Friday, January 19, 2007

The Legionnaires: Brainiac 5

Brainiac 5, aka Querl Dox of Colu, aka Brainy, 5, Brainiac 5.1 (Note: it’s spelled ‘B-R-A-I-N-I-A-C’, not ‘B-R-A-N-I-A-C’. Because he has brains, not cereal.) Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney.

Brainiac 5 is the best character in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Has been for a long time. Here's one reason why: he doesn't have any powers, and he's not that good a fighter, and he’s indispensable anyway. Are there any other superheroes like that around? Oh, sure, he's got a few gadgets he likes to use, particularly the force shield belt, but they're incidental. Brainy's value to the Legion is entirely due to his intelligence. He's the smartest character in comics.

And he knows it. Original-recipe Brainy wasn't portrayed as being all that arrogant with his intelligence very often; he had his moments but was generally friendly with the rest of the team. Reboot and threeboot Brainy are much pricklier, with much more disdain for the rest of the Legion. Reboot Brainy eventually became somewhat reconciled to the notion of treating his teammates like more than furniture, but threeboot Brainy really hasn’t, yet.

A note on Brainy’s physiology: he’s not a robot. He’s just a regular humanoid super-genius. The animated series made him a robot, but I guess they had to do something to make him useful to the team in a way obvious enough for little kids.

One thing about Brainy that’s not true about the rest of the Legion: he’s a legacy character. He is, in some way I’m not really sure about, the descendant of Brainiac, who of course is one of Superman’s villains, and he’s the more direct descendant of the equally arrogant Vril Dox of L.E.G.I.O.N. (although Vril, as a character, was created long after Brainy). One would think it would be tempting for comic book writers to have a fine old time delving into this topic, to have Brainiac’s villainy much on Brainy’s mind, especially when he’s dealing with Superboy, but I’ve never read a Legion comic that made anything of this. I suspect the animated Legion series is setting something up, though…

To me, Brainy is the one absolutely indispensable character in the whole Legion mythos. You need Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy in there somewhere, but you don’t need to keep them around the whole time. You need Mon-El if you really want to do it right. You should probably have Chameleon Boy and Ultra Boy, and of course there are a lot of important others. But it’s just not the Legion without Brainiac 5. He’s so useful to the story: he’s the problem solver and he’s also the source of a lot of problems. The 31st century would be a pretty boring place without him around.

It’s difficult to pick out just one appearance of Brainy’s that serves as his signature moment. I might choose a throwaway moment from the story where the reboot Legion is trapped in the 20th century and the Legionnaires are trying to persuade S.T.A.R. Labs to lend Brainy a science lab so he can work on getting them home (“He blows up labs?!” “We think it’s part of his standard methodology.”) I might pick the first Legion Annual story, in which he’s trapped in the medical bay with a civilian, an unconscious Dream Girl and a paralyzed Mon-El, and menaced by a frighteningly powerful Computo who’s watching his every move, and he still manages to orchestrate Computo’s defeat. And there are many others. Certainly there are lots of times where he’s in a tight spot and has to build a supersonic framistat to save the day, but that’s not satisfying.

So I think I’ll pick Legion of Super-Heroes v3 #50, the final showdown against the Time Trapper.

See, I said before that Brainy could be arrogant, and he is. It’s the most fun thing about him. (I think Mark Waid has said that he writes Brainy in the same voice that he uses for complaining about being stuck in line behind some guy who doesn’t understand how the drive-thru works.) But there’s another part to it, too, which is that he stops being arrogant right when he’s got you where he wants you and is ready to lower the boom.

I offer the following as examples: in DnA’s Robotica story, reboot Brainy realizes that the only way to defeat Computo is to give him what he wants—and as soon as he forms the plan, he starts talking nicely to Computo, agreeing with whatever he says. Or how about the threeboot story where Brainy is furious with Cosmic Boy for breaking into his lab, and smashes everything up until he figures out what to do about it… so when Cosmic Boy tries to clear the air with him, Brainy just answers, “Fine. Yes. Fine. Whatever,” until he goes away. Curt, yes, but the point is that he was going along with whatever Cosmic Boy was saying until Cosmic Boy fell into the trap.

