The big villain of SyFy's upcoming show Krypton, which premieres this Wednesday, March 21, has all the trappings of a classic baddie. Dark mood lighting? Check. Transport/residence that looks like an actual skull? Check. Pupil-less eyes black as the depths of the abyss? Also check. But some of you may be wondering: who the heck is this guy? Sure, he's introduced as Brainiac, but what does that mean—and why are Krypton's citizens so worked up about it?
Originally created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino in 1958, Brainiac was introduced to DC Comics as a humanoid alien who messed with Superman on a recurring basis. His first dastardly act involved shrinking a bunch of Earth cities, including Superman's home city of Metropolis, so he could then unshrink them and repopulate the planet he ruled. A couple years later, it was revealed that one of the shrunken cities was Kandor, Krypton's capital, preserved right before the planet was destroyed.
"WAIT. I THOUGHT HE WAS A ROBOT OR AN AI, OR SOMETHING."
About that: comics continuity can be kind of a lawless wasteland, and when you add other media adaptations into the mix, it just adds to the confusion. Which isn't to say you're wrong. In 1964, Brainiac's backstory was retconned to say that he'd been an A.I. this whole time, created by a group called the Computer Tyrants to gather data for their interplanetary invasions. To minimize suspicion, they made their supercomputer look like a humanoid life form, thinking that if he had something approximating an organic body people would be totally cool with him shrinking and stealing their major cities.
Comics have since played up his connections to technology, portraying him as, among other things, a hyper-intelligent consciousness that used a robotic body to mess with Lex Luthor's Y2K compliance software in 2000 (yes, really), and a nanobot swarm in 2007. Other media took a similar approach; for instance, Superman: The Animated Series stuck to Brainiac's early years, depicting the character as an evil computer who ran Krypton's infrastructure, while Smallville's Brainiac was an AI in the form of Spike from Buffy.
SO WHAT IS HE NOW?
After a whole lot of retconning, Brainiac is more or less back to his old organic alien self, shrinking cities wherever he goes. However, his motives have changed since 1958, as has the extent of his powers. In 2008-2009, Geoff Johns wrote what is now considered a landmark Brainiac story arc in Action Comics, with art by Gary Frank, that integrated the character's original backstory with new continuity. Johns' and Frank's Brainiac was a collector who shrank cities across the galaxy and destroyed their worlds in order to hoard their civilizations' knowledge. He also used his vast informational and technological resources to find ways of defeating Superman both mentally and physically, in what seems like wish fulfillment for nerds everywhere.
WHICH VERSION OF BRAINIAC WILL WE SEE IN KRYPTON?
Krypton's take on the character is comics all the way. This version is "infinitely more terrifying" than any we've seen before, as Blake Ritson, who plays the villain on the upcoming series, said in a cast interview. The version we'll see in the show, Ritson explained, "is a hyper-intelligent alien android...in the process of cataloging and absorbing all of creation. He views each world as a receptacle of intelligence, and he rips a whole city from each planet before destroying it, or not, and then moves on. And the idea is he then miniaturizes it, puts it in a tiny bottle on his ship and it sucks the information out of it."
This approach is highly influenced by Johns and Frank's take on the character. Brainiac's look in the show, with tentacle-esque cables snaking out of his head and black armor with neon color accents, is straight out of the duo's playbook. Ritson recalled being fascinated by Brainiac's ability in that storyline to "store seven octodecillion beings in his spinal station," as well as the strength granted to him by his cosmic-level knowledge. "He's one of the few people who can have a fistfight with Superman and best him."
Of course, every villain needs a motive, and Krypton's Brainiac is no exception. Following again in the footsteps of Johns and Frank, this iteration of Brainiac is driven by the desire to preserve—to keep the galaxy in mint condition, to borrow a term from the collector's lexicon. "He is taking these flawed, broken, temporally finite cultures, and he's trying to make them permanent and perpetual," said Ritson. "He's trying to fix their temporal deficiency."
What parts of Brainiac's history do you want to see (or not want to see) brought to life in Krypton? Sound off below!
Images: DC, Warner Bros./The CW
More on Krypton!
- Read our review of the first episode!
- 5 reasons you should be excited for this new pre-Superman series
- Why the show won't be what Superman fans expect