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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”!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: DC got the idea behind Brainiac from a “make your own computer” kit.
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.”
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.”
Soon afterwards, in 1958, a certain green-skinned bad guy showed up in the pages of Action Comics #242, named Brainiac.
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.
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:
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).
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!
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