REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS SUPERMAN AND BRAINIAC TWO-PACK
Recently, a couple of two-packs of DC Universe Classics figures turned up on Mattel's online shopping site, MattyCollector.Com. One of the two-packs featured a mud-splattered-looking Batman and his enemy Clayface. The other set featured Superman, and the first DCUC figure of his longtime adversary, Brainiac! This review will take a look at that particular two-pack.
SUPERMAN - This will be the shorter part of this review. One of the problems of doing a review of a Superman action figure is -- what can you say about the character that isn't already widely known? Or that I haven't already written in a previous review?
Man of Steel, the Caped Kryptonian, arguably the standard by which all super-heroes are measured, Superman was created by Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel in the mid 1930's, and became legendary in a very short period of time, and remains such to this day. His iconic image is one of a very small handful of pop culture characters recognized on a global level. Him and Mickey Mouse, and I'd say those are the top two of a very small crowd.
He's been in radio shows, movie serials, animated series, full-length movies, live-action TV shows -- he's survived death, being transformed into an energy being, and an overly-trendy haircut in the early 90's.
Certainly, this is not the first action figure of Superman. I'm not even sure what the first action figure of Superman might have been, but it probably goes back to the 1940's, although technically, true "action figures" didn't come along until the 1960's, with the first G.I. Joe. But I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there was some doll-like figure of Superman out there before that.
Arguably the earliest true Superman action figure might well have been the Superman costume set for Captain Action, a super-heroic alternative to G.I. Joe in the mid-1960's. Captain Action was produced by Ideal Toys, and his main gimmick was that you could buy any number of costume sets for him and dress him up as other characters. The costumes were from a wide range of diverse sources, and featured such otherwise unrelated characters as Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man, The Phantom, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, the Lone Ranger, and the Green Hornet.
Interestingly enough, the Captain Action character had a short-lived comic book published by DC Comics. The first issue guest-starred Superman.
The next prominent Superman action figure was produced by Mego, in the early 1970's. Mego pretty much ruled the action figure world in the 1970's, and their hallmark line was "The World's Greatest Super-Heroes", which featured characters from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, something that would be unheard of today. Obviously, Superman was one of the first entries in the line. I actually still have my Mego Superman.
In the 1980's, Kenner turned out a very nice line of DC Comics characters under the name "Super Powers". These figures remain popular among fans to this day, and of course, Superman was part of this series, as well. One of the scarcer figures is a mail-in figure of Clark Kent, Superman's secret identity.
Since then, there have been a wide range of Superman action figures from several companies, most notably Hasbro and Mattel, both of whom have held the DC license at different times. The current licensee is Mattel, and I sincerely hope they hold onto it for a good long time, since their DC Universe Classics line stands a good chance of being the most impressive line of super-hero action figures ever seen.
Now, prior to an expansion of Mattel's license, Mattel was turning out a line called DC Super-Heroes. Think of it as a precursor to the DC Universe Classics line. The main difference was that the DCSH line was extremely Batman-Superman-centric. And it took a while for Mattel to really develop the well-detailed and highly-articulated body form that would become the standard that has been carried over very effectively into DC Universe Classics. However, develop it they did, and there was a Superman figure in that series -- which I didn't get because for some asinine reason I wasn't paying much attention to it at the time.
This has resulted in an understandable if unfortunate scenario in the DC Universe Classics line. Mattel is reluctant to put out a good, modern, straightforward version of either Batman or Superman -- at least for a while. Personally, I hope it's a temporary situation. There have been versions of both characters in the line, but they've been -- altered -- in some way. And unfortunately, the Superman in the Superman-Brainiac set is no exception.
Now, in fairness, he comes closer to being a good, basic Superman figure than any previous Superman in the DCUC line. The next closest would be the "longhair" or "mullet" version that was part of Series 6. The Superman in the two-pack has short hair, and is wearing his traditional uniform. Really, it's a great-looking figure. The headsculpt is an excellent likeness of the character, the colors are good, he's well-detailed, the cape is nicely flexible, he's assembled properly and certainly highly-articulated.
It's just -- they painted his eyes a solid red to make it look like he's using his heat vision.
Now, okay, I can understand Mattel's reluctance to put out a standard Superman or Batman, at least for a while. But this does get just a little frustrating sometimes. I mean, the DCUC line has pretty much given us the rest of the core Justice League. You've got Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern -- okay, we need Martian Manhunter, and I don't mean that Skrull-chinned, long-headed, black-uniformed version. But unless you followed the DC Super-Heroes line, there's no current way to add a good, basic, modern, Batman and Superman to the collection.
Granted, Superman's red eyes are sometimes used as a means of expressing the fact that Superman is angry, and his temper is boiling over to the point where his eyes might fire off at the slightest excuse. And Brainiac is enough of a villain and has caused Superman enough grief over the years that such a reaction is entirely understandable. And it's otherwise a really good Superman figure. But there is this element of "Almost but not quite" for some of us. I'd say this Superman figure is about 99% of what I'd like to see. Split the last percentage point between those two red eyes.
BRAINIAC - Perhaps no major Superman villain -- or for that matter very many other super-villains period -- have been reinvented as many times as has Brainiac. To a degree, it makes sense. He's an android, a robot, an artificial construct. He's going to want to keep up with technological advances.
The text on the back of the package for this set, explaining Brainiac's origin, reads as follows: "Vril Dox served as scientist prime for his technologically advanced homeworld of Colu. When he tried to take over the planet, he was punished by being disintegrated. His consciousness survived and adopted the identity of Brainiac, setting his sights on assimilating the knowledge and intelligence of all cultures in the universe, and then eradicating them."
Accurate as far as it goes -- which isn't nearly far enough. As I said, Brainiac's been reinvented a great many times over the years, starting in the early 1980's, prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
An observation before I get into that too far. I think it's worth noting that Superman's two most ardent foes -- Lex Luthor and Brainiac -- rely on their brains to oppose the Man of Steel and seek to accomplish their goals. Not that Superman's an idiot by any means. However, few have the ability to go toe to toe with Superman on a physical level. He's just too strong. Luthor and Brainiac have doubtless long since figured this out, and realize that their best chance of defeating him is to somehow outsmart him. Not that this has been especially effective, either, but it's the more sensible approach.
As to Brainiac's background (with a little help from Wikipedia) - The character first appeared in Action Comics #242 (July 1958), and was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
Brainiac is a principal foe of Superman, responsible for shrinking Kandor, the capital city of Superman's home planet Krypton which the hero has vowed to restore Due to complex storylines involving time travel, cloning, and revisions of DC's continuity, several variations of Brainiac have appeared.
Brainiac first appeared as 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. While fighting Brainiac, Superman discovered that 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 (May 1961), in a Legion of Super-Heroes back-up story. This story introduced a green-skinned, blond-haired teenager named Querl Dox, or Brainiac 5, who claimed to be Brainiac's 30th century descendant. Unlike his ancestor, Brainiac 5 used his "twelfth-level intellect" for the forces of good and joined the Legion. His home planet was given variously as Colu.
In Superman (vol. 1) #167 (February 1964), it was retconned that Brainiac was a machine created by the Computer Tyrants of Colu as a spy. Explaining the 1961 introduction of Brainiac's descendant Brainiac 5, his biological disguise included an adopted "son", a young Coluan boy who was given the name "Brainiac 2."
It was later revealed that Brainiac's name was Vril Dox, and that he went on to lead a revolt against the Computer Tyrants. It was in this story that Brainiac first appeared with a distinctive gridwork of red diodes across his head, which later stories explained as the "electric terminals of his sensory nerves." This would remain his appearance throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1980s, DC Comics attempted to re-define several aspects of its Superman series. At the same time Lex Luthor acquired his green-and-purple battlesuit, Brainiac was also re-envisioned.
In Action Comics #544 (June 1983), Brainiac had constructed a giant, artificial, computer-controlled planet and used it in his latest attempt to destroy Superman; unfortunately, his defeat at the hands of the Man of Steel left him trapped at the center of the planet, unable to escape. He was forced to make a nearby star explode in a nova in order to destroy the machine-world and allow him to re-create his form. His new body (designed by Ed Hannigan) had the appearance of a skeleton of living metal with a grey (sometimes iridescent), honeycomb-patterned "braincase."
He also created a starship to house his new body, that was actually an extension of himself; the ship was shaped like his own skull, with metal tentacles dangling from it that he could manipulate at will. Brainiac retained this appearance until after the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe, Brainiac's history was completely rewritten. The post-Crisis version of Brainiac was now a radical Coluan scientist called Viril Dox who, having attempted to overthrow the Computer Tyrants of Colu, was sentenced to death. In his last moments, Viril's consciousness was attracted to Milton Fine, a human sideshow mentalist who worked under the alias "Brainiac."
Brainiac was later captured by Lex Luthor, but used his powers to take control of LexCorp. Under Brainiac's mental domination, LexCorp scientists restored his Coluan form. The diodes in Brainiac's head now increased and stabilized his mental powers and also allowed him direct access to computer banks. He continued to plague Superman, using a combination of mental powers and computer control. On one occasion, Brainiac even returned to his pre-Crisis incarnation's city-shrinking tactics.
Sometime later, Brainiac actually took over the body of the monstrous Doomsday, the alien being who had killed Superman (temporarily). However, Doomsday's own raging mind would eventually overwhelm Brainiac's will, and he reacted too quickly for Brainiac to erase his mind using chemical or psionic treatments, forcing Brainiac to find another body. While still lodged in Doomsday's head, Brainiac decided to take control of a human host in order to attempt to clone a new version of Doomsday that didn't possess the creature's mind. Brainiac chose to use Pete Ross and Lana Lang's newborn baby, born eight weeks premature and being transported by Superman to the best Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit in the country, as the temporary host. Brainiac intercepted Superman during the attempt and stole the baby to hurt his long-time foe, correctly deducing that it was the child of someone close to Superman. However, Superman thwarted Brainiac's plot by driving him out of Doomsday's body with the use of a telepathy-blocking 'psi-blocker' which forced Brainiac to adopt a robotic body, dubbed Brainiac 2.5, where he would be forever trapped as he couldn't abandon it.
At the turn of the millennium, Brainiac revealed that he had placed a sleeper virus in LexCorp's Y2K bug safeguards which was intended to dramatically boost his abilities. Instead, it allowed his upgraded future self, Brainiac 13 (or "B-13"), to travel from the 64th century to the present day and take control of Brainiac 2.5's body. Brainiac 13 began transforming Metropolis into the 64th century version of the city, which he controlled. He was eventually defeated, leaving Metropolis in a futuristic state.
Later stories revealed that elements of Brainiac's pre-Crisis history occurred in the post-Crisis character's history prior to his possession of Milton Fine and his first encounter with Superman. The citizens of Kandor recall that Brainiac stole their city from Krypton, for example.
Most recently, Brainiac re-appeared in a self-titled five part story-arc in Action Comics. A Brainiac robot probe arrives on Earth and battles Superman. After being defeated, the probe sends information about Superman's blood to the original Brainiac. Superman is soon captured by Brainiac after Superman finds him attacking an alien planet and preparing to steal a city from its surface.
Superman escapes from his imprisonment and sees Brainiac emerging from his "bio-shell". This new version of Brainiac resembles a much larger and more muscular version of the original, pre-Crisis Brainiac, and has motives similar to the Superman: The Animated Series incarnation of the character in that Brainiac travels the universe and steals the knowledge of various alien cultures, abducting and shrinking cities from each planet as samples, and then destroys the planet so that the value of the destroyed civilization's knowledge is increased. Brainiac's ship then travels to Earth and prepares to abduct the city of Metropolis.
Brainiac successfully steals Metropolis, and prepares to fire a missile that will destroy the sun, and the Earth itself. Supergirl stops the missile, while Superman battles Brainiac.
It has not yet been revealed whether this version of Brainiac is an artificial intelligence or organic creature, only that he claims to have a "Coluan brain".
All of this doesn't even cover the Animated Series version of Brainiac, who looks quite unlike any of the comic incarnations (although has a cool look of his own), and is Kryptonian in origin, not Coluan. I'm not even going to get into that. This Brainiac has also appeared in Justice League, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes animated series, which wasn't directly connected to either the Superman or Justice League series.
As to Brainiac's powers and abilities, Brainiac is one of the most intelligent villains in the DC Universe, known for having a "12th level intellect." The massive intellect allows for superhuman calculation abilities, enhanced memory, and advanced understanding of mechanical engineering, bio-engineering, physics, and other theoretical and applied sciences, as well as extensive knowledge of various alien technologies. Brainiac's advanced mental powers have shown him capable of possessing others, transferring his consciousness, creating and manipulating computer systems, and exerting some control over time and space. Brainiac has also created devices such as a force field belt and a shrinking ray capable of reducing cities. One re-imagining of the character possessed telepathy and telekinesis which were further augmented by an implanted electrode head-piece. The most recent version of Brainiac possesses immense strength, (enough to actually wound Superman) and durability to match.
So, how's the figure? Well, one might speculate that even choosing a Brainiac version to make as an action figure wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world, so Mattel decided to take the toy line's name, "DC Universe Classics" as literally as possible in this case, and presented us with a Brainiac figure that looks like the very first Brainiac.
Which, inevitably, begs the question -- how's a guy supposed to be taken seriously as a super-villain when he's wearing a pink shirt with a white collar, and black speedos? I mean, being created in the 1950's can only excuse so much.
