The Black Ring

    Story arc »

    After the events of Blackest Night, Lex Luthor seeks to regain the power he once held as a wielder of an Orange Power Ring. To accomplish this, Luthor will have to journey through the DCU to find the secrets to the Black Ring.

    Short summary describing this arc.

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    Part One

    The story begins with Lex Luthor being hung upside-down from a tall building by three mercenaries. It then flashes back as Luthor thinks back to the events of a week ago, when one of his employees was giving a presentation for a sensor used to locate Lantern rings. Luthor insists that he wants the sensor's power to be increased, but when the employee attempts to explain why that won't work, Luthor tells his assistant Spalding to fire the employee. In a blind rage, the employee attacks Luthor, scarring his forehead before Luthor's guards intervene. The story then shifts to a day ago, where Luthor is seen having dinner with his Lois Lane robot (which he built from Kryptonian and Brainiac technology, along with DNA traces of Lois Lane). In this dinner, Luthor orders a hitman to kill the employee who assaulted him.

    He then continues having a conversation with the Lois robot, stating that her purpose is to offer an opposite viewpoint to challenge him. He goes on to say that his previous exposure to the Orange Ring during the events of Blackest Night have altered him, making him want everything now. He believes that the Black Lantern rings are the key to him unlocking power and sating his hunger, and that even though they all disintegrated, he believes that they are traces. He then ends the night by sleeping with Lois.

    Luthor then flashes back to the events of a few hours ago, where he meets with Spalding, who tells him that there have still been no traces of a Black Lantern ring. Luthor then goes off to use the Isopod - an intelligent listening device that connects one's neurons to all forms of media. Through this, Luthor picks up an article stating that there has been a change in the fabric of the universe, and this gives him an epiphany. That there are traces of Black Lantern ring energy around the universe, and that if he can sample that energy, he can develop his own Black Ring. As he prepares his power armor for the journey, he is suddenly attacked by four mercenaries. Luthor makes the Lois robot intercept them, but even though she succeeds in killing one, the rest are able to make off with Luthor.

    The story then returns to the present, and Luthor notes that his captors are working for someone who is seemingly in mental communication with them, and that they were ordered to hang him upside down. When Luthor asks who their master is, the head of one of the mercenaries bursts open. As Luthor is brought back up to the building's roof, he recognizes the worm that emerges from the mercenary's head - Mr. Mind.

    Part Two

    The second part begins with a mental hallucination. Luthor is seen as a caveman living with his family, and he says that we (ordinary humans) work so hard for so little, while those who are born 'rewarded' don't (superhumans). He then climbs up a hill and sneaks into a temple which has three giant statues of a cloaked man (representing Batman), a man with a lightning bolt on his chest (Superman - the bolt being a reference to Zeus), and a woman with a tiara (Wonder Woman). The giant mountain represents Mount Olympus, symbolizing how ordinary humans view superheroes as being Gods, and Luthor sneaks in to steal a bowl of flame symbolizing power (similar to how the Greek Prometheus stole fire from the Gods). As he flees with the flame, he is then attacked by the giant Superman statue, who attacks him with heat-vision. But Luthor is able to trip the statue, shattering it, and he then returns back to the other humans - claiming his victory over those who didn't deserve it.

    The story then shifts to Mr. Mind, who is seemingly talking to an unknown collaborator. Mind tells his mystery master that he's seized control of Luthor's mind, and told it to fantasize in order to distract Luthor. Mind then states that once Luthor has accepted the fantasies, he (Mind) will be able to fiddle with Luthor's brain and make Luthor see anything.

    Back in Luthor's mind, he is suddenly in another fantasy, where he is dressed in a pseudo-Victor Frankenstein style outfit. He is in a mad scientist lab of some sort, and the Lois robot appears, asking him if they are going to 'check what he created'. She indicates to a body covered by a sheet, and Luthor states that he might have made a monster, and that it isn't human and could kill with a look. Luthor mentions that there is something strange about the situation, when Lois says that it could be anyone under that sheet - from Superboy to Superman to herself. Luthor pulls off the sheet, revealing that the creation is actually himself. The Lois robot then tells him that this is what Luthor doesn't want to consider about himself - that he represents humanity and that he works best with others.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Mind reacts in surprise to the fantasy Lois' statement, stating that this is the opposite of what he wanted. He then says that he'll fight back, and in the fantasy, Luthor and Lois are suddenly attacked by townspeople. The rampaging mob take away Lois, and Luthor cries out in rage, saying that they never understand that he's doing everything for their benefit. This could likely symbolize how Luthor truly believes that his attempts to defeat Superman et cetera are actually part of his desire to elevate humanity beyond superheroes.

