy-Wycky.
a. The psychopath has something of what's known as a "smooth" social style. (You can see Lex being "smooth" and apparently calm in the above panels by John Byrne and Dick Giordano from "Action Comic" # 600) And we know that to the world at large Lex Luthor can indeed be terribly "smooth", can be beguiling and charming . He can choose to be an entertaining conversationalist, he's brilliant at flattery, he wears his power well and impressively, and he's a superb, superb liar. (You can see how brilliant a liar he is in the panels from Superman # 149 by Jerry Seigel and Curt Swan which I've placed before section 4. It's absolutely typical of a psychopath that he can brilliantly argue for his own reformation while actively planning the brutal murder of Superman.) In essence, Luthor might here be suspected of presenting what's known as "shallow affect", where he mimics normal if super-competent social behaviour without it reflecting his own true nature.
b. The psychopath is also determined to always be dominant in their relations with others. And Lex Luthor has had no relationships with anybody else that I can find where those relations are ever allowed to come before his own aims and objectives. (And that's so even given that the typical psychopath has far less concrete aims and objectives than you might expect.) In fact, though many "successful" psychopaths may unexpectedly have marriages and children and what seems like friends, the psychopath's attitude to these people is that they are no more than possessions. And so it is with Lex Luthor's relationships with anyone you'd care to mention; if they don't do what he wants them do, there's misery and far worse in their future.
c. The psychopath always conceives of themselves as being, in Tom Wofle's famous phrase from "Bonfires Of The Vanities", "Master Of The Universe". Everything revolves around the male or female psychopath as far as they're concerned, because they lack the capacity for empathy to emotionally grasp that they belong to - and are reliant upon - human society. And this arrogance is of a degree almost unimaginable to most of us. It's cosmic self-centredness, it means the psychopath conceives of itself as being the sole reason for every breath and every leaf that falls. And, of course, human history and the welfare of nations is as nothing to the psychopath chasing their own fluctuating goals. You can see this colossal narcissism below, in what to my mind is the most brilliant depiction of this quality in Lex Luthor that we've ever seen. You can note the utter lack of empathy for the victims of his terrible crimes in the court-room - "The puny ants!" - and also the characteristic complete lack of guilt on the psychopath's part. (I'm giving my conclusions away far too early, aren't I? Ah, perhaps not.) Again, these panels come from the peerless "The Death Of Superman", which gets my vote for the single best Superman story ever created, and note how disconnected from and contemptuous of his own trial for Superman's murder Luthor is. (Anyone who thinks that DC Comics from the early '60s always lacked power and subtlety: sorry, you're wrong, here's the evidence.)
d. If Luthor is a psychopath, he should appear to be calm and in control of himself during his everyday - and even any extraordinary - dealings with others. Circumstances which make others show, for example, anger or distress shouldn't influence his responses. And his calm conversation with Maggie Sawyer, placed at the head of this section, could be said to display that; the stakes are high, Ms Sawyer is aggressive and demanding, but Mr Luthor is all apparent restraint and politeness.
e. Fear, to take but one emotional response, is actually something which many psychopaths only experience at much higher levels of stimuli than ordinary folks do. It takes more to get 'em scared, if you like, and the psychopath can even enjoy putting themselves in situations where the adrenalin rush associated with extreme levels of fear kicks in. Below we can see - from Mark Millar, Aluir Amancio and Terry Austin's "Family Reunion" from the "Last Son Of Krypton" digest - Lex Luthor brazenly facing down some Kryptonian super-villains who could fry the skin from his bones simply by focusing their heat vision on him. Most of us would be very quiet and also moving in whatever the other direction would be at this moment, but Luthor is clearly enjoying the whole business. He's getting a self-righteous high off his act of suicidal defiance, he's the one standing up for humankind, and it's scary too, which makes it all the more pleasurable for him.
