“Die, Batman!” Spellbinder cried as he whipped the device around. Batman tensed; he had not been expecting this, and there was no time to dodge the beam. Spellbinder activated the device, and a wide beam of white light blazed forth and enveloped the Batman in its nimbus. Batman felt an odd, tingling sensation, but nothing more.
Suddenly, Spellbinder screamed in agony, then fell to the floor. Batman rushed to him and examined him quickly. The villain was dead — somehow electrocuted. The Darknight Detective snatched up the strange device, but its circuitry was fused, melted together. Whatever purpose it had once served, it would no longer.
The scene repeated itself across the country. In Central City and Washington, D.C., in Midway City and Ivy Town, outside the Denver Mint, on a cruise ship off the Florida coast, and on a lonely highway in Star City. The villains used the devices they had been told were weapons capable of slaying the super-heroes and were in turn slain by them. The heroes could only wonder why, and what was truly behind it all.
The case went unsolved. When the Justice Leaguers compared notes and discovered they had all experienced similar occurrences, it was obvious the incidents were connected. Nobody could figure out how or why. Green Arrow suggested some kind of vigilante killer out to exterminate all their old enemies. Green Lantern supported this belief, citing the death of his old enemy, Black Hand, in a seemingly unrelated prison stabbing the month before. Batman was not ready to believe that answer yet but had none of his own to offer.
Weeks went by without an answer. The problem weighed on Clark Kent’s mind as he compiled his notes on the case for a Daily Planet feature story. None of his old enemies had been slain. To a one, the victims had been obscure villains who hadn’t been seen in years; Superman had no shortage of those. Why had his enemies been spared?
Clark was shaken out of his pensiveness when his super-hearing picked up a call for help. Instantly, a familiar blue and red blur was streaking over the skies of Metropolis.
Superman soared through the Metropolis skies to the Museum of Science and Industry. The building was under attack, an attack that only the Man of Steel could hope to thwart. His eyes narrowed as he spotted his lifelong enemy, Lex Luthor, hovering above the museum. Luthor wore his Lexorian battle armor, gleaming emerald and purple in the midday sun. Bolts of supercharged energy launched from his gauntlets and struck the walls of the museum.
“Fun’s over, Luthor!” Superman declared.
Luthor turned to see his old foe and smiled warmly. “Ah, there you are, Superman! I was beginning to wonder where you were. I’ve been wrecking this old eyesore for nearly fourteen seconds now.”
“If you insist on a battle before you surrender,” Superman said, hovering in air before his foe, “let’s take it somewhere away from the innocents. What do you say?”
“I say this.” Lex Luthor extended his gauntleted hand, and Superman’s eyes grew wide as a familiar green glow issued from the gauntlet.
“Surprised, Supes?” Luthor cackled as the green energy poured forth from his gauntlet and washed over the Man of Steel. Superman tried to fight the tug of the energy, but it enveloped him completely. He could not move a muscle; he felt as though he were frozen in amber.
“That’s right, Superman — this is the same energy your JLA comrade uses with his power ring! I guess you can call me the Green Luthor!”
Superman felt the nimbus of energy crushing him on all sides. It was a Herculean effort to move his jaws enough to voice a single word: “How?”
“A bit of luck and a lot of brilliance,” Luthor answered. “My last stretch in prison, I happened to meet William Hand, an old enemy of Green Lantern’s. He told me how he built a device that absorbed residual power ring energy from objects the Lantern had used his ring on. I convinced him to tell me how it worked, told him I could magnify its power. He believed me, and I was telling the truth. I never said I’d share that power with him. Once I had the design, I escaped prison and arranged for Hand to be killed in a knife-fight.
“After I added my own genius to Hand’s design, I had a device a hundred times more powerful than his! All I needed was the residual power ring energy. And I quickly realized the greatest collection of objects Green Lantern has used his power ring on is the Justice League of America. He’s always shuttling the others around in power-ring bubbles, like a one-man TWA. So I designed some devices that could absorb that energy from the Leaguers and transmit it to my master device over distances like a radio signal.”
