|Created by||Alfred Gough
|Portrayed by||John Glover|
|Relatives||Lex Luthor, Tess Mercer/Lutessa Lena Luthor|
Lionel Luthor is a fictional character in the television series Smallville, portrayed continuously by John Glover. Initially a recurring guest in season one, the character became a series regular in season two and continued with that status until he was written out of the show in season seven, until the character was writen back into the show, albeit as a parallel universe counterpart, in season ten again in a recurring guest role. In Smallville, Lionel Luthor is the father of Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and founder and CEO of LuthorCorp. Although the character of Lex Luthor's father was first introduced in Superman comics by Jerry Siegel in 1961 and has since appeared in other Superman-related media under different names, Smallville represents the first time the character has become an intricate part of a Superman adaptation. Series developers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar created the character for Smallville to provide an antithesis to the parenting style of Jonathan Kent and Martha Kent.
During the course of Smallville, Lionel Luthor evolves from a nemesis of Clark Kent (Tom Welling) who develops multiple schemes directed at uncovering his secrets to an ally who eventually gives his life to protect his secret from his own son. He also carries a strained relationship with his son and tries to test on a regular basis. He also attempts to develop a romantic relationship with Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole) following the death of Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) assisting her in her advancement toward the United States Senate. Near the series finale, a Lionel Luthor from a parallel universe is released into Clark's universe, where he makes a deal with Darksied to revive his son.
Lionel's development from a main antagonist to ally was one that was difficult for the writers, who felt the character's arc failed to achieve the status they were looking for. Although they continued with the story arc, Lionel returned to using deceptive actions, only this time it was to protect Clark rather than exploit him. He is characterized as being a sinister character, who will do what he can to further his own ambitions. Lionel's relationship with his son has been likened to that of Harry Osborn and Norman Osborn from Spider-Man comics.
Role in Smallville
In 1989, Lionel comes to visit Smallville with the intention to buy the Ross Creamed Corn company right before a meteor shower occurs. Twelve years later, Lionel exiles his son Lex Luthor (Rosenbaum) back to Smallville to run the local LuthorCorp fertilizer plant as a test. When Lex succeeds in making a profit for the first time in years, Lionel closes the plant down then places blame on Lex's poor managerial skills. Lionel later confronts his son at the Luthor mansion when Lex attempts to orchestrate an employee buyout to save the fertilizer plant. When strong winds from a storm force debris to smash through the mansion, Lionel is pinned under a fallen support beam while Lex hesitates to save his father. Lionel is eventually saved by Lex but his son's judgment to rush into surgery results in Lionel losing his eyesight. During season two's first half, Lionel is believed to be blind. Lex and his half-brother Lucas (Paul Wasilewski) devise a plan that brings Lionel's deception out into the open; it is revealed that Lionel was blind but that his eyes healed and he intentionally neglected to tell everyone so that he could watch how they acted around him. Season two's second half shows Lionel aware of the Kawatche caves and tries to unlock the mysteries of the symbols on the cave walls much to the dismay of Clark Kent (Welling).
Season three revealed that Lionel conspired with Morgan Edge (Rutger Hauer) to murder Lionel's parents and use their insurance money to fund the start of LuthorCorp. Lionel has Lex committed to a mental institution when his son discovers what Lionel did. When Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) discovers the truth, that evidence is used to assist Lex in having Lionel arrested for his parents' murder. It turns out that Lionel's anger toward Lex is because he blames him for the death of Julian (Lionel's infant son) but Lex took the blame to protect his mother, the true killer. Season three also reveals that Lionel has a terminal liver disease, which he divulges to Lex while awaiting arraignment. After being sentenced to prison for the murder of his parents in season four, Lionel attempts to switch bodies with Lex but Clark intervenes and Lionel switches bodies with him instead. When he and Clark switch back, Lionel discovers that his terminal liver disease is healed and has a newfound guidance in life. Released from prison by Genevieve Teague (Jane Seymour), Lionel begins searching for the three stones of knowledge. This quest leads to Lionel falling into a catatonic state after being downloaded with Kryptonian knowledge. Lionel is brought out of his catatonic state in season five by Jor-El using him as a vessel through which Jor-El can speak with his son Kal-El (Clark). With Jor-El guiding him, Lionel begins assisting Clark by helping to make excuses for his behavior and unexplained disappearances. Season seven reveals that Lionel and three other wealthy families formed the secret society Veritas in an effort to protect the alien visitor known as the Traveler (Clark). The secret subsequently cause Lex to kill Lionel after realizing that he has been covering up the Traveler's existence.
