He’s a Brainiac, Brainiac on the floor

I’m really enjoying DC’s latest stab at Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s nice to have a little corner of the DC Universe that’s independent of the line-wide madness that’s making many of their books a bummer and a chore.

Another big part of the book’s allure is the green gentleman referenced above. Throughout the Legion’s long and uneven history, there have always been points when I thought the writer is disproportionately fascinated with one or two characters. In this case, I’m fine with writer Mark Waid’s evident partiality to Brainiac 5, because I share it.

In each issue, it seems like Waid gives Brainiac 5 a fresh new reason to disapprove and criticize. In Legion 7, the target of his crusty wrath is Light Lass (and by extension Star Boy) for treating her potentially awesome powers as a fashion accessory. He could be a profoundly obnoxious presence, but I find him rather refreshing.

Part of it is the way Waid portrays Brainiac’s intelligence not as an on-and-off ability but as a state of being. It reminds me of the way Peter David presented Quicksilver’s speed during his run on X-Factor. It’s a constant, and it creates a natural distance between Brainiac and the people around him in spite of their shared goals and values.

I much prefer him as a point-of-view character than someone more gee-whiz, like Invisible Kid. Since the whole concept has its dodgy points, it’s nice to have a skeptic’s perspective. I think previous writers of various incarnations of the character have erred on the side of martyrdom; he’s been irritable because he feels unappreciated. This time around, Brainiac is dyspeptic because people can’t keep up, which is a lot funnier.

I do wish Waid had given Brainiac a better opposite number than Cosmic Boy. There’s some kick to the leader of a youth movement being just as manipulative and bureaucratic as the society he theoretically rejects. (It’s also amusing to see a less gleaming take on the Legion’s premiere Eagle Scout, but that wouldn’t come across for new readers.) But beyond the irony and novelty, there isn’t much else to say about Cosmic Boy. He’s a fairly unpleasant control freak who might have his reasons for being the way he is, but as yet they aren’t sufficiently clear to balance out the equation.

Still, Waid’s focus on Brainiac has been a real pleasure. He’s done nice work with other characters, and his gradual approach to introducing the cast has been surprisingly successful. But for me, it’s worked even better with Brainiac’s consistent presence on the sidelines, providing pointed, exasperated commentary.

4 Responses to He’s a Brainiac, Brainiac on the floor

  1. Jason Kimble says:

    There’s obvious antagonism between Cos and Brainy, but I’ve been thinking Dream Girl is more Braniac’s opposite number. She’s striking me as much more his match, mostly because she’s not trying to outwit him like Cos; she’s (possibly unintentionally) thwarting him by working with a cognitive process entirely alien to Brainy.

    Then again, a guy like Brainiac 5 probably has a lot of antagonists built up, so I suspect a lot of people would constitute an opposite number. 🙂

  2. Brian Cronin says:

    Yeah, I, too, have been enjoying Waid’s Brainiac, but I really really have not been happy with his Cosmic Boy.

    Less because of his annoying personality, and more because I just do not buy his motivation.

    Yes, Waid might give us some insight into this in the future, but come on, seven issues in and there is no basis for Cosmic Boy’s motivation…I think that is a big drawback.

    Especially when it is busy distracting me from a very enjoyable story of good guys (Brainy’s squad) fighting the bad guy.

  3. Vaklam says:

    I completely agree about Brainiac’s characterization. I also like what Waid is doing with the big story arc. I think he often tries too hard to inject the inter-character conflict between the Leigionnaires but overall it’s a really good book.

  4. Am I the only one who misses the old, non-bitchy Brainy? Before the reboot, he was amazingly intelligent (though by no means infallible), but he was still compassionate, empathetic, caring, etc. He had a good relationship with his teammates which was reciprocated. Sure, there were snarky moments (my favorite being Brainy’s belief that Timber Wolf was the Legionnaire most likely to come home with a note pinned to his shirt), but, for the most part, he was willing to listen and to help. One might say that he’d been humbled by his dip into insanity, but his emotional three-dimensionality was in there right from the beginning. He could be occasionally mean, but he was also apt to apologize for it later. Since 1994 (thanks, in no small part, to the way Waid sees the character, I’d bet), we’ve essentially had the snarky, superior Brainy, who honestly believes no one’s thoughts are worth a damn and barely believes anyone else’s contributions make any difference. (With, of course, the short-lived “5.1,” which might have been a mistake at the other extreme.)

    Not that the character hasn’t been fun to read; I just miss a bit more of a nuanced characterization. And this rant’s been building for a long time, sorry….

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