With this week’s episode of Supergirl we complete the Luthor family tree (at least for this generation). In Luthors, in fact, we see a little bit more of Lena‘s past in a couple of flashbacks, where Lionel Luthor, portrayed by Ian Butcher, adopts the girl and introduces her to his wife and son. This version of the Luthor patriarch is modeled on the one we saw in Smallville: in the ten-seasons long show, John Glover portrays the one who, for most of the series, has been the most charismatic character around, first a ruthless villain who’s more or less an anticipation of what his son will become, then an ally to Clark Kent, “cured” by his evil personality by Jor-El himself, then again a villain when his evil Earth-Two version replaces the deceased good Lionel and becomes the main ally of Darkseid on Earth. This cunning and Machiavellian businessman is very different from both versions ever appeared in the comics, since the Luthor patriarch has been a good man in a world, a despicable loser in another: let’s see together.
On Earth-One, the head of the Luthor family was Jules Luthor, a honest man born and raised in Kansas, in the rural town of Smallville. As an adult, he found a job as a simple salesman, and he fell in love with a girl of his same town, Arlene. The two got married, and moved to a farm out of town to start a family. They had a son, Lex, and some years later they also had a daughter, Lena. Because of his job, Jules was often away from home, and Arlene did most of the parenting, with Lex giving her a hand with the farm as soon as he grew up. When Arlene told Jules that their son, Lex, was growing more and more intelligent, and that he felt restricted in the farm, Jules worked even harder to afford a house in Smallville, and the family moved there. Even this, apparently, wasn’t enough, as Lex soon found other ways to express his genius, and after entering a dangerous competition with the local hero Superboy, Lex ended up endangering the entire town. Jules felt somehow guilty for not being there when his son clearly needed him, but he couldn’t support his criminal turn; wanting to protect Lena, who was still a baby, Jules decided to disown Lex, and convinced Arlene that it was far better for their baby girl if she wasn’t influenced the slightest by her older brother. In order not to be found by Lex, then, the Luthors moved away from Smallville, and even legally changed their name to Thorul. Jules even told Lena, who missed her brother, that he had died in an accident while climbing. This brand new life, however, didn’t last as long as Jules had imagined: soon after, while driving with his wife Arlene, he was involved in a car accident that killed them both, leaving Lena to be raised in an orphanage.
With the Chrisis on Infinite Earths, Earth-One was erased from existence (until recently, it seems…), and Jules Luthor/Thorul’s life disappeared as well. In the new reality, New Earth, there was Lionel Luthor, one of the local bullies in the rural town of Smallville, Kansas. Lionel wasn’t loved nor respected in town, but he somehow managed to find a girl nevertheless, Letitia. The two got married and had two kids, but it was all up to Letitia to look after the kids and to run the house: the ambitious Lionel was focused on his work. Following his dreams, he moved the entire family to Metropolis to try and become a businessman, but he failed miserably, and the Luthors never moved from the Suicide Slums, the worst and most squalid part of Metropolis. Eventually, the family had to come back to Smallville in shame, and somewhere around this point Letitia died, leaving Lionel the sole parent Lex and Lena had… not that this increased his sense of responsibility: depressed and humiliated, Lionel started drinking, and venting all his anger and frustration on his children, especially on Lex, believing that his thirst for studying and learning was just another way to make him feel stupid. Lena grew terrified of her dad, while Lex simply hated him: in the following years, Lionel became involved in a series of weird accidents that nearly costed his life, but everytime he was saved by the mysterious hero guarding over Smallville. Obviously, the incidents were orchestrated by Lex, who had secretly stipulated a life insurance on his father. Finally, Lex found his way when Lionel’s heart, due to alcoholism, started to fail: Lex switched some of his pills, causing an allergic reaction that stopped once and for all Lionel’s heart. With the money from the insurance, Lex finished his study and moved to Metropolis again, ready to start his own company and to become one of the richest men on the planet… but the experience with Lionel had taught him an important lesson, and Lex would have also become the most dangerous man alive, who would have never allowed anyone to treat him like his father did.
The two Luthor patriarchs are extremely different men: Jules is a honest and hard-working man, very sever but always concerned with the well-being of his family; Lionel is an arrogant and bullying drunkard who uses violence on his children to hide the humiliation he constantly feels. Ironically enough, despite their many differences, both men ended up raising the greatest criminal mind ever existed.