So secret that I didn’t even know (Ghost in the Machine)

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It’s September 29, 1997. The charts are largely unchanged, although Boyz II Men is now at #1 and Mariah Carey at #2, a reverse of last week. It’s only Monday, so the box office is unchanged; in the news, nothing much continues to happen.

This episode is another step in the loose Luthor/Brainiac saga that will culminate in Justice League Unlimited‘s “Divided We Fall,” but by far the most interesting part of it is just how obvious it makes the fact that Luthor and Mercy are lovers.

It starts with Mercy’s comment about not letting Luthor go off “half-cocked,” before picking some of her own hair off of his lapel (at least, it’s the same color as hers, and it’s unlikely to be his). Double entendres and innuendos appear throughout the episode–it’s practically all Lois does in this one–creating a very strong implication that every character sees that Mercy and Luthor are a thing.

However, their relationship is clearly far from equal. Mercy protects Luthor, serves him, but he shows her no tenderness or favor in return, and at the end of the episode, he abandons her to her fate when he flees the collapsing Sector Six without even trying to help her. If not for Superman, she would have died, and it seems likely Luthor would not have mourned. At most, he might have felt the loss of a thing from which he derived use and pleasure.

In this we see that even the person closest to Luthor (usually literally, but also in the sense of the person he clearly trusts the most) is simply a thing he uses–a human resource to be consumed. Luthor is the capitalist villain par excellence–he only values that which has value in the economic sense, that which he can use. She is simply another machine, like his videophone or LexCorp itself.

But Luthor doesn’t want to be treated that way himself. As he protests to Brainiac, who has him enslaved in Sector Six, he’s “not a machine! I need rest and food!” Brainiac denies him rest and gives him vending machine doughnuts, failing to understand what Luthor needs–but then, it doesn’t matter to Brainiac as long as Luthor continues to work. Once he has what he wants, Luthor is disposable.

Mercy practically worships Luthor. She tells Superman that he earned her loyalty by saving her from the streets. That’s her doughnut; he’ll leave her to die to save himself, but because he saved her once, she’ll continue to function. And since all he cares about is that she continues to function, he has no incentive to give her anything else that she might need–dignity, respect, genuine affection.

That’s the thing about the Luthors of the world. Even suffering can’t teach them empathy. He goes through exactly what Mercy suffers–exactly what all employees suffer at the hands of the rich shareholders who command the soulless corporate machines that use employees as both cogs and fuel–and yet he doesn’t hesitate a moment to discard her, doesn’t even stop to consider that she might change her mind about serving him after he tries to abandon her.

And she doesn’t, because what choice does she have? Go back out on the streets? She felt subhuman there, too–she describes herself as being like a dog. Perhaps being ground in a machine is better–at least there she’s not alone.

It doesn’t matter to Luthor and his ilk. So long as they get what they want, they will continue to grind and grind and grind. Nothing can convince them to change. That’s what guillotines are for.

But Superman would never allow that. An angry mob of LexCorp employees who’ve had enough would be committing a crime if they executed Luthor–and Superman doesn’t allow himself to consider that there might be a higher law. He can’t, for fear of declaring himself that law–which is a legitimate fear, as fascism lurks in the DNA of every superhero, as we’ve discussed.

But instead it makes him an agent of the police state. The Superman who fought political corruption and the KKK in the early years of his comic died in the patriotic fervor of World War II, and was buried forever in the Comics Code. In his place is a Superman who respects the “rule of law” (laws written by and for the powerful, of course). And as the police state serves the Luthors of the world, so ultimately must Superman. There can be no superheroes of the revolution.

Can there?

 


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