Season ten shows Clark unintentionally visiting a parallel universe where the Lionel of that world found and adopted Clark to be a murderer that goes by the alias Ultraman to kill anyone in his way, including Lex. When the real Clark escapes back to his own reality, Lionel follows. Lionel poses as his own doppelganger and assumes control over LuthorCorp from Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman). Regretting favoring Clark over Lex in his reality, Lionel twice attempts to bring "Alexander Luthor"/Conner Kent (Lucas Grabeel) to his side but both attempts end in failure. Lionel also loses LuthorCorp when Tess proves he's an imposter. Lamenting that he would give anything to have Lex back, Lionel is approached by Darkseid. The series finale shows Lionel had discovered Lex had used his defective duplicates' various pieces to create a perfect composite clone and attempts to give the clone Tess's heart, the only organ not duplicated successfully to revive the clone. When Tess shoots Lionel and escapes, Lionel sells his own soul to Darkseid to give his heart to the clone, effectively resurrecting Lex. Afterward, Darkseid possesses Lionel's corpse to attack Clark. However, Clark is able to defeat Darkseid which destroys Lionel's body in the process.
Lionel Luthor was created by Al Gough and Miles Millar specifically for the show, in an effort to provide a parallel to the Kents, as an "experiment in extreme parenting". Although Lex's father has been depicted in other mediums in the past, the character of Lionel Luthor is entirely the creation of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Like Allison Mack, whose character Chloe Sullivan was also created for the show, Glover appreciates the "clear canvas" he has to work with when developing his portrayal of Lionel. In season one, John Glover had to travel from New York to Vancouver every week while filming his scenes, as Glover was already committed to stage acting in New York at the time. John Glover looked to a friend's personal battle with cancer when trying to portray Lionel's struggle with terminal liver disease. Glover recounts that his friend was a "cheerleader to people", always supporting and boosting everyone when they were feeling bad. When he learned he had cancer he fought hard to get over it, but when he learned that it was terminal, that there was nothing he could do, he simply went to bed and stopped eating until he finally died in a week-and-a-half. This helped Glover understand how someone so powerful and full of life could end up taking their own life in the end — just as Lionel was preparing to do at the end of "Crisis" when he learned that there was nothing else he could do to stop his cancer.
In season two, Lionel moved from recurring figure to a series regular. This season featured the gradual unveiling of Lionel's increasing involvement with the characters of the show. It began with more direct involvement, by hiring Martha Kent as his assistant, and then indirectly when he became the conservator of the Kawatche caves and tried to unlock the mystery of the symbols on the cave walls. For season three, Lionel materialized as the true villain of the show, specifically with his machinations to find out Clark's secret, and driving Lex into a psychotic break that allowed Lionel to use electroshock therapy on his son to erase the knowledge that Lionel co-opted Morgan Edge to kill Lionel's parents for their life insurance. The creative team attempted to experiment with the character of Lionel Luthor in season four, creating a storyline scenario where Lionel turned away from his evil ways. Executive producer Greg Beeman concedes that the character development failed, and as a result Lionel returned to his normal self. To John Glover, trying to play Lionel as a straight arrow was "boring".
Season five explored the relationship between Martha and Lionel. Both Annette O'Toole and Al Gough agree that there was a small bit of attraction for Martha, but that she would never act on that feeling. It was also never the producers' intentions to create a real romantic relationship between the two characters. Most of Lionel's motivations in season five are shrouded in mystery. Glover admits to not being able to determine if his character is good or bad, so when he is portraying him on screen in season five he tries to present everything as if it was "good". Glover believes that it was Lincoln Cole's (Ian Tracey) actions in "Mercy" that made Lionel begin to rethink everything that he has done, and some of the things about himself. By the end of the fifth season, Lionel has learned that people have a responsibility to each other.
Writer/executive producer Brian Peterson laments that the creative team wanted to remind the audience that Lionel was still the same Lionel Luthor they had come know, so they intentionally held off on revealing Lionel's usual antics until season six's "Promise", where Lionel blackmails Lana into marrying Lex. Peterson was looking to "slap [the audience] in the face" with a reminder of who Lionel used to be. Even though Lionel blackmails Lana into marrying Lex, John Glover contends that the character was only trying to protect Clark, and he needed Lana's help to do that. By the time season six began airing, John Glover realized that Lex was starting to become more villainous and that his time on the show would be limited. Glover hoped that Lionel would still be able to influence his son as the show progressed from that point, as he believed that his character would be useless on the show without such influencing abilities. Glover contends that the conflict between Lex and his father is something very positive for the show, as Lionel's endeavor to bond with Lex and the distrust between them "makes drama".
John Glover characterizes Lionel as a businessman who is merely disappointed in his son. To Glover, Lionel is this "rich and powerful businessman" who sees his son as nothing more than a "wuss" and "fraidy-cat". It was important to Glover that Lionel appear as human as possible when Glover is portraying him on screen. As the actor puts it, he does not want to simply "twirl [his] mustache". Glover describes Lionel as someone that will do whatever they need to do in order to get what they want. He characterizes Lionel as an intelligent man, who can read people easily. Lionel uses that ability to help further his goals. The character also has the ability to get past people's defenses, and get them to do what he wants. Glover thinks that that type of power would be great if it could be used to help someone other than Lionel. Another characterization of Lionel is portrayed by the color scheme the surrounds him. The cold blues help to evoke the "sinister" nature of the character. Lionel is also often portrayed in front of a white or "clinical blue" background. Even Lionel's signature mane of hair is another characterization. Here, his hair is used to symbolize his power — by growing it out and refusing to style it, Lionel's attempt to show that he is so powerful that he can do whatever he wants without any form of backlash.
The relationship between Lionel and his son Lex is a strained relationship; it has been likened to the relationship Norman and Harry Osborn share in the Spider-Man movie. Glover tries to make Lionel appear as though he is trying to "toughen [Lex] up". The character is made to "go out of his way, to give [Lex] tests, so [Lex] can prove himself". Glover sees the character as someone who is a rich and powerful business man, who is disappointed in his son. Glover's goal, for season one, was to show Lionel's attempts to make Lex tougher; he interprets the character's motto, in regards to raising Lex, as "no risk, no rewards".
Glover believes that Lionel has two competing agendas with Lex – for Lex to become his own man, and for Lex to follow in his father's steps. This becomes a frustration for Lex, because Lionel wants his son to be both "loyal follower" and the "best person he can be". This all plays into Lionel's "pretty huge ego". John Glover believes that if Lionel and Lex did not share the same blood, then Lionel would have "destroyed" Lex early on, as Lionel views his son as "weak". Lionel is also bound by the fact that Lex is his heir, even though Lionel does not trust his son. Lionel's distrust stems partially from the fact that he believes that Lex is a bit spineless. As John Glover explains, "It's not that [Lionel is] meant to be a foe; it's just that the poor boy's weak, so [Lionel must] mold him. Lionel is continually trying to strengthen his son, to teach him. [Lex is] just a hard student."
Another key relationship Lionel shares is with Martha Kent, Clark Kent's adoptive mother. First developed in season two, when Lionel hires Martha to be his assistant, it is further developed in season five. When Jonathan Kent died in season five, Glover felt like the attraction that Lionel had for Martha grew, because he now saw Martha as a single woman. For Lionel, Martha seemed to be more attainable now; Glover believes that what Lionel was seeking to attain was not based on some lustful attraction, but Martha's "goodness". When Lionel is around Martha he tries to present a man that she could be with; he consciously attempts to change years of selfish behavior. Writer Holly Harold believes that his relationship with Martha parallels Lex's relationship with Lana. Both men believe that these two women will be their saving grace, and pull them back from the dark side. Annette O'Toole likens Martha's interest in Lionel with that of watching a dangerous animal: "It's that attraction you have for a very beautiful, dangerous animal. You know you can't stop watching it, but at the same time you feel, 'Oh my God, he's going to kill me.'" The actress believes that Martha's ultimate motivation was to get close enough to Lionel to know what he is planning to do to Clark. When it came time for Martha to leave the show, writer Todd Slavkin contends that they wanted to give the character "more of a send-off" than they achieved on film. Slavkin explains that they could not do anything equivalent to what they gave John Schneider, as there were already so many storylines going on by the season six finale that they could not fit anything else in. The writers also realized that they could not kill off the character, and so chose to send her to the US Senate, creating a parallel to Clark where Martha fights injustice on the political stage. O'Toole and Al Gough agree that Martha has a small attraction to Lionel, they also agree that nothing serious would ever come from it.
