For Superman's 45th anniversary in 1983, his two greatest foes
- Lex Luthor and Brainiac - underwent complete redesigns. All the then-current writers were given the opportunity to pitch a new take on these two old-school baddies, with the new versions debuting in Action Comics #544. Marv Wolfman's pitch for Luthor was rejected, but it was his idea for Brainiac that got the go-ahead.
As we've said before, Brainiac was originally a green-skinned alien, though that was soon changed to make him a living computer. Wolfman decided to play up that idea, and make him a real, live robot. As live as a robot can be, anyway. In the inaugural story, Brainiac's familiar body was destroyed, and it seemed he had been defeated. But his consciousness, the only part that mattered, was downloaded into an emergency back-up body composed of living metal. As living as metal can be, anyway.
The Four Horsemen did a really good job of translating Ed Hannigan's comic design into this toy. If you're not familiar with robot Brainiac, don't feel bad - he only looked like this for about two years, before they reverted him. However, the Horsemen really did their best to capture all the details. The harness that runs around his armpits? The pods on his hips? the transparent shoulders? At first I thought these were 4H embellishments, but nope. It's all straight off the printed page.
That's not to say they didn't make the figure their own.
Stand the DCSH Brainiac next to the DC Direct one, released in the Crisis on Infinite Earths line, and you can see obvious differences. It's mainly issues of scale and proportion - minor things, but they add up to a lot. DCD's version just looks "soft," while Mattel's actually looks like more than a bubble-headed Terminator. Well, okay, that's not fair. Brainiac got his new skull-faced look in 1983, a year before Arnold Schwarzenegger first decreed that he'd "be back." If anything, James Cameron copied the comics, not the other way around.
There are tons of small details on the sculpt,
all designed to blend in perfectly. You'll have to look hard to see the rivets on his legs, the ribbed sections on the sides of his fingers, or the vertebrae on his spine and neck. The stuff inside his shoulders is complex and mechanical, as is his brain, if you can actually see it through his dome. In the comics, artists often got lazy, so the dome was rendered as a series of crisscrossing lines, like a chain link fence; the original design had a hexagonal honeycomb pattern, and the toy does as well. Attention to detail! Love it!
Brainiac is 6 5/8" tall, and moves at the ankles, shins, knees, thighs, hips, waist, torso, wrists, elbows, biceps, shoulders and neck, as well as those pods on his belt. The waist and torso are limited a bit, due to the flexible tubes that run from his "waist" to his "ribcage" - they can't be disconnected. The ankles can shift side to side, like a lot of Marvel Legends, but they were really hard to move at first, leaving Brainy unable to stand with his feet flat on the floor. That's better now. In all honestly, there are no joints this figure needs that it doesn't have.
What it could use,
however, are some accessories. The character of Brainiac just cries out for a few choice ones, but gets nothing. How about a small-scale version of his famous spaceship, which looks like a giant version of his own head? The Bottle City of Kandor would have absolutely kicked ass as designed by the Four Horsemen. Imagine one of the cities on the surface of Cybertron, half the size and stored under a clear plastic dome. It was have been awesome. Horsemen, if you're reading this, make me one for my birthday. Please?
Mattel chose to emulate ToyBiz by including comics with this series of figures - of course, they also managed to completely screw it up, by including the same damn comic with all the villains. And it doesn't feature any of them! It's a Bizarro story. Mattel! No! Stop it! Stop being stupid!
Other than that oversight, and the lack of even the most obvious accessories, this is still a top-notch figure. Sure, the robot look isn't the most famous, but it's definitely toyetic, and it doesn't preclude the green-skinned version from seeing release in the future. With a nicer sculpt, better colors and better articulation than the Crisis version, DC Superheroes Brainiac is yet another way that Mattel has schooled DC Direct.
Which character benefitted the most from Crisis? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.