In LSH v3 #50, a rogue force of Legionnaires, including Brainy, Duo Damsel, Mon-El and Rond Vidar, have decided in the wake of Superboy’s death that it’s time to take down the Time Trapper once and for all. This is difficult, because a) the Trapper is amazingly powerful, and b) to get to him you have to time-travel to the end of time, and the Trapper has put up barriers to time-travel to prevent just this sort of thing. Anyway, they manage it, and fight the Trapper, and it doesn’t go well. Brainy turns out to be the last Legionnaire standing. And he surrenders… or does he?





What a nice young man! How agreeable!



Right here is where the Trapper should start to feel a chill down his spine.







At which point Legion fans all over the world slammed their hands down and shouted, “Goddamnit, now that is what I call some good thinking! Why didn’t I come up with that?”

It’s a natural, after all: the Legion has two major time-travel-based villains, based on contradictory principles. Why didn’t anyone else ever notice that they were obvious natural enemies? It doesn’t take a twelfth-level intelligence to be able to predict that the two of them could, as does actually happen, polish each other off. (In fact, I think there was one guy who wrote into the letter column who did figure it out ahead of, you should pardon the expression, time.) I can almost imagine the Time Trapper saying to himself, “Hmm, cyclical time, interesting. So what is the nature of time, then, after all? And why am I wearing these purple robes if I don’t know?” It’s like Hercule Poirot keeps saying. The little grey cells of the mind, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish with them.

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24 Comments:

Blogger Captain Great said...

Great write-up of Brainy!

I agree that Brainy is the most important and best legionnaire. In fact, I would argue that Brainy has been the central focus and main character of the Legion since the late seventies when Superboy was first written out.

12:56 AM  
Blogger plok said...

Personally I always dug that Brainiac-5 could be in the Legion (with his blond hair!) without anyone ever bringing up, as far as I know, the twentieth-century Brainiac at all.

But my essential, indispensible Legion (outside the main three, and Superboy) is this, and to my mind it isn't a Legion story without them:

Brainiac-5
Mon-El
Element Lad
Phantom Lass
Chameleon Kid

Or to put it another way, you've got to hit for the cycle of "Kid", "Lad", "Boy", "Lass", and "Girl", plus the two "unique" names, or it isn't worth it.

By the way, did I ever tell you the first Legion comic I ever bought was the one with the reappearance of Erg-1, and the...what was it...Molecule Middle-Child? Imagine my delight on finding out that "Infectious Lass" stayed in Legion continuity...

Not to mention that that issue became important to Legion chronology...

Not to mention that it was some awesome art...Dave Cockrum?...

But the very first Legion story I ever read (and someone please tell me what it is) is an old Superboy story where Cham, Chemical King, and (I think) Invisible Kid show up in Smallville in a time-bubble, chasing a future criminal with a time machine...

No?

And by the way, Matthew...wicked Brainiac-5 write-up! Now I want to see an extremely comprehensive Mon-El bit from you too, because he always confused the shit out of me!

And while you're at it, a substantial digression into L.E.G.I.O.N. wouldn't go amiss!

And now run my bath, and fetch my slippers! Spit spot, now! No shilly-shallying!

12:11 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Captain Great: Thanks. As for Brainy being the post-Superboy protagonist... I don't think I'd go that far. Certainly he's a central figure, but if you look at the different Legion storylines there have been, I think you could make as strong or stronger cases for many others, including Lightning Lad, Lightning/Light Lass, Saturn Girl, Projectra, Ultra Boy, Chameleon Boy...

plok: There may be some old Legion story somewhere where the Brainiac-Brainy relationship is explored, but if there is, I haven't read it or heard about it. Of course, almost all of my Legion reading has been post-1980, so there are definite gaps in my pre-Levitz knowledge. I've never even read Earthwar. So I don't know either of the stories you mention, or if I do, it's only vaguely by hearsay. Oh well; that's what the Archives are for.

Your essential Legion is as good as anybody's, but I wouldn't put too much weight on the name thing, as Phantom Girl and Chameleon Boy don't get you the 'lass' and 'kid' you're after. I think the importance of the names is overstated anyway; the reboot Legion did just fine with characters like Live Wire, Spark, Triad, Apparition, Leviathan, Ferro and Dreamer (who are just Lightning Lad, Light Lass, Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Ferro Lad and Dream Girl with new names).

As for Infectious Lass, have you heard that the original Infectious Lass is currently appearing in the Dr. Thirteen backup story in DC's Tales of the Unexpected? No idea what she's doing there, or how, but they certainly named the comic book well.

