Comic Book / Brainiac

"You've told me that Lex Luthor is everything bad about humanity. Well Brainiac is everything bad about aliens."

Brainiac is a prominent member of Superman's Rogues Gallery and one of the most iconic villains in comic book history.

Created by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino, Brainiac debuted in July 1958 as a green-skinned alien with advanced technology who attacked an Earth spaceship and possessed a private collection of shrunken, stolen cities, including the Kryptonian city of Kandor, which Superman stole back and took back to his Fortress of Solitude. Notably, Superman never actually managed to defeat the alien and was completely outmatched by his Deflector Shields and tirade of insults, and this was the Silver Age Superman, the same one who casually tugged chains of planets through space.

He returned to menace the superhero over the years, sometimes and often in a Villain Team-Up with Lex Luthor. Due to legal issues, he was reimagined as a living supercomputer in humanoid form, the renegade agent of the Coluan race.

He received a major overhaul in 1983, turning him into a Skele Bot with vastly greater abilities, but this version was wiped out by the Crisis on Infinite Earths only a few years later. Later versions do usually retain a version of his skull-shaped spaceship introduced in this period, however.

Post-Crisis, he was reimagined again as an insane circus psychic named Milton Fine who believed he was possessed by an alien intelligence, though as that drew a fan backlash it was gradually implied that he might actually be Properly Paranoid and he began taking on genuinely alien characteristics, such as green skin and more audacious plans. Eventually this was all retconned and he was reimagined again as an evil alien robot, then as time went on his exact origins and nature as either a robot, a pure alien or an alien cyborg robot was Depending on the Writer. Once again, Superman receives (in different circumstances) a Kandor shrunk by Brainiac, this time apparently a holding city for non-Kryptonian residents of Krypton, in the interest of keeping Superman the Last of His Kind.

In adaptations such as Superman: The Animated Series and its sequel Justice League, and later Smallville and Legion of Super-Heroes, he was made into a living supercomputer with Kryptonian origins to create greater enmity with the Man of Steel. In the animated versions, Brainiac was given Fighting a Shadow qualities, the green-skinned humanoid being just one of many bodies used by the villain whose nature as a program means all of his technology is 'him' and he need only upload himself elsewhere upon physical "death." In the 2008 story arc Brainiac, this aspect of Brainiac became a Canon Immigrant and the various different versions Superman faced were retconned into probes themselves, and the true Brainiac was once again made into a Coluan cyborg. Once again he possessed Kandor (the one Superman had was "revealed" to be a fake), which again was a city full of Kryptonians. Upon finding out Superman was a Kryptonian, Brainiac set out to kill him and Supergirl, as the existence of Kryptonians outside of his bioshell threatened his control over their technology.

Brainiac is a Legacy Character and there have been (or will be) at least 13 different incarnations of the character in the future, Brainiac 2 originally being a clone-son, though some of them are actually future, stronger versions of Brainiac himself. The most famous is the heroic Brainiac 5, The Smart Guy of the Legion Of Superheroes from the 31st century. In one Story Arc, the Brainiac 13 version from a Bad Future even fought Brainic 2.5, despite both being the same character. On most occasions, the ones who aren't actually Brainiac end up becoming the victim of his schemes.

Fun fact: Brainiac is not, as you might think, named after a popular slang word for "intellectual." It's the other way around: that particular piece of slang actually started with him, and the writers of Superman are credited with coining it. So, yes, every time a bookish comic book fan gets mockingly called a "brainiac," his tormenters unknowingly pay tribute to DC Comics.

