A Tribute to the of

Happy 2004!  We look forward to another great year of silver mining here at the Silver Lantern.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Superman has been very much on my mind lately.  It might be because of the splendid gift the Webmaster gave me for my birthday, which is a treasury of classic Superman tales in a hardbound collection, signed by none other than Curt Swan.  It could also be due to the fact that the new season of Justice League episodes, has had him prominently used.  In a recent installment,"Hereafter", he was powerless in an apocalyptic future brought about by Vandal Savage and Superman was driving a '57 Chevy.  Two classic icons together at last.  It was a superb story, too, that showed him using his brain.  Another episode I caught recently, "A Better World", involved Doomsday, the fierce alien who "killed" the Man of Steel in Superman #75 (01/93).  Of course the death of Superman has been done before and we all knew it wouldn't be for keeps, but I joined the rest of the masses and bought a copy of the issue.  Doomsday was sort of an interesting character (origin story told in this 1995 Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding trade paperback) and that led me to considering some of Superman's other well-known foes.  I then realized that I hadn't yet tackled one of the classic villains in the rogue's gallery and I have a great tale from the treasury I mentioned above that should do the job nicely.  Prepare now to learn about Brainiac when he teams up with the equally lethal Lex Luthor in Superman #167, (from February of 1964) entitled, appropriately enough, "The Team of Luthor and Brainiac!" The author is Edmond Hamilton. Art is provided by Curt Swan with George Klein on inks. Editorial chores fall to Mort Weisinger.

Before I get into the story itself, there's a great prologue in the book by E. Nelson Bridwell that sets the stage nicely, so I'll put in a couple of excerpts here:  "When Brainiac first came on the scene, [in Action Comics #242 (07/58)] this alien from the planet Colu was the sole survivor of his world, which had been wiped out by a plague.  He was stealing whole cities with which to repopulate Colu.  Superman defeated him and restored all the cities but one—Kandor, formerly the Capital of Krypton.  There was not enough of the rare element needed for the enlargement, so for many years, the bottle-city remained in Superman's Fortress.  Then the idea came to alter the Brainiac legend, making him a computer.  The story that follows was the result.  It also marked the first teaming of Luthor and Brainiac."  

Part I is called "The Deadly Duo!"  Let's watch as Lex Luthor, in his typical gray prison uniform is about to pull a jailbreak.  Using materials he's smuggled to his cell, Luthor creates a gas balloon that conducts lightning from a storm to the bars of his cell and the light fixture to zap the prison circuits, allowing him to escape in just 4 panels.  Next stop, a nearby hill that has a lead-lined observatory on it.  This is Luthor's Lair II.  Inside, the criminal genius has nearly made a small-scale duplicate of the Fortress of Solitude.   There are inventions of his own design, a "Reminder Room" with calendar pages on display so that he will remember his years in prison and fuel his hatred for Superman.  He even has a "Hall of Heroes" with likenesses of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Captain Kidd and Al Capone on display for inspiration.

Meanwhile, back at the Daily Planet, a certain reporter has noted the headlines listing the escape of his arch-nemesis.  Jimmy Olsen also tells him about a fire at the Ace Chemical Company.  Superman soon is on the scene, hustling a massive tank of radioactive chemicals away from the fire before it explodes.  Luthor is monitoring the events on his big screen and realizes that the explosion has embedded small ionic particles into Superman's costume, allowing radar tracking by the criminal mastermind.  Soon Luthor launches a missile with a green kryptonite warhead from the observatory.  It is lead-cased to keep Superman from using his heat vision on the circuitry and it's bearing down on the familiar red and blue-garbed figure.  Superman begins a deadly game of cat and mouse until he successfully causes the missile to burn up in the friction with the atmosphere.  The defeated Luthor decides to change tactics and seek out some help.  Utilizing his Time-Space Thought Scanner, the evil genius begins a search through time and space for the mightiest intelligence out there to bring to his aid and defeat Superman.  Since the unit tunes in minds, Luthor soon gets a hit on a distant planet, many years in the past.  He can actually see the planet, which is inhabited by humans who are scientists and they've successfully created a mechanical mind.  This computer is built to be a tenth-level effector, while the human minds on the planet are only at the sixth level.  "Master Computer One" is a huge mechanism on wheels with mechanical arms that dwarfs its creators.  Luthor soon scans ahead in time to see what becomes of these technological marvels that have an unlimited capacity to learn.  A few years later, as you might expect, they've decided that due to their superior intellect, the artificial intelligence is better suited to govern than the organic beings and they decide to take over.  Resistance proves to be quite futile, as they've armed themselves with rays that effectively disintegrate a couple of the locals just to prove the point.  As time marches on, they conclude that other worlds would benefit from their wise rule, but in order to first scout them out, they need a computer spy and of course it can't look like them, as it would be too conspicuous.  They then proceed to build this human appearing computer.  As the assembly begins it comes to light that they could endow this new creation with a 12th order mind, but they decide that if they do that, it might try to pull their own stunt and dominate them, so it's given a 10th level mind like their own.  As they near completion of this new creation they make a blunder and leave the electric terminals of sensory "nerves" on the top of his head.  They decide to make them look like some sort of ornament.  Now it is time to give the figure human traits.  For this, they bring in a dying scientist and do sort of a mind meld until their creation, Brainiac, is complete.