I'll get to Mon-El eventually. Really he's not all that confusing in himself, what's confusing is how DC keeps shifting things around behind him. His status right now, I would say, is the most confusing it's ever been, because it seems like DC just erased a bunch of early-'90s comics on us without telling us exactly what the deal is with that.

As for L.E.G.I.O.N... My shameful admission is that I've never read an issue of it. I know basically who some of the characters are, but that's it. I possess a few of the early issues I got recently from a quarter bin, but haven't broached them yet. Oh well; they're on my list.

Thanks!

2:32 PM  
Blogger GTS said...

Nice write-up, Matthew.

Brainy has always been a favorite of mine too, and I started in '75 with Shooter, Bates, & Grell on the Legion. I remember initially thinking he was at least partly robotic, which always threw me when he and Supergirl were romantically linked.

I'll follow plok's lead and agree that outside the main three and Superboy, my top-five Legionnaire roster would have to be:

Brainiac 5
Wildfire
Mon-El
Phantom Girl
Chameleon Boy

And while I'm here, may I ask if anybody knows the whereabouts (or final resting place of the storyline and/or the character) of Stargrave, who was a Shooter creation rumored to be Brainy's father (this from Superboy #224 (February 1977)? I read in an interview that Shooter contacted DC at some point and offered to finish that storyline, but DC got cold feet and wouldn't commit.

Cheers--and keep it up, M.!

5:24 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks. Can't help you on the Stargrave thing (although maybe someone else can); sorry.

I'm pretty easygoing about the Legion's lineup; give me Brainy and Mon-El and at least a memory of the founding three and I can deal with anything else as long as it's well-written. The writer wants to fill out the Legion with Quantum Queen, Sensor, Flederweb, Dream Boy, Chlorophyll Kid, Aqualad, Monstress, Shikari, Nightwind, Catspaw, Chemical King, Comet Queen, Tellus and Devlin O'Ryan? I'm cool with that.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous ben said...

The writer wants to fill out the Legion with Quantum Queen, Sensor, Flederweb, Dream Boy, Chlorophyll Kid, Aqualad, Monstress, Shikari, Nightwind, Catspaw, Chemical King, Comet Queen, Tellus and Devlin O'Ryan? I'm cool with that.

Actually, that would be a lovely-ass Legion story to read. I always loved Devlin's "Grown-Up Jimmy Olsen"-ness and I've always been a fan of the lesser-known also-rans.

Good deal with the Brainy analysis and his tendency to be nice before he shoots you.

10:25 PM  
Blogger GTS said...

RE: Pulsar Stargrave--after a bit of light digging I found that he was revealed to be 'the living embodiment of the Computer Tyrants of Colu,' a bit of continuity that's lost on me. I was holding out hope that aside from the Coluan angle, he'd have a closer tie to Brainy, but oh well.

And you're right, everyone has characters that they're partial to (I've always had a fondness for Shrinking Violet from the 70s, and now have the same thing for Triplicate Girl), but at the end of the day it's the well-written stories that matter.

I've recently re-read Waid/Kitson's current run, and it has so many good things in it that I can't help but love it. A deliberate re-reading of just about any issue is rewarding. (I finally caught the gag from the first or second issue where the Science Police are in the same room but addressing each other via viewscreens. This social norm is spelled out in detail much later on, but it's cool to have that little unexplained tidbit so early on.)

I'm sure you guys are way ahead of me on this, but something tells me Waid has got lots of running stuff going on that'll have varying degrees of payoff.

And perhaps this is sheer nostalgia talking, but I'm looking forward to reading the 'new' Legion book coming out in April. I just want to see the Fatal Five again!

10:02 AM  
Blogger plok said...

Ooooh, right, it's all coming back to me now...

Phantom Girl. Chameleon Boy.

Damnit.

1:14 PM  
Blogger GTS said...

Brave and the Bold #3. :)

And for my second wish: I want giant Baskin-Robbins mint chocolate chip flavored snowflakes to fall gently from the sky for a few hours.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Generic Lad said...

fyi, stargrave was killed in a substitute heroes story, when they dropped stone boy on his head.

no, seriously.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love these! :D

Actually, Brainiac 5's status as a "descendant" of the villainous Brainiac of the 20th century was a major plot point in the very first story he appeared in, Action Comics #276 (1961). But after that it was pretty much dropped.

There was the Stargrave mess in the late 70s - Stargrave first claimed to be Brainiac 5's father, then that he was a transformed more powerful version of the original Brainiac, and then he was some kind of "essence of the Computer Tyrants of Colu". :P

Also, there's the time when Reboot Brainy fought the original Brainiac in the 20th century, and teamed up with Vril Dox! That was in Showcase '96 #10-11.

/Trivia Lass

11:45 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I've read the first one of those, but have yet to pick up the rest; thanks. Brainy's heritage is so useful, though; why drop it? I don't mean that he needs to have some evil side that keeps threatening to come through, or anything; just that this is the DC universe and legacies are interesting. It's one thing that the animated series has done better than the comics.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous ElasticPoodle said...

Brainy = Love

...

Well that's my opinion anyway.

I'm a bit of a Comic Newbie in that the only comics I own are from the first issue of Threeboot up to the end of the Supergirl saga, so most of my information comes from Wikipedia (Which is shakey at best) and Major spoilers (Awesome site of awesomeness)

But what do you expect from a 17 year old who's only been into comics for a couple of months?

But ANYWAY...

Brainiac 5, Brainy, Querl Dox, B5, Brainster, Querlie, Q.D., B, Brain Strain, etc... whatever you call him he is made of Awesome, and has a topping of Awesomesauce.

And I loves him to bits... but then I HAVE always had a thing for smart Blonds :P I don't care if he's a stuck up smart arse at times.

Definitely THE BEST Character in EVERY Legion Universe.

With the other awesome Characters being:

The Founders (Duh)
Chameleon Boy
Timber Wolf
Phantom Girl
Shrinking Violet

Beware my Fangirlness of DOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!

*cough*

So Brainy: the lovable genius who is a Robot in the cartoon Universe (he one I first saw him in) until the end where he becomes Human in the most AWESOME way possible.

Kal-El + Kell-El + BIG FIGHT WITH BRAINIAC WHO HAS TAKEN OVER BRAINY'S MIND = AWESOMESAUCE WITH AWESOME SPRINKLES AND AWESOME ON TOP!!!!!

*shot repeatedly*

*cough*

Anyway: what is with him and Dream girl in Threeboot? I saw it and I was like "lolwhat?"

Seriously, I know he's into tall blonds, but Dream Girl and Brainy just aren't suited for each other, and I don't care what anyone says on this one.

...really I think Brainy needs to branch out his tastes a little... maybe he should get with a Brunet for a bit, just as a try out

...a Brunet like me *shot repeatedly* daww TT_TT

If you ask me there are a lot of things the Cartoon did better then the Comics, like Timber Wolfs back story, which is so much more awesome in the cartoon... really...

anyone else think so?

11:07 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Anyway: what is with him and Dream girl in Threeboot? I saw it and I was like "lolwhat?"

Seriously, I know he's into tall blonds, but Dream Girl and Brainy just aren't suited for each other, and I don't care what anyone says on this one.

...really I think Brainy needs to branch out his tastes a little... maybe he should get with a Brunet for a bit, just as a try out


I didn't like the Brainy/Dreamy romance either; I thought she was mischaracterized throughout. What about that backup story where she says that it was really Star Boy she was interested in all along?

As for brunettes, Brainy does kiss Invisible Kid in one issue toward the end of the reboot.

If you ask me there are a lot of things the Cartoon did better then the Comics, like Timber Wolfs back story, which is so much more awesome in the cartoon... really...

anyone else think so?


I actually like Timber Wolf's original Silver Age backstory, but I agree that the cartoon did a lot of things right. I think its major contribution will prove to have been the idea that the Legion helped young Clark learn to use his powers. There's a lot that can be done with that.

11:31 AM  
Blogger RavenScholar said...

Why did they have to cancel the cartoon???
I've got the entire first season on DVD, but DC never came out with the second season on DVD. I've been forced to find episodes on the Internets if I want to watch anything again.
They did do a great job in the cartoon with exploring the Brainiac/Brainiac 5 relation. Dark Victory was the best episode in the whole thing.
I've noticed a lot of people mentioned Mon-El as the second best and/or least despensible Legionnaire. Why is that?
MightyGodKing and Major Spoilers are absolutely the best sites for anyone a)new to the Legion b)needing to catch up or c)who is a huge fan.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

My understanding is that they cancelled the cartoon not because of its own qualities or lack of success, but because WB wanted to get out of the business of making their own Saturday morning cartoons. I am not an insider, though, and may be wrong.

