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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Katie McGrath is Lena Luthor on Supergirl Season 2

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Edited by Robert Beach

As Supergirl prepares for its new season on CW, a lot of changes are getting underway to bring the Girl of Steel more in line with CW’s overall brand of superhero story and increase audience interest in the property. The truth is this: as much as I, and many others, like Supergirl, the first season just didn’t have the ratings to warrant the high production costs. Even though CW has a lower bar for rating success, changes were always going to have to be made. 

The significant changes regarding obtaining new audience members seem to be introducing more elements and characters of the Superman mythos into the show. Superman himself will be coming to the new season, and now Lex Luthor and his company will have a role in the new season.  Luthor’s appearance was to be expected even if he won’t be onscreen. But the big surprise is the introduction of minor Superman character Lena Luthor, Lex’s sister, as a new series regular. 

Let’s start from the top with this bit of weirdness: yes, Lex Luthor had a sister named Lena in the comics. This isn’t even a new concept either. Lex’s sister goes all the way back to the Silver Age of comics in the ‘60s, which is why her name is alliterative as well.That was the thought process on a lot of ‘60s comics was to have alliterative names like Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Sue Storm, Billy Batson, Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, etc. 

‘60s Lena Luthor gets into a lot of the weirder aspect of Lex before John Byrne’s 1986 revamp of the character. The version of Lex, known by fans as pre-Crisis Lex, was more of a rogue scientist and jack of all trades bad guy than the evil businessman most folks consider him to be now. This is the era where Lex and Superman both grew up in Smallville as rivals as children. Luthor hated Superman because he’s the one who caused his baldness; it was a different time. 

In any event, Lena Luthor was spared her brother’s infamy when, after Lex had left for Metropolis, her parents changed the family name and told Lena her brother had died in a mountain climbing accident. Honestly, that’s a pretty dark idea all things considered, but it does touch on an element of super villains that’s usually greatly overlooked: the impact their life of villainy has on their family. 

Growing up with the last name Thorul, Lena eventually developed psychic powers from exposure to a space brain Lex had been working on before abandoning his family. Despite her abilities, Lena’s appearances in the comics were pretty sporadic, though she did learn her true identity and lost her powers. She even reconciled with Lex, shockingly. 

All of that went right out the window after the 1986 DC reboot. In this era, referred to as “post-crisis,” Luthor left home because of his abusive step-father who had killed his sister Lena. Later, when Luthor had a daughter, he named her after his deceased sister, which is sweet. 

Of course, Lex also trapped the girl’s mother in a medically induced coma, so he could raise her for evil, which is not sweet. Let's so call that comparison a wash. This Lena, daughter of Lex, only came up as part of a story involving the computer menace Brainiac. 

Lex ended up trading Lena to Brainiac in exchange for futuristic technology he used to transform Metropolis only for Lena to come back later as Brainiac’s Herald and screw everyone over.  Luckily, Superman returned Lena to infancy when he ultimately defeated Brainiac, giving her another shot at a decent life. Unfortunately, Superman ALSO handed Lena right back to Luthor, the guy who killed her mom and traded her for a bunch of (relatively speaking) iPhones, so she probably never got that better life. 

I say probably because yet another DC reboot intervened in 2005. In the wake of this reboot, DC reimagined Lena back to the state of being Luthor’s sister. Now, she was an invalid still living in Smallville. Eager to prove he was still evil no matter how many reboots DC pulled, Luthor teamed up with Superboy, a younger Superman clone, to cure his sister only to reverse the cure because being an evil monster just comes naturally to Lex.  Eventually, this Lena was put under the care of Wayne Foundation doctors because Wayne Enterprises in the comics pretty much exists entirely to subvert the malicious will of LexCorp.

Where does all that nonsense leave the Lena Luthor of Supergirl?  Probably disconnected from most of that if I had to guess. Apparently, this Lena’s main focus is taking over Lex’s company, now called Luthor Corp, and trying to reform it with the audience unsure whether or not she’s as evil as her brother or is a genuinely good person. That’s a pretty clever hook because DC already pulled that trick in the late 2000s. 

There, Luthor was convicted of a whole litany of crimes, which returned him to the rogue scientist role he’d had in the pre-crisis era, and Superman’s high school sweetheart Lana Lang moved in to run LexCorp.  She ran the business for a time, trying to turn things around, before getting ousted from the role in the lead up to the New Krypton story arc. At that point, I seem to recall Mercy Graves, Luthor’s bodyguard/assistant, taking over things. 

As for the other stuff, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that did pop up in some way on Supergirl. If they wanted Lena to secretly have powered the space brain, that would be a good explanation of it as it touches on the way having a criminal relative can impact people’s lives even without their knowledge.  

I’ve also mentioned previously that the season 1 villain Indigo served as a set-up for the computer menace Brainiac to be introduced to the show. If CW wanted to bring in Brainiac or the Bottle City of Kandor for a big season 2 arc, Lena Luthor could end up right in the middle of it. It’d work especially well with the idea of Lena’s morality being in question as a running mystery of the series, doubly so because Brainiac Lena is usually bald. We could have a dramatic de-wigging scene a la Gene Hackman in Superman 1978.  

Supergirl season 2 premieres October 10, 2016

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