"Superman: Brainiac" is a story arc written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank, published in Action Comics #866-870. The story is notable for several major plot developments regarding Superman: the death of Superman's adopted father Jonathan Kent, the return of the pre-Crisis bottled city of Kandor, and the return of the original Silver Age incarnation of the super-villain Brainiac. It also serves as a prelude to the "New Krypton" Story Arc.
Superman finds and defeats a Brainiac's drone, which has just fallen to Earth, and takes it back to the Fortress of Solitude. As he is examining it, Supergirl reveals a startling fact: that is not Brainiac. Superman has never fought the real Brainiac, as all earlier encounters he had with Brainiac were with one of his probes. Then she reveals she is terrified of Brainiac because he stole Kandor, the capital city of Krypton.
After talking to his cousin Superman realizes Brainiac is trying to locate him, and he decides to track him down, fight him and retrieve Kandor before Brainiac finds Earth and him.
This storyline was adapted to an animated feature: Superman Unbound.
"Superman: Brainiac" provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Supergirl, the worlds most powerful teenager, fights a legion of killer androids and stops a missile from detonating the Sun.
- Actually a Doombot: In the beginning Superman believes he has defeated Brainiac, but Supergirl reveals all Brainiacs found by Superman in the past were drones.
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Supergirl has a breakdown after seeing a Brainiac android. Superman calms her down by hugging her and stroking her head.
- Aliens Are Bastards: Not shown as a general theme, but as noted by Supergirl, Brainiac is a representation of the concept itself in the same way that Luthor is a example of the concept of Humans Are the Real Monsters.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: After Brainiac steals Metropolis, Lois tells Clark she loves him, just in case.Lois: Clark, if you can hear me... I don't know what's happening, I don't know if this is the end... But if it is... If it IS the end — know, please know — how much I lov—
- Antagonist Title: The title of the arc is also its Big Bad.
- Badass Boast: Brainiac never gets tired of telling how "great", "perfect" and intelligent he is.Brainiac: I will be everything there has ever been, Kryptonian. I will be evolved into perfection.
- Bad Moon Rising: In the cover of issue #869, the Moon resembles Brainiacs face-ship.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Brainiacs android troops are invading an alien city when Superman arrives and begins beating them up.
- Brainiac's robots are overwhelming Kara when Lois shows up, armed with a fire extinguisher, and bludgeons one of them.
- Big "NO!": Pa Kent shouts one when he sees a missile heading towards his home and his wife.
- Blood from the Mouth: Superman vomits blood after pulling out a spiked probe inserted into his digestive tract by several Brainiac drones.
- Breaking the Bonds: Brainiac traps Superman inside a metallic cocoon. Superman cannot break it until Brainiac insults Earth one time too many. Furious, Superman shatters his metallic prison.
- Break the Badass: You know Brainiac is very serious business when Supergirl states she is terrified of him. After invading Krypton and stealing Kandor, Brainiac is "what kept [Kryptonians] from going out after dark".
- Breath Weapon: Superman uses his freezing breath to encase Brainiac in ice before ramming him.
- Broken Bird: Kara is only fifteen and she has already lived through genocide and her familys loss.Clark: She spends all of her time in that cape. She's missing out on so much... because I think she's afraid to lose it again.
Lois: Kara's been through a lot of trauma.
Clark: I only want her to be happy.
- The Bus Came Back: Cat Grant, a character that had not been seen since the early nineties, reappears and becomes again a permanent supporting character.
- Catapult Nightmare: As he is unconscious, Superman has a nightmare in where Brainiac abducts more cities and obliterates more planets. He flings himself up when he comes around, inadvertently breaking the restrains strapping him to Brainiac's operating table.
- Catch a Falling Star: Joked. Lois suggests that Clark will need to catch Lombard when not if someone throws him off the roof.
- Character Death: Jonathan "Pa" Kent dies of a heart attack near the very end of the story as a result of Brainiac's attack on the Kent farm.
- Combat Tentacles: Brainiac's ship and robots are armed with long, spiky metallic tentacles.
- Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Artist Gary Frank always draws Superman as Christopher Reeve, Lois as Margot Kidder, and Supergirl as Laura Vandervoort. This makes him one of fandom's favorite artists to draw their stories.
- Conveniently Close Planet: Superman leaves Earth in search of Brainiac, and it doesn't take long before his ship stumbles into a planet attacked by the Coluan nightmare.
- Cooldown Hug: When Kara has a breakdown after seeing a Brainiacs probe, her cousin hugs her and reassures her.
- Cry into Chest: Superman hugs his cousin as she is having a breakdown. Kara buries her face on his chest and cries.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: Kandor is full of huge, tall, alien buildings made from sleek, crystalline materials.
- Data Crystal: Superman studies information about Brainiac recorded in Sunstones left by his father.
- Deflector Shields: Brainiac's force-shields are nearly indestructible.
- Determinator: Pa Kent spent almost six months looking for a baseball batted by his son when Clark was a kid.
- Determined Expression: After Superman tells Kara that she has to stop a missile and assures that he trusts her, Supergirl's expression goes from fright and shock to steely determination, eyes narrowed, brows furrowed and lips tight◊.
- Domed Hometown: Brainiac creates domed force-fields around whole cities, shrinks them and then abducts them. He keeps dozens of them inside his ship. The first scene narrates how he reduced Kandor, and later he shrinks Metropolis.
- The Dreaded: Supergirl can bench press a mountain. And she is frightened of Brainiac.Supergirl: I grew up on Krypton, didn't I? Everyone who did knows about Brainiac. He's what kept us from going out after dark.
Superman: You're... scared?
Supergirl: It was the scariest thing that ever happened on Krypton. Next to the day it died. I'll never forget Brainiac.
- Dynamic Entry: An army of Brainiac's androids are invading an alien city when all of sudden Superman swoops in and punches one of them.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom:
- In issue #867, after raiding another world, Brainiac shoots a missile at the star which it orbits. The sun blows up and the shockwave obliterates the planet.
- And later Brainiac tries to blow Earth up, too.Superman: Brainiac's fired some kind of weapon at the Sun. Kara. Whatever is heading towards the Sun, you need to stop it. If it gets there, it's going to trigger a supernova. And that fire will engulf the Earth.
- 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 Gloating: After capturing Superman, Brainiac lays out his entire scheme: going to Earth, stealing one city and destroying the planet by turning the Sun into a super nova.Brainiac: "I will be everything there has ever been, Kryptonian. I will be evolved into perfection."
- Evil Is Petty: Brainiac attempts to murder an elderly couple who never did anything to him because their foster son defeated and humiliated him. This act of pettiness costs Pa Kent his life.
- Evil Plan: Brainiac has spent decades searching Superman's world to steal one of its cities, extract whatever knowledge he deems worthwhile, and once this has been done, obliterate the solar system.
- Eye Beams:
- Superman uses his heat vision when he runs into a Brainiac's mechanic soldier.
- Kara's heat vision activates when she stares at a Brainiac's probe and remembers Kandor's abduction. Her heat beams melt the android's head.
- Brainiac's robots's eyes fire electrical, white-and-red beams.
- Superman also uses his optic beams to cut off the wires connecting Metropolis and Kandor to Brainiac's ship.
- Eye Scream: After smashing Brainiac's face into his fist, Superman fires his heat vision right in the Coluan's eyes.
- Face Palm Of Doom: Most of time, the Brainiac's robots grab their victims' heads and pierce their skulls with spiky, extensible tentacles hidden inside their hands.
- Faceship: Brainiac's ship looks right like his skull.
- Fake Boobs: Cat Grant, after having been gone from the comics for several years, came back from California, having had quite a bit of work done with breast augmentation being one of the more noticeable differences. It created a hilarious moment◊ when she first interacted with Supergirl in Action Comics #868, who didn't know about cosmetic surgery and kept trying to tell her she should probably see a doctor about the "weird plastic" in her chest.
