With the upcoming release of the DC animated feature “Superman: Unbound,” there is renewed interest in one of Superman’s most enduring foes, the alien menace known as Brainiac.
This week in Hollywood Justice, we’re going to take a look back at Brainiac’s history, and find out why his super-intellect makes him such a deadly threat to the Man of Steel.
Brainiac made his first appearance back in 1958’s “Action Comics” #242. An alien who had come to Earth in order to steal its greatest cities, Brainiac employed an “ultra-force barrier” as part of his personal arsenal, making him invulnerable even to the might of Superman, and leaving Earth’s greatest defender helpless to stop the theft of its cities, which were shrunk and placed into bottles as though they were nothing more than model sets.
Although Superman finally hit upon the solution of hiding in Metropolis and being brought aboard Brainiac’s ship alongside it, he would discover an even greater shock once there, when he found that Brainiac had also captured the Kryptonian city of Kandor before Krypton was destroyed. With the help of the scientists of Kandor, Superman was able to restore the cities of Earth to their rightful place, but there was not enough power left in Brainiac’s machines to restore Kandor as well, and Superman was forced to bring it back to his Antarctic Fortress of Solitude, still trapped in a bottle.
Brainiac quickly became one of the most popular characters in Superman lore, so much so that a heroic incarnation of him was created to join the 30th century team known as the Legion of Superheroes, in 1961’s “Action Comics” #276. This Brainiac, known as Brainiac 5, was a descendant of the original, and became the team’s resident genius, while retaining the air of superiority that Brainiac was known for. In 1964’s “Superman” #167, yet another incarnation of Brainiac was introduced, Brainiac 2, who was portrayed as the adopted son of the original, and went on to become the Machiavellian schemer who founded the modern team known as L.E.G.I.O.N.
Brainiac underwent a major redesign in 1983’s “Action Comics” #544, when his essence was transferred into a new robotic body, resembling a skeleton. He also constructed a skull-shaped ship for himself which was an extension of his body, and during this era rekindled his on-again, off-again alliance with Superman’s other archenemy, Lex Luthor. This incarnation only lasted the 1985 reboot of the DC Universe in “Crisis On Infinite Earths”, and Brainiac eventually reappeared in his familiar form during 1992’s “Panic In The Sky” storyline, in which he uses the planetary weapon known as Warworld to attempt an invasion of Earth before being stopped by Superman and Earth’s other defenders.
Forming the basis for the “Superman: Unbound” animated feature, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s 2008 arc “Brainiac”, running through “Action Comics” #866-870, redefined Brainiac for the modern age. While incorporating elements from all of Brainiac’s various incarnations, this Brainiac’s central trait was his chilling, computer-like ruthlessness, as for the first time, Brainiac’s theft of the Kryptonian city of Kandor is shown in terrifying detail. Brainiac is revealed to be ultimately responsible for the destruction of Krypton, as he desires to have the last existing specimen of any culture he captures. Years later, he sets his sights on Earth with the same intentions, and is ultimately stopped by Superman, but not before causing Superman’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, to have a heart attack and die.
In the wake of DC’s “New 52” reboot, Brainiac returns, this time in Grant Morrison’s run on the relaunched “Action Comics”. Once again capturing both Kandor and Metropolis, he attempts to force Superman to choose between saving the two peoples, but Superman outwits Brainiac, and manages to commandeer his ship, turning it into his new Fortress of Solitude. It remains to be seen what Brainiac’s next move is, but with a combination of an unearthly intellect and a lack of inconvenient human morals to impede him, Brainiac will surely remain one of Superman’s deadliest foes.
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