How Mark Russell Evolved The Feud For DC’s Future

The world of DC’s Future State holds surprises for every hero and villain, but none is more outrageous (or worrying) than the mighty Lexor, home of the greatest businessman and planetary tyrant in the universe: Lex Luthor! And no planet led by Lex Luthor is likely to survive for long, forcing the Man of Steel, Lois Lane, and the future planetary version of the United Nations to save the day in Future State: Superman vs. Imperious Lex #3.

With writer Mark Russell (The FlintstonesThe Snagglepuss Chronicles) behind this story, it goes without saying that Lex’s rise to power would be more than the usual supervillainy. This time around Luthor is relying on nationalism, state-run media, and scapegoating of even the infallible Superman. And with his world facing crises analogous to Brexit, COVID-19, and more, the three-part story is a must-read for fans. Thankfully, Russell spoke with Screen Rant about the mission for his Imperious Lex tale, and capturing the secret truth of Lex Luthor making him more than just an ordinary antagonist. Readers can find the full interview embedded below.

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Screen Rant: The premise of the story is simple enough: Lex Luthor is a leader of a planet where they think Superman is the villain. How quickly did this become an examination of political power and fascist takeovers?

Mark Russell: We originally approached it as almost a Brexit metaphor about and a tale of how nationalism, in an increasingly interconnected world, is self-destructive. I really built the story around that central narrative, and into that came like the COVID metaphor of the robots destroying Lex and nobody being able to admit it.

But it really revolved around that central theme I wanted, which was about how the future is not built alone. Because we are increasingly interconnected in this world, we separate from each other and vilify each other at our own peril.

Superman vs Imperious Lex Comic Cover

SR: That was one point that really stood out, and it made me stop and actually think about how I view the future of the DC Universe and the United Planets. Framing that system as not a mark of the glory, or the heights that individual people have attained, but almost because of the inherent flaws that can’t be overcome.

Mark Russell: Right, and I wanted to dispel the idea that you attain this level of humanistic enlightenment, and then everything’s good and shiny from then on. This is a process, and you have to constantly remind yourself that other people are human beings; that the only thing that separate refugees from your family is an accident of geography. Those are the things that people who even want to help the refugees are necessarily going to get right. They have to be coaxed and persuaded to do the right thing, and not to be afraid of this process but to see it like Superman does; as a struggle worth having.

SR: I have to call out the collection of United Planetary leaders, including a Guardian of the Universe, all instantly deferring to Lois Lane. 

Mark Russell: Yeah, it was really fun, because it was sort of like the UN at the beginning. We’ve got this new organization, and it’s got all these high ideals, but it’s still populated by these people who have their own national interests. There’s all this bickering and wanting to dunk on the planets that they that they view as not being part of their mission. It takes a while to live up to your own ideals, I think, and that’s one of those things we’re supposed to represent.

SR: You have Superman deliver a fantastic line: nobody who receives mercy deserves it. Can you speak more about that idea as it pertains to superheroes?

Mark Russell: Yeah, it’s really about not viewing people transactionally. It’s helping people just by virtue of them needing help, and not worrying about what these people have done for you or what they can do for you. I think we live too much of our lives in this transactional sphere, where we think in terms of how it’s ultimately going to benefit us. Really, we’ve forgotten to view each other as human beings who deserve help just by virtue of their fellow humanity.

SR: Is that where Lex Luthor enters the picture?

Mark Russell: Yeah, because I think the core of Lex Luthor’s being is that the only time he ever does anything good for anybody, is because it’s transactional. It’s like he is almost a purely transactional being.

Superman vs Imperious Lex Comic Preview 1

SR: There’s almost an evolution here over the course of the story, that someone could look at this and pull out the moments or scenes or ideas at play, from the beginning of human society right to the modern day. The things you see today that are the cutting edge of information or political warfare are not as ingenious or clever as some people are led to believe.

Mark Russell: Yeah, technology and communications have really just allowed us to become more efficient at being the people we are. It hasn’t made us any more merciful or any better; it just made us more efficient in our brutality and more efficient in our nationalism.

But the thing that has allowed us to improve as a species is our interconnectedness; the fact that we begin to realize that we are fish trapped in the same aquarium, and what we do to the water in the aquarium affects not just the people over on the other side of the aquarium, but will ultimately condemn us as well. I think that what human progress has been made since the dawn of civilization has come from the awareness of our interconnected existence.

SR: You make a point in the story that even if the people are passionately supporting a leader committed to this old way of thinking, it’s Superman and Lois who step in and say you can’t condemn the people.

Mark Russell: Well, I think that there’s a lot of people who don’t really have a say, who did not choose that system, and would not support it if given a free choice. But either they’ve had other people make those decisions for them, or they’ve been lied to for so long and have been brought up in this propaganda-filled environment, that they don’t have an opportunity to find out what that choice entails.

I think that Superman and Lois are, in particular, wanting to help those people that if given an honest choice would opt out of that system.

SR: What was the reason behind Lois Lane stepping into that role and spearheading this?

Mark Russell: Because, as she says, she’s actually the one there on business. She’s the one who’s actually a member of the United Planets. Superman, for all his great words and ideals, is basically just a hitchhiker in the story. He’s just a guy who’s along for the ride, and this really is the story of how institutions rise and fail to rise up to meet challenges that affect people. And Lois is kind of the face of that institution.

