Who's Brainiac?

Who's This? The big bad who just can't seem to get into a live action movie.

The facts: Becoming one of Superman's greatest foes at the start of the Silver Age with Action Comics #242 (1958), Brainiac is actually based on Romado, an alien threat from the Superman comic strip who also hung around with a white monkey named Koko, shrinking cities to fit them in jars. When he shows up in the main line, he's trying to shrink down Metropolis for his collection, as he (famously) had Kandor. In 1961, Brainiac 5 shows up in the Legion of Super-Heroes to show he had a legacy. In 1964, he is retconned to be a robot created by the Computer Tyrants of Colu, but that doesn't really change him. They really don't do very much with him in the 70s even if he's starring in Challenge of the Super-Friends, but in the 80s, he gets revamped to look like a skeletal robot (Action Comics #544) and that's the version that appears as an action figure and the attendant Super Friends series. Post-Crisis, he'll first be an alien intelligence possessing a psychic named Milton Fine and evolves into a greenie from there, and eventually we get a "multiple Brainiacs" thing that showcases every version, both humanish and mechanical. In the New52, he's even revealed to have escaped the original Crisis and become a god, which is the story behind the Convergence event (different continuities under glass).
How you could have heard of him: He's one of Superman's Top 2 villains! Come on, now! If you're not a comics reader, he's the reason Superman the Animated Series happens, and did appear in some form in various cartoons and live action shows, most prominently in Krypton, but though several production teams have tried to get him into a Superman MOVIE, it was always nixed by the studio (or the movie been cancelled).
Example story: Action Comics #545-546 (July-August 1983) by Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane
Since the Who's Who entry shows the "new look" mechanical Brainiac as opposed to the green-skinned Coluan, I wanted to spotlight that version (I also own that gorgeous Super-Powers action figure and he's the villain in the DC Heroes RPG module I tended to start my groups with), and one of my first Superman comics was Action 546 (which became my first encounter with the New Teen Titans), but that comic follows from #545, which itself spun out of the Anniversary issue that gave us the Brainiac/Luthor makeovers. So we're jumping into this midstream, with Superman on the ropes.
With his new computer brain, he knows everything, his ego is way huge, and he doesn't NEED to kill Superman right away. When you know everything, but you could still stand to know a little more, y'know?

But really, the best thing about the new Brainiac is his ship.
Brainiac is as narcissistic as he is ruthless. As we learn, it's an extension of himself, they interface as a matter of course. And he sees Superman as the Master Programmer's Angel of Death, so this is an A.I. that has found God and wants to destroy Him. Only be learning everything he can about the Man of Steel can he find God's weakness.
But the aliens below retaliate and send missiles that shake his ship, breaking his concentration long enough for Superman to escape (for a computer, he's not very good at multi-tasking). Supes fights various security systems until he manages to get to a shuttle and flies out, and once he's out of range of a nasty red sun, he's ready to tangle with Brainiac's ship mano a mano!
This helps make me think of Brainiac as a kind of Lovecraftian threat, a cold alien intelligence at the center of a mess of tentacles. I kind of agree that he works as a god-like being in that sense. In the end, Superman flies through a star and loses the tyrant - or the tyrant loses him, having warped away - so he flies back to Earth. Brainiac, for his part, is giving himself a good pep talk somewhere around Beetlejuice.
That's where he's assembled an army of warriors from the worlds he's destroyed and guess where they're headed next?
This is where I came in. At the time, I was trying to buy random issues that had a lot of characters in them as I was racing to get a full grasp of the Marvel and DC Universes. The JLA and the Titans aboard the Satellite? Wolfman was practicing for Crisis on Infinite Earths, clearly.
Brainiac has landed his army in Metropolis and a big ol' fight ensues.
But what about Brainiac?! Superman remembers that his foe didn't follow him anywhere near that yellow sun, maybe because of sunspot activity. Don't those interfere with computers? So Superman lures the ship to Earth's own sun for some spinning sunspot action!
Brainiac narrowly escapes on automatic before his memory's completely wiped, and back on Earth, the alien warriors are freed from his influence. Superman will find a planet for them to live on, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Wouldn't this stuff be extremely cool in a movie? Of course today there'd also be a plot where he takes over the Internet. Sheesh, do we know for sure he hasn't already?

Who's Next? The Legion's smarty-pants.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I preferred the old Braniac. I forgot how old I was when I read about that issue you feature. It was then that I realized that DC had entered into the Grim/Gritty Bronze age. It still sort of terrifies me!

Siskoid said...

Still a good 12 years after the Bronze Age is said to have started, which for Superman meant his depowering and the destruction of most of the kryptonite on Earth.

The grim and gritty era that really picks up in the mid-80s and carries us through the 90s (and beyond, in some ways it just gets worse), I tend to call by another name. Whatever comes after the Bronze Age (some say Chromium).

 

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