- Fighting a Shadow: Every other time Superman fought Brainiac in the past of the Post-Crisis universe, it was a remotely controlled robot probe or some other technological method. Supergirl reveals this to her cousin.
- Final Boss Preview: Superman thought he had faced Brainiac dozens of times, but in reality he fought mere drones. When he comes face to face with the real deal for the first time at the beginning of the arc, the Man of Steel is easily pummelled into unconsciousness.
- Flying Brick: Superman and Supergirl are super-strong, super-fast and nearly invulnerable, and they can fly. Supergirl demonstrates this when she chases a missile aimed at the Sun.
- Flying Firepower: Both Kryptonian cousins are Flying Bricks with eye beams.
- Friendless Background: Clark is worried about her cousin because she feels very alone.Clark: She was so frightened. And she feels so alone.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Brainiac's ship and robot mooks's eyes glow red.
- Goomba Stomp: Superman stomps on Brainiac's head after dumping the Coluan on a swamp. It is very effective.
- Greater-Scope Villain: Vril Dox is revealed as The Man Behind the Man to all previous versions of Brainiac plaguing Post-Crisis Superman. The pants-less mad scientist in the flying saucer? The Skele Bot? The nanites possessing Milton Fine? The scrawny green guy with the goatee, telekinesis, and cape? The seven-foot tall purple and green humanoid robot? The nanoswarm? All of them and more, despite acting as the Big Bad in various storylines from Panic in the Sky to Doomsday Wars, were simply techno-organic probes being controlled by the real Brainiac.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Lois thinks that Cat's real reason to slander Supergirl is "She doesn't like someone half her age flying through Metropolis and turning heads." The fact that Cat suddenly looks like she's sucking a lemon when Supergirl shows up lends some credence to this.
- Grievous Harm with a Body: Kara rips a limb from an android and bludgeons a squad of robots with it.
- Head-Turning Beauty: The Daily Planet's male employees are obsessed with Cat Grant.
- Heroic BSoD: Kara has a breakdown when she examines a Brainiac probe which stirs up memories of Brainiac stealing the City of Kandor. She starts shuddering, hugs herself and blasts the probe into molten slag.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Brainiac shoots a missile at the Kent farm. Pa tackles Ma out of the way and saves his wife, but the physical strain is more than his heart can bear and he suffers a stroke.
- Imagine Spot: In the epilogue Superman fantasises about breaking into Brainiac's jail cell and beating him to death. He doesn't actually do it, of course.
- I'm Standing Right Here: Ma of all people does this to Clark when he talks to his parents about Brainiac.Martha: I don't like this, Jonathan.
Clark: I'm right here, Ma.
Martha: Well, I don't!
- Incredible Shrinking Man: Brainiac shrinks inhabitants of Kandor, Metropolis and dozens of cities.
- Intimate Marks: Invoked by Lois when she suggests that Cat got her butt tattooed.
- It's Personal: Brainiac killed hundreds of Kryptonians before abducting Kandor. Kara is frightened of him, but she is determined to fight him and his army.
- Law of Disproportionate Response: Supergirl accidentally reveals that Daily Planet's journalist Cat Grant has fake boobs, and later gets Cat slightly bruised while saving her. As a result of this, Cat spends one whole year slandering Supergirl in the hope that her tripe drives the young hero away from Metropolis.
- Lilliputians: The Kandorians are so tiny than Superman needs to activate his microscopic vision to see them clearly.
- The Man Behind the Man: Brainiac is revealed to be a monstrous alien intellect operating through drones and constructs. This reveal was used to explain the contradicting appearances Brainiac made throughout the Post-Crisis continuity. In Convergence this was taken one step further, saying that Brainiac has been operating this way ever since his debut in the Silver Age.