    The fantasy abruptly changes again, and this time, Luthor is dressed as a sheriff in the Wild West. He stares at a nearby wanted poster with Mr. Mind on it, and realizes that both he and Mr. Mind shouldn't be in the West. A man suddenly approaches him in a hurry, and asks for his help, saying that 'Big Blue' is back in town. By this point, Luthor realizes that this is all a fantasy when the townspeople begin saying things like 'Only you can save us, Sheriff! You're like us, but you're better than us!". Luthor then approaches Big Blue (a gunslinger dressed in red, blue, and yellow with a Superman-esque appearance), but notes that the flattery displayed by the townspeople is a distraction. He realizes that the people are just projections by Mind, and he shoots one instead of attacking Big Blue.

    Mr. Mind recoils in shock to this, first surprised that Luthor was able to change the fantasy earlier on (from the Frankenstein scenario to the Wild West), and that Luthor is now conscious he is in a fantasy. Mind begins wailing to his mystery master, stating that Luthor will soon find where Mind's brain is connected to the fantasy, and that he has to get out. But his mysterious master refuses to allow Mind to leave the dream.

    Back in the fantasy, Luthor has found where Mind is hiding - inside a saloon. Mister Mind is holding the gagged Lois robot at gunpoint. Luthor then notes that Mind is just stalling (because otherwise why would Mind not shoot Lois - who is obviously just a figment of Luthor's mind), and realizes that Mind is afraid someone will affect them in the real world (where Luthor and Mind are still on the building's roof). Luthor then realizes that he controls the dream, and removes the gag from Lois, who tells him that Mind is trying to change the dream. The fantasy suddenly alters to a giant Mr. Mind in a city.

    Luthor, now in a business suit, notes that the present dream is taken from his childhood fantasy. He says that he knows how this dream goes, and stripping off his shirt, states that 'This is a job for Lex Luthor'. Flying to the air, he begins bashing Mind, noting how Mind's 'heart isn't in it' and that Mind is working for someone else. Mr. Mind refuses to tell, so Luthor takes control of his physical body in the real-world, and kicks Mind off the roof. This results in Mind's connection being severed, and Luthor is suddenly conscious again. The mercenaries who were under Mr. Mind's control beg Luthor for forgiveness, and he tells them to tell him everything they know.

    Later on, in the real world, Luthor is speaking to the Lois robot again, and notes that the messages that the first two fantasies were trying to impart was that he didn't need help from anyone. He then looks at a map of the Black Lantern energy traces and states that they will leave for the first location tomorrow. Luthor goes on to say that if Mind was trying to make him work alone, he feels more inclined to bring along company.

    Luthor then makes a call to Deathstroke the Terminator.

    Part Three

    Luthor and his party (which includes Deathstroke, the Lois robot, his assistant Spalding, helicopter pilot Jessop and guard Finch, along with other armed personnel) arrive at the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Jessop asks Finch who that woman (the Lois robot) with Luthor is, stating that she kept her face covered the entire flight, but Spalding scolds them both - reminding them that they are paid more than their counterparts because of their discretion. (In actuality, the Lois robot covers her face because anyone would recognize world-famous journalist Lois Lane).

    Luthor wonders aloud why Mr. Mind wanted him to be hung upside-down, and Lois suggests that perhaps the increased blood flow helped the caterpillar's hallucination. Luthor goes on to mention that Mind's servants could tell him little, and that Mind must have been working with a being of high power - because Mind himself is a multidimensional psychic entity. The landing party suddenly reaches the source of the Black Lantern energy, a giant sphere of pure black. As they approach it, Deathstroke realizes that the sphere is somehow affecting his emotions. He goes first, noting that he feels scared for no reason, while Luthor analyzes it and states that it's a different kind of spacetime. Spalding then tells Luthor that according to a chronometer, this spacetime hole has been here for billions of years, and Luthor concludes that the Black Ring energy dissipated through time and space, leaving debris like this sphere all across time.

    Suddenly, Deathstroke is overwhelmed by his emotions and charges for Luthor. Before Deathstroke closes the distance, Luthor tells Spalding to sample the Black Lantern energy, and tells his guards to distract Slade. Deathstroke easily dispatches the guards, but Luthor manages to get his power suit on and begins fighting him. Meanwhile, Spalding starts analyzing the sphere of Black Lantern energy, when Jessop is suddenly overcome by emotion and charges for Spalding with a knife. Lois easily dispatches her though. Luthor suddenly feels the effect of the Black Lantern ring when he becomes angry, and realizes that the Black energy is regulated by any emotion. In his fear, he is seized by the energy also, but fights back with his mind.