SR: The obvious question is whether you write this because of the past few years, but even in talking about this, it seems it’s not necessarily only recent history?

Mark Russell: Right? I think these are pretty universal human issues. But it’s definitely hard to write about anything without feeling infected by what’s happened in recent history. You might set out to write something more abstract and universal, but the simple fact is that we’re human beings living in the world as it is. If you’re smart as a writer, you will let that infection that is basically giving you an emotional response to the world you’re in take over and guide yourself as an artist.

Superman vs Imperious Lex Comic Preview 2

SR: Would you say you don’t solve the issue in this story, but simply examine it?

Mark Russell: Right. It’s really not about solutions so much as it is about the value of the struggle. Whether or not you succeed, this is a fight worth having.

SR: The argument you give to Lex Luthor is rooted in a lot of things that people do see as true about the human condition. Someone could read this and interpret it cynically; the Lexes of the world are easier to spot and identify than the Superman.

Mark Russell: I wanted to give Lex a perspective – and that’s the way I approach villains in general evil though; that evil though they may be, they don’t come out of nowhere. They have a certain way of viewing the world which resonates with a lot of people in our world. That’s part of when you’re talking about how to change things in our world, you have to address them.

These are views that people actually have, and there’s very real reasons why they have them. You can’t just make them purely mendacious and evil without any sort of causal explanation. I think it’s more useful as a storyteller and also better as social commentary to make these ideas almost seem attractive. But then, like a magician pulling away the cape, show why there’s so badly misguided.

SR: This was an interesting opportunity for me to revisit my own thoughts and assumptions on Lex Luthor. In your view, does he think he’s the hero of his story?

Mark Russell: Lex doesn’t even really believe in heroes. I think what he believes in is a will to power; he gets away with things because he can get away with them. That we’re all seeking our own self-interest, and anybody who pretends otherwise is just hoping you’re stupid enough to buy it. He doesn’t have time to waste on that sort of explanation, which is the thing that people maybe find refreshing about Lex: that he’s honest about his villainy. At least he is in these versions, but it doesn’t make it any less villainous.

SR: Or less opportunistic.

Mark Russell: I like that. That’s the kind of thing that attracts me to Lex as a character; that he doesn’t even have the time to lie about who he is. He understands people, and he might lie to people in order to manipulate them, but he knows perfectly well who he is.

SR: You bringing up Plato’s cave here was a dream come true for me, and I had to put this comic down and think for about 15 minutes about whether I believed him.

Mark Russell: I think he truly believes that. And I think this is like an encapsulation of his motives for creating this propaganda-based state. People want the warmth of the cave; they don’t want to come out into the cold, harsh light of reality and see animals and light and shadow as it really is. They prefer the images on the wall, because they’re easier to understand and they don’t ask anything of us.

Superman vs Imperious Lex Comic Preview 3

SR: Without spoiling the actual conclusion, do you see Lex or Lois or Superman’s character changing with regards to this view of the world as these characters are modernized?

Mark Russell: I think Superman’s view is very much informed on his own beginning as a refugee; as somebody who needed the mercy of others. And so I think that his change has already happened; I don’t see him changing over the arc of this story, but instead recognizing that his story informs who he is now. Three issues is a short period to actually have a lot of character development and change, but I think that you can see the trajectory that led these characters to where they are now.

SR: Was this story and form something that you were hoping to return to, like a bit of Silver Age comic history?

Mark Russell: Yeah, that’s the thing that kind of appealed to me about the project, that I knew about the story of Lexor, and I kind of liked the Silver Age goofiness of it. But the idea that Lex Luthor would have his own planet and then challenge Superman to a fist fight on a planet that had a red sun seemed a little goofy; it seemed a little like playground justice. So, I wanted to take that Silver Age premise and make it more meaningful to the world we are experiencing now as adults.

SR: This will be a permanent counterpoint to the people that say Lex could take Superman in his armor. He could, but he won’t because he still lacks.

Mark Russell: Yeah, at the end, I think he needed help. Which is kind of what the story is about: really, every battle is a battle for public opinion. He was dominating Superman as long as the people of Lexor were behind him and were willing to be his shock troops in the fight against Superman. But once he started losing them, it was all over for Lex.

SR: Having read Second Coming and The Flintstones, this felt like you are making clear the thoughts and ideas that are most important to you when it comes to characters like Superman.

Mark Russell: I think that in the end, if you’re doing your job as a writer, you’re engaging in a form of therapy. You’re talking about the questions and the sorts of things that haunt you. You’re not just telling a straight story with a clearly identifiable plot, or something that’s easily digestible and forgettable. You’re dealing with the things that haunt you, and in doing so, I think it gives the story more resonance for the people who are reading it as well.

Superman vs Imperious Lex Comic Preview 4

SR: What else are you working on?

Mark Russell: Right now I’m working on the Fantastic Four life story for Marvel. I’m also working on a second series for Billionaire Island, there’s more Second Coming on the way, and I also have a couple projects with DC that have not been announced yet. There’s a lot more stuff coming in 2021 and 2022

SR: This will not be Lois Lane’s takeover of Lexor. Can we say that much?

Mark Russell: Yeah, I can definitively tell you that for now, Lois Lane will not step foot on Lexor again for the foreseeable future. I think she’s pretty much over Lexor.

Future State: Superman vs. Imperious Lex #3 is available now wherever comic books are digitally and physically sold.

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