Comic Appearances:

Notable Pre-Crisis comics

Notable Post-Crisis comics

Appearances in other media

The character provides examples of:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: In the New 52, he calls his bottled cities "Kan-Dor" and "Met-Trop-Ol-Is".
  • Actually a Doombot: Geoff Johns invoked this in an issue of Action Comics where every single appearance by Brainiac in the Post-Crisis DCU, prior to Johns' Superman: Brainiac storyline was actually a "Brainiac probe".
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: In some versions, he's this. In others, he was meant to turn out this way.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Just read the page quote. It makes for a nice contrast with Superman's innocent alien; as one internet fan once said, the reason Brainiac is such an enduring villain is that he's the alien Superman isn't.
  • Alien Invasion: A (sometimes literal) One-Man Army type.
  • Arch-Enemy: One of Superman's three chief foes, along with Lex Luthor and General Zod (Darkseid would qualify but he's more of a general DCU threat). After Luthor, he's probably the most iconic, the oldest, and easily one of the ones that Superman hates the most.
  • Archnemesis Dad: To his clone son, Brainiac 2 (Vril Dox II), his grandson, Lyrl Dox (Brainiac 3), and his great-great grandson, Brainiac 5 (Querl Dox). He's manipulated, fought against, and outright tried to murder all three at one point or another, and in turn, all of them have thwarted various schemes of his.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The Brainiac 13 incarnation.
  • Assimilation Plot: Again, Brainiac 13, who tried this twice, first on Metropolis (probably as a prelude to Earth), and then, later, on the entire universe.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: To the point where he once downloaded all of Superman's memories and used them to create a program that would anticipate his every move. Generally speaking, Brainiac is a master at gathering information on his foes and then using it against them.
  • Bald of Evil: One of the only things about his appearance to remain consistent, whether alien, human, robot, or some mix of all of the above.
  • Barrier Warrior: Brainiac always uses his Deflector Shields to maximum effect.
  • Beard of Evil: Sported one as Milton Fine.
  • Big Bad: Jockeys with Luthor, Darkseid and Zod for the title of Superman's Biggest Bad, and has been the mastermind behind countless story arcs in both Superman's own book and the DCU at large (where, alongside the likes of Luthor and Darkseid he's one of the biggest bads around). His antimatter counterpart served as the Big Bad of JLA: Earth-2, establishing that no matter which universe you are in, Brainiac is at the top of the evil food chain. Outside of comics, he is the primary villain in Injustice 2, the MMO DC Universe Online and Justice League Heroes.
  • Brain–Computer Interface: Brainiac is frequently portrayed as being wired into his ship via ports in his skull.
  • Brain in a Jar: Post-Crisis Antimatter Brainiac was little more than a genetically-engineered, super-intelligent brain with a face grafted on. He was kept in storage in Ultraman's Flying Fortress, and used to run most of the Crime Syndicate's computers.
  • Category Traitor: Brainiac, when he was originally an organic Coluan named Vril Dox. He loyally serves the Computer Tyrants, thus being hated by his own people as a result.
  • The Chessmaster: Always. Brainiac plans well in advance, and is an expert at manipulating others into playing the roles he wants them to do.
  • Characterization Marches On: With DC Comics' retconitis, who Brainy is never seems to remain constant for more than a few years at a time. Today's galaxy-destroying Brainiac is definitely a far cry from the day-one incarnation, who was basically "Alien!Lex Luthor"—though his technological brilliance and obsession with collecting things has never gone away.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: He thinks nothing of disposing of his partners, subordinates, and cat's paws as soon as it's convenient to do so.
  • Classic Villain
  • The Collector: A shtick of his. He collects cities and knowledge.
  • Conqueror from the Future: Brainiacs 8 and 13.
  • Control Freak: Brainiac doesn't like any situation where he's not in control, often entering a Villainous Breakdown when things don't go his way.
  • Creepy Monotone: Especially when he's voiced by Corey Burton.
  • Cyborg: His final Post-Crisis and New 52 versions are Coluan aliens enhanced by advanced cybernetics.
  • Deflector Shields: Perhaps the Iconic Item associated with the Silver Age Brainiac was his force field belt, which even Superman couldn't break through. Most later versions of him have also possessed these in one form or another.