f. However, the apparent detachment, the supposed surface of calm, the shallow effect, mentioned above doesn't mean that the psychopath actually is always calm and detached when they appear to be. In particular, psychopaths will feel intense and difficult-to-control frustration at anyone or anything which stands in the way of their goals, no matter how slight or significant, long-standing or transient, those goals are. And we know that Luthor will, as if he were a psychopath, sometimes explode into tirades of anger and even physical violence if his designs are compromised. (I've placed an example of this below just before the "conclusions" from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's splendid "All-Star Superman" to illustrate this point.) (*9)
*9 - I wish I could always place all the "evidence" exactly where it's most relevant in this entry, but lots of it can be applied in different sections. and I didn't want to duplicate the scans or add any more to an already scan-heavy entry.
g. A psychopath will readily, as we'll discuss further on, enter into emotional contracts, into friendships, marriages, amorous affairs, and will, when it suits them, maintain them in what seems to be a normal and acceptable fashion. But the psychopath will also compromise those relationships at a drop of the hat. They will, for example, suddenly and unexpectedly disappear from view and return without explanation after days or longer away. They can shift their allegiances without a second thought if they perceive an advantage to be gained from doing so. They may on a whim seriously damage those they've previously shown devotion to, abandon and asset-strip those who up until that point they've seemed absolutely loyal to. (Just as, of course, it may suit a psychopath to remain in a long-term relationship where they can terribly and recurrently abuse their partner.) There is, therefore, a fatal discontinuity between what psychopaths say, what they commit to, and what they actually do. We'll mention the data-trail this discontinuity leaves behind - the divorces, the bankruptcies, and on - later, but here the key is to consider the difference between what the psychopath pretends to be and what they actually do. And Luthor, of course, constantly displays this "discontinuity" between what he says he believes in and what he does: he's the undemocratic President, he's the staunchly capitalist market-fixing businessman, he's the man of the people who holds the people in contempt.
h. Psychopaths tend to be proud of their ability to lie, and they will lie constantly. Sometimes they do so to achieve a goal, and sometimes they will lie just because they enjoy to do it; the deception and manipulation of others is part of their very nature. (Above we can see Luthor convincingly playing the penitent and reformed prisoner just before mounting a successful breakout.) And one of the lies that psychopaths tend to tell is the one about having a hard, difficult past - particularly spinning a yarn involving a trying childhood - where they faced and nobly overcame incredibly difficult challenges. In truth, many successful psychopaths come from affluent, even super-rich, homes and they never faced anything more challenging than a chipped toe-nail or a lost hockey stick. But they invent their "suffering-child" narrative and stick by it. Now, I can't help but feel that the old "Superman-destroyed-my-hair-and-made-me-evil" story from the Pre-Crisis continuity was actually a complete and ridiculous invention on the part of Luthor himself, which, as time passed, didn't so much come to be believed by Luthor as transmute into a gospel that he demanded the world accept as truth. To deny it would to deny his right to decide what is and what isn't true, which surely would be unacceptable to the man at the centre of the whole wide world. And it's central to the psychopathic personality that they are never to blame. Never! Which is why Luthor constantly blames Superman for everything that he's ever done wrong, whether it's because Supes destroyed his hair or that Supes is destroying the hopes of the human race. (And if "your" Luthor comes from a world where the "Superman-destroyed-my-hair" business never happened and/or was never mythologised about, then you will surely be able to spot parts of Luthor's oh-so-terribly-hard past in the stories you've come across. Or, you will if he actually is a psychopath. We must try to suspend judgement here!)
6. The Case Study (The Lifestyle and the Anti-Social Dimension Of The PCL-R)
As we've discussed, along assessing whether the subject displays signs of the psychopathic personality, Dr Hare's PCL-R involves creating a case study of the subject's past to uncover evidence of early-onset, persistent and serious anti-social behaviour. Here the search for evidence of the subject having a long-established socially deviant lifestyle comes into play, because, as we've said, the psychopath will have a consistent history of abusing and manipulating others from a young age, and the evidence shouldn't be too difficult to establish.
In many cases, the findings from the case study component of the PCL-R are far more significant predictors of the future behaviour of violent psychopaths than they are of white collar industrial ones, so we might expect Lex not to score as highly as he did in the measures for identifying the psychopathic personality. There are many reasons for this. A bright lad such as Luthor should, for example, have been able to at least keep out of the law's gaze more than a less-able and more-openly violent psychopath could, not least because the socially successful psychopath can get away with violence and other forms of bullying in their guise as rich young citizen, popular class-mate, charming and attractive partner, or whatever, than the less successful and more brutal psychopaths can.
But this is where my attempts to fake an application of the PCL-R fell completely apart, as I alluded to above. Because any attempt to build a case study of Lex Luthor's past immediately quite collapses given the compulsion of comic book creators to continually re-write their character's history. (*10) Pre-Crisis Luthor, post-Crisis Luthor, Earth-1 Luthor, Earth-2 Luthor, Superboy Luthor, TV Luthors; there are so many Luthors that it defeats the will to consider which one is the "real" one, and too many of them to refer to them all. It'd take a very brilliant criminal psychologist indeed to conduct a definitive case study of a character's anti-social behaviour across a few dozen continuities where the facts of what came first and why are never set in stone anyway.
And the same problem arises if the "Points On A Curve" approach is followed, because the whole point of the POTC method is that a character's past doesn't have to link up in a precise and logical fashion, but rather an emotional one. The linkages between one event and another, between, for example, 1940's red haired Lex and 1970's green'n'purple fighting suit Lex, can be fondly accepted "givens" without too much continuity wrangling. (Because, as we know, that way madness lies, and endless flaming wars on many boards will follow, forever and forever without end.)
The truth of it that you can't fake a case study. I know, I wrote this whole section of this blog before and it didn't work. I had to dump the lot. Faking a case study where the detail patently came from quite different and utterly incompatible sources failed to pass even the disgracefully low standards of my blogging if we're trying to put the PCL-R to work.
Or to put it another way: I got nicked breaking and entering into a psychological tool where I had no business being!
*10. - Is this a form of fiction-wrecking bullying? Are there psychopathic tendencies underlying the impulsive, short-termist, self-interested behaviour of certain creators to particular characters? I think we should be told!
Given that, for the reasons stated above, there's no way to boil down Lex Luthor's many pasts to a coherent and detailed chronology, and given that accepting any one take on his history is, well, frankly against the anti-corporate chronology policy of TooBusyThinkingAboutMyComics, I thought the best approach would be to focus on two issues here:
- particularly striking issues from my own composite fond take on Luthor which would allow key issues that the PCL-R case study searches for to be discussed, and;
- things which the PCL-R would expect to find when investigating a suspected psychopath which might not be present in any of what I know about Luthor's past.
So even the trained psychologist on Earth-DC might find it tough to uncover the key data about Lex Luthor's past. I'm not trained at all and I found it absolutely impossible.
a. An example of diagnostic criteria which Luthor doesn't seem to meet is where evidence of parasitism is concerned. Psychopaths are predators who much prefer to have others support them, and they enjoy taking as much as they can from the folks they're living off before moving on. They have no concern for how they can destroy other's lives, and the only limit to their greed in real terms is their tendency to slacken off where making a serious and protracted effort on their own part is concerned. So, that executive who drove that bank into the ground while doing nothing but live well off other people's hard-earned cash? Typical psychopath. And yet, Lex Luthor often isn't a typical psychopath in this fashion. For while there's no doubt that Luthor will drive anyone into poverty if there's the slightest gain to him in doing so, including the thrill of hurting someone else when it really wasn't necessary or even cost-effective to do so, he doesn't always tend to do so at the cost of his own interests. Where his enterprises fail, and of course they often do, it tends to be because he over-stretches his resources in order to destroy Superman. When "the Kryptonian" wasn't around to constantly enrage Luthor, he seemed very able to engage with determination and care in building up his own self-perpetuating empire rather than just leeching off others. Thieving and cheating were part of his business portfolio of market-skinning skills, but there was alot more to what he was doing than just thieving and cheating. He wasn't, for example, just making a few million from a "Ponzi" scheme which, sooner or later, was inevitably going to collapse. That short-termism was never Luthor's way.
Lex Luthor didn't sit around doing nothing while somebody else keep him in shoes and ready salted crisps. He worked for himself.
Which means that there's one area of the case study where Luthor isn't going to score so very highly. That doesn't mean that he isn't psychopathic, of course, and to my relief, though I am not biased, because the final score generated is of course a total which reflects all the relevant criteria. But we can say that at the very least Luthor has some individual differences where psychopathic behaviour is concerned.
b. We would expect a psychopath to pursue a lifestyle characterised by consistently impulsive behaviour, and this is true to a degree of Luthor. He doesn't seem to be able to suppress a brand new bright idea to wipe Superman off the face of the globe, and the number of plots and scientific developments which he has running at any one time must be phenomenal. But then, the psychopath doesn't tend to resist temptation, and they try their damndest to avoid any kind of routine and obligation. Perhaps Luthor has his bright ideas and just as easily relegates them to a team from his staff when a new scheme comes to mind. (We are constantly being shown one group of Luthor-financed specialists after another beavering away on projects which he's delegated to them.) I can't say there's anything but circumstantial evidence for this from my knowledge, but I'm willing to go for anything at this point which helps my case.
c. We expect the impulsiveness associated with psychopathy to express itself in sexual promiscuity where the psychopath is concerned. And here there's certainly evidence to support the idea that Lex Luthor will indulge himself sexually without concern for morality or kindness. Just a few lines up from this sentence is a panel from Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's "Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel", where Luthor is declaring his love rather extravagently and self-indulgently to a robot which thinks it's a young girl. (*11) Lex Luthor may be the robot's boss and father figure, and he may have apparently complicated relations with at least one other woman, but that doesn't stop him doing whatever he feels would be pleasurable at any given moment. (The more that relationship is considered, by the way, the worse it becomes. It's every shade of despicable and it invents new ones too.) And directly below these words are three panels from John Byrne's run on "Superman" which very strongly implies that Luthor's sexual needs are not only unrelated to conventional moral relationships, but that they are met through the means of bullying employees into what is effectively rape and sexual slavery.(*12) This is a man who sees no reason to restrain his desires regardless of other peoples feelings and needs, and he is, without qualification, a beast. (We'll come back to this point later. Dr Light is hardly the only sexual predator in the DC Universe.)
*11 - I have no doubt that Mr Azzarello is convinced Luthor is a fully-blown psychopath and wrote him consistently as if such were so.
*12 - Just to make this absolutely plain, whether Luthor is a psychopath or not, for these crimes if no other, I'm subscribing to the "this man deserves to burn in Hell" school of condemnation.
c. But other areas of Luthor's life don't generate the evidence for impulsiveness that we might expect. For example, psychopaths are keen to express goals and describe their ambitions, but they aren't very interested in achieving them through hard work. Certainly the earning of formal obligations and socially-valued experience is something they prefer to avoid as long as they can acquire the advantages usually associated with them. (*13) They are possessed by grandiose ambitions, but they tend to try to achieve them through bullying others and riding whatever tide of good chance they can find to surf. Yet Luthor does appear, in many of his different manifestations, to have worked and worked hard and worked hard over a protracted period on at least some key aspects of his life. Perhaps he did gain his first one or two fortunes through a strategy of impulsiveness, talent and flat-out gambling, or perhaps he worked his heart out, albeit in an often immoral and illegal fashion. (Perhaps if we knew how hard he has to apply himself to come up with his miraculous scientific breakthroughs, we might have a better idea of how focused, disciplined and relatively unimpulsive he is. Do the ideas for better, brighter death rays appear out of the blue, or does he have to apply himself week in and week out for years and years?)
But just to be selfish and criminal doesn't make Luthor a psychopath, and there just isn't, in my limited knowledge, enough evidence to definitively nail his bald head to the wall on this one.
(If you'll forgive the, a-hem, uncharacteristically unobjective turn of phrase.)
