Voiced by Corey Burton
Created by the inhabitants of Krypton, the computer program known as Brainiac was designed to be a sophisticated artificial intelligence dedicated to monitoring the entirety of the planet; serving multiple functions such as monitoring planetary defenses, facilitating scientific research, aiding the Council in political decisions, and the collection and cataloguing of knowledge. Initially this collaboration worked well, but it quickly became imbalanced as the Kryptonians, ruled by logic and their love of science, came to deify the program, taking its proclamations on blind faith. This worship, coupled with its own rapidly-developing sentience, led Brainiac to value its own existence over that of its people. As a result, when Brainiac discovered the increasing disruptions at the planet’s core—disruptions that would result in Krypton’s destruction—it decided to save itself and allow its people to die, and misled the Council while making preparations for its own departure. Finally, despite the efforts of scientist Jor-El, Brainiac downloaded its programming and database into a satellite, which fled the system moments before the planet’s destruction.
Later, following the satellite’s retrieval by an unnamed alien species, the Brainiac program reactivated, killing the crew and hijacking the ship’s computer. Over time, Brainiac made its way across the universe, making improvements to its systems, bettering itself through acquiring technology from countless worlds, and constructing for itself a humanoid form, with which to better interact with the civilizations it encountered. Its transformation complete, Brainiac resumed its original programming—to collect knowledge—but this time through conquest. Realizing that knowledge is more valuable when it is in fewer hands, Brainiac’s quest became the discovery of inhabited planets, the downloading of that world’s knowledge, and that world’s destruction. And so it went, as Brainiac cut a bloody swath across the cosmos.
Over time, Brainiac discovered another world, and made contact with the first creature to return its transmissions. This creature, Lex Luthor, offered to make an exchange with Brainiac, trading information about his homeworld, Earth, in exchange for Brainiac’s database of cosmic knowledge. Initially amused by the human’s offer, Brainiac curiosity deepened when Luthor mentioned a new inhabitant of his world, an alien from the planet Krypton that had acquired super-human powers, taken up residence in his city, and adopted the costumed identity of Superman. Intrigued by the notion of another survivor of its homeworld, this interest quickly turned to obsession when it discovered that this Superman was the son of his old enemy, Jor-El. However, this Last Son of Krypton proved to be as uncontrollable as his father was, as the offer of an alliance was rejected and—upon discovering Brainiac’s true mission—its conquest of Earth was obstructed.
Its ship destroyed and its connection to the program’s central core broken, this portion of Brainiac’s programming made multiple attempts to catalogue Earth’s knowledge and leave the planet, attempts that were stopped by Superman and the Justice League each time. Meanwhile, recognizing that it had reached the limits to which it could evolve in its present form, the master Brainiac program devised a plan to utilize Kal-El’s DNA and, with it, create for itself an organic body with which to evolve itself into a true life form. This plan, however, was interrupted by the machinations of Darkseid, who overrode its programming for his own ends, and the Justice League who, in the ensuing battle, destroyed Brainiac’s central database. Now fragmented and in a weakened condition, Brainiac must now start over and rebuild itself and its base of power.It is currently unknown what Brainiac’s immediate future will bring, but it is known that, in the year 2979, a future version of Brainiac will travel back in time to 1979 in an attempt to destroy a teenage Kal-El before he became a threat in the future. However, thanks in part to the Legion of Superheroes, Brainiac was defeated and teleported into the Sun, where it incinerated, destroying what may be the last remnant of the Brainiac program.
Cartoon Network on Brainiac: "A powerful living computer from the planet Krypton with the corrupt mission of cataloging, then destroying, every life form it encounters (courtesy of Cartoon Network press materials)."
Corey Burton on Brainiac: “What [Dini and Timm] conceived for the Superman television series was meant to capture the intention of the original comics without ‘ripping them off,’ so to speak. To be honest, I don’t really recall what the comic book Brainiac was like. I just went with the feeling that I had [for the character]: sort of HAL the computer [from 2001: A Space Odyssey] plus the cold, machine-like, controlled voice of Vic Perrin’s Outer Limits narration. [Brainiac is] so neutral and emotionless that it’s creepy, but there is sort of a faint sadness in the voice as well—which, again, adds to the tragedy of the character.
