The Strange Love of Brainiac Five

A groovy ‘optikon bonus post this afternoon. It’s Superboy starring the Legion of Super Heroes no.204 from October, 1974. It features two strips.

The Legionnaire Nobody Remembered: a time travel mystery of the kind beloved by scripter Cary Bates. A Legion biographer from four and a half thousand years in the future accidentally changes history. Posing as Anti-Lad, he has to convince  the LSH to give Superboy a second initiation test.  To my knowledge. Anti-Lad never appeared again perhaps because his ability to neutralise attacks is similar to Legion traitor, Nemesis Kid.

Brainiac 5’s Secret Weakness: This story uses the logo from the four-issue reprint series of 1973 and features an example of 30th century hipster-speak, ” Cool Up” (meaning “calm down”). Brainiac 5 and Supergirl quit the Legion to be a couple. When their Legion cruiser passes through a radiation belt in space, Supergirl shields Brainy- but it turns out that she is an android duplicate. The lovesick Brainy has unconsciously constructed his dream girl : “You programmed my circuits to love you…love you…whrrr”.

After this creepy Pygmalion moment, Kara tells Querl she really is  quitting the Legion. She “can’t cope” with being a part-time Legionnaire, like Superboy and confesses  “I’m not even sure I want to be a Supergirl any more!”  This sounds like the ultimate “It’s not you, it’s me”  speech and it just goes to show how well-brought-up she is. Anyone else would be screaming ”  YOU BUILT A ROBOSEX DOLL OF ME IN YOUR SLEEP?! DON’T EVEN LOOK AT ME, YOU SICK FREAK!!”

This is the same Brainiac 5 who said: ” …Princess Projectra! The data shows a 98 per cent probability that she will break down in a time of crisis and jeopardise the other members’ lives!”  Can you say pot and kettle?  Hank Pym would be livid. Anyway, the whole Brainy Goes Insane storyline instigated by Jim Starlin really begins here. Even worse, after the Crisis in Infinite Earths, Brainy always knew his Kryptonian Krush was going to die in battle. So, it gets more even more like Hitchcock’s Vertigo!

This is the third issue drawn by neophyte penciller Mike Grell ,after Dave Cockrum’s run of  14 stories. His artwork can look a little…plastic. The figures are oddly attenuated and often there are no backgrounds.  However, I loved Grell’s Legion as a kid. His vision of the 75th century is a near-featureless landscape where clusters of multi-coloured, triangular living-platforms hover above. Anti-Lad and his father both have a bald, bifcurated cranium that recalls the telepathic Talosians of Star Trek. (In fact, I think there are as many ST touches in his work than in Cockrum’s: the Zotron belt of radiation for example. The “electronic lover” android is surely out of the Robert Bloch episode with Lurch.)

Grell also makes the Sixties Legionnaires look classy and exciting. His Colossal Boy is handsome and smart in his Buck Rogers uniform, while Supergirl is glamorous and her cape is used as a dramatic design element. Even  Brainy’s sleep-wear is regal, like something from Barsoom.  And nobody draws the Legionnaires just lounging or sprawling about like teenagers quite like Grell.

“You drop ONE teen president…”

Supergirl’s speech about her personal life  presumably refers to the on-off powers she’d been afflicted with in the early Seventies. This was a very low-key and rather feeble swan song for the Ninth Legionnaire, whose own comic folded that month too.  Pity.  After her resignation, Kara didn’t appear again for nearly a decade- until the Levitz/Giffen era and The Great Darkness Saga.

The reason I’m posting about this comic at all is to emphasise how history repeats itself with the Legion in the next Super-Spec. In fact, it repeats to such an extent that it’s become a meme within the ideaspace of the  series . That’s what’s causing the periodic reboots of the continuity- a semi-sentient memory of plot devices. Howzat, Grant Morrison?!

My copy of this comic originally belonged to a Tom King of Iona Street in Edinburgh’s Leith. I know this because Tom filled in the coupon to buy the Tabloid Edition of Whiz Comics #1 ( but thankfully didn’t cut it out!)  It may be, then, that  I got this comic in Silicon Moon, a comics shop on Leith Walk in the mid-Eighties; I don’t recall. Anyway, I hope Tom, formerly of number 78, is well.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners


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