No new character seen in Crossfire, the fifth episode of Supergirl‘s second season, but we finally learn the name of the mysterious scientist running Project Cadmus: she’s none other than Lillian Luthor, the mother of Lex and Lena, portrayed by Brenda Strong. Lillian holds a grudge against aliens after her “poor” Lex was “deceived” by the “evil” Superman who made the world see him like a deranged psycho, so she started a crusade to kill all the aliens, just to prove she’s not crazy. Perfectly logical. The character, always named Lillian, already appeared in Smallville, even if she’s dead long before the beginning of the story: portrayed by Alisen Down, she mostly appears in flashbacks and in Lex’s hallucinations, being the lovely mother opposed to the severe and authoritative father Lionel. In the comics, there are two different versions of this character, but none of them is anything more than a less-than-secondary character, and none of them is named “Lillian”. Let’s see together.
The first version of the Luthors’ mother existed on Earth-One, and she was called Arlene. She was born in Smallville, a little rural town in Kansas. Nothing is known about her family of origin, but as a young woman she met Jules Luthor, a salesman she fell in love with. The two got married, and they moved to the town’s suburbs, in Jules’ family farm; soon after they had two children, Lex and Lena. Since Jules was often away for work, it was up to Arlene to raise her children, and when he grew up, Lex helped with the farm; as the woman soon realized, however, he was far too smart to be a farm boy: he was actually a natural-born genius, who felt limited in the suburbs. In order to grant their son more stimuli, the Luthors moved to Smallville, where Lex became a fan of the local hero, Superboy, and even started helping him. Soon enough, an unfortunate series of events led Lex to be consumed by envy and paranoia, and he started a lethal competition with Superboy: while trying to kill the hero over and over again, Lex also endangered the entire Smallville more than once, using his intellect to build futuristic but deadly machines. Arlene was surely aching to see her son act like this, but she had to take care of Lena as well: along with Jules, she decided to protect their youngest daughter, so they disowned their first born, and left Smallville forever. In order not to be found, the Luthors changed their name into Thorul (a simple anagram of Luthor), and they told Lena that her beloved older brother had died in a tragic car accident. Quite ironically, both Arlene and her husband were eventually killed in a true tragic car accident, and their daughter was raised in an orphanage.
After Chrisis on Infinite Earths, Earth-One was wiped away from existence, and so was Arlene and (that version of) her family. In the universe resulting from the collapsing of the multiverse, New Earth, she was a woman named Letitia, and her story began in Smallville, Kansas as well. She married a local, Lionel Luthor, who had more ambitions than good ideas: somewhat of a bully, Lionel wasn’t liked by Smallville population, and even becoming a family man didn’t help his reputation. Letitia did her best to stand at his side, but the man didn’t make it easy for her. The two had a couple of kids together, Lex and Lena, but Letitia raised them pretty much on herself, since Lionel only cared about work. Believing he had found the right way to become an important and respected entrepreneur, Lionel moved along with all his family to Metropolis looking for better business, and at first it really seemed that the Luthors’ life was about to change for the better. Eventually, however, Lionel’s incapacity costed him his work, and he lost a lot of money. The entire family was forced to move to the Suicide Slum, the poorest and and most disreputable neighborhood in the all city. Lionel fell into alcoholism, and Letitia wasn’t a good company either, going from depression to apathy to bursts of rage. Both of them vented their frustration over their children, especially over Lex, a “bookworm” they couldn’t appreciate the value of. Not that the boy minded it at all: as soon as he was old enough to do it, he made a life insurance in his parents’ stead, counterfeiting their signatures. Then, he engineered their death, earning a lot of money from it and finally having wealth enough to found his own company, LexCorp, and to move away from Suicide Slum. At least in death, Letitia had been a better mother than she had ever been during her life.
The two women who have been Lex’s and Lena’s mother couldn’t be more different: Arlene is a caring mother and a hardworking woman, who always puts her children’s well-being over anything else, while Letitia is an abusive parent and a grudging wife, who abandons herself to depression and vents her resentment on her children. The only element they share is the constant disappointment their son Lex is for both of them, and the role he more or less directly assumes in their untimely death…