REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES BRAINIAC 5
As I've related in some of my previous Legion reviews, I've been a longtime fan of DC Comics' legendary LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, like since the late 1960's. Granted, the comics have had their ups and downs -- and even a few sideways -- but I've always been a fan of the basic concept and characters.
However, the Legion has never really had a major presence in the action figure world. I've tended to believe that one of the reasons for this is because, hailing as they did from a thousand years in the future, despite the periodic presence of Superboy and Supergirl, they were always somewhat isolated from the present-day DC Universe. Mego never did anything with them. Neither did Kenner or Hasbro. There was a line of them from DC Direct, but it wasn't really one of their high points, and the figures were in their very original costumes, which weren't my personal favorites.
A while back, there was a special Justice League Unlimited four-pack featuring the Legion, but that seemed to be about it. Until, at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, Mattel announced that the Legion of Super-Heroes would be joining the line-up in their flagship line -- DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS. As if there hadn't been tons of campaigning on the part of Legion fans for this to happen.
It would be, explained Mattel, a very special set. Not a two-pack, not a three-pack, not a five-pack. No -- it would be a TWELVE-pack. And even at that, the speculation as to who would be included from a membership that over the years had consisted of several dozen characters ran wild for some time until Mattel introduced the line-up.
The final dozen would include Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl -- the three founders of the team; Superboy, mostly so Mattel could turn out a classic Superboy figure; Brainiac 5, one of the most popular non-founding members; joined by Ultra Boy, Wildfire, Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Karate Kid, Chameleon Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad, in part for a little comic relief there at the end. The set also includes a figure of Proty, a semi-sentient protoplasm pet once belonging to Chameleon Boy, and a Legion flight ring.
I knew even before Mattel announced the line-up that this was a set I had to have, but then they had to go and include some of my most favorite characters. The set, after a few delays, was finally released in October 2010, as an exclusive to MattyCollector.Com.
The package is superb. It is a seven-sided stylized version of the Legion's original headquaters, a yellow rocket-like building with red fins at the top. The twelve figures are displayed within in what are designed to look like teleportation tubes, two to a section. The central section features the far larger Colossal Boy figure, and a smaller space for Proty and the ring. This does leave one empty space among the other six sections, however. This has been labeled for Legion member Invisible Kid. Little joke on Mattel's part...
Now -- there is no way that I can fairly review the entire set in one review and maintain my usual style of presenting a decent amount of backstory on the given character before reviewing the specific figure. Not without this review running the length of a doctoral thesis. And I'm not going to compromise my usual style by shortening this to a brief look at each figure and leaving it at that. There will be other such reviews elsewhere on the Internet, I'm sure.
As such, I am going to give each Legionnaire an individual review. I feel that to do less would be to do an injustice to this very cool concept, and this extremely cool set of figures. This review will take a look at popular member BRAINIAC 5. But first, an overview of the Legion itself.
The Legion of Super-Heroes is a fictional superhero team in the 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Comics Universe. The team first appears in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), and was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
Initially, the team was closely associated with the original Superboy, and was first portrayed as a group of time travelers who frequently visited him. In later years, the Legion's origin and backstory were fleshed out, and the group replaced Superboy as the focus of their stories; eventually Superboy was removed altogether, except as an occasional guest star.
The team has undergone several major reboots during its publication. The original version was replaced with a new rebooted version following the events of Zero Hour and another rebooted team was introduced in 2004. A fourth version of the team, nearly identical to the original version, was introduced in 2007. As a result, Superman (both as an adult and a teenager) and the current version of Supergirl have been reincorporated into Legion history.
Superboy was the featured series in Adventure Comics in the late 1950s. In Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), he was met by three teenagers from the 30th century: Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, who were members of a "super-hero club" called the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their club had been formed with Superboy as an inspiration, and they had time travelled to recruit Superboy as a member. After a series of tests, Superboy was awarded membership and returned to his own time.
Although intended as a one-off story focusing on Superboy, the Legion proved so popular that it returned for an encore in Adventure Comics #267 (December 1959). Lightning Boy had been renamed Lightning Lad, and their costumes were very close to those they wore throughout the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Legion's popularity grew, and they appeared in further stories in Adventure Comics and Action Comics over the next few years. The ranks of the Legion, only hinted at in those first two stories, were filled with new heroes, such as Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, and Ultra Boy. Even Supergirl was recruited as a member.
In Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962), the Legion received their own regular feature, cover-billed "Superboy in 'Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes'". While they would share space with Superboy solo stories for a couple of years, they eventually displaced Superboy entirely as their popularity grew.
It was this run which established the Legion's general workings and environment. A club of teenagers, they operated out of a clubhouse in the shape of a yellow rocket ship inverted as if it had been driven into the ground. The position of Legion leader rotated among the membership, sometimes through election, and sometimes by more arcane methods. Each Legionnaire had to possess at least one natural superpower, in particular a power which no other member possessed. Despite this, several members had overlapping powers, particularly Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. The Legion was based on Earth, and protected an organization of humans and aliens called the United Planets. The regular police force in the UP was the Science Police. The setting for each story was almost always 1000 years from the date of publication.
In 1973, the Legion returned to cover billing on a book when Superboy became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197 (August 1973). Crafted by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum, the feature proved highly popular. Cockrum was later replaced on art by Mike Grell. With #231 (September 1977), the book's title officially changed to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Following a wide range of epic storylines, and several rather confusing reboots, largely tied in with certain "crises" of the time, a far more familiar Legion returned on the heels of Infinite Crisis. The "Lightning Saga" crossover in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America features the return of the original versions of Star Boy (now called Starman), Dream Girl, Wildfire, Karate Kid, Timber Wolf, Sensor Girl, Dawnstar, and Brainiac 5. Though several differences between the original and Lightning Saga Legions exist, Geoff Johns has stated that this incarnation of the Legion shares the same history as the original Legion up to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, with Clark Kent having joined the team as the teenage Superboy prior to the start of his career as Superman.
This version of the Legion next appeared in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" storyline in Action Comics #858-863, and next appeared in the 2008 Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds limited series, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by George Pérez. The mini-series features the post-Infinite Crisis Legion and Superman teaming up with the "Reboot" and "Threeboot" incarnations of the Legion to fight Superboy-Prime, the Legion of Super-Villains, and the Time Trapper. Geoff Johns stated that the intent of the mini-series was to validate the existence of all three versions of the team while simultaneously restoring the pre-Crisis Legion's continuity as well. This Legion would then go on to star in its own title, which, although renumbered following the repugnant "DC Relaunch", is proving to be one of the titles least affected, although mention of the "Flashpoint event" closing off time travel to Superman's era has been made. Be nice if it turned into some sort of loophole at some point to put things right.
As for the character of BRAINIAC 5, his real name isreal name Querl Dox, and he first appeared in name in Action Comics #276 (May 1961), although his likeness appears in a single panel in "Adventure Comics" #247 (April 1958).
Brainiac 5 is a green-skinned, blond-haired teenager from the planet Colu, usually dressed in a purple jumpsuit, who claimed to be descended from the original Brainiac, one of Superman's deadliest enemies. He wished to join the Legion as atonement for his great-great-grandfather's misdeeds. When Brainiac 1 was revealed to be an android, Brainiac 5 discovered he was actually descended from Brainiac 2, the leader of the rebellion against the Computer Tyrants. Brainiac 5's ingenuity led to the invention of, amongst other things, the Legion flight ring, the anti-lead serum that allowed Mon-El to leave the Phantom Zone and the force field belt which became the signature device of the character.
Another of Brainiac 5's creations would have less beneficial effects. The super computer Computo, which he created, attempted to take over the world, killing one of Triplicate Girl's three selves. He successfully destroyed his creation with "an anti-matter force", but this highlighted one of his major flaws: a habit of initiating projects without considering the dangers. A much later example was his transformation of fellow scientist Professor Jaxon Rugarth into the psychotic, all-powerful Infinite Man in conjunction with honorary Legionnaire Rond Vidar.
As time went on, Brainiac 5 began to be portrayed as increasingly unstable. Years later, he would become even more unbalanced. The Legion later encountered Pulsar Stargrave, a villain who convinced Brainiac 5 that he was the Coluan's long-lost father. Brainiac 5 joined Stargrave to battle the sorcerer Mordru, but the android's influence would haunt him long after that. It was claimed in Superboy #225 that Stargrave was actually the original Brainiac android, but the truth of this is uncertain.
When Stargrave murdered Ultra Boy's girlfriend An Ryd, Brainiac 5, driven mad by Stargrave, framed Ultra Boy for the murder. Chameleon Boy, who suspected this from the beginning, finally found proof when Brainiac's madness led him to an attempt to destroy the universe, utilizing the Miracle Machine, a device that turned thoughts into reality. He was stopped by Matter-Eater Lad, who ate the machine, and both were committed to a mental institution, the energies of the Machine having driven Matter-Eater Lad insane as well.
Brainiac 5 eventually recovered his sanity and rejoined the group. Shortly afterward, however, he was accused of having murdered Ultra Boy's girlfriend himself. To prove his innocence, he went after Stargrave and finally defeated him. He later managed to cure Matter-Eater Lad's insanity as well. Around this time, he also undid another of his mistakes by finally finding a way of controlling Computo.