Glover believes that Martha influenced Lionel to start believing in the fact that you need to sacrifice certain things to make the world a better place. With her leaving at the end of season six, Lionel no longer has that influence. Lionel is constantly battling the dark and light sides of his personality. According to series writer Caroline Dries, it is because of this balancing act that the audience never knows what his real motivations are. For Dries, this is embodied when he threatens Lana into marrying Lex, only to reveal later that it was all to protect Clark. Glover describes his off-screen relationship with Annette O'Toole as being the reason why Martha and Lionel have such good chemistry. To the actor, when Martha and Lionel are talking to each other it really feels like he and O'Toole are sharing a conversation, and that level of trust is visualized on the camera.
For his portrayal of Lionel Luthor on Smallville, John Glover has been nominated for two Saturn Awards in the category of Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series. The first came in 2003, following his upgrade to series regular status, and the second came the following year in 2004. By season four, at least one reviewer felt that Lionel should have left the show at the hands of his terminal liver disease in season three. Maurice Cobbs of DVD Verdict felt that Lionel was taking away from the primary characters' screen time in season four, and it would have been better had the producers killed off the character at the end of season three.
Lionel makes his first appearance outside of the television series in the Aspect publisher Smallville: Strange Visitors. Here, Lionel is concerned that con artist Donald Jacobi will bring too much attention to the meteor rocks in Smallville, and ruin his plans to use the rocks for experimentations. Lionel goes so far as to have the life of Jacobi's partner put in jeopardy when he threatens to alert some mobsters, who are looking for him because of some past indiscretions, as to his present location just to make sure that the pair leave Smallville immediately. He makes a brief appearance in Smallville: Dragon, only to acknowledge to Lex that he used Renata, an old girlfriend of Lex's, to get close to Lex in an effort to test him, though he does not elaborate on what reason he was testing Lex. The Smallville version of Lionel makes a brief appearance in the second volume of the internet series Smallville: Chloe Chronicles, where he threatens Chloe after she discovers that he has something to do with the deaths of several individuals.
Before Smallville, Lex's father made either brief appearances in the Superman comics or was relegated to a mere mention. Lex's father first appears in Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #23 (1961), in the story "The Curse of Lena Thorul!", written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel in which he is named "Jules" and is revealed to have disowned his criminal son Lex and changed the family name to "Thorul". Later Jules Thorul and his wife Arlene are killed in a car accident. In the 2004 miniseries Superman: Birthright, Lex's father is not a billionaire himself, but immediately puts Lex to work making millions for him as soon as he discovers his son's astronomical IQ. He dies in a fire Lex accidentally causes in an experiment—the same accident that causes Lex's hair to permanently fall out.
Following yet another re-telling of Superman's origins in the comics, a different comics version of Lex Luthor's history is once presented in Adventure Comics #6 (March 2010), in which Lionel is an abusive alcoholic single parent, who terrorized Lex and his sister Lena. He dies of a heart-attack, leaving Lena in the care of an aunt, and Lex to leave Smallville. It is later revealed that Lex had in fact caused his father's heart attack in order to cash in on a sizable life insurance policy, which he would use as the basis for what would become his fortune. In Blackest Night #6, Lionel Luthor is revived as a member of the Black Lantern Corps. Lionel Luthor appears with Lex Luthor in the Flashpoint reality where they tour General Sam Lane's facility of aliens.
In the television series' comic book continuation written by the show's scribe Bryan Q. Miller, it is revealed in issue five that Lionel had attempted to recruit Bruce Wayne's father, Thomas Wayne, into the secret society Veritas with Virgil Swann.
Film, TV and web
In the 1988–1992 Superboy television series, Lex's father appears in season four's "Know Thine Enemy" (Part 1) where Superboy becomes Lex Luthor in a virtual reality and watches Lex grow up with an abusive father; Lex's father is not identified by name. In the 1978 Richard Donner Superman film and Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, Lex briefly mentions his father—though he never reveals his father's name—as the inspiration of Lex's real estate schemes and that his father was a harsh man who kicked Lex out at some point.
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