Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Superman #167

Superman #167

Cover date: February 1964

"The Team of Luthor and Brainiac"

Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

Cover: Curt Swan and George Klein

Reviewed by: Tom-EL

Click to enlarge

Part 1: "The Deadly Duo"

One night, a storm rages over Metropolis Prison. Lex Luthor has been preparing for this night. He was able to smuggle some needed materials from the prison laboratory to his cell, including rubber sheets to make a balloon, thin wire, and a spray that will inflate the balloon. In his cell, he inflates the balloon with his hands outside the barred window, and ties the wire to it, then lets the balloon rise. Just as he planned, lightning strikes the balloon, travels down the wire, blows the cell window bars out, and short-circuits the prison electrical system including the alarm, allowing Luthor to escape. He makes his way to the only remaining hide-out he has that Superman hasn't yet discovered, an astronomical observatory just outside Metropolis. Luthor had lined it with lead and he calls it "Luthor's Lair". In this hide-out, he has a collection of his inventions that he has in the past, used to try and defeat Superman. It also contains his Hall of Heroes, statues of people he admires, comprised of Atilla the Hun, Genghis Khan, Captain Kidd, and Al Capone. The lair has another room called a Reminder Room, that has a wall lined with calendars indicating all the years he spent time in prison. He vows "This time I'm going to get rid of my nemisis once and for all - I'm going to DESTROY Superman!"

In Metropolis, a fire breaks out at the Ace Chemical Company. Superman heads there, his telescopic vision revealed the flames were getting near to a tank of radioactive chemicals. Superman carried the tank high into the air, knowing it was hot and about to explode. Luthor has been watching this event on television, and when the tank explodes, he believes that small ionic particles driven into Superman's costume from the blast affords him a new opportunity to take down Superman. Luthor has in his lair, both a radar system, and a missle with a green kryptonite warhead. The missle will be attracted by those particles. He fires the missle, and tracks it on radar. Superman, flying above the ground, sees it, and sees with x-ray vision that the warhead is lead-lined on the inside so that he can't use heat-vision to fuse the circuits. He then comes up with another plan. Superman increased the speed he was orbiting the Earth, increasing the speed of the missle. It went so fast that as it was passing through the atmosphere, that it finally melted from the heat and plunged into the ocean. Luthor was furious. "Superman out-tricked me... he decoyed the missle into many orbits till it burned up!" He decided that he could never outmatch Superman, at least not alone. One of the inventions in his lair was a machine called a Time-Space Thought Scanner. This scanner tunes in on minds in any part of the universe and in any time period, searching for the most powerful and intelligent mind it can find. Luthor began using it and it eventually found a very powerful mind on a far distant planet. Using a special headset, Luthor was able to mentally see what the scanner was picking up.

The scanner connected to a planet of advanced humans who were scientists. They all had green skin and yellow hair. These scientists created a new super-computer with unlimited capability and speed, that had just become operational. The scientists believed that its speed and ability of analysis would make it able to learn exponentially. Master Computer One went on-line, compelling Luthor to think he'd found the great mind he was looking for. He scans into the future to see what it does. A few years later, Master Computer One, along with other super-computers the scientists had built, concluded that they were more intelligent and more fit to rule the planet than were the humans.The computers were also equipped with defensive rays that enforced their directives by destroying any human who didn't comply with their demands. The super-computers next decided to extend their rule to other planets inhabited by humans. They began building a specially-designed spy, whose role it would be to travel to other planets and send back information to the home world, but not to arouse suspicion, it was made to resemble humans. Humans on this planet had sixth-level minds, the super-computers had tenth-level minds. The computers knew how to wire the spy's brain so it would have a twelfth-level intelligence, but believing it might attempt to dominate them, the computers decided his wiring would be kept at level-ten. It was given human mannerisms and human mental patterns, and then it was given a name - Brainiac!