    But just as Deathstroke is about to kill Luthor, Spalding successfully samples the Black Lantern energy, and the sphere changes into a 'different type of spacetime'. By analyzing it, he essentially altered and mutated it, stopping its effect. Everyone suddenly comes back to their senses, and Deathstroke apologizes for his attempted murder of Luthor. Luthor replies that he'll cut Slade's fee in half.

    Elsewhere, Gorilla Grodd enters his secure facility and looks at another 'Dark Zone' of energy - just like the one Luthor just encountered.

    Part Four

    Luthor and his party (sans Deathstroke) arrive at the next site of Black Lantern energy - Bwindi National Park in Uganda. As they trek through the jungle, they are observed by mind-controlled gorillas who mentally report back to their master - Grodd - that Luthor's party is heading straight for Grodd's base. Grodd, at his base, mentions that he built the base around the Dark Zone and that he hasn't figured out how to safely explore the anomaly - and mentions that Luthor must know what the sphere is. He then enters a room filled with shelves of brains, and selects one belonging to a Mr. Cardington - an employee of Luthor. Grodd eats the brain, absorbing all the knowledge of Luthor's murdered employee.

    Back in the jungle, Luthor tells Lois that if she wasn't here to keep him in line, he would succumb to the need that he feels (as a result of his previous exposure to Orange Lantern energy) and that would lead him to make mistakes. At his base, Grodd states that Cardington's memories suggest Luthor will act rashly if provoked, and as he surveys Luthor, he also says that Luthor has revealed another weakness - his love for the Lois robot. He then orders his gorilla henchmen to attack the party. Lois is snatched away, and they bring her back to Grodd's base. There, Grodd attempts to eat her brain to ingest her knowledge - only to realize that she's an android. Annoyed, he then uses a device to control her android brain, and tells her to inform him of all of Luthor's weaknesses.

    An hour later, Luthor and his party are still tracking Lois, when they are suddenly attacked by an ambush from Gorilla Grodd (who brought along a giant spoon). Luthor then challenges Grodd to a one-on-one match in hand-to-hand, and Grodd spears Luthor's head off with his spoon. Grodd then proceeds to ingest Luthor's decapitated head, when an electric shock from the head abruptly stuns him. It is then revealed that the Luthor from the beginning was simply another android.

    A flashback to four weeks ago reveals that Luthor had ordered Mr. Cardington to go to Bwindi National Park, and that he had implanted various drugs and gave him some 'personal details' about himself. Back in the present, two gorillas inside Grodd's base take off their disguises to reveal that Spalding and Luthor had been masquerading as gorillas from the beginning. Luthor then reveals that the drugs he gave Cardington were meant to affect Grodd's judgment, and that the android's challenge to Grodd was deliberately designed to enrage the gorilla, so that the ape wouldn't prod the android with his mental abilities (thus revealing the ruse). With Grodd out of commission, the other apes in the base go back to being ordinary animals, while the head of the Luthor android begins relaying the base's codes from Grodd's brain to Luthor.

    Using the codes, they enter the room where Grodd has sealed the Dark Zone. There, Spalding begins his analysis, and the sphere is altered as before. Back in the jungle, Grodd awakens and realizes that he's been duped. As Luthor and the rest of his party escape by air, Luthor (who is surveying the jungle through the helicopter's open door) is suddenly shot by Grodd with a sniper laser rifle. Luthor falls back down to the jungle, crashing off some rocks, and seemingly dies.

    The chapter ends with Luthor (implying his spirit) looking over his dead body, when he is suddenly approached by Death of the Endless.

    Part Five

    Luthor stares at the dead body, stating that he thinks its a duplicate, while Death tells him that they're outside time. Death introduces herself, and when Luthor still doesn't believe her, she touches his nose - and it begins to decompose. The effect stops after a while, and Luthor finally believes her. Death then tells Luthor that she's here to review his life. She then shows him a vision of his life - which includes flashbacks of his father, his discovery of Kryptonite, him meeting Clark Kent as a boy, the Death of Superman, fights with Superboy, Superman, and Brainiac, as well as his alliance with other villains like the Injustice League. Luthor is enraged by this, saying that he 'did what had to be done'.

    He then asks her about the Blackest Night, implying that she wasn't doing her job, but Death simply replies that she was busy and that occasionally people return to life - but that they all eventually come back to her. Luthor finally changes his approach, and cooling off, begins bargaining with Death - asking her what she wants in return for his life. She jokingly asks for a magic pony that sings. Luthor begins feeling scared, and actually asks her for help - and Death tells him that even though many have asked for her sympathy, it makes no difference. Death tells him that the next phase is acceptance, but Luthor refuses, and in his ego says that there must be some way out of it. Death then brings them to another dimension where they can talk privately.

