Brainiac is a fictional supervillain in DC Comics, most often appearing as an opponent of Superman.
First appearing in Action Comics #242 (July 1958), Brainiac was a bald, green-skinned humanoid who arrived on Earth and shrank various cities including Metropolis, storing them in bottles with the intent of using them to restore Bryak, the planet he ruled. He was accompanied by a "space monkey" named Koko.
While fighting Brainiac, Superman discovered the villain had previously shrunk the Kryptonian city of Kandor. He was able to restore the Earth cities to full size, but the Kandorians sacrificed their restoration to help him. Superman stored the city in his Fortress of Solitude, vowing to return the natives to full size.
Brainiac's legacy was revealed in Action Comics #276, in a Legion of Super-Heroes back up story. This introduced the green-skinned, blond-haired teenager Querl Dox, or Brainiac 5, who believed himself to be Brainiac's 30th century descendant. Unlike his apparent ancestor, Brainiac 5 used his "twelfth level intellect" for good, and joined the Legion alongside Supergirl, with whom he fell in love. His home planet was given variously as Yod or Colu.
In Superman #167 (Feb 1964) it was discovered that Brainiac was a machine, created by the "Computer Tyrants of Colu" as a spy. To increase the illusion that he was alive, he was given a "son", a young Coluan boy who was given the name Brainiac 2, but escaped. This was Brainiac 5's ancestor. It was later revealed that his name was Vril Dox, and that he went on to lead the revolt against the Computer Tyrants.
It was in this story that Brainiac first appeared with a distinctive gridwork of red diodes across his head, later explained as the "electric terminals of his sensory nerves". This would remain his appearance until Action Comics #544 (June 1983), in which he was forced to create a new body, a metallic skeleton with a green, honeycomb-patterned "braincase". He retained his appearance until the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In the Post-Crisis DC Universe, Brainiac's history was dramatically altered. Vril Dox was now a radical Coluan scientist who, having attempted to overthrow the Computer Tyrants, was sentenced to death. In his last moments, his consciousness was attracted to Earthly sideshow mentalist Milton Fine, who worked under the alias "Brainiac". Needing cranial fluid to maintain his possession of Fine, Dox went on a murder spree. He discovered Fine had genuine psychic powers, which he frequently used on Superman. This version of Brainiac made his first appearance in Adventures of Superman #438 (March 1988).
Brainiac was later captured by Lex Luthor, but used his powers to wrest control of Lexcorp away from him. Under his mental domination, Lexcorp scientists restored his Coluan form. The diodes in his head now increased and stabilised his mental powers, as well as allowing him direct access to computer banks. He continued to plague Superman, using a combination of mental powers and computer control. On one occasion he even returned to his pre-Crisis incarnation's city-shrinking tactics.
In the crossover story Invasion! it was revealed that, prior to his dispersion, the Computer Tyrants had allowed Vril Dox to clone a lab assistant. This was Vril Dox II, who would go on to form L.E.G.I.O.N., and (although he never uses the name) is the post-Crisis version of Brainiac 2.
To confuse things further, following the loss of Milton Fine's body, Vril Dox would place his consciousness in a robot body he called Brainiac 2.5. He became briefly obsessed with gaining Superman's form.
At the turn of the millennium, Brainiac revealed he had placed a sleeper virus in Lexcorp's Y2K bug safeguards. This was intended to dramatically boost his abilities. Instead it allowed Brainiac 13 to arrive from the 64th century. B-13 began transforming Metropolis into the 64th century version of the city, which, apparently, he controlled. When it became apparent he was to be defeated by the combined efforts of Luthor, Superman and his own past self (now possessing Luthor's infant daughter), he gave control of the city to Luthor in exchange for Lena/Brainiac 2.5, who he forced to help him escape.
He returned to Earth during the Our Worlds At War crossover, in which Earth and its allies fought a multifront war against Brainiac 13 and Imperiex. Brainiac 13 claimed to be allying himself to Earth, but this proved to be part of a complex plan to regain control. His chief aide was "Leniac", a green-skinned teenager with "control discs" on her forehead, suggesting the diodes of earlier Brainiacs (and identical to the forehead discs of the "upgraded" Brainiac 5.1, in the Legion, and the Animated Series version of the original Brainiac).
At the end of the war Brainiac 13 and Imperiex were both sent back in time, becoming part of the Big Bang, and Brainiac 2.5 was expunged from Lena, who reverted to infancy, although the discs remained.
In Superman #200 (Feb 2004), Superman travelled into the future and battled Brainiac 12, learning that everything Brainiac 13 had done in the past had been designed to ensure things reached the point where Brainiac 13 would be created. B-12's defeat before his upgrade apparently reversed the advances B-13 had made to Metropolis.
Later stories have referenced Brainiac's Pre-Crisis encounters with Superman, reconcile on the fact that Brainiac's Pre-Crisis history (or at least some of it) remained in continuity. (It was also revealed that he performs experiments and brain surgery in order to better understand the life-forms he imprisoned in the bottled cities. But this trait is confirmed to be non-canon.) However, there is yet a full explaination as to how his Pre-Crisis encounters fit into his Post-Crisis history.
The standard pre-Crisis version of the character - the green-skinned robot with skull-diodes - was seen on the Super Friends cartoon voiced by Ted Cassidy. The mechanical version appeared in later iterations of the series, when Darkseid was the primary antagonist. In a famous Cartoon Network parody, Brainiac pleads with Luthor for a "decent pair of pants", prompting Solomon Grundy to utter the now-famous reply, "Solomon Grundy want pants too!"
Brainiac was also seen in episodes of the Filmation animated series "The New Adventures of Superman". This was the green-skinned robot version as well, who was first seen using his shrinking ray to create a sort of "cosmic Noah's ark", by shrinking a male and female of each earth species to take back to his dying homeworld. He appeared in several episodes of this series which began in 1966.
In Superman: The Animated Series, Brainiac (voiced by Corey Burton, in the style of HAL 9000 and Vic Perrin's opening narration from The Outer Limits) was the supercomputer that ran most of the day-to-day operations on Krypton. It sensed the imminent destruction of the planet, but rather than warn others, it chose to save itself and the collected records of Krypton. In its mind, as long as the records of Krypton existed, the loss of the planet itself - and all its living inhabitants - was acceptable. It also knew that if word of Krypton's impeding doom escaped, it would be forced to calculate a way to stop this, which Brainiac knew to be impossible and would only distract him from the more essential task of saving Krypton's records. Brainiac uploaded its core program and all of the collected data to an artificial satellite. Years later, it was discovered by an alien spacecraft, which Brainiac hijacks. After Brainiac had killed the crew of the ship, Brainiac began to explore the universe. Each time it came to an inhabited world, it would upload all the knowledge it could from that world, then destroy it - decreasing the number of beings that have access to the knowledge makes it that much more valuable. Along with raw data, it also assimilated whatever useful technology it could find, improving itself with every world it visited (resembling the methodology of the Borg of Star Trek). It eventually made its way to Earth, under the pretense of a peaceful exchange of knowledge with Lex Luthor. Superman discovered Brainiac's true intentions, and with the help of Lex Luthor defeated him. Brainiac was seemingly destroyed, but later episodes revealed that the data that Brainiac had downloaded into LexCorp's computers were not alien knowledge, but a copy of Brainiac's programming. It tried several times to revive itself, first by capturing Luthor and forcing him to rebuild him, and another time by taking control of Bruce Wayne, prompting Superman to team up with Robin in order to find him.
In the animated series Justice League, Darkseid, the lord of Apokolips, struck a deal with the Justice League to save his planet when Brainiac came to conquer it. When the League arrived to stop the attack (due to the pleads of Darkseid), many were taken hostage by the two villains. While Brainiac was attempting to deliver its mind into Superman, Darkseid betrayed him and hacked into its systems. After a battle between Brainiac (controlled by Darkseid) and the League, the ship in which they were battling exploded, seemingly killing both Brainiac and Darkseid.
In the animated series Static Shock, Brainiac, now reduced to a piece of alien metal kept in stasis, escaped confinement following a power failure at JL H.Q. Virgil Hawkins, aka "Static", was tapped to help recharge the generators, along with Richie, also known as "Gear." The rogue bit of data that was Brainiac took over Gear's Backpack droid, and later turned Richie into a cyborg under his control. As Brainiac proceeded to use Richie's hands and technoskills to build a warship and to take over the League one by one with small implants inserted in the space where the skull joins the spinal column, Richie attempted to fight back and to tell to his friend the means by which to defeat the rogue program: Backpack's remote control had an off switch. Static eventually discovered it and was able to stop Brainiac's scheme at the source, ergo saving Earth. (The voice of Brainiac here sounds quite different, but it is still Corey Burton; the Static Shock producers decided to pitch Burton's voice significantly lower for their show.)