Using his scanner, Luthor has mentally been able to see these events unfold. He immediately realized that this android was the same Brainiac that Superman has battled for years. From this he now knew that Brainiac was a computer, not a human. Luthor decided to watch Brainiac's history play out a little further. To enhance the disguise, the super-computers gave Brainiac a human son to adopt, calling him Brainiac 2. The boy had no desire to be the son of a computer, and ran away. Master Computer One was unconcerned, sending Brainiac on his first mission. They had just devised the shrinking ray weapon, and instructed their spy to use it to bring back one city from each world he visited for their evaluation. Luthor saw that one of the first cities that fell to Brainiac's shrinking ray was Kandor, prior to the destuction of Krypton. He saw how Superman caught up with Brainiac, and imprisoned him. Luthor noted that Brainiac broke free, but Superman recaptured and imprisoned him, with that cycle repeating more times since then. Brainiac has now been imprisoned on the planet Kronis, and Luthor makes plans to go there and free him. Luthor had a plan to increase the level of Brainiac's mind to level 12, and then these two mighty minds, working together, could finally bring about the destruction of Superman.

Part 2: "The Downfall of Superman"

In a cavern adjacent to his observatory lair, Luthor built a space ship modeled after the one he saw Brainiac using. When the ship was finished, Luthor set his heading for the planet Kronis. When he reached the planet, Luthor discovered that Superman had left it well guarded. Using the cover of a meteor, Luthor's ship slipped past past the electronic-eye satellites and lands on the planet next to the cage that imprisoned Brainiac. The planet is totally uninhabited except for him. Luthor leaves the ship and heads for the cage when he becomes trapped in another one of Superman's protective precautions. It turns out Luthor was expecting these kinds of safeguards and it was a Luthor robot he sent out that fell into Superman's booby-trap. Luthor himself traveled above the broken down buildings and made his way to Brainiac's cell. At that moment, Superman's two most dangerous enemies meet face to face for the very first time. Luthor and Brainiac struck a bargain - Luthor will free Brainiac if Brainiac will agree to work with Luthor to destroy Superman. Brainiac agreed, and Luthor set to work. Brainiac informed him that the bars were made from an isotope of Supermanium, the strongest metal known to science. Luthor's atomic torch failed to cut the bars. Knowing of Superman's code against harming anyone, Luthor reasoned that if Brainiac were in danger in the cage, there was a provision for him to get out. Luthor had Brainiac set fire in his cell, Brainiac did so, his cage opened and Brainiac was free! Luthor revealed to Brainiac that he was aware that Brainiac was a computer and not a real human. Luthor offered to rewire Brainiac's computer brain to a twelfth level intelligence, in agreement for his assistance against Superman. Brainiac again agreed, saying "I have my own score with Superman". Luthor's ship leaves the planet, again under the cover of the meteor, and slips past the eye-satellites. Luthor states that he needs materials from other worlds to make his ultimate weapon, and Brainiac replies that he knows the universe as no one else does, so together, they'll get what they need.

Back on Earth, Superman has been searching for Luthor. Failing to find him, he flies to the Fortress to check in with his friends in the bottle city of Kandor. The Kandorians have no information on Luthor's whereabouts. Thinking Luthor might attempt to free the phantom zone villains, Superman checks there. The phantom zoners told Superman that they saw Luthor free Brainiac from his cell. Superman went to Kronis to verify that Brainiac was free. Aboard Luthor's ship, Luthor has completed the re-wiring of Brainiac's computer brain to give him a twelfth level intelligence. Without informing Brainiac, he also made one more slight adjustment. When Brainiac is conscious, he announces he no longer needs Luthor because of his new brilliance. Then he finds out that Luthor, figuring that Brainiac would double-cross him, put a timer in his brain that de-activates him at regular intervals. Brainiac conceded that Luthor had a life-or-death hold on him. The two travel to different worlds gathering the materials for Luthor's weapon.

They made one stop on Lexor, where Luthor is a world-wide hero (see Superman #164). Lexor has a radioactive material that they need and Brainiac wants to steal it, but Luthor refuses, not wanting to rob these people of their resources. Next they return to Brainiac's home world where they discover that the master computers are gone. The computer tyrants were destroyed in a rebellion by the humans. Brainiac realizes that as a computer, he is the last of his kind. They head on for planetoid 49-B, which had the last material that Lex needed for the recipe. It's for a serum-gas, intended to make Superman helpless. Superman had been searching in space for Luthor and Brainiac, by the time he located them by telescopic vision, they were landing back on Earth at Luthor's secret hide-out in the observatory. Superman flew there at super-speed, prepared for a showdown. Unfortunately, he wasn't as prepared as he thought. Luthor released the serum-gas and Superman immediately lost his powers. Superman then knew he'd stepped into a terrible trap, but before he could escape, Brainiac used the shrinking ray on him. Superman was then both tiny and helpless. Luthor exclaims "This is the supreme moment of my life!"