“S-s-so… y-you…” Superman struggled to speak.
“Oh, sorry,” Luthor said. “Here, let me free your jaws.” Superman felt the tremendous pressure ease around his mouth, but nowhere else.
“So you were behind those other villains’ deaths,” Superman accused.
“Guilty as charged, Supes,” Luthor admitted. “I gathered a bunch of fifth-league bad guys, told them my power collectors were weapons, and set the collectors to destroy themselves once they’d transmitted the energy to my master unit. It fried the villains, too, of course, so they couldn’t rat me out. Couldn’t have you finding me before my weapon was ready.”
Superman felt the energy constrict even more, crushing him tighter. He had flown through black holes and had never felt anything as crushing as this. “I understand G.L.’s power ring is fueled by his own willpower. Well, get this, Supes: nothing is as strong as my will to destroy you! You ruined my life — made me destroy my own wife and son! (*) My sheer hatred gives me the will to smear you all over the landscape, and this magnificent energy turns that will into reality! Farewell, Superman, now and forever!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Luthor Unleashed,” Action Comics #544 (June, 1983).]
Superman grimaced in agony under the crushing pressure. He knew if he did not escape very soon, the power-ring energy commanded by Luthor would crush him to death.
“By the way, blue-boy,” Luthor taunted, “if you’re thinking of using yellow to escape somehow, forget it. I managed to remove that troublesome weakness from the ring energy. Nothing can stop this power!”
“You’ve… really done it… this time, Luthor,” Superman mumbled through the crushing energy.
“Yes, I certainly have,” Luthor said, smiling. “I’m going to drag this out, Superman. Your death will be slow. I’ve waited years for this, ever since we were kids. Half my life I’ve wanted to kill you, and now the day is finally here. I’m going to really make it last.”
Superman could not move a muscle. He could not even reach his JLA signal device to call in aid. The green energy surrounded him, closing in on him from all sides. He had never felt pain like this before.
Gloating, Luthor floated closer to his captive. “Superman? If you can still hear me, I want you to take this thought with you. My revenge on you only begins with your death. After that, I’m going to use this wonderful power to kill everyone close to you, everyone you care about — Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Batman, Lana Lang; oh, yes, and Lois Lane, too. They will all die slowly and painfully. At least my wife, my son, my friends on Lexor died quickly and cleanly, but not so your friends. Lois’ death will be a particular work of art; she’ll linger for weeks. I want you to know that before you die.”
With every word from Luthor’s lips, Superman’s grimace of agony changed to one of grim determination. Teeth that could grind granite like bubble gum ground together, a brow that had known the heart of the sun broke out in sweat, and fists that could destroy a planet clenched tight as Superman concentrated. In a sudden burst of brilliance, the green aura around him flashed brightly, then vanished.
“What?” Luthor gasped. “It’s not possible!”
Before the madman could erect another field of power-ring energy, Superman’s hand shot out to Luthor’s gauntlet. In a twinkling, Superman had whipped the glove off Luthor’s hand and crushed it in his own, like a mortal man would a soda can. Luthor tried to flee, but Superman’s fingers sank into the metal of his battle-suit and closed, holding him fast.
“I don’t understand it, Superman!” Luthor cried. “I had you defeated! You were helpless! How did you break free?”
“You said it yourself, Luthor,” Superman said. “The power ring energy responds to willpower. But you thought there was nothing stronger than your will to kill me. You were wrong.”
“My own will to save my friends from you. Yes, your taunts gave me the conviction I needed to wrest control of the green energy from you.”
Lex Luthor was silent as Superman flew him off to face justice for his crimes. He could not face the truth of what had happened. It proved the truth of something Luthor had denied all his life: that love was indeed stronger than hate.