  • Demonic Possession: Of Lex Luthor, Milton Fine, Lena Luthor, Doomsday, and various others across his lengthy career.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: In Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? where he appeared to be the Big Bad, but was actually a front for Mxyptlk of all people.
  • The Dreaded: To Supergirl, who was on Krypton when Brainiac attacked and stole Kandor. The rest of the Kandorians are terrified of him as well, and General Zod views his failure to defeat the alien as his worst ever loss.
  • Encyclopaedic Knowledge: Considering how many civilizations he's stolen knowledge from, it is not surprising that he possesses this.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Brainiac can't understand what Superman sees in Earth, as its scientific and technological advances are nothing compared to Krypton's. He never considers less quantifiable qualities, like love or family.
  • Evil Genius: Well, duh. Brainiac describes himself as a "twelfth-level intellect".
  • Evil Is Petty: He is incredibly petty. In "Superman: Brainiac", right after Superman defeats him, he commands his ship to fire a missile at the Kent Farm. Superman ruined his home so he wants to destroy his. In other words, Brainiac attempts to murder an elderly couple who never did anything to him and he has never met because their foster son defeated him and humiliated.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Has come into conflict with Luthor, the Anti-Monitor, Zod, Imperiex, and numerous others over the course of his decades long career.
  • Expy: In his first appearance, and for much of the Silver Age he was just Lex Luthor (back when Lex was a standard Mad Scientist) but with green skin. This changed in the Bronze Age, when he became a skeletal robot (resembling the Terminator) who aimed to end the universe.
  • Faceship: Usually Brainiac's ship looks right like his skull.
  • Fighting a Shadow: In the DCAU (and regular DCU continuity, post-Superman: Brainiac), he acts exclusively through probes and drones.
  • Flying Saucer: He used a distinctive purple one for most of his Pre-Crisis career. When he was revamped as a cosmic level threat in 1983, he started using a much creepier-looking skull-shaped ship.
  • Foil: A cold, distant, remote alien with evil designs on earth? He's everything that people like Luthor think Superman is like.
  • From a Single Cell: If a single line of Brainiac's code survives, he can usually come back. Now that he's been retconned into being an organic being, we'll have to see if this is still the case.
  • Fusion Dance: With Luthor in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?. This was given a Shout-Out in Justice League: Unlimited, though it was far more willing in that version.
  • Future Me Scares Me: In Superman: Y2K, Brainiac 13 comes from the future and hijacks Brainiac 2.5.
  • Galactic Conqueror: His goals and methods have varied a lot over the years, but he still usually fits this trope.
  • Genius Bruiser: Even in his true form, he's roughly the equal of Superman and backs it up with far superior intelligence. When he possessed Doomsday, this became literally true as he was a genius in the hulking form of one of the physically strongest beings in the universe.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: During the 80's, he believed there was a being called the "Master Programmer" conspiring to destroy Brainiac by sending his "angel of death", which is Superman.
  • A God Am I: In The Bronze Age of Comic Books and in JLA: Earth-2 where his Antimatter Universe counterpart tried to become an "Nth Level Intellect". Defied in New Krypton when he states "Gods do not exist, Lex Luthor".
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: Brainiacs 4 and 8. And the Ame-Comi Girls version.
  • Hive Mind: Brainiac 13 forced this on the citizens of Metropolis. Also, the Retcon that Superman has been Fighting a Shadow invokes this to an extent.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
  • Humanoid Aliens: Sometimes, Depending on the Writer.
  • You Killed My Father: Did this to Jonathan Kent when beaten in Brainiac. Superman was pissed.
  • I Have Many Names: In the New 52, each civilization that adopted him assigned him a different name.
  • Ingesting Knowledge: Nearly every version of Brainiac has had this ability, usually by interfacing with computers.
  • Joker Immunity: Even before the Fighting a Shadow retcon, he always came back, no matter how thoroughly his previous incarnation was destroyed. DC One Million revealed that a version of him had survived into the 853rd century.