Lex Luthor is stunned at the discovery that Brainiac is in reality a computer.  He continues to monitor the unfolding events.  Another facet is added to the spy's disguise.  An adopted son is assigned to him and dubbed Brainiac II, with the name indelibly marked on his palm.  The boy isn't thrilled with the setup, though and he thinks to himself that he'll run off at the first opportunity.  A few days later he does just that.  Brainiac reports to his creators what has happened and they instruct him that he cannot delay his mission.  They equip him with a shrinking ray and instructions to bring back sample cities from each world he visits.  An editor's note also ties in the following:  Yes, readers, now we know!  Brainiac 5, of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who is a descendent of Brainiac II, is not descended from the first Brainiac at all!  Luthor again follows the quest of Brainiac and sees him in the act of shrinking the city of Kandor until Superman apprehends him.  Having seen enough, Lex removes the apparatus and concludes that he must free the humanoid computer from his prison on the planet Kronis, upgrade his intellect to the 12th level it is capable of and ally himself with Brainiac in order to destroy Superman.  End of Part I.

Part II, "The Downfall of Superman!", begins in an artificial cavern near Luthor's Lair II where he's successfully made a duplicate of Brainiac's spacecraft.  Soon he's on his way to Kronis to rescue Brainiac.  First, however, he must get by the monitoring satellites placed in orbit by Superman.  Luthor conceals the ship behind a meteor and slips past their surveillance, safely landing on the planet's surface. 

Kronis, we learn, is uninhabited except for Brainiac in a prison compound.  A gray clad figure emerges from the ship and runs toward the compound only to be trapped by a miniature prison that springs up from the ground, along with a device to pump water and provide concentrated food.  We then see Lex concealed nearby.  He's sent a robot double of himself ahead to spring any booby traps.  He now carefully approaches the prison until he comes face to face with the lone prisoner.  Lex tells Brainiac that he's come to free him and asks him to aid him in the destruction of Superman as payment.  Brainiac states that it's useless.  The bars of his prison are of an isotope called Supermanium, the strongest metal known to science.  Luthor's atomic torch proves to be no match for the bars, but it soon occurs to him to try another strategy.  He tells Brainiac of Superman's code of not allowing harm to come to anyone and suggests that he set fire to the grass and trees inside the prison.  As Lex suspected, safeguards were in place to free Brainiac in the event of disaster and the gate swings wide.  Brainiac muses that he should have thought of that and Luthor retorts that as a computer, he couldn't have a full understanding of human psychology.  The surprised Brainiac tells Luthor that he must not let anyone know of his status as a non-human computer.  Lex agrees and vows to alter Brainiac's mind to greater efficiency if he will help him defeat Superman.  Brainiac quickly agrees and soon they're leaving the planet with the aid of the meteor camouflage.

Fade now to the arctic where Superman is at his Fortress of Solitude and communicating with the citizens of Kandor to see if they have detected Luthor's whereabouts on their monitors.  They explain that it is Krypton Day and therefore the monitors were not fully manned.  One of the Kandorians asks if he could be attempting to open the Phantom Zone.  Superman decides to use his viewer and Zone-o-phone to check.  All the exiled criminals are in attendance, but they reveal that they have seen Luthor release Brainiac.  Soon the Man of Tomorrow is off to Kronis to investigat e and discovers his fears are true.  His greatest foes have formed an alliance. 

Speaking of his greatest foes, we now rejoin the spacecraft, carefully hidden amongst meteors containing lead, thwarting any stray X-ray vision and Luthor is busily giving Brainiac an upgrade.  Upon successful completion, Brainiac announces that with his superior intellect, he no longer needs Luthor.  He then begins to black out as Lex explains his little insurance policy.  He has installed a timer into the computer's brain that will deactivate him at certain intervals.  Any attempt to tamper with it will cause an explosion.  Once again we see no honor among thieves, even when they're co-conspirators.  Realizing he has no alternative, Brainiac first helps Luthor to disguise the spacecraft inside a lead meteor and then guides him to different worlds throughout the cosmos, collecting rare elements he needs to create a serum-gas that will take away Superman's powers.  One stop leads the duo to a planet with a red sun that Luthor had visited once before in Superman #164 (10/63) where he's hailed as a great hero.  He decides to leave this planet, and his reputation, intact.  Another surprise waits on the planet where Brainiac originated.  The master computers have been defeated and destroyed, leaving him the sole legacy of their efforts.

We rejoin Superman as he searches for the villains throughout the universe.  The Man of Might tries visiting the aforementioned planet where Luthor is held in reverence and notes the landing spot of their ship, which reveals to Superman that they're disguised in a meteor.  He finally locates the camouflaged ship as it is landing on Earth and confronts them.  Unfortunately the trap has already been laid and the serum gas does its work by taking away the super powers of the Last Son of Krypton.  Luthor and Brainiac gloat as they rough Superman up a bit before using Brainiac's portable shrinking ray on him and reduc ing him to a doll-sized figure.  Part II closes on the scene.