    Death asks him what he thinks about the afterlife, and Luthor expounds on his views. He says that the only person who can judge him is someone with an objective view on the universe, but states that science claims there is no such view. Luthor goes on to call himself an atheist, believing that believers are declining their responsibilities, and says that choosing to be an atheist is an ethical decision. Luthor then asks Death that if there is a God who judges him - will he have the opportunity to present his case? He then tells her that he knows Hell is real - because he's been there - and when Death tells him he could say sorry, Luthor insists that there is nothing to be sorry for and that he won't grovel.

    Death then goes on to show Luthor some hypotheticals - giving him a vision of his own hedonistic paradise. Luthor replies that these are just distractions, and not what he actually lives for. Death then asks him if he would want to live in brilliant bliss forever, and Luthor replies "What's the catch?" - stating that he doesn't believe in it. Luthor then tells her that he bows to no one, and that she should just get it over with. And that no matter what, he'll find a way out.

    But Death suddenly tells him that this is just a preliminary check, and that he isn't even dead. Luthor then awakens in a hospital room, and asks if he was ever clinically dead, to which Spalding replies that he wasn't. Luthor then wonders why one of the principles of the universe - Death - wanted to check up on him, and wonders what awaits him in the future.

    The story ends 1000 years prior, where Vandal Savage is speaking to a soothsayer - who tells him that the 'hanged man will make his presence felt here' (a reference to Luthor being hung upside-down in Part One), and that he doesn't wish Savage well, but that Luthor's meddling will bring great happiness to him. The soothsayer goes on to say that it may be centuries before the prophecy comes to past. Savage then orders his master mason to begin construction of a city built upon two more Black Lantern anomalies. A city that is actually a trap.

    Part Six

    In Sapristi Bohemia, 1358, Vandal Savage's city is caught up in riots (as a result of the two spheres) as he makes his yearly inspection of the two Black Lantern anomalies. Throughout the centuries, Luthor has yet to be born, but in the late 20th century, Savage finally recognizes Luthor's face in the Daily Planet. Luthor then tells his daughter Scandal Savage - then only a child - that they must reveal nothing about the prophecy to Luthor, as he has to come upon it by chance. The story then flashes back to previous encounters between Savage and Luthor - once in Flash #124 and another in Salvation Run, where Savage both times tried to convince Luthor to go to his city, but failed.

    Back in the present, at an Australian Lexcorp facility, Luthor is having a dream and awakens, suddenly realizing that there are only ten Black Lantern anomalies, and that changing them all will grant him power. Lois also wakes up, and Luthor explains that the analyses have revealed that these spheres are remnants of Black Lantern energy, storage points for that energy with a connection to another dimension. But that his dream told him that power comes not from investigating them, but by changing them - and so far they have altered two (the first one in Antarctica, and the second one in Uganda). Luthor then states that his visit by Death convinced him that major power will be his soon if cosmic entities are watching him. Luthor then notes that four of the remaining spheres are in space, that two more are 'problematic', and that another two are fairly easy to obtain.

    Luthor then meets with Spalding to launch a satellite with a Black Lantern energy sensor, and says that he plans to alter the spheres from space. In Bohemia, Vandal Savage makes a visit to his spheres and is enraged when he learns that they have been altered. In frustration, he then decides to go directly after Luthor. The next day, at Lexcorp HQ in Metropolis, Savage and his men have seized control of the entire tower just before Luthor and his party returns. Luthor is then ambushed by Savage in the boardroom, where Savage and his men have held Luthor's staff and entire board hostage.

    Savage then tells Luthor that he has placed explosives all across the tower - which would cripple Luthor's business - and Savage demands that Luthor tell him where the rest of the spheres are. Savage believes that these spheres are now the key to his promised happiness. Luthor admits that he's at a disadvantage, and cautiously walks to straighten a crooked portrait of himself on the wall. But secretly, he presses a button beside the portrait's frame, that sends a signal for help to the Secret Six.

    Part Seven

    The Secret Six, comprised of Scandal Savage, Deadshot, Catman, Bane, Jeannette, Black Alice, and Rag Doll infiltrate the LexCorp tower via the ventilation vents. The story flashes back to a few weeks ago, where Luthor meets Scandal at a fancy restaurant. Luthor tells her that he wants the Six as an ace up his sleeve, and makes a mysterious offer that is not revealed. Bane notes that the offer alone makes any risk worth it. But as Scandal peers through the vent, she is shocked to see it is her father Vandal Savage whom she has to save Luthor from. Meanwhile, Luthor continues to stall Vandal Savage.

    Elsewhere, Mr. Mind (who survived his death by downloading a memory clone into a Luthor employee) appears and reboots the Lois robot (who was shut down by a virus used earlier by Savage). Lois asks Mind why Mind helped reboot her, and Mind replies that his mysterious employer's attention is elsewhere now, so he wanted to have a chat. He states that when Lois shot at one of his mind-controlled mercenaries (from Part One), she infected one of them with high-tech nanites that caused them to specifically dangle Luthor upside-down. Mind voices his suspicion that Lois is secretly working for another party, but Lois quickly shuts the body down with an electric shock.

    Back at the Luthor boardroom, Deadshot rushes in and begins firing away, killing members of Vandal's army. Luthor rushes for the detonator in Vandal Savage's hands (that controls the bombs), but it falls away, reflecting off the boardroom table before Scandal catches it. After a quick verbal spat with her father, the entire room is suddenly attacked by Lois, who begins blasting everyone. Scandal is knocked out by the Lois robot, causing Vandal to go berserk, and he then proceeds to slice through the robot with a giant axe. Scandal awakens, but more of Vandal's guards break in and begin firing. Luthor tells Black Alice to channel Zatanna's powers to incapacitate the guards, but they learn to their dismay that the guards are protected by magical defenses. The guards continue shooting, causing the detonator to fly around the room - before it lands on the floor and the button is pressed.

    Secret Six: What Luthor Has Wrought

    In this crossover with the Secret Six, the story continues as the detonator fails to detonate because the button has only been partially depressed. Luthor offers a bonus to the Six if they sacrifice themselves, but they refuse. Vandal then goes on to state that it was prophesied that Luthor's manipulation of the Black Lantern energy would bring him unbridled joy. Luthor then opens up a box and eats a piece of gum from it. Vandal then threatens to kill Luthor, as this would give him joy after all of the frustration, but a force-field suddenly forms around Luthor - revealing that the gum was actually another device. Luthor then reveals that he had secret polymer-based turrets aimed at Scandal, and that he specifically chose the Six because he wanted to use Scandal as a human shield.

    He orders Vandal to turn off the detonator, and Savage begrudgingly agrees for the sake of his daughter. But to everyone's dismay, the detonator is stuck, and as the bomb continues counting down - Luthor orders Black Alice to disable the other explosives. She transforms to Dr. Fate and leaves. As twelve seconds remain, Luthor then forces Vandal to admit that Luthor beat him, before opening up his force-field to allow everyone to enter. Along with Vandal, the Secret Six, Lois, and his board members, they survive the resulting explosion and fall out of the building. Black Alice, channeling Alan Scott, saves them from their fall.

    As they all collect themselves, Luthor demands servitude from Vandal, but Vandal refuses - causing Luthor to order Lois to shoot Scandal. Lois, auto-repairing her chopped body, then begins attacking Scandal, but Scandal succeeds in decapitating the robot. Meanwhile, Vandal is holding Luthor in a chokehold, but Scandal convinces her father to let him go - as another dead employer would damage the Six's relationship. Vandal chooses to, and he makes a deal of mutual alliance with Luthor. But suddenly, Scandal punches Luthor and tells him that the Six quit. Bane warns Vandal not to humiliate his daughter ever again.

    As the Six leave and Vandal and Luthor talk, it is revealed that Scandal's mother was a Brazilian woman who tricked Vandal to love her - and then killed herself, knowing that Vandal would be alone forever.

    Father's Box

    In this brief interlude, the story flashes back to a young Lex Luthor recently arriving in Metropolis, where he witnesses a man committing suicide as a result of losing his job. Lex enters a bar, where he is approached by a man named 'Petey', who asks him if he wants gum. The two leave the bar, and Luthor easily guesses that 'Petey' is Perry White, and that he is on an undercover story for the Daily Planet. Perry then warns him that something is going on at this bar, when they are suddenly interrupted by Ty - Bruno Mannheim's bodyguard. Lex uses this opportunity to introduce himself, claiming he's an old friend of 'Petey' and that Petey said that Mannheim had a job opening.

    Perry manages to convince Lex to bring him on board, and Bruno is impressed enough by Lex to take him into the business. Six weeks later, Lex asks Ty about a door, but Ty says he doesn't see anything. Lex then enters the door, and it turns out that it is a Boom Tube that leads him to Apokolips. There, he comes face to face with Darkseid, Desaad, Granny Goodness, and the Female Furies. Darkseid reveals that he intentionally made the door to only be noticed by Luthor, and he kills a man in front of Luthor. But Luthor doesn't react at all, and when Luthor asks Darkseid why the New God is interested in him, Darkseid is finally impressed, and begins to show him Apokolips.