- Mass "Oh, Crap!": All kind of people has this reaction when Brainiac's ship comes to Metropolis (and everyone asks where is Superman).
- Measuring the Marigolds: Superman tells Brainiac that for all the immense amounts of data he's assembled, he still doesn't seem to know the first thing about life. And in fact, Brainiac suffers a Villainous Breakdown when first exposed to Earth's atmosphere, dunked in mud and covered in germs.
- Mecha-Mooks: Brainiac robotic soldiers come in two kinds: humanoids and beetle-like.
- Mugging the Monster: Steve Lombard tries to put Clark down several times. Yes, the same Clark who can just incinerate him.
- Mundane Utility: During his search for Brainiac, Superman shaves off his beard with a mirror and heat vision.
- Although considering Superman's hair is as indestructible as the rest of him, it's probable that a normal razor couldn't cut his hair.
- My Eyes Are Up Here: Inverted. Cat tries to seduce Clark by shoving her breasts on his face. However Clark's eyes never stray from her face, making her angry.
- Mythology Gag:
- A Brainiac's mook runs into Superman and sends the next message: "Kryptonian encountered. Locate. Attempt #242 in progress." Action Comics #242: The Super Duel In Space was Brainiac's first appearance.
- Kara mentions that Kandor's lunar colony was destroyed by Jax-Ur, another bit taken from Pre-Crisis Superman lore.
- Zor-El wears the same clothes that he wore in his first appearance (Action Comics #252: The Supergirl From Krypton (1959)).
- Brainiac releases the baboon-like Koko on Superman in order to stop Supes' break into the ship. In his first ever appearance Brainiac had a small pet monkey called Koko.
- Narcissist: Brainiac steals cities and blows up their origin homeworlds when he's done with absorbing their cultures' knowledge. His goal is absorbing the whole knowledge of the universe until "evolving into perfection", and regards literally everybody else as inferior beings and expendable guinea pigs.
- Neck Lift: As soon as Brainiac meets Superman face-to-face, he grabs his neck and lifts him.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Superman leaves Earth to look for Brainiac. However, Brainiac captures him and learns the coordinates of Earth and the existence of Supergirl from him.
- No-Sell: Kara fires her heat vision at a Brainiac drone, but her eye beams bounce off its force-shield.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Supergirl has this reaction when she sees Brainiac's ship hovering over Metropolis.Supergirl: Not here. Please, not here.
- In a flashback, Kara tells his father she has seen a ship coming. Zor-El blanches and blurts out "Oh, no."
- Supergirl has this reaction when she sees Brainiac's ship hovering over Metropolis.
- One-Man Army: Clark and Kara single-handedly crush several squads of Brainiac's murder androids.
- Orifice Invasion: Brainiac's drones are fond of shoving probe cables down victims' throats.
- People Jars: Brainiac puts his "specimens" in glass-like bubbles embedded in his ship's walls in order to examine them.Superman: Sorry, "Koko". I'm sure you're just another specimen he's put in a jar, but I don't like being screamed at.
- Power Glows: Brainiac's suit's Tron Lines glow magenta when he wakes up and rises.
- Power Pincers: Brainiac's ship's Combat Tentacles are armed with metallic pincers.
- Pre Ass Kicking One Liner:
- When Superman's heat vision is deflected by a Brainiac's soldier's shield:Superman: Force-field, huh? I can break through force-fields.
- After injuring Brainiac...Superman: Inflicting pain on others doesn't seem to bother you. It bothers me. Usually.
- When Superman's heat vision is deflected by a Brainiac's soldier's shield:
- Promotion to Parent: As Kara hugs her cousin and cries, she remembers she was supposed to take care of him when she arrived on Earth, but he is the one is taking care of her.Supergirl: Mom and Dad sent me in a rocket after yours, but mine got trapped in suspended animation. So instead of me looking after my baby cousin, you've been looking after me.
- Punch Catch: Brainiac catches Superman's punch during their battle in the final issue.