Part 3: "The Hour of Kandor's Vengeance"

Without his super-powers and tiny in size, the helpless Superman was placed in a birdcage hanging from the ceiling by Luthor and Brainiac. Brainiac wanted to finish him off with a coma ray right then and there, but Luthor stopped him. Luthor claims the right to decide how Superman is to be finally destroyed. Brainiac asks for an opportunity to show Luthor how he intended to get rid of Superman, and Luthor agrees. Brainiac tells Luthor he has been working on a machine that was inspired by his years of hatred for Superman, while a curious Lex looks on. In the meantime, Superman discovers that the door of his cage is not even locked. He pulls out his Clark Kent clothes and tears them into strips forming a rope that he uses to climb down out of his open cage. He looks around for a way to escape, but soon discovers that there is no way out of the lair. Realizing that the two will soon discover he has escaped, Superman figures that the only chance he has is to get a signal to the Kandorians at the Fortress of Solitude. He intended to get their attention by firing another one of Luthor's kryptonite missles, but he discovered to his dismay that he's too small and not strong enough to turn the firing-lever. Luthor is still watching Brainiac work on his machine. So far, he still has been unable to determine the nature of what it can do or how it will stop Superman. What it actually does is hypnotize Luthor so that Brainiac can get him to remove the de-activating timer in Brainiac's brain, which a hypnotic Luthor proceeds to do. When Lex wakes up, Brainiac simply explains that the invention he was working on didn't work, so they will have to use another method. Then they both look at the birdcage and see that Superman has escaped!

Superman, who is still trying to fire the missle, finally summons up enough strength and succeeds in turning the lever, the missle takes off. However, at the same moment, Brainiac uses his coma ring on Superman and the Man of Steel feels all of his muscles rigidly tightening up as he goes into a coma. Meanwhile, the watchers in Kandor keeping vigil at their monitors see the missle and recognize from Superman's description that it is Luthor's. The Superman Emergency Squad goes into action. Luthor and Brainiac are just about to finish off the doll-sized comatose Superman, when the Supermen of Kandor arrive. The Kandorians automatically recognize Brainiac as the one who doomed them to small size, and he says "I'm getting out of here!" He tries his ring's comatose beam on them, but it has no effect. Some members of the sqaud pick-up the shrinking ray and use it on Luthor and Brainiac, so that the two can be taken back to Kandor for trial. The Superman Emergency Squad takes Luthor, Brainiac, and the comatose Superman back to Kandor. The scientists of Kandor were unable to bring Superman out of his coma. Meanwhile, the trial of Brainiac has begun with Luthor offering to be Brainiac's defender, and the Kandorian prosecutor Nor Kann who is confident of a conviction. When the jury renders its guilty verdict, Brainiac announces that he is the only one that can bring Superman out of his coma, which he will only do with the provision that he and Luthor are allowed to go free. The jury reluctantly agrees, and Superman is revived. Superman expressed his feeling that they should not have given up their right of vengeance just to save him, but he carried out his part of the agreement by escorting the two villains out of Kandor and into his Fortress, where he then enlarged them to normal size. A smiling Brainiac says "The taste of defeat is bitter, isn't it Superman? ha ha!!"

Superman delivers the two back to their ship and watches it take off, knowing he is honorbound not to stop them. Brainiac drops off Luthor on the planet Lexor to a cheering crowd (setting up the next story in #168), then leaves, secure in the knowledge that Luthor has forgotten that Brainiac is a computer. He thinks he may be able to use Luthor in the future. With that, he heads his ship out into deep space, thinking "I'll return to Earth and destroy Superman the next time we meet". In the Fortress of Solitude, Superman makes a vow. He speaks directly to the people of Kandor by microphone telling them "I'll never forget how you freed your great enemy to save me. I promise that I will bring Brianiac back to justice, and that Kandor will be normal again!" - The End.

5Story - 5: If a list of the Top 10 best Superman comic book stories of the silver-age was put togther, this story should certainly be on that list. It has to be considered one of the classic Superman stories of the pre-Crisis age. This is the first of what would be numerous occasions that the paths of Superman's two worst enemys would cross. Not just in comic book stories, Luthor and Brainiac would meet as either friend or foe in cartoons, including The Super-Friends, Superman:The Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited. The two