    Darkseid then employs Luthor as his new Scientwister, and he works with Mokkari. He stays on Apokolips for a period of time, and begins developing a powerful weapon, before presenting it to Darkseid. Darkseid tests it out by attempting to fire the weapon, but Lex has booby-trapped the weapon, causing a massive explosion. Luthor then claims himself as the new king of Apokolips, but is shocked when Darkseid is still alive. Lex manages to escape from Kalibak and Darkseid's guards, and he manages to secure a Father Box that sends him back to Earth. Later, he meets with Perry again - who tries to offer him a job - but in his newfound arrogance (he became an industrial genius by using tech he took from Apokolips) he rejects Perry's friendship. Their relationship ends on a bad note.

    Back on Apokolips, Darkseid reveals that he arranged Luthor's escape because he knows that Luthor will distract Metropolis, allowing Mannheim and Desaad's Intergang to operate in secrecy. He then prophesies that one day in the future, Luthor will 'take the bait set by a God'.

    In the present, Luthor reveals that he's been telling this story to Lois - and notes that he's been receiving the attention of cosmic beings since his younger days.

    A Father's Box

    In this annual, the story flashes back to Luthor as a young adult, who is revealed to have been an apprentice under Ra's al Ghul. Ra's al Ghul is shown to trust Luthor with his daughters (because he was too cold to impress them), trust Luthor not to intrigue (because Luthor was plain with his failings), and trust Luthor with his wealth (he was already rich). But Luthor believes that leading the world will save it, not the mass cullings that Ra's al Ghul uses to keep the world's population in check. And secretly, he manages to open a box that Ra's al Ghul explicitly forbade him from opening, and reads the forbidden book within.

    But Ra's al Ghul catches him in the act, and kills Luthor for it. But he resurrects Luthor with a Lazarus Pit, and while Luthor lives, Ra's al Ghul has already left.

    Part Eight

    The story continues as Luthor and Lois arrive in Arkham Asylum by limousine - and Luthor is reading an article about Bruce Wayne launching Batman Incorporated, and he expresses disgust at it. As they arrive at the Asylum, Spalding tries to tell Luthor that he believes the articles that led Luthor to his quest might have been planted. But Lois tells him to do it later, as Luthor needs all of his concentration now. Luthor then enters the cell that holds another Black Lantern sphere, and the infamous clown prince of crime - Joker.

    But there is no sphere inside the room, despite the sensors indicating that there is. Only the Joker is present, with two up-turned jars on his table. After aggravating Luthor with some jokes, Joker finally concedes and tells him that they can make a bargain. Lex asks him three questions: how can a large sphere fit inside a cell, why can't he see it, and why does it happen to be in here with the Joker. The Joker replies with three riddles, asking 'how long is a piece of string', 'when is a door not a door', and 'why did the hypnotist have a fork stuck to his head'. Luthor easily deciphers all three riddles, revealing that the sphere can be any size (riddle one), that it was attracted by Joker's magnetic personality (riddle three), and that the sphere is in a jar (ajar, the answer to riddle two).

    Joker then tells Luthor to pick one of the jars on the table, and when Joker reveals Luthor's choice, it turns out to be a singing pony toy. Luthor recoils in shock at this, asking Joker how he overheard Luthor's conversation with Death. Joker opens up the second jar, revealing the black sphere, and he mentions how its presence is hurting something. Joker then says that he was able to overhear Luthor's talk with Death because his negative emotions attract things like the black spheres. He then says that he's immune to its effects, and states that its a keyhole to a dimension that allowed Joker to overhear Luthor's conversation. Joker then mentions that there's a god in that other dimension, and that him overhearing the conversation was just a side effect of the god's machinations.

    Luthor then asks Joker what he wants in exchange, and Joker replies that he wants the sphere to be altered. Spalding complies, and during the change, Joker ovehears another conversation that he doesn't want Luthor to hear. Joker then warns Luthor, telling him that if he makes the wrong choice - he will crack. As Luthor leaves, Lois abruptly pushes Spalding into the sphere, killing him.

    Elsewhere, in the Linden Tree Casino at Las Vegas, one security guard tells another that there's someone in the computer core. The two find a hole leading into the core, where they find Larfleeze sitting on a pile of accumulated trash. Larfleeze asks them where he can find Luthor.

    Part Nine

    Luthor is preparing to launch his space probe to alter the spheres in space remotely. His guard Finch tells him that the detectors have indicated that the four remaining spheres in space have moved to the same galactic coordinates - while the last one on Earth is moving wildly. Elsewhere on the base, Lois is telepathically communicating with her mystery master - revealing that she's kept Luthor ignorant about the truth of the Black Lantern energy. Abruptly, she gets a warning signal from a monitor - telling her that there is an object inbound for Luthor.