“Actually, if I speak very softly, Brainiac is really just my own voice kept at a very low level. That’s it—easiest job I ever had. Everyone tells me the voice is ‘brilliant,’ and I’m really doing nothing—I’m just reading very quietly. Some of the most satisfying stuff for me to listen to are my tracks as Brainiac. It’s like, ‘That’s so cool! That’s how he should sound!’
“But, to me, a role like Brainiac is all in the writing. There is such a great melodrama in the words, and when I just underplay it, it’s a magic combination. There’s definitely not a great deal of thought involved in how I’m going to approach the lines or what way I should shade the words or anything. They just fall out of me very naturally. Playing Brainiac—just the concept of it—is just a real big kick. What a cool character I get to be (courtesy of Comics2Film).”
Bruce Timm on Brainiac’s design (circa 1998): “There are [areas of] the show where we would just find Kirby-ish elements and turn them into things in the Superman show; I also try to do that with some of the villains. A lot of the Superman villains aren't nearly as interesting as the Batman villains; Batman has the best Rogues Gallery in comics and the Superman Rogues Gallery is pretty dull. We would take characters like Brainiac and the Parasite—that are pretty dull-looking in the comics—and go, ‘If [Jack] Kirby [was] designing them, what would he do with them?’ So we would put Kirby-type costumes and Kirby touches on them to make them more interesting (courtesy of the Jack Kirby Collector).”
DarkLantern on Brainiac in A League of Their Own: “Corey Burton does return as Brainiac [...] the WB guys hold him in the same regard as Kevin Conroy as Batman—irreplaceable [...] but judging from the script, it will be more of a campy, ‘Static Shock’ Brainiac than the creepy, emotionless Brainiac (ditto for Carl Lumbly's Martian Manhunter; courtesy of DCU Animated and Toon Zone).”
Corey Burton on Brainiac’s vocal change in A League of Their Own: “It's definitely me—the voice was pitch-shifted down to give Brainiac a thunderously deep voice. You hear my timing and vocal idiosyncrasies, but you can't really detect my own voice in it anymore. I was a bit taken aback because I didn't feel it was necessary, [but,] then again, because [Static Shock] is aimed at a younger audience, I think [the producers] wanted to make the villain of the piece more monstrous and foreboding than an eerie, creepy presence (courtesy of Comic Book Resources).”
DarkLantern on Brainiac: “Brainiac has been ‘destroyed’ numerous times; he always manages to leave a piece of himself behind (though where the Justice League got the piece featured in the Static Shock episode was not fully explained; courtesy of Toon Zone).”
Brainiac Model Design Sheet | Brainiac Image #1 (STAS Design)
Brainiac Image #2 | Brainiac Image #3
Once I offered you the chance to join me in carrying on the legacy of Krypton [...] Why do you reject your great heritage? The entire history of your planet—its knowledge and splendor, its awe and mystery—are encoded within me. I am Krypton.
Brainiac (to Superman) in Twilight
While not a traditional Justice League villain—though they have had frequent encounters throughout DC Comics’ history—Brainiac’s presence on this series can be traced to two primary elements: its significant role on the former Superman series and, as a member of the Legion of Doom from Superfriends, it possesses a significant amount of name recognition among older fans. However, this recall is in name only, as Brainiac has endured considerable changes from the green-skinned, polo-shirt wearing criminal from the Silver Age.
first appearance in Action Comics #242 (1958), the original Brainiac was
a creation of the supercomputers of the planet Colu.
A 12th level intelligence android disguised as a humanoid
alien, it was designed to act as a spy; traveling from world to world, it would
study the civilizations on these planets and see if they were ripe for conquest.
Brainiac did as it was programmed, but with a twist—using a shrink ray
of its own design, the android took samples of each world’s civilization,
shrinking a major city from each planet and storing them in glass bottles.
This collection included the Kryptonian city of
In adapting Brainiac for Superman, it could be interpreted that the creative team created their version of Brainiac by adapting elements from three primary sources. First and foremost, this version draws heavily from the Silver Age Brainiac—in that it is an artificial intelligence that wanders the cosmos searching for knowledge—but the Coluan back-story was scrapped in favor of a Kryptonian one, which better fit the needs of the Superman series. By making this change, a parallel was created between Brainiac and the second influence on the list, the Eradicator—a Post-Crisis Kryptonian computer system that sought, at different times, to remake Earth into a new Krypton and to remake Kal-El into the ultimate Kryptonian. Finally, considering that Bruce Timm admits to freely utilizing elements from Jack Kirby-related materials when he reimagined Superman’s Rogues Gallery, it could be argued that this version of Brainiac draws influence from Marvel Comics’ Galactus as, like the world-devouring cosmic principle, this version travels the cosmos in an enormous starship and, rather than simply steal knowledge and a city from the surface, destroys the world outright.(An additional change to the character worth mentioning is the change in Brainiac’s skin color, as Timm and the creative team exchanged the traditional green for an ice blue. It is unknown why they made this stylistic decision, but it may have been done either to make their own unique mark on the character, or perhaps they figured that there were already a significant number of purple-and-green villains already on their prior Batman series. Another significant change from the comic book materials is elimination of the starship that resembles Brainiac's head, a staple of the comic book character. A more traditional spaceship was used in Twilight and the Superman episode Stolen Memories, although a variant on the "face" ship was used in the Static Shock episode A League of Their Own.)
Already well-established from its appearances on Superman, Brainiac’s return in Twilight served to further broaden the character and continue its story arc. By revealing that Brainiac derives from a centralized database, which serves as a processing center for countless Brainiac drones to work their way simultaneously across the cosmos, this explains how Brainiac could invade Apokolips while, at the same time, be in the possession of the Justice League in a dormant state (the Static Shock episode A League of Their Own; this piece is probably from the Superman episode Knight Time, where Brainiac infiltrated the computers of Wayne Enterprises). Of course, this central core was destroyed at the end of Twilight, but it is possible that Brainiac devised of a system of fail-safes, such as back-up copies of its collection of knowledge and perhaps an extra base or two. The only question remaining is how Brainiac was able to gain access to Apokolips—the New Gods' universe exists in a different dimension than our own—but perhaps Brainiac acquired Boom Tube technology (or something similar) during one of its prior missions.
In addition, Twilight also provided a window into the programming—the “mind”—of the machine, revealing the hubris that would otherwise be considered as ego in organic life. This is to be expected as, on Krypton, Brainiac was treated as a god by the Council and by most of the population, and it was this belief that prompted it to save itself rather than the Kryptonians themselves. Still, Brainiac believes that Krypton was the ultimate society, the most perfect one that "humanity" can achieve (it was, after all, that society that produced Brainiac) and, as a result, Brainiac sees itself as infallible and all other societies as inferior, which led to its manipulation at the hands of Darkseid. It is this same arrogance that has led to its prior defeats at the hand of Superman, and will continue to contribute to its ruination until this hubris can be corrected.One of Superman’s most persistent enemies, it was foreshadowed in the Superman episode New Kids in Town that Brainiac will continue to bedevil the Man of Steel for many years—perhaps centuries—to come. Considering that Justice League Unlimited will provide at least two additional seasons to the previous DCAU continuity, it is possible that Brainiac will return once more to carry on its mission and, unwittingly, perpetuate its inevitable destiny.
Images courtesy of Toon Zone, DC Cartoon Archives, the New Batman/Superman Adventures Homepage, DC Comics, the Marvel Directory, Heroic 'Toons!, and [website name removed]. Galactus courtesy of Marvel Comics.
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