- Punched Across the Room:
- As Superman explores Brainiac's ship, one of his "guinea pigs" attacks him. Superman quickly sends him flying with one punch.
- Superman does this to Brainiac after the Coluan spends a long time threatening his family and his people and insulting him.Superman: Inflicting pain on others doesn't seem to bother you. It bothers me. Usually.
- Puny Earthlings: Brainiac rants on about how pathetic humans are... until Superman becomes fed up with it.Brainiac: You dedicated yourself to a planet that has nothing to offer you. It lacks Krypton's advances in Science. Its weapons are rudimentary, even compared to that of the barbaric Rimbor. It is devoid of any quantifiable value. Earth is not necessary to my continued evolution. This culture is useless. This culture is disgusting. What could this vacuous world possibly provide you?
- Purple Is Powerful: While Brainiac no longer wears purple as a primary part of his costume (wearing a black and white bodysuit instead), he does have magenta colored Tron Lines, more elaborated upon up above in Power Glows.
- Put Their Heads Together: Superman comes around when several Brainiac mooks are getting ready to dissect him. When two of them move in on him, Superman knocks their heads into each other, crushing both of their skulls.
- Rage-Breaking Point: Brainiac shackles Superman, kidnaps Supergirl, shrinks and steals Metropolis, insults Earth and its inhabitants, calls Superman a betrayer for embracing his human side and mocks his parents' teachings. Superman has had it: he breaks free, and attacks Brainiac, fighting hard and dirty.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Superman to Brainiac in the beginning of their final battle:Brainiac: I hold life in the palm of my hand. I control life.
Superman: Life can't be controlled. Life can't be bottled. All this knowledge, and you don't know anything about life. This ship isn't life, Brainiac. This ship is your bottle. And I'm going you take you out of it.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning:
- Steve Lombard hits on Lois, and Clark's eyes glow red for a second. A second later, Steve's chair collapses "mysteriously".
- When Brainiac declares that all people he has abducted belong to him, Superman's eyes glow red before he blasts Brainiac's face.
- Retcon: Johns retcons all different, confusing and contradictory Post-Crisis appearances of Brainiac, establishing that they were only probes. He also lays down the definitive Post-Crisis Supergirl's origin.
- Robot War: Brainiac sends large numbers of robot soldiers out to raid targeted planets.
- Secret Identity Identity: Kara spends all of her time being Supergirl. Her cousin and his wife are worried about it.Clark: She spends all of her time in that cape. She's missing out on so much... because I think she's afraid to lose it again.
- Security Cling: In Action Comics #867 Kara glomps Clark◊ while she tells him she is terrified of Brainiac. He hugs her back to reassure her.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Superman to Brainiac to the beginning of their final battle:Brainiac: I hold life in the palm of my hand. I control life.
Superman: Life can't be controlled. Life can't be bottled. All this knowledge, and you don't know anything about life. This ship isn't life, Brainiac. This ship is your bottle. And I'm going you take you out of it.
- Single Tear: After having a breakdown, hugging her cousin, remembering Kandor's shrinking, her memories from Krypton... Kara cries one single teardrop.
- SkeleBot 9000: All Brainiac androids resemble metallic human skeletons.
- Skyward Scream: Brainiac throws his head back and screams in pain when Superman rips a tube connected to his skull.
- Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Cat is pretty unpleasant. Clark and Lois suspect she is trying to hide her pain behind a mask.Lois: The way she's acting...
Clark: Cat left the planet after her son died. Everything she's wearing right now, everything she's pretending to be, she's using it to cover up. I don't need X-Ray Vision to tell me when someone's hiding behind a disguise.
- Star Killing: Brainiac develops a weapon called solar aggressor which can make a star explode. He blows a star up and later attempts so detonate the Sun, but Supergirl manages to stop and destroy the weapon.