However, Brainiac had delievered a portion of its consciousness into Lex Luthor during a previous encounter years before. Brainiac started to subtly control Luthor into committing actions that resulted in a major story arc that occurred in the first two seasons of the new Justice League Unlimited. Brainiac assimilated nanotechnology from the alien "Dark Heart" machine and technology derived from the Amazo android. On Luthor's urging, Brainiac and Luthor combined into a single entity, with Brainiac's goals and approaches tempered by Luthor's ambition and cruelty. The traditional Brainiac skull-shaped starship and Brainiac controlling Lex Corp storyline was evident in the episode "Divided We Fall." This version of Brainiac was mostly grey and blue, and partially robotic. This Brainiac was beaten by the Justice League, and the Flash in particular.
After the defeat, all that was left of Brainiac was a small piece of its body, which came into the possession of Gorilla Grodd, while Luthor himself continued to speak to Brainiac's consciousness, apparently still existing within his own mind. Urged to escape prison by Brainiac, Luthor was picked up by Grodd's Legion of Doom and convinced to join by the promise of getting his hands on the Brainiac fragment, with which he could reconstruct and re-merge with him. Eventually usurping leadership of the Legion from Grodd, Luthor remained unable to unlock the Brainiac fragment for some reason, and instead used it to locate the quadrant of the universe where Brainiac and Darkseid had been destroyed. Using a combination of technology and magic, Luthor intended to reintegrate the surviving pieces into a new version of the android only to wind up resurrecting Darkseid himself, reformed with extensive Brainiac technology integrated into his person, allowing this dark lord to destroy the Legion's headquarters/craft and return to Apokolips. Luthor and the surviving Legion members returned to Earth and allied with the Justice League to stop Apokolips's attack on Earth, and Luthor claimed to no longer be able to hear Brainiac inside his head - although when Luthor was then transported to the Source Wall and recovered the Anti-Life Equation, it was claimed that only a "12th level intellect" could accomplish this, and the only individual with this IQ is Brainiac. Ultimately, however, it was never explicitly revealed if Brainiac had ever truly existed within Luthor's mind, or if Luthor had simply gone insane.
In the year 2979, as it is revealed in the Superman: The Animated Series episode "New Kids In Town", Brainiac still lives and has made enemies of the Legion of Superheroes. It traveled back to the year 1979 to destroy a teenage Clark Kent before he would become Superman. Thanks in part to Cosmic Boy, Chameleon Boy and Saturn Girl, Clark has defeated Brainiac and was teleported into the Sun, where it incinerated, destroying what may be the last remnant of Brainiac.
In the fifth season of Smallville, Brainiac is a semi-regular character, played by James Marsters. He appeared in episodes 501 ("Arrival"), 504 ("Aqua"), 505 ("Thirst"), 507 ("Splinter"), and 508 ("Solitude"). In all of these episodes, the character is only referred to as Milton Fine. The name Brainiac is not used on screen, but was widely utilized in press releases, news and interviews.
In "Arrival", the character is seen taking form from a liquid metal that oozed from the black spaceship that arrived in the previous season's finale. In the episode "Aqua" (which focuses on Clark meeting Aquaman), Brainiac appears as Professor Milton Fine. He hires Clark Kent as his research assistant, stating that he intends to write a book about Lex's misdeeds. The episode "Splinter" focuses on Silver Kryptonite, which was artificially created from Brainiac's liquid metal body. In the episode, Fine tells to Clark that he is another Kryptonian, and that Clark should not put much trust into his lesser human friends and family. In "Solitude", it is revealed that "Fine" is in fact an artificial intelligence, created by Kryptonians, that desires to free General Zod. At the episode's climax, Fine/Brainiac is impaled on a crystal in the Fortress of Solitude, and then disappears; at the same time, so does the spaceship from which he came. It is likely that the character is alive, because James Marsters is scheduled to return to the series in the episode "Hypnotic". In the episode he enlists the help of his former adversary, Lex Luthor, in his attempt to release Zod from the Phantom Zone, using Lex's fascination with the alien ship he lost against him.
On a humorous note, while posing as a professor, Brainiac poses the often repeated question and answer to the class "Where is the most powerful computer in the universe?" followed by several taps on his own temple, making the subtle joke that his Artificial Intelligence is more powerful than their natural intelligence.
Smallville's interpretation of Brainiac as an artificial intelligence from Krypton is similar to the one used in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League.