Friday, October 3, 2014

If I had to choose a plot for the upcoming Superman movie, it wouldn't be about Batman. It would be a Brainiac plot.

Braniac was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, and first appeared in Action Comics #242 (July 1958). The name is a combination of "brain" and "maniac", and was influenced by the name of the computer ENIAC. The name "Brainiac" quickly entered the English language as a synonym for "a genius".

Brainiac is an andorid created by the supercomputers that ruled the planet Colu, designed to be able to move among the Coluan humanoid population as a spy and agent-provocateur. When the people of Colu overthrew their robot overlords, Braniac escaped into space and began preying on a variety of worlds.

In the initial story line, Braniac began experimenting on various life forms by shrinking whole cities and "bottling" them. He even shrank the Kryptonian city of Kandor centuries ago, and eventually came to Earth to shrink Metropolis. Superman got shrunk along with the city, but managed to defeat Braniac. Unfortunately, Brainiac's shrink-ray lost power. With only a single use left, the Kandorians restored Superman ("the world needs its Superman") rather than themselves. Superman took "the bottle city of Kandor" to his Fortress of Solitude, where it continues to reside.

As is typical for comic books, there are a large number of ultra-complex storylines in which Brainiac's origin, history, and even composition have been retconned. Brainiac is usually depicted as a green-skinned, bald android with glowing purple diodes of various sizes and placement, sometimes connected by black or white lines (and sometimes not) on his skull. He is usually depicted in a bright purple top with black shorts in his "Golden Age".

Brainiac had a really big impact on the Legion of Super-Heroes. Allegedly, he began incorporating Coluan DNA into his systems to improve his ability to react to creative Coluans and Humans, and overcome them. Over time, Brainiac died -- but he was able to spawn at least one offspring who was just as evil as himself. Over time, the offspring also incorporated more Coluan DNA into their system. By the 30th century, however, most of Brainiac's android systems had been shed and all of his evil. His descendant, Brainiac 5, was a superhero and one of the smartest people in the universe. (It later turned out that Brainiac had, in fact, survived into the 30th century and become a villain known as Pulsar Stargrave. He made only a few appearances.)

With Superman sales declining in the 1980s, Brainiac was redesigned by penciller Ed Hannigan into a robotic form with a skull for a head. This proved unpopular, so Brainiac was restored to his old self. Only, he built a skull-like planetoid-sized ship to attack Superman. He unfortunately merged with this ship, and that became his form (briefly). In September 1986, Brainiac was killed off on the special long-form comic Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? The human-sized skull of Brainiac merged with Lex Luthor, and Lana Lang broke Luthor's neck to both free Luthor from Braniac's influence and to kill the Brainiac brain.

In 1987, DC Comics rebooted its entire comic book line in what is known as the "Crisis on Infinite Earths". Post-Crisis, Brainiac was an actual Coluan (not an android) whose mind took over the brain of a carnival magician on Earth. Brainiac later attacked Earth again in a planet-sized ship (this time, taking over the planet-sized weapon known as Warworld). After trying to take over the body of Doomsday (the creature that killed Superman), Brainiac was forced into a robotic body.

A complex time-travel story in the 2000s allowed a future version of Braniac to travel back in time to turn the current version of Braniac into a tentacled computer which slowly took over the entire city of Metropolis. (See the movie Akira, which deeply influenced this story line.) During this time, Superman learned that a lot of what he thought he knew about Krypton was actually illusions created by Brainiac to stunt Superman's emotional growth. (This allowed the comic books to reboot the entire Kryptonian history.) Superman was able to kill Brainiac, however.

It turned out Braniac left his consciousness in a swarm of nanites, and although transferered to various androids and robots in the DC Comics universe, this consciousness, too, was eventually destroyed.

In 2007, DC Comics again rebooted all its heroes and titles, in an event known as "Infinite Crisis." Much of Superman's Golden Age backstory was restored, including all his battles with Braniac. But, it turns out, these were not the actual android but "probe copies". Superman finally meets the "real" Brainiac -- this time a sort-of android/Coluan meld with the ability to turn its "liquid metal" body into cables, tentacles, etc., and interface with any kind of machinery. (See the movie Terminator 2 for the inspiration for this.) Kandor is restored to Superman's backstory, and Superman actually returns it to full size and it sits in the North Pole (later the Antarctic).

Kandor is eventually placed on a new planet opposite Earth in our solar system, leading to a huge number of story lines about "New Krypton" and a New Krypton/Earth "war" and all sort of other things. Brainiac is defeated by the New Kryptonians, but the Legion of Super-Heroes (visiting from the future) arrive and Braniac 5 transports Brainiac to Colu for punishment. Brainiac escapes...

DC Comics rebooted its entire comic line YET AGAIN in 2011-2012. This allowed the writing staff to pick and choose which elements of the Superman timeline they wanted (and which parts to ignore), and just not explain anything to the public.

The new version of Brainiac is that he's a universal sort of Internet, developed by a Coluan named Vril Dox that "infected" or "appeared" on hundreds of worlds (including Krypton and Earth). While many people believe to have invented artificial intelligence, in fact all such cases are versions of Braniac. Dox unwittingly unleashed "fifth dimension" aliens into our universe, and they've been wiping out planets. Brainiac has been saving cities from each of the planets, so he's not really evil. Not really. The Brainiac consciousness can be downloaded into various types of androids, which accounts for the various kinds of Brainiacs yet to be seen.

Well, we'll see about that.

By the way, Superman: The Animated Series has been somewhat influential in the Brainiac story. Its version of Brainiac and the storyline it used was incorporated into the comic book.

It seems to me that Brainiac, and a threat to Metropolis, with lots of robot wars, and Superman getting shrunk and hopping from alien city to alien city inside Brainiac's ship, and Superman fighting Brainiac, and that sort of thing would make a better movie than a Superman/Batman team-up.

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