Okay, maybe the fashion sense on Colu is entirely different. Nevertheless, this is Brainiac in his most classic mode, and the look he's had for the longest period of time over his history. Brainiac kept this look into the early 1980's. Given that he first turned up in 1958, let's say that he had this look for 22-24 years, roughly, before taking on the more robotic image he had for a while.
This Brainiac even managed to get some animation time, in the 1960's Filmation animated series based on Superman, and for a while in the 1970's Super Friends series, although the more robotic Brainiac would also turn up here.
What is it with the pink, though? It's just not a color one would tend to think that a male super-character, good guy or bad guy, would be inclined to wear. As far as I've been able to determine, only to significant characters in the DC Universe, Brainiac and the Legion of Super-Heroes' Cosmic Boy, have dressed in this color, and both have since abandoned it. Several versions of Brainiac have emphasized purple and black, which also seem to be Cosmic Boy's colors of choice these days. In both cases, it's an improvement.
However, this is intended to be the most classic Brainiac possible, so let's work with what we've got. Mattel has seen fit to darken the color a bit. It's ALMOST a purplish-pink. You could almost get away with calling it magenta. Let's be fair -- the printing capabilities of the 1950's were pretty limited. There wasn't a wide color spectrum you could work with. Even in the 1980's it wasn't that impressive. If you were going to do pink, it was going to be pink.
Somewhat curiously, the arms don't quite match the torso, colorwise. I'm certain this wasn't intentional. It might have to do with the type of plastic used, assuming it's a different sort of plastic, or just some difficulty in keeping the color consistent to begin with. I rather doubt there's a lot of call for this particular color in the boys' toys department, and I'm not familiar enough with Mattel's inner workings to know if the same factories that turn out action figures are also producing Barbies.
Brainiac's green skin, shown on his head, arms, and legs, is honestly a little too dark. In my opinion, it should be a somewhat lighter green than it is. I don't know why it is, but for some reason, getting a decent green skin color seems to be a real trick for most you companies, and they generally go too dark. Look at the Mego figure of the Incredible Hulk all the way back in the 1970's. Still, perhaps Mattel was trying to make Brainiac look as serious as his classic look allowed for. I can understand that.
The head sculpt is excellent. Brainic has an almost impassive expression, but there's a certain understated nastiness there. His left brow looks very slightly upturned, almost Spock-like, and there's the barest hint of an arrogant, superior-minded grin on his face.
Mattel has managed to make him look moderately more robotic, by not painting any eyebrows on the figure, and coloring the eyes a deep red, without any pupils. This isn't the "heat vision" red of Superman. The whites of the eyes are there, but the irises on in are dark red.
The series of electrodes on his forehead are in place, and nicely sculpted, not just painted on. And they are painted very neatly. The entire figure is, really.
Obviously, the Brainiac figure uses the same "male hero" body mold that is used for a distinct majority of DC Universe Classics figures. In this form, Brainiac didn't have any unusual physical attributes, and looked reasonably human, his coloration notwithstanding. The only extra accoutrement that Mattel had to add to the figure -- other than a distinctive head and a belt -- was the white shirt collar, which is a little extra molded piece that was attached during assembly.
Of course, Brainiac is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. I have always been impressed with the design that Mattel has come up with, as far as how many of the articulation points, especially some of the tricker ones such as the upper arm swivel and the mid-torso especially, are worked into the design of the figure, and so are not so glaringly obvious.
One small concern is that the mid-torso point is just a little loose. I encountered this on the Ultraman figure from another recent two-pack, and I hope that this isn't going to be a growing problem. Maybe Mattel needs to clean its molds a bit? Again, while I don't know Mattel's actual production procedures, I doubt they create an entirely new set of identical molds for every figure. While I do suspect they have more than one set of "male hero" molds (or whatever their official name for it would be), given the doubtless multiple use they see, they need to be properly maintained. Mattel has been doing a good job of dealing with previous quality control issues. I'd hate to see new ones crop up.
Brainiac comes with an accessory, a small, futuristic-looking gun, presumably some sort of ray gun. Maybe it's even the shrinking ray that he used on Kandor and other cities. Whatever the case, it's nicely made and well-detailed. I don't know that it's seen any previous use. Most of the DCUC figures that come with weapons seem to have unique hardware for the most part.
So, what's my final word here? This is a cool two-pack. You're getting the closest possible "standard" Superman yet available in the DCUC line, and you're getting a very classic version of one of Superman's most dangerous enemies. That's a double-winner if I ever heard of one. This two-pack, and the Batman-Clayface set, were not supposed to be available in stores, but were made available to certain online retailers.
Most definitely, the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS two-pack of SUPERMAN AND BRAINIAC receives my highest recommendation!