- Strapped to an Operating Table:
- Superman was strapped to an operating table after being captured by Brainiac. When he comes around he breaks his restrains and rams his fists through Brainiac's robots upper bodies.
- The androids of Brainiac are in the process of strapping an unconscious Supergirl to an operating table when Superman blasts them away.
- Symbol Swearing: Steve Lombard does this while he watches a game:Steve: Come on! That was a false start, you #$@%@#!
- The Tease: Cat teases and tries to seduce Clark. However, Clark ignores her advances.
- Terrified of Germs: While battling Superman, Brainiac is thrown into a swamp, and traumatized by all the microscopic lifeforms crawling over him.
- There Was a Door: Supergirl breaks through the hull of Brainiac's ship. But why should she care about a door? She has to stop the Sun from going supernova! Moreover, it's Brainiac's ship.
- The Three Faces of Eve: Reliable and understanding Lois is the Wife; voluptuous tease Cat is the Temptress; and impetuous, hot-headed teenager Supergirl is the Child.
- Transforming Mecha: Brainiac's probes transform into man-sized spheres when they travel across the space vacuum.
- Tron Lines: Brainiac has an array of circular nodes implanted in his head and suit, connected by glowing red lines.
- Underestimating Badassery:
- Brainiac thinks Superman is only a brute who never could possibly outthink him.Brainiac: I believed you were an intelligent being. A perspicacious creature of many worlds like me. But I was incorrect. You are a threat to no one.
- And Supergirl, too.Brainiac: Your cousin's actions are futile. She will be incinerated along with Earth.
- Brainiac thinks Superman is only a brute who never could possibly outthink him.
- Villainous Breakdown: Brainiac freaks out after being ejected from his ship into an Earth swamp, an environment completely beyond his control.
- Wake Up Fighting: When Superman comes around, he immediately rams his fist through the nearest Brainiacs robot.
- Wave-Motion Gun: When two androids are strapping Kara to an operation table to examine her, Superman blasts them both. His heat beams are so wide there and then that they count like this.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Brainiac is a germaphobe. It makes sense because he has spent centuries isolated inside his ship, and he can't face things he can't control. When Superman dumps him in a swamp, Brainiac is so shaken that it helps Superman throttle him.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Superman and Supergirl uphold a strong Thou Shalt Not Kill policy. However they have no trouble obliterating large numbers of Brainiac's robots. It helps that they are non-sentient A.I.s.Superman: Inflicting pain on others doesn't seem to bother you. It bothers me.
- When All You Have is a Hammer : Brainiac catches Superman's fist easily and mocks the Man of Steel, calling him a simple brute. Superman replies he is brutal when he needs to be. Then he grabs Brainiac's head and smashes his face into his fist before firing his heat vision and blasting Brainiac's eyes point-blank.
- X-Ray Vision: In a hilarious scene of Action Comics #868, Supergirl meets Cat Grant and accidentally reveals that her boobs are fake when she naively says out loud that "My X-ray vision is picking up some weird plastics in your —"
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Brainiac fires a missile at the Sun. Superman cannot stop it so he asks his cousin to handle it. When Kara hesitates, he gives the speech.Superman: I'll handle him. You need to do something else. Brainiac's fired some kind of weapon at the Sun. Kara. Whatever is heading towards the Sun, you need to stop it. If it gets there, it's going to trigger a supernova. And that fire will engulf the Earth.
Supergirl: I-I'm not fast enough.
Superman: Yes, you are.
Supergirl: I can't do it.
Superman: Yes, you can.
Supergirl: I'm scared.
Superman: It's okay to be scared.
- You Shall Not Pass!: When a squad of Brainiac's drones move in on them, Supergirl tells Lois go. Lois notes Kara can fly away, but she will not.Kara: Lois. Go.
Kara: Please. GO!
Lois: You can fly away—
Kara: They attacked my world, Lois. They abducted the city of Kandor. And they killed hundreds to do it. I'm NOT running away. I want to, but I can't. Kal didn't. Neither will I!