Brainiac 5 had a long-standing crush on Supergirl, but her removal from continuity following the Crisis on Infinite Earths and Superman's own subsequent reboot removed this from the character's continuity as well. Sometime later. Brainiac 5 quit the Legion after being accused of murder. He rejoined in Legion of Super-Heroes (vol. 3) #63 (Aug 1989), shortly before the "Five Year Gap".
Five years after the end of the "Magic Wars", Brainiac 5 joined other Legionnaires in searching for the space pirate Roxxas, and was present when the team officially reformed. The reassembled Legion repelled a Khund invasion fleet, and confronted Darkseid, but shortly thereafter, was swept into the war against the corrupt Earthgov and the Dominators. During the Dominators' subjugation of Earth, the members of their highly classified "Batch SW6" escaped captivity. Originally, Batch SW6 appeared to be a group of teenage Legionnaire clones, created from samples apparently taken just prior to Ferro Lad's death at the hands of the Sun-Eater. Later, they were revealed to be time-paradox duplicates, every bit as legitimate as their older counterparts. After Earth was destroyed in a disaster reminiscent of the destruction of Krypton over a millennium earlier, a few dozen surviving cities and their inhabitants reconstituted their world as New Earth. The SW6 Legionnaires — including their version of Brainiac 5 — remained.
Not long after the destruction of Earth, Brainiac 5 discovered the timestream was extremely unstable, and that Legion history was in a state of constant flux. This was the first indication of Zero Hour, the event that would lead to the Legion's whole history being rebooted.
Following the Zero Hour event and the rebooting of the Legion, the "new" Brainiac 5 was portrayed as extremely antisocial and disrespectful of his colleagues. It was later revealed that, even amongst Coluans, Querl Dox had been something of a loner, due to his even higher intelligence, interest in practical experiments rather than "pure" thought, and lack of concern about the consequences of his experiments.
The original Brainiac 5 from the Pre-Crisis universe briefly appeared in the Justice League/Justice Society Lightning Saga crossover. He was revealed as the mastermind behind the Legion's plot to return to the 21st century to retrieve someone connected to the Flash. At the end of the storyline, Brainiac 5 was seen holding one of the lightning rods the Legionnaires used on 21st century Earth, and told his teammates that the Legion had gotten what it came for.
In the follow-up story to the Lightning Saga, "Superman and the Legion" (Taking place in Action Comics #858-863), Brainiac 5 is masquerading as a tyrannical dictator of Colu, but only to delay Colu, which is the strategical beachhead of a United Planets attack on Earth, and keep them from completing their calculations. Brainiac still possesses the Lightning Rod, and states that the person inside is crucial to stopping the "Crisis of the 31st century". However, his ruse is discovered, and Brainy leaves with the Legion, with only four hours until the United Planets go to war. After Superman and the Legion convince the armada to stand down, Brainiac 5 tells Superman that the Legion will not forget him this time.
During Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Earths, when Superboy-Prime attacks Takron-Galtos and frees the Legion of Super-Villains, Brainiac 5 informs his fellow Legionnaires of his plan to recruit their post-Zero Hour and "Threeboot" selves to help. His plan succeeds, and all three versions of Brainiac 5 work together to set in motion the final phases of the original Brainy's master contingency plan against Superboy-Prime. This plan, which involved the resurrections of Superboy-Prime foes Bart Allen aka Kid Flash (whose essence was in the lightning rod) and Connor Kent aka Superboy, was devised long before when Brainiac 5 was forewarned of Prime's arrival by one of Dream Girl's prophesies.
Brainiac 5 possesses a Twelfth Level Intellect, which grants him superhuman calculation skills, amazing memory and exceptional technical knowledge. By comparison, 20th century Earth as a whole constitutes a Sixth Level Intellect, and most of his fellow Coluans have an Eighth Level Intellect. 31st century Earth as a whole is a Ninth Level Intellect. His incredible memory allows him to retain knowledge of events that all other characters forget such as the first meeting of the three different Legions.
Since Brainiac 5 processes a super intelligent mind, his main method of aiding himself and his fellow Legionnaires has always been through devices he himself invented. His primary role in any version of the Legion has always been that of the scientist. One of his most important inventions is the Legion Flight Ring, which he has either invented or had a significant role in creating over the various versions of the Legion. Another invention, which has proved invaluable to him, is the force field belt which has remained his main method of self defense in cases where he found himself in battle in every version of the Legion. From time to time, Brainiac 5 found a way to create methods of time travel to send or bring other DC characters to and from the 31st century.
Pretty much as explained in the origin story I just related, Brainiac 5 is no Spock. He's not even as calm as Reed Richards. He seems to exist these days in a state of near-constant annoyance at having to put up with the inferior minds around him. Nevertheless, he remains a loyal member of the Legion and is always willing to do his best to assist and guide them. But he'll never win any awards for warmth or friendliness.
I've always liked the character, just because he was a bit different. Although the Legion has, in more recent years, had a number of decidedly-looking alien members, in its early years, regardless of whatever planets they might have come from, the Legion all looked pretty human -- except for the green kid. Well, him and Chameleon Boy.
Arguably, Brainiac 5 is as closely associated with the Legion as its three founding members. In fact, when Mattel produced a Legion 4-pack as a special mail-in offer tied in to its animated-style Justice League Unlimited series, that four pack consisted of the three founders -- Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl -- plus Brainiac 5. Now, part of this might be due to the fact that in the Legion's sole appearance in the JLU series, Brainy was one of the main players, but still, the character really is that closely associated with, and that prominent within, the Legion. If you're going to choose the four most prominent Legionnaires, and you're not counting Superboy, you're very likely to come up with the three founders, and Brainiac 5.
So, how's the figure? Extremely cool, and very distinctive. Many of the figures in this Legion of Super-Heroes set use a distinctive set of body molds that are ideal for male teen heroes. Slightly shorter than the standard adult male figures -- 6" as opposed to 6-3/4" -- the design has seen partial use before on two other teen characters, Kamandi and the Connor Kent Superboy. It has proven ideal for the spandex-wearing set of teen Legion members.
Except for the fact that Brainiac 5, in his most classic incarnation, didn't wear tights. Some of his subsequent versions did, but more often than not, Brainy wore a purple jumpsuit, and it is arguably how he is best known.
I initially thought that Mattel had created an entirely unique figure for Brainiac 5, despite the expense of doing something like that. But then I thought that some of these parts looked a bit familiar. Add to the fact that the year stamp on the figure was "09", not "11", and I suddenly realized where I'd seen at least some of these parts before.
Although the Flash's Rogue's Gallery of super-villains has been, in my opinion, horribly neglected in the DC Universe Classics line (come on, already, we need Mirror Master and Weather Wizard!), the most prominent member of the Rogues, Captain Cold, has put in an appearance. And Captain Cold doesn't wear tights, either. He dresses in a winter suit. Additionally, although an adult, the Captain Cold figure was slightly shorter than average.
I did a visual comparison. Sure enough -- Brainiac 5 uses quite a few body parts from Captain Cold. The upper torso, lower arms, and lower legs are different, and certainly the color is, but otherwise, Brainiac 5 definitely shares a few parts with one of Central City's least favorite sons.
Which is fine -- it works, although Brainy does come out about a quarter-inch taller than most of the other figures, and a little bulkier in appearance. But let's assume that his uniform is well insulated. Given the sort of work he gets into, it had better be for his sake, force-field belt or no.
The headsculpt is excellent. Except for the green skin, Brainiac 5's features are entirely human in appearance. His face and hands have been painted an appropriate shade of light -- and rather bright -- green, and he has somewhat wavy blonde hair. His eyes have purple irises. Nice touch, and they not only match his suit, but they match the color of his eyes as they have recently appeared in the comics.
Not all of Brainy's uniform is derived from Captain Cold. The upper torso is new, and features something of a turtleneck, well in keeping with the character's classic image. He also has yellow boots, fairly standard in appearance.
Of, he has his force-field belt. This is a yellow belt around his waist, ridged, with a series of what look like pouches with little double-clasps on them. Actually, most of the time, these items on his belt didn't really look like pouches, but more perhaps some sort of force-field generators. Still, the belt looks good. The clasps on the front of the belt have been painted in metallic purple, but not on the back of the belt for some mysterious reason.
The figure does not have a lot of painted trim. Really, just the head, hands, and boots are painted. However, all of the painted detail has been superbly done. And as with the other Legionnaires, Brainiac 5 has a Legion flight ring on his right hand, painted gold, with the Legion emblem sculpted onto it.
So, what's my final word? Obviously, I'm hugely impressed with the entire set, and certainly, Braniac 5 deserves to be a part of it. He's been a vital part of the Legion almost since its inception, and I've always enjoyed the character.
And certainly, this Legion of Super-Heroes set is one of the most astounding masterpieces of action figures that I've ever encountered. Now, I will say that there's still plenty of Legionnaires out there. I realize that in 2012, the DC Universe Classics line will move to an online subscription service, which will also limit the number of figures being produced. But I also sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of the Legion. If I were to list my top five of additional Legionnaires that I would like to see, that list would likely feature Mon-El, Sun Boy, Element Lad, Shadow Lass, and Blok -- pretty much the Legion's version of Marvel's Thing, and just once I'd like to hear him yell, "It's clobberin' time!". Let's hope that someday we may see these superb characters as figures.
In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful for this amazing twelve-pack, and certainly for Brainiac 5. I can't imagine any longtime Legion fan or DC Universe fan not wanting to add this set to their collection.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of BRANIAC 5, part of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 12-pack, most definitely has my highest recommendation! Long live the Legion!