I liked the Brainiac 5/Superman relationship in the cartoon, but didn't think the Brainiac 5/Brainiac relationship was anything to write home about.

I think of Mon-El as indispensable because of his ties to Superman, his power, and his nobility. There may be more to it than that but that's what comes to mind.

I like both those sites you mention very much, but when it comes to Legion websites I have to go with the Legion Omnicom and the Legion World message board first. Plus, of course, my ambition is for this site to be indispensable for the new, old, or returning Legion fan; if it's not, I welcome suggestions for making it better.

1:06 PM  
Blogger RavenScholar said...

I only really got to reading the Legion Omnicom and the LegionWorld message boards a little while ago, but they're useful, too.

Mostly I say you should have Major Spoilers for the Hero Histories and MightyGodKing for the pure awesomeness of the "I should write the Legion" feature.


I keep reading this sight for the same reason I keep rereading the Hero Histories: you do such great "The Legionnaries" features. I'm currently going through your archives to read all the reviews. They're good as well and I really enjoy when I click the next day on the list and I turn up an essay/post on class or general "Why the Legion is the Greatest Thing Ever".

11:25 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks.

Hope you find stuff you like on your trip through this site, and I'll try to make the new stuff even better.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Tammy Beth said...

I have a "head canon" for how I would retrofit Legion continuity and it hinges on Brainy. Allow me to elaborate:

I suppose that the original Braniac had some backup clone of himself that would come online should he expire, and eventually Supes put at stop to "Brania 1" and 2 came online. Except that whereas 1 was obsessed with accumulating knowledge, 2 was obsessed with manipulating life, and he went about the galaxy manipulating various races' "metagenes" in order to bring out powers in gifted individuals, he also created a biological race - the Coluns - to carry on the Brainiac legacy.

Nothing is know of 3 and 4 but centuries later Querl Dox woul take on the name Braniac 5

So Querl is an employee of RJ Brande, basically has an unlimited funding account to do whatever he wants with because Brande knows he'll come up with plenty of profitable things. But Dox is able to gather data from all over the galaxay and recognizes several immanent threats on the horizon. He is fascinated by 2 things: one is the "Age of Heroes" that occurred for around 100 years in the 20th and 21st centuries, the other is the rising generation of young people around the galaxy manifesting high levels of those powers that B2 had engineered into various races, along with other individuals having acquired meta gene activation via some other circumstance (i.e. Lightning Lad)

So he comes up with the plan to maneuver RJ into funding a "Legion" of these gifted people in preparation to deal with these oncoming threats. He sees to it that the founding three are in the right place to save him, and directs recruiting efforts to expand the ranks even before being considered himself a technical member.

Also, I'm a huge fan of the Waid/Stinson run on the threeboot and in my head, those are the characterizations of the various members I think of. (even though I grew up on the legion books of the seventies)

I'm curious as to what other legion fans think of this concept?

4:21 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, it would work, that's no problem. Kind of similar to JLA: Year One with Brainy in the role of Green Arrow. One thing I wonder about, though, is what problems does it solve? Because if it doesn't fix anything I'd just as soon leave things as is.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Tammy Beth said...

there's not a "problem" as such, to me, except the never-ending problem of continuity confusion which this would only add too unless it was definitive (or an alternate sort of "Ultimate" to borrow the Marvel term) continuity.

The "problem" it solves for me is that I'm just a fan of an overarching backstory - something like what Person of Interest does so well. You can have the episodic adventure, but underneath it all is an throughline of one cohesive story. But that's like more just about my tastes as anything else.

I was putting it out there as much to see if other more knowledgeable fans would immediaately see holes in it and say "well no, that won't work because..."

11:15 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

So noted.

I can see the attraction of the overarching backstory, and in another medium it's a good idea. In serial comic books there's one problem with it, which is, if you have a specific story it will eventually come to an end and then where are you? I understand that you weren't proposing to make LSH comics not episodic, but I think serial stuff works best when there's no part of the engine that isn't episodic.

As for continuity, well... I say just tell the best story you can and let the chips fall where they may.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Tammy Beth said...

well...my thinking is kinda driven by the (likely never to be fulfilled) wishcasting that there would be a LSH series of the quality of JLU (i.e. not kiddyfied, or weighted down with network conditions like sticking Superman's name into the title and the middle of every scene) - that is I thing to think more in TV terms than comic.

2:27 AM  
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