Still, we'd expect, as I briefly touched upon above, and as I barely understand myself, the more successful psychopath to tend to score relatively less highly on this issue, so maybe walls may yet be decorated by nailed-up-to-them hairless heads.
*13 - I do wonder if Lex Luthor ever finished high school or College? I wonder if he achieved the staggeringly degree qualifications that his intellect deserves? I must say, I doubt it.
d. Psychopaths start practising anti-social behaviour at a young age, and they commit anti-social acts more regularly and with less regard for others than even children brought up in savagely poor and abused circumstances. We would therefore expect Luthor to have begun his cruelty, whether it involved law-breaking or not, at an early age, and we'd expect there to be a paper-trail showing his vileness to others extending forward to the present day from that young point. Psychopaths are of course by their very nature rule-breakers. They don't even keep to their own rules, because the only rules they recognise are (a) what they want now, and (b) what they want now, now.
The pre-Crisis Luthor gave us the most detailed evidence about such early-onset anti-social behaviour, and even if it can't be used here to condemn Luthor in his present day guise, I thought that the cover above was well worth touching upon. It's from "Superboy" #92, by Curt Swan (*14) and Stan kaye, and glanced at with a contemporary eye it's a quite horrifying document. There can be no doubt that this Lex Luthor is already psychopathic, though not an adult old enough to cast a vote. (Training a super-dog of his own to dismember Krypto and assault Superboy using home-made equipment in his own back garden is both absurd and chilling. This is a boy who will undoubtedly grow up to be an empathyless killer, which indeed, he did, the sort of boy who began experimenting on his neighbour's pets and soon graduated onto experimenting on the neighbours.) (*15)
Now, when Luthor began his criminal career in the Post-Crisis world and the degree to which the neighbourhood pets were pinned down and teleported into alien suns is something of which I know nothing. Perhaps my dear reader - hello, you! - might know of some data that might illuminate my paltry case study here?
e. One of the factors which leads young psychopaths into anti-social behaviour, and which continues to drive them as they age, is that they just can't seem to grasp the concept of punishment. Consequences, as we've touched upon, are for other people. You can note this in the last scene I'll present from the peerless "The Death Of Superman", which I've placed above. Note how Luthor is absolutely confident that, despite his murder of Superman, the Kryptonians in the bottled city of Kandor will free him if he offers to restore them to their normal-sized life in the outside world. He simply cannot imagine that the Kandorians will decline his offer in order to pursue their principles of justice, because to Luthor there is (a) no such thing as an external, social code of justice which applies to him, and (b) he cannot conceive that he's actually going to be punished for his crimes. He's killed because he wanted to, and yet he can't comprehend why anyone would care to hurt him in return. It's not as if Superman mattered, is it? Not compared to Lex Luthor.
*14 - Didn't Curt Swan consistently draw the most expressive and chilling Luthor ever? There is a case for saying that Mr Swan's artwork lacked on occasion the dynamism of a Kirby or a Kane, but there were more subtle fundamental pleasures ever-present in his splendid work.
*15 - For we Brits faced constantly with the media-storms associated with the killing of poor Jamie Bulger, this is not an easy image to see represented on the front cover of a children's comic book.
Well, when I set out on this playful tip of my under-qualified hat to Dr Hare, I couldn't help but imagine that our imaginary young police officer under-taking this preliminary review would end by racing along the corridors of Metropolis Police HQ screaming "He's not a charismatic businessman! He's a psychopath! Test him! Test him!". And when I imagined that, I also hoped that Lex Luthor didn't somehow hear our officer saying that, though no doubt there's was a hope that even if he did, Luthor would be distracted by some more involving and exciting prospect, like proving how great he is by destroying Superman, as psychopaths can be. Because "psychopath" was a label I was sure I could confidentally stick onto Luthor's gleaming, bright forehead. (*16)
But what I've discovered is that even a playful tilt at the PLC-R isn't able to generate a playfully conclusive answer. The PLC-R is just too rigorous a method to even allow an idiotic adaption of itself to occur. The case study dimension only accentuated the sense of ridiculousness which my discussing the personality markers raised. This a tool that can't be adapted by fools. And I think that's rather splendid, actually, because idiots couldn't fly a Quinjet or the Batplane either: these are all comic book splendours and they should be beyond my grasp!