    Outside, Luthor looks up and fires up his force-field just as Larfleeze and his Orange Lantern Corps attacks him. He fights briefly with Larfleeze, before noticing that Glomulus has kept the last Black sphere on Earth inside his stomach. Larfleeze then demands that Luthor tell him how the sphere works, and Larfleeze correctly suspects that they are a step to Luthor gaining power. But then Luthor attacks him, trying to steal back the Orange Lantern power, but Larfleeze easily overpowers him. Luthor gives a signal to Lois to retrieve something from a lab, when Larfleeze seizes Finch as a hostage.

    Larfleeze threatens to kill Finch - believing that humans value one another - but Luthor kills Finch himself with zero hesitation. In shock, Larfleeze retaliates, but Lois has brought the item from the lab, and opens it up to reveal the altered sphere from Arkham. Luthor then tells Larfleeze that the power he's gaining will be even stronger than the Orange Lantern ring, and proceeds to push Larfleeze into the altered sphere. Luthor then quickly orders Lois to alter the sphere inside Glomulus (she has had a sphere examintion device installed into her since Spalding's death), and it changes as Glomulus evaporates. Lois proceeds to suggest that they change the spheres in space remotely as planned, but Luthor changes his mind - stating that he wants to see what's really going on up there for himself.

    In the Ross Ice Shelf, Larfleeze emerges from the sphere (from Part One), and fires frantically at whatever being he just escaped from. Larfleeze then realizes, for the first time, that he doesn't want that power, and he flies away in fear.

    Back on Earth, Luthor's ship has departed for outer space. Lois continues to communicate with her secret master, telling him that they're on their way to the spheres as planned, and it is revealed that her benefactor is none other than Brainiac himself.

    Part Ten

    Luthor and Lois arrive at the coordinates for the four Black spheres in space, and he reacts in shock when Brainiac arrives with his ship - revealing that he instrumented Luthor's entire quest for his purposes. Brainiac then tells Luthor that when Luthor used Brainiac's technology to build the Lois robot, it gave the opportunity for Brainiac to watch and manipulate him, revealing that Lois has been following his commands. Brainiac also proceeds to reveal that Lois (while tending to Luthor's head bruise) introduced a colony of viral nanites into Luthor's brain, which entered his brain via a rush to his head (which was why he was hung upside-down). The nanites made Luthor stay on course, and gave him the dream that he needed to change the spheres rather than study them.

    Brainiac concludes by saying that this was his plan - that Luthor would assume all the risks to collect the Earth spheres, while Brainiac safely collected the ones in space. Lois attempts to apologize to Luthor for this betrayal, but Luthor suddenly breaks into laughter. Luthor then reveals that he's been aware of Brainiac's interference since he realized that the Lois robot had far stronger emotions than he had programmed. He goes on to say that he got a look at her internal workings when Savage chopped the Lois robot in half, and that confirmed his suspicions.

    Luthor then reveals that he's taken steps to distract Superman while he's altering the spheres. And then he shows his trump card - that he has already installed a sphere examination device in his power armor, negating the need for Lois. Luthor then says that this is his quest - and that Brainiac simply tried to steal it, and he then proceeds to fight Brainiac. After a brief fight, Luthor's viral systems activate, infecting Brainiac and paralyzing the alien (this works because Luthor had the opportunity to study Brainiac's systems earlier when he built Lois). He then twists Brainiac's neck, temporarily incapacitating him.

    Luthor then tells Lois that he forgives her, and he proceeds to alter the last four spheres. The remaining six spheres from Earth (the Ross Ice Shelf one, the two at Luthor's base, two at Bohemia, and one in Uganda) fly into space to meet the rest, and they all combine to open up a portal to another dimension. From this portal emerges a colossal demonic-like entity - the Zone Child.

    Suddenly, Mr. Mind appears and reveals that he has been working for this entity since the beginning. Mind confirms Luthor's suspicions that the entity is from the Phantom Zone, and that it could feel the negative emotions of our universe hurting it. Mind explains that this entity reached out to him and threatened him, to use him as a pawn. And he goes on to explain that the Phantom Zone entity created the spheres out of Black Lantern energy to contain the negative emotions and to create a door. A door into our universe so it could end all life, thus ending its pain. But the entity needed someone to open the door - hence why it used Mind to orchestrate Luthor's quest.