We turn now to Part III, "The Hour of Kandor's Vengeance!"  The evil allies have placed the powerless and diminutive Superman into a birdcage and are debating how to do away with him when Brainiac proposes using a machine he has designed in his mind.  He begins assembling it with Luthor looking on while Superman takes the opportunity to escape his prison.  Taking a set of his compressible street clothes from his cape pouch, the reduced Superman tears it into strips to form a rope.  Since they didn't bother locking the cage, figuring the height would be too dangerous, he has an easy time descending to freedom.  He then searches desperately for a way out, but can find no easy exit.  He determines that his best hope is to fire a missile from the eyrie of Luthor's Lair in hopes that the Kandorians will see it and help him.  As he struggles mightily with the controls, we go back to the workbench where Brainiac has completed his machine.  Luthor scoffs that he doesn't see how it can harm Superman, being composed primarily of lights and mirrors, but Brainiac has other plans in mind as the seemingly benign lights take their desired effect on Luthor, placing him into a hypnotic trance.  Brainiac then instructs his co-conspirator to remove the timer from his computer brain and to forget that he is a computer.  Once the task is comple te, Luthor comes out from under the spell, remembering nothing.  Only then do they realize their prisoner has escaped.

With a great effort and plenty of leverage, Superman has finally managed to throw the launch switch just as Brainiac and Luthor discover him and Brainiac's coma ray, concealed in a ring, leaves Superman completely immobilized.  His work, however, was not in vain as the Kandorians who were on monitor detail did see the launch of the missile and activated the Superman Emergency Squad to investigate.  Changing into their replica Superman costumes, the men of Krypton fly to the top of the bottle containing their city in a rocket ship and then use suction cups to cling to the glass walls before using enlarging gas to make them a few inches tall, pushing the cork out and then flying out of the fortress ke yhole.  They quickly converge on Luthor's Lair and use Brainiac's own shrinking ray against the two rogues to take them back to Kandor, bound and blindfolded so as not to reveal the Fortress of Solitude and to justice.  They are particularly pleased to have Brainiac, the man who shrunk their city, in custody.  Word spreads like wildfire that Brainiac will stand trial for his crimes against Kandor while the local scientists work to try and free Superman from his immobilized state.  As the trial begins, Luthor acts as defense representative for Brainiac and claims that the man from Colu actually saved Kandor from certain destruction by shrinking it.  The prosecutor, Nor Kann refutes the notion by stating that perhaps Kandor would have escaped the explosion in a n air bubble as Argo City did.  Soon it is up to the jury to decide and a unanimous verdict of guilty is passed on Brainiac.  The villain won't go quietly, though and informs the assembly that without him, Superman will never be free of his living death.  All the people of Kandor take a vote and it is decided that they will free Luthor and Brainiac once they revive Superman.  Brainiac fulfills his part of the bargain, so Superman is compelled to do likewise and soon the three figures are outside the bottle city, being restored to normal with an enlarging force that is just powerful enough to restore Superman, Luthor and Brainiac.  Once again employing blindfolds, Superman returns the pair to Luthor's Lair and the waiting spacecraft so that they may leave the Earth. 

Soon, the two malefactors land on the planet where Luthor is a revered hero where Brainiac leaves him.  Navigating into deep space, the computer in human form pledges to return to Earth and destroy Superman when they next meet. 

The final panel shows the Man of Steel communicating with his fellow Kryptonians in Kandor, thanking them for saving him and vowing to bring Brainiac back to justice and that he will one day restore Kandor to normal once more.        

This was a pretty impressive story that covered many elements of the Superman mythos in its three parts.  First and foremost was the teaming of possibly his two greatest nemeses.  There was intergalactic travel, time in Kandor, the peek into the Phantom Zone and even a trip back to the unnamed planet where Lex Luthor is hero-worshipped.  Only a couple of things confused me.  First off, why was Brainiac so concerned that his status as a computer be kept secret?  Who cares?  The other loose end was the serum gas that took away Superman's powers.  Was it temporary?  The story never fully explained how they were restored.  Minor things, to be certain, but they nagged at me, so it kept this from being a perfect story.  Still, it was very well done and I enjoyed the pairing of this deadly duo, even though they still fell back, in classic fashion, on their own self-serving interests.  A bit formulaic perhaps, but it's a tried and true formula and at least they didn't end up at each other's throats as we've seen in other stories with multiple villains in the past.  Since both these criminals rely a great deal on brainpower it was more like a game of chess as they tried to outflank and outthink the other to gain advantage.  I think it was a good demonstration of their modus operandi.  All in all, I found this to be a good story that added an impressive chapter to Superman's legacy.  I grade it a 9 on my 10-point scale. 

This feature will return in all its glory in approximately two weeks, so by all means come back and see what we have in store.  Don't forget to share your thoughts and comments, too, via e-mail at silveragesage@thesilverlantern.com.

Long live the Silver Age!

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