Thursday, May 18, 2006

If You're So Smart, How Come You Ain't Rich?

Currently, in Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac 5 is sequestered in some hidden lab like a mad scientist, trying to restore life to Dream Girl with the aid of his assistant Atom Girl (an odd choice for an Igor, but the 31st century is a different time). His plan involves enlisting the help of the Legion’s enemy, the captive Praetor Lemnos.

A sensible person’s reaction to this is to say, “Is he crazy? He’s going to use a sociopathic arms dealer with memory-altering powers to resurrect the dead? He is crazy!” And that’s what I thought too. But further reflection showed me that it actually did make some sense.

First, it’s not crazy to want Dream Girl alive again. If it was, we’d all be crazy. Because Dream Girl was cool.

Second, it’s not necessarily crazy for Brainy to think that he’d have a chance of success. It is the 31st century, and he is Brainiac 5…

But Lemnos? What help could Lemnos possibly be? Even if he was interested in doing the Legion a favour, what could he do that was useful? Nothing, that’s what.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s not about what Lemnos can do. It’s about what Brainy needs.

Let’s start by establishing some facts about Brainiac 5:

1. He’s the smartest guy around.

There are many types of intelligence, and Brainy is top-of-the-list in many of the prominent ones:

- he can understand really complicated things, and figure out their implications, quickly, possibly better than anybody else anywhere can
- he knows and understands a large amount of useful information
- he can make effective plans quickly and carry them out decisively
- he can think creatively

However, he was behind the door when the following kinds of intelligence were passed out:
- understanding the difference between what you know and what you don’t know. Brainy thinks he’s so smart that he should be the emperor of the universe. He thinks he can avoid the brain virus that incapacitated Colu through sheer smartness. I’m not as smart as he is, but I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about both those things
- understanding that you should treat the people close to you well

2. He’s got issues. It’s obvious, from his reaction in issue #7, that Brainy’s not really secure in his intelligence. We don’t know the backstory yet—maybe he wasn’t always smart, or always recognized as smart—but it’s a sore point for him. I don’t mean that he’s a basketcase; just that his past has left some rough spots on him. Many of us could say the same thing.

3. He’s a teenager. He’s not, yet, a completely mature adult. Many of us, as teenagers, get to a point where we think we’ve figured out the world, and disdain the opinions of those who disagree with us. Usually, we’ve got a point, but we’re not grown-up enough to realize that other people, particularly older people, may also have a point. How much more true must that be of Brainiac 5, of all people, who really has figured out a lot of stuff about the world that most people can’t even process, and who lives in the 31st century, where the older people really are quite annoying?

Dream Girl represents a challenge to Brainy on a couple of different levels. First, he couldn’t establish the superiority of his science to her precognitive powers, in reality or in argument. Second, he could never figure out if she was kidding when she said they’d be married someday, which intrigued him because a) it’s intolerable to Brainy to have something he couldn’t figure out, and b) he’s a teenage boy and she was totally hot. So, when she died, he couldn’t accept letting all of that go unresolved, and set out to bring her back. Which sounds ambitious, but remember, this is the same guy who was already in the middle of plotting his ascent to rulership of the entire United Planets.

Fine so far. Except that he couldn’t take all this weight on his own shoulders. Come on: here’s a teenage boy, who’s already taken on the responsibility of restoring the minds of his entire planet, including his mother, who’s just lost someone close to him, who thinks he’s destined to be in charge of everything, and now he’s going to try to beat death itself? Too much. He couldn’t handle it. Who could?

So he needed to turn to someone for help. But when you’re Brainiac 5, there aren’t a lot of candidates. Who is there that he respects enough to listen to?
- Someone on Colu, maybe, like his mother. Except that the population of Colu is currently brandishing thighbones as they caper around the monolith.
- Not most of the Legion, who he sees as his intellectual inferiors or subordinates.
- Dream Girl would be a good candidate, but—oops!—she’s dead.
- Cosmic Boy would be an even better candidate. Brainy did say once that he respects him, and was actually forced to compromise with him over the Legion leadership. Unfortunately, the two of them probably aren’t getting along well enough for Brainy to turn to him (and let’s face it, Rokk would think that Brainy was completely nuts).
Who does that leave? How about the guy that defeated the minds of the entire planet of Colu, the guy who almost outthought the Legion, the older man who took the time to pay attention to Brainy himself during his campaign to tear down civilization? Sure, he’s a supervillain, but he’s available and beggars can’t be choosers. (Also—I just thought of this—he may have some notion of using Lemnos not to bring back Dream Girl, but to restore Colu. Which is actually pretty sensible.)

Even if he’s not crazy, he still needs someone to talk him off the ledge. The problem is, Lemnos certainly isn’t going to do it (not that you could trust a word out of his mouth anyway), and I suspect Atom Girl wouldn’t either, so maybe Cosmic Boy’s the only candidate—but what a hard conversation to arrange.

(At this writing, the solicit and cover for SLOSH #21, in which it looks like Brainy might succeed in bringing Nura back, have just been released. Cool! But it doesn’t change my mind about anything I wrote above.)

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