    Mind goes on to reveal that it was the Zone entity that made him drop scientific clues - thus meaning that it was Mind who sent Luthor on his quest in the first place. The Zone Child then begins using its power to end all emotion in the universe by ending all life.

    But Luthor reveals that he has planned for it. He then asks why the entity made Luthor and Mind fight in Luthor's brain, just to prevent Luthor from following Brainiac's nanites suggestion that he should bring Lois along? Luthor deduces that the Zone Child is somehow afraid of Lois, and he slams a hand into her face, using the Brainiac nanites to connect to the Kryptonian technology inside the Lois robot. Kryptonians are able to manipulate the Phantom Zone, and through this, Luthor successfully merges with the entity, resulting in him becoming a god-level being of supreme power.

    Part Eleven (Finale)

    In Metropolis, Superman flies into the scene of a crisis and the real Lois tells him that the city was attacked by Doomsday, who defeated Steel and vanished with the hero. In outer space, Luthor feels his power extending across the universe, and using his new-found powers, instantly teleports Superman from Earth to where he is. Luthor tells him that he is behind Doomsday, and Superman realizes that he's suffused with Phantom Zone radiation. Superman guesses that there's a portal to the Phantom Zone nearby, and quickly flies for it in an attempt to save his foster son Chris Kent, but he's stopped by Luthor. Luthor then explains that he merged with the alien entity who evolved in the Phantom Zone, and that the Zone Child sensed emphatically and that it was hurt by emotions. He goes on to say that the entity preyed on the other Phantom Zone criminals because of their negative emotions, and that it has come to this universe to eradicate all negative emotion at the source.

    Luthor then says that he saved the universe by merging with the Zone Child, and he continues to belittle Superman - claiming that Superman still can't imagine that a human has risen over him. He goes on to monologue - saying that Superman has held back the human race and that it was him who forced Luthor to do terrible things. Luthor claims that Superman doesn't feel as ordinary humans do, and uses his power to show Superman human pain. He begins with the day Superman died at Doomsday's hands, and shows Lois' grief. Next he shows the destruction of Krypton, and then Chris Kent sacrificing himself to the Phantom Zone. He then makes Superman experience the death of New Krypton, and Superman is overwhelmed by negative emotion. But Superman refuses to give in, and tells Luthor to look into his mind, to see that Superman truly does feel pain.

    Luthor complies, believing it'll be some cosmic spectacle, but instead sees Superman hugging his mother and dying father in the fallout of Superman: Brainiac. Luthor is shocked to learn that Superman is actually Clark Kent, and he rages at Superman - telling him that he's not human and doesn't deserve to be Clark Kent, and he asks Superman why he won't break. Superman replies that his parents made him Clark Kent, so that Clark Kent could later make Superman. Superman vows he won't break, and in a fury, Luthor fries Superman with his power.

    But Superman is still alive, and when Luthor is shocked that his power didn't disintegrate him, Mr. Mind (now possessing the Lois robot) tells him that the Zone Child inside him is fighting back - and the Child proceeds to change the nature of his powers. This causes a wave of bliss to extend across the entire universe, for entropy to stop. We see Death talking to a skier who is near-death and commenting that she has her first day off, Vandal Savage experiencing happiness as per the prophecy, Thanagarians and the Red Lantern Corps in bliss, as are Batman, the Daily Planet, Larfleeze, Deathstroke, Grodd, and even Brainiac.

    Superman then tells Lex that he can make everyone happy forever, that he can use his powers to end the problems of the universe, and that he can be the hero he always wanted to be. Mind tells Luthor that if he wants to keep his power, he can't do anything negative - because that's how the Child changed the powers with its dying breath. But Luthor reacts in pure anger as he realizes that he can do anything except destroy Superman (referring to his earlier conversation with Death about there being a 'catch' to eternal happiness) and rejects his power. Blasting at Superman in an attempt to kill him before the power leaves, Luthor tries but fails and Superman eventually defeats him.

    As the power leaves Luthor, he has forgotten his memories of the power he had before, and doesn't seem to even remember his name. The portal to the Phantom Zone has vanished, returning to ten different Black spheres. Luthor drifts into one of these spheres, and they all vanish from existence. In Arkham, Joker rejoices that Luthor made the right choice, and that Luthor played the greatest sick joke on the universe - and on himself.

    Back in space, the Lois robot (Mind has left the body) is still alive, and Superman asks her if she wants a ride back to Earth on Luthor's spaceship. But the robot expresses sadness that Lex just discarded her despite everything, but she states that she is finally free and that she wants to find her own way. She leaves, and Superman doesn't recognize her likeness because her face was crushed earlier by Luthor.

    Elsewhere in the universe, a remnant of the Zone Child drifts in space.

    Collected Editions


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