web stats

CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #79

This is the seventy-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous seventy-eight. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

This is a special theme week. To commemorate the release of the Superman Returns DVD, this week’s theme is “Superman’s Rogues Gallery”!

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: DC got the idea behind Brainiac from a “make your own computer” kit.

STATUS: False

In the mid-50s, Edmund Berkeley developed an educational toy that was advertised as a “computer,” while essentially a rotary switch construction set. It was called Geniac, which stood for “Genius Almost-Automatic Computer.”

genman1.gif

The toy was highly praised at the time, but was not a huge seller, so a little while later, Berkeley debuted a new, simpler version of the toy called “Brainaic,” which stood for “Brain-Imitating Almost-Automatic Computer.”

Brainiac_K-30.jpg

Soon afterwards, in 1958, a certain green-skinned bad guy showed up in the pages of Action Comics #242, named Brainiac.

Action_Comics_242.jpg

Brainiac made a few notable appearances over the next couple of years, but eventually, Berkeley took issue with DC’s use of the name “Brainiac.” The allegation was not so much that DC actually stole the name from Berkeley, but rather, that they were interfering with Berkeley’s trademark. In either case, DC and Berkeley came to an agreement which was shown in 1964’s Superman #167.

sup167l.jpg

In the issue, the evil scientist Brainiac is re-envisioned as quite literally a “living computer.”

This change was accompanied by the following interesting footnote:

superman_167_10_edited.jpg

In addition, in the letter column of the issue, the following was placed:

Thousands of DC readers have avidly followed the spectacular duels between Superman and his greatest foe, the nefarious scientist, Brainiac. Their exciting clashes have taken place deep beneath the ocean and in distant galaxies. But whether the battleground has been Atlantis or Arcturus, each time Brainiac has proved himself an opponent worth of the Man of Steel’s mettle!And now let us go behind the scenes and reveal a remarkable coincidence. The fictional character “Brainiac” was created for us by Otto Binder, a famous science fiction writer who is currently the editor of “Space World,” a magazine for rocket experts (Otto also created “Bizarro” and wrote the great Superman novel, “Krypton Lives On”).

Shortly after the first “Brainiac” story appeared in Action Comics, in 1956, we learned that a REAL “Brainiac” existed…in the form of on ingenious “Brainaic Computer Kit” invented in 1955 by Edmund C. Berkeley. Mr. Berkeley is a distinguished scientist and a world authority on automation, computers and robots.

In deference to his “Brainiac,” which pre-dates ours, with this issue of Superman, we are changing the characterization of our “Brainiac” so that the master villain will henceforth possess a “computer personality.” We are confident that our readers will approve of this transformation; it should make Brainiac a mightier adversary for the Man of Steel.

Readers will be interested to learn that they can build their own “Brainiac” by purchasing one of Mr. Berkeley’s computer kits and assembling the parts. Thousands of youngsters, as well as adults, have bought these kits and, by following the simple directions, have been able to construct home-made computers which can solve interesting problems of all kinds. “Brainiac” kits cost less than $20.00 and make an ideal educational hobby. (Then they list Berkeley’s address to write away for a free brochure).

Interesting, eh?

Therefore, DC likely settled the legal situation by making their character more like the toy, and hopefully making kids more likely to BUY the toy, as it was connected to the popular Superman line of comics.

It is one of the rare examples of a trademark suit where the result is to make the infringing product MORE like the infringed product! But it’s good to see some nice, out-of-the-box thinking!

Thanks to my buddy Loren for suggesting this one!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Lex Luthor went bald due to an artist’s mistake.

STATUS: True

Fairly soon into his career as the artist for Superman, the amount of work demanded of him overwhelmed Joe Shuster, so he soon hired a studio to ghost-draw for him. An interesting side effect of this, though, is that occasionally certain nuances are missed in the transition from one artist to another.

One such detail was Lex Luthor’s hair!

In Superman #4, drawn by Paul Cassidy, here is how Luthor appeared:

SUPERMAN004_07_edited.jpg

SUPERMAN004_10_edited.jpg

And, just for fun, here’s a weird scene in that issue, where Luthor appears to Superman from a tree…

SUPERMAN004_7_edited.jpg

Cassidy was also the first ghost used on the Superman comic strip. He was followed on the strip by Leo Nowak, and it was here that the first bald Lex Luthor appeared. Soon after, in 1941’s Superman #10, Luthor appears again, bald.

Superman010-11_edited.jpg

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the artist on #10?

You guessed it, Nowak, the artist who made the initial mistake in the comic strip.