  • Killer Robot: In the Silver Age and Bronze Age when he was a murderous android. The Modern Age saw him possess numerous robotic bodies before it they were retconned into being probes under the control of the actual alien.
  • Lack of Empathy: More like lack of any general emotion, making him all the more creepier.
  • Legacy Character: There have been at least 13 Brainiacs, roughly speaking each more powerful and advanced than the last, with 13 being so powerful he can conquer the Earth just by showing up and later very nearly destroyed and remade the entire universe. However, while the likes of 5 and 8 are distinct characters, quite often the different Braniacs' are just upgraded versions of the villain himself.
  • Lust: For knowledge. Brainiac wants to control all the information in the universe, and is prepared to slaughter billions to keep that information secret.
  • Mad Scientist: Particularly during the Silver Age, when he was essentially an alien Luthor. To this day he retains many elements of this as a builder of robots, spaceships, and his own cyborg body parts.
  • The Man Behind the Monsters: The most recent version of Brainiac has been revealed to a biological Coluan scientist and conqueror who has been fighting Superman for years using his robotic probes and psychic powers.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Oddly, some of his most successful manipulations are against himself, but he has still played several characters like pianos over his career, including highly intelligent ones like Superman and Lex Luthor.
  • My Brain Is Big: Bronze Age Brainiac had a huge brain case (despite obviously being a robot). Depending on the Artist, the Milton Fine version of Brainiac also had a distended brain.
  • Nanomachines: One of the weapons in his arsenal.
  • Neck Snap: Brainiac does this to an android replica of Luthor during New Krypton, and the real Luthor returns the favor during the finale of The Black Ring.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: His robotic bodies in the Silver Age, Bronze Age, and Modern Age typically possessed some version of this, as does his Coluan self following the events of Brainiac.
  • Ninja Zombie Pirate Robot: Depending on the Writer and the adaptation, Brainiac is either a regular Mad Scientist who happens to be an alien; a living alien computer; an evil psychic circus performer who's either Ax-Crazy or possessed by an alien intelligence; a Mad Scientist alien cyborg; an evil alien robot; a colony of nanomachines; and quite often and recently all of the above. Also, in the mainstream comics, he's always a Coluan, but in the DCAU and Smallville, Brainiac is a Kryptonian artificial intelligence; meanwhile, the 60s Filmation series declared he was from the planet Mega.
  • Not So Different: From Lex Luthor, something which neither of them would care to admit in the Post-Crisis world.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Post-Crisis his Antimatter counterpart took this Up to Eleven, attempting to annihilate both the matter and antimatter universes. Since they were, at the time, the only two universes in existence, this would have resulted in the destruction of all creation everywhere.
  • Organic Technology: Prior to 2008's Brainiac storyline and the retcon within, the Post-Crisis Brainiac was normally portrayed as a classic robot. Accordingly, his Antimatter Universe counterpart was a genetically engineered organic "syntellect", essentially a supremely-intelligent, vat-grown mind/computer.
  • Planet Looters: His main gig is bottling up cities and shrinking them. His reasons have varied and normally, the planets he loots aren't so lucky.
  • Pluto Is Expendable: In Our Worlds at War, he converts Pluto into a Planet Spaceship. It's later destroyed when he gets defeated.
  • Psychic Powers: When possessing Milton Fine, and to a degree even now.
  • Psycho Electro: Sometimes. As Brainiac 13, he jacked the entire Metropolis powergrid and attempted to electrocute Superman to death with it.
  • Really 700 Years Old: He was around when Krypton was still in one piece; this makes him several thousand years old at least.
  • Ret Canon: These days, as of the New 52, he's much like the Superman: The Animated Series version, which is also what most other adaptations' Brainiacs are based on. Apparently he still got started on Colu, but he also was the Kryptonian AI, and exists in many places under many names (including Earth, as the Internet.)
  • Robot Master: The Modern Age version of Brainiac was retconned into being an organic alien behind a horde of robotic probes.
  • Robotic Psychopath: In The Silver Age of Comic Books and The Bronze Age of Comic Books, though it was more emphasized in some stories than in others. He was also one for much of the Modern Age, before being retconned into being the alien behind the robots. Several adaptations, including Superman The Animated Series and Smallville would adapt the original, Post-Crisis version, making him fully robotic.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: In the stories where he's an actual Coluan, he basically looks human, just with green skin and no hair.
  • Secondary Color Nemesis: Is green, wears purple.
  • Shrink Ray: Owner and creator of one of the earliest in sci-fi literature.
  • Sigil Spam: In some adaptations he puts his symbol on everything of his.
  • Skele Bot 9000: Brainiac became skeletal in the Bronze Age, and in some Elseworlds stories, after experiencing a rebirth and absorbing all the knowledge the universe had to offer. His probes in Brainiac and New Krypton reference this.
  • Smug Snake: Sometimes. Brainiac is an incredibly competent Chessmaster (at times even better than Luthor), but is arrogant, and has great difficulty innovating or dealing with the unexpected. How well he handles this depends on the the writer.
  • Sore Loser: Brainiac would sooner blow up the planet than admit defeat.
  • Super Intelligence: One of his few consistent powers, whether he's a machine, an alien, or something else completely. A "12th level intellect", Brainiac may well be the most intelligent being in the DC Universe. He's certainly capable of storing and processing trillions of minds worth of information in his data banks and Coluan brain.
  • Super Strength: His robotic bodies have inevitably possessed this to one degree or another. The current version is an organic Coluan cyborg who can nevertheless mimic the powers of Kryptonians and other races, most notably, their strength.
  • Superior Species: Sees Coluans as superior to all other beings, and himself as superior to his fellow Coluans.
  • Technopath: One of his few consistent powers. Brainiac can inhabit and control most forms of technology, enabling him to assemble new bodies for himself with ease, and allowing him to arm himself more and more effectively. It also makes using any sort of technology against him an iffy proposition at best.
  • Time Travel: Brainiacs' 5, 8 and 13 have all traveled to the present from their respective futures for varying reasons, invariably involving the original.
  • Tragic Villain: His interpretation in the New 52. According to Superman: Doomed, his homeworld and family were destroyed in an invasion from another dimension and Brainiac has been kidnapping species from across the universe to harvest their Psychic Powers in order to recreate his lost home and see his family again.
  • Turned Against His Masters: Brainiac initially desired to destroy his masters, the Computer Tyrants of Colu after they executed him out of fear that Dox was smarter than them and might eventually overthrow them. Though they disintegrated him, his mind survived and reborn as Brainiac.
  • Villain Team-Up: All the time with Luthor in the Silver and Bronze Ages, to the point where Luthor genuinely seemed to consider the robot a friend. This was entirely one-sided, as Brainiac's possession of Luthor in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? would go on to demonstrate.
  • Villainous Breakdown: He's prone to doing this when he loses control of a situation, experiencing a spectacular one at the conclusion of Brainiac.
  • Villainous Friendship: A Type III with Luthor during the Silver Age and Bronze Age. Luthor seemed to respect and like Brainiac, but Brainiac was only too willing to betray Luthor, stealing his body in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The New 52 has tried to recreate Brainiac as one of these, out to save the universe from destruction by invaders from the 5th dimension. Whether this will stick, no one knows.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Even before he found out he was Fighting a Shadow, Superman had generally shown a willingness to destroy/kill Brainiac in spite of his Thou Shalt Not Kill rule.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: A truly bizarre example - Edmund Berkely started selling a primitive rotary switch-based computer called the Brainiac a year before the character debuted in the comics, and when he expressed concern that the character would create confusion over the brand identity, DC actually retconned him into a computer rather than changing his name.
    • His name was inspired by a different computer anyway, so it's a bit less bizarre (or possibly more).
  • You Killed My Father: Killed Jonathan Kent in Brainiac, as revenge for Superman's defeat of him.
  • You Monster!: Has been on the receiving end of this from Supergirl, Superman, and even Luthor.
  • You're Insane!: Numerous characters have called him out on his madness.