And yet, as well as increasing my already stratospheric-levels of respect for the PLC-R and Dr Hare and his team, it's also made me see Luthor in a different light. Because rather than being able to label him as a stereotypical psychopath, I've been able to conceed that there are areas where he seems both more and less psychopathic. Now, of course, these differences have no doubt been generated by my cack-handed playing with the PLC-R, but in terms of informing comic-book characters, maybe this technique has some small virtue, because no matter how absurd it is in real-world terms, it does generate a debate about the degree to which a character does and doesn't fit a psychological category. It's certainly sharpened for me a sense of who Luthor "really" is, and my Grud, I think he's absolutely terrifying. From the adolescent Luthor practising Krypto's assassination in his back-garden to the executive-sexual predator, this is the most appalling man, a beast far far worse than I concede I ever imagined. (And as stated, I came into this with a very low opinion to start with.)
Yet, if I had to come down in my unqualified way on the issue of psychopathy and Luthor, I think I'd still view him as a man who has severely psychopathic tendencies, and as a man who probably is "seriously" psychopathic.
But of course, that counts for nothing except to make me think abit more.
If Luthor really does has a mind wired up in a totally different way to 99% of the American population, this, in combination with his prodigious mental abilities and his presence in a universe characterised by so many oppurtunities for cosmic-level mischief-making, makes him one of the most dangerous individuals in the DC universe. (Of which, of course, there was no doubt already, though I think I feel that more than I did before.) And under the circumstances, I can't help but think that there's every grounds for dumping him in some desolate parallel universe where he can do no harm to the folks of Superman's Earth. Because if he's a fully-blown psychopath, then he never can reform, and he never will reform. He's beyond hope. All the citizens of the DC Universe can do is wait until he destroys himself or them, or both.
Yet, of course, the same moral backbone which informed the Kandorian's refusal to bow to Luthor will surely inform Superman's refusal to dump Luthor anywhere other than a legally sanctioned American prison. Because Superman is everything that Lex Luthor isn't, and he doesn't even abandon world-threatening psychopaths without reference to due process. That's why he's Superman.
*16 -I am a man of, er, severely-restricted hair growth myself. I am not meaning to be baldist here.
8. Briefly, On Luthor's Hatred For Superman
And in the light of this, it's surely obvious that Luthor doesn't hate Superman because Kal-El is an alien, no matter what Luthor says and no matter what he undoubtedly has convinced himself that he believes. It's not about Superman being a simulacrum of a perfect human being, insulting human ingenuity and depressing human achievement and ambition. No, Lex Luthor hates Superman because (1) Superman is obviously superior to him in too many different and significant ways for Lex's ego to cope with, and (2) destroying and even killing Superman is too tempting a great challenge for him.
Which, if this pseudo-diagnosis is correct, is all the better for Superman. For looking at the evidence in my own PointsOnTheCurve take on Lex Luthor, I'd say there's one thing which has so far saved Superman from Lex Luthor's undoubted hyper-intellect and cunning, and that's Lex probably is a psychopath. And if that's true, then there's a good chance that Luthor never really worked as hard and as long enough at anything as he could have, that he leaves what he sees as boring tasks to underlings, and that he changes course irrationally and unexpectedly without noticing he's doing so. Luthor is undoubtedly super-bright, but perhaps there's a sense that if he could really focus himself for long enough on one particular murderous direction, if his psychopathy didn't keep distracting him with a million schemes and frustrations, with a thousand arrogant and different strategies where one would do, if Luthor could just sit down for what Malcolm Gladwell calls the "10 000 hours" of hard study and concentrate solely on killing Kal-El and ruling the world, well; he'd do it. Like that. Or rather, like that after 10 000 hours work.
But delayed gratification isn't something the psychopath finds hard to conceive of. Thankfully, for the DC Universe, and her favourite son.
9. Last Thoughts On Empathy
And if Lex Luthor is a true psychopath, then there's a convincing school of thought which argues that it can't be said that he's to blame for his crimes. Because Lex Luthor, as a psychopath, literally cannot care for others, and cannot generate concern for the consequences of his actions where other people are concerned. He simply doesn't have the emotional capacity to care, and he can't develop the capacity to do so. Without empathy to allow him to look at others and realise that he and they are remarkably similar creatures, everyone else becomes an alien to Lex Luthor, and aliens from a lesser species too. In a sense, psychopaths are perfectly natural and normal, as well as being always very bad news for most everybody caught up in their cruel, conscienceless lives.
Lex is what he is. And he can never be "well", never be like us. Never know the experiences which empathy allow us to feel. He can't even consider that such experiences would be worth feeling. They are beyond his capacity to grasp, like advanced calculus to an earthworm. Irrelevant, beyond any field of reference. Useless.
What would Superman think of that? You know, I think Clark would empathise - if not pity - with Lex Luthor even more. I think it would break Superman's heart to see this man of such potential wrecked by irrationally, isolation, and counter-productive grand schemes without hope of reform and redemption. I think Superman would, if it can be said in this way, love Lex Luthor even more than he currently does, in that deeply traditional and old-school Mid-West Protestant Christian way that so characterises Clark Kent.
Because the difference between Superman and Lex Luthor isn't that between human and alien, or mind and body, or costume and suit. The difference is this. Clark Kent can love, and he does. He can't help himself, and he doesn't want to. He's one of us and because of that, he wants to look after us, and to belong with us. Whereas Lex Luthor never has felt love, and never can, and wouldn't care less about the whole business of love if God himself sat Lex down and told him all about the finer feelings in life.
Because Lex Luthor is the Master of the Universe. But it's not our universe, or the DC Universe. It's that universe where there is no love, and no need for it either. Not ever.
Please do remember, dear reader, that this is a brief summary and entirely spurious pseudo-application of Dr Hare's work. It's not intended to detail the slightest fraction of the PCL-R's purpose, method and content, which I suspect I don't grasp anyway, but I hope you've found it interesting enough to read further on the subject of Dr Hare's work. Because this was intended in a rather tiny and exceptionally unimportant way as a show of respect to Dr H and his colleagues, as well as being another shaky platform for displaying how I really am TooBusyTalkingAbout Comics. I'm now going back to do abit more studying, since I obviously don't know a fraction of what I should! I hope this has been a tolerable investment of your time, and please do let me know your extra, and no doubt contradictory, evidence from your own version on Lex Luthor, because, let's face it, I fixed the above result, even editing out in particular Luthor's tearful sorrow at allowing Lincoln's assassination, which must prove he's not a psychopath at all. (I'm not making that up either. Luthor was truly all cut up that ol'honest Abe got shot!) Thank you and rest well.
Soundtrack To The Writing Of This Blog - "Best Of 1994" part 2
In the best traditions of full disclosure, the following was on continuous play while I wrote the above;
1. "Wakafrika" - Manu Dibango
2. "Strongman" - Luscious Jackson
3. "Surf And/Or Die" - Walter Becker
4. "Spiritual Sky" - Heliocentric World
5. "Hug My Soul" - St Etienne
6. "Sick And Tired" - The Cardigans
7. "The Lazy Sunbather" - Morrisey
8. "This Is Yesterday" - Manic Street Preachers
9. "To The End" - Blur
10. "Let Me Be The One" - Matthew Sweet
11. "No No No" - Terry Hall
12. "Checking In, Checking Out" - The High LLamas
13. "Another Rider Up In Flames" (BBC session) - The Charlatans
14. "There's A Limit" - The Mutton Birds
15. "Cigarettes & Alcohol" - Oasis
16. "Rip It Up" (live in Phoenix) - Iggy Pop
17. "Fantastic Planet Of Love" - Marshal Crenshaw