It is most likely that Nowak’s confusion came from the following character from #4, a henchmen of Luthor’s…

SUPERMAN004_04_edited.jpg

SUPERMAN004_05_edited.jpg

Note the striking similarity to how Nowak depicted Luthor in #10…

Superman010-12_edited.jpg

Apparently the change worked for everyone else, as that’s how it has been ever since – I guess sometimes mistakes work out for the best in the end!!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Joe Kelly did not originally intend for his Zod to be Russian.

STATUS: True

Fairly early on in Joe Kelly’s Action Comics’ run, there was a big crossover called Emperor Joker, where a new character named Ignition debuted. Ignition made reference to a mysterious master.

769-1.jpg

Eventually, during the Our World at War crossover, we met his master – General Zod, ruler of a former Russian state named Pokolistan.

780-1.jpg

My pal, Loren, also asked me the following question awhile back, regarding General Zod… Starting with Emperor Joker, Joe Kelly built up his Zod arc, eventually culminating in the revelation that Zod was a cosmonaut’s kid who was exposed to Kryptonite. But in the earlier stories (particularly in the Our World at War Secret Files and Origins), that didn’t seem to be the direction he was going at all. Especially since Ignition referred to his master even during the Emperor Joker arc.

I asked Joe about it himself, and here was his reply:

Zod was a while back, so forgive me if I don’t remember the whole thing. Ignition was definitely Zod’s boy from the beginning, and the gag there was that (as a young man) Zod had found him and rescued him, so despite the fact that he was infinitely more powerful than Zod, Ignition was loyal to him. Eventually, the loyalty would have been eroded, of course!But my original take for Zod was not the cosmonaut’s son business. (Even though I do like the symmetry of it) He was going to be Kal-El from the Silver Age Krypton (which we had always intended to be real) [Ed Note: Another crossover during Kelly’s run on the title involved a visit by Clark and Lois to Silver Age Krypton] corrupted by the Zod whom Superman “executed.” I wanted Superman to suffer for that violation of his own principles, and giving him an “evil twin” who had been tainted because of Superman’s fall from grace seemed like a cool way to do it.

There ya go, Loren!

I think the original idea sounds pretty cool.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!

32 Comments

I find it interesting that DC effectively made their character MORE like the thing they were sorta infringing upon. I mean, maybe things worked differently back in the dark ages but to me, if I was told I was infringing on something because the name was based on some technological doodah, the *last* thing I’d be doing is turning my character into…..a living technological doodah.

With the same name.

You have to move around your titles. The Joe Kelly urban legend title comes BEFORE the explanation about Luthor being bald. It made my puny brain hurt!

“You have to move around your titles. The Joe Kelly urban legend title comes BEFORE the explanation about Luthor being bald. It made my puny brain hurt!”

for a moment, I thought you were talking to me. You made MY puny brain hurt!

Very strange. My girlfriend asked me last night why they changed Brainiac from a Kryptonian to a computer and I apparently gave her a complete nonsense explanation.

I just looked him up on Wikipedia and apparently even the Kryptonian part wasn’t true. Oops.

Actually, they probably changed it to be MORE like the Braniac computer toy thingee as part of the deal to end the intellectual property dispute. Apparently from what I can read in this post, DC probably agreed to help advertise the Braniac computer toy by mentioning it in the letters section of their comics and including the contact info for a brochure. By making Braniac MORE like the toy, that would help make Braniac the character more of an advertisement for Braniac the toy, as opposed to two totally separate things, which presumably confused people when they heard the Braniac trademark.

Mario Di Giacomo

December 1, 2006 at 4:11 pm

The Kryptonian origin was only in the DCAU cartoon, but a lot of people seem willing to accept the idea.

This is probably because the DCAU version of Brainiac is by far the best ever. Shame the mainline DCU has such a bad track record with incorporating ideas from the various animated series… I think Mercy is about the only idea that ever became a fixture.

Actually, they probably changed it to be MORE like the Braniac computer toy thingee as part of the deal to end the intellectual property dispute. Apparently from what I can read in this post, DC probably agreed to help advertise the Braniac computer toy by mentioning it in the letters section of their comics and including the contact info for a brochure. By making Braniac MORE like the toy, that would help make Braniac the character more of an advertisement for Braniac the toy, as opposed to two totally separate things, which presumably confused people when they heard the Braniac trademark.

Exactly, Jordan. I probably should have included that, but I felt it was a BIT too speculative on my part, but the more I think about it, NOT mentioning it is more confusing than it is worth, so I think I’ll edit that in.

Thanks!

“This is probably because the DCAU version of Brainiac is by far the best ever. Shame the mainline DCU has such a bad track record with incorporating ideas from the various animated series… I think Mercy is about the only idea that ever became a fixture.”

Harley Quinn, right?

I saw the Batman cartoon for the first time ever the other day. Really very good.

I never noticed that Braniac wasn’t a computer in his first few appearances before. That makes Old School Braniac-who does have one of the coolest motivations of any supervillain- slightly less cool. But still cooler than hairy Luthor, even in his snazzy purple suit.

“The Kryptonian origin was only in the DCAU cartoon, but a lot of people seem willing to accept the idea.”

And…sigh…Smallville.

Renee Montoya too….

Though this currently makes some sad.

Didn’t Brainiac suddenly becoming a computer cause continuity problems for Brainiac 5?

I don’t read a whole lot of DC, so Zod isn’t Kryptonian anymore? Who was that guy in those JIm Lee Superman stories?

I think Lynxara was referring to the Superman cartoon in particular, not the Timm cartoons in general. That said, I think Livewire’s the only other thing from that show to enter the comics, and that was only in the past year or so.

The Zod from the Jim Lee issues? Well…

*spoilers ahoy!*

Is that the same Zod who just showed up in Action Comics? Or is he yet another Zod?

The “City of Tomorrow” event they did in the DCU with Metropolis a few years back struck me as an attempt to take the DCAU Metropolis aesthetic and move it into mainline. I believe that didn’t stick due to the rather contrived plotline that was used to bring it in. They also tried to alter Supergirl for a bit to be more like her DCAU counterpart, which– given that Peter David was writing Supergirl’s book at the time– ended up making exactly nobody happy.

You know, where is Harley in the mainline DCU right now? Did she stick? I know she had her own book for awhile (and I rather liked it), but I don’t recall seeing her during the Infinite Shitstorm of the last few years in DC, and I don’t think she’s put in a 52 appearance yet. Has she died, or just been shelved for a bit?

Since the Silver Age Krypton was mentioned, there needs to be some explanation of what that was all about. Not sure if it counts as an urban legend or anything though.

Re: Accidentally bald Luthor:

1. Shuster’s original illo in the pre-comics pulp version has, IIRC, a bald Luthor. Not saying there’s a connection, just pointing it out.

2. Eventually, Team Weisinger did the origin of Luthor’s hair loss: an accident caused by or involving Superboy — maybe an acknowledgement that Luthor’s balding was in fact an accident. Or otherwise a rather bizarre coincidence.

“Has she died, or just been shelved for a bit?”

She showed up very briefly in Villains United, trying to escape from Arkham. To be honest, though, I’m glad she’s mostly been phased out; her character doesn’t really work in mainstream DCU.

According to Wikipedia the following characters started in DCAU and ended up in DCU:
Nora Fries (as well as most of Mr. Freeze’s backstory)
Harley Quinn
Montoya
Lock-Up
Mercy Graves
Livewire
Roxy Rocket

Also, many characters have had their characterizations changed to match the changes made for the animated series.

“1. Shuster’s original illo in the pre-comics pulp version has, IIRC, a bald Luthor. Not saying there’s a connection, just pointing it out.”

you mean “Reign of the Superman”?

that wasn’t Luthor, though… he was a crazed scientist, yes, but unless i’m mistaken, the bald scientist WAS the Superman of the title.

I was about to ask just exactly what “DCAU” stands for—I got the general bottom line meaning from context—but then it hit me: “DC Cartoon Universe,” right? Sorry to be dense.

If anybody here is interested, I see via an online schedule that Cartoon Channel is replacing the new FF tonight with “The Batman,” presumably reruns, as I had already figured THAT to be defunct.

The mention of Harley Quinn made me think of her great voice job, by Arleen Sorkin, principally a daytime soap player, which made me think of Mark Hamill’s equally good Joker, infinitely better, I said to myself, than whoever did it for those Filmation cartoons just after ABC’s cancellation of the Adam West/Batman series made the character’s rights available (I’m currently seeing some of this stuff via a Dishnet preview of Boomerang). THIS in turn reminded me of something that I’ve been puzzling over for years, and maybe you can do an item on it, Brian. Here goes:

The third season of “Batman” on ABC was reduced from two half–hour episodes a week to one, on Thursdays (that will be important), and run straight through, no repeats or preemptions, not even on Thanksgiving evening (see?), until all had been shown once, and then it was gone for good (except for general syndication reruns). In one of two mid–to–late 90s magazine interviews (one was in a “Starlog” special that was obviously clearing left–over inventory from the recently defunct “Comics Scene,” the other in “Film Fax”) with Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl in that third season only, she said that they were filming TWO episodes a week, even though, as I said, only ONE was being aired. I decided that the network had totally committed themselves to a third season well in advance, like NBC would later do with the second season of Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” show, and came to regret it just as much, i.e., ABC saw the ratings drop dramatically during season two (speculation; I have no documentation of the actual Nielsen numbers, which might well put a quick end to this, of course). The network, I further theorize, found a loophole or something in the contract that allowed them to reduce the show to one episode a week, but not increase the schedule/budget to let them utilize the entire week for each installment, so that they covered the entire season for half the cost.There are problems, however. Why add a character if they were just going through the motions (This was the studio’s act?)? The “Green Hornet” crossover late in the second season, allegedly to help that program’s ratings (even though “Hornet” star Van Williams told Will Murray they were winning their time slot and executive producer William Dozier—not the network—cancelled the show because ABC refused to expand it to an hour [“Starlog” #135, October 1988; when I CAN make a specific citation, I do!]) makes no sense if the only reason “Batman” itself didn’t get struck from the schedule then was due to a binding commitment and nothing else. It is also said that another network—no idea here which one, oddly—wanted to pick up “Batman” after ABC dropped it, provided they didn’t have to pay to have the Batcave set rebuilt, but it was already gone. However, if the numbers were so bad that then perennial third–place finisher ABC would have liked to be rid of it sooner than they could be, why would CBS or NBC want it? Plenty of mixed signals in this business, Brian. Can you—or anybody here—help straighten it out?

M said…

Re: Accidentally bald Luthor:

2. Eventually, Team Weisinger did the origin of Luthor’s hair loss: an accident caused by or involving Superboy — maybe an acknowledgement that Luthor’s balding was in fact an accident. Or otherwise a rather bizarre coincidence.

In Smallville, Lex creates “living protoplasm”, which leads to him creating an antidote for Kryptonite poisoning. He calls Superboy to his private lab to surprise him. Lex accidentally starts a fire.

Superboy decides to use his “super-breath” to put out the fire. This causes two things to happen. 1) Other chemicals fall into the antidote, destroying it. 2) Lex’s hair gets blown off.

Lex: “You… You idiot! You made my hair fall out! I’ll do everything in my power to destroy you, Superboy!”

Lex’s evil deeds begin. He then gets disowned by his family. “You’ve brought shame to our family! You are no longer my son!– Out!!” (Ouch! Two exclamation points.)

Lex’s father is bald on top, but has dark hair on the sides of his head. His mother is a blonde; as is his little sister. I need to read up on the history of Lex’s comic book family.

Anyhoo…

Okay, I have an urban legend that I would like to see answered in the column. I heard that in the early days of Quesada’s E-i-C job, Marvel workers would drive by the homes of DC employees and talk trash at them. Is this true?

Thanks!

“Didn’t Brainiac suddenly becoming a computer cause continuity problems for Brainiac 5?”

Yep…Initially, Brainiac 5 was supposed to be the descendant of Brainiac. Changing Brainiac into a machine confused the heck out of those of us reading the Legion of Super-Heroes at the time (Yes…I’m that old!)

There was another story shortly afterwards in which it was revealed that Brainiac adopted a son. The adoption was to help him disguise the fact that he was actually a machine.

Brainiac 5 was then declared to be descended from the son.

Concerning the Brainiac/Brainiac 5 situation: Has anyone thought about the fact that there were only THREE intervening (is that the right word? well, I’m sure you know what I mean) generations between the 20th and 30th centuries, i.e., ONE THOUSAND YEARS! Brainy 5 has one helluva natural life expectancy, given that we Terrans go through almost that many generations in a single century. Not much chance for a long–term relationship with some other Legionnaire, is there?

i would like to create a comic book and its a special editoin may you help me thank you

So Brainiac is one of comics first retcons, then?

Although I suppose Superboy may get the title of the first (major) one. He pretty much led off the Earth-1/Earth-2 split, giving Clark a pre-Superman cartoon, establishing the teenage and bald Luthor, and the various other stuff which became markers for which Earth was which.

I´ve just recently discovered your age, and I´ve read every entry, love it! I´m a comic book history fan, so I’d like you to help me with this: I read in an editorial page of a Batman (either Batman or Detective) anniversary issue back n the 80´s(I think,I´m not quite sure) that once, Batman had an older brother, named Thomas, who was insane and was locked in an asylum. Any data on this?

No one is ever going to see this almost a year later, but does anyone know what the deal was to be with Ignition himself? I now understand that Zod was supposed to be Phantom Zone Silver Age Krypton Kal-El, but what, if anything, was Ignition supposed to be? A rocket in jeans?

Man, Braniac has always had one of the muddiest continuities in teh DCU, along with Hawkman, etc.
Now that I know why they changed him, it seems so strange that one little real-life event can change the entire character without anyone even really intending it.

My brother had a Brainiac computer in the mid 60s. He programmed it from the instruction book to play tic tac toe and it never lost a game. As a kid, I was fascinated that a bunch of wires and lights and dials could do something intelligent.

I owned a Brainiac. Is it possible to still get one, or to get the manual?

It actually worked? I assumed it was a mock-up.
The idea of Superman confronting the consequences of killing seems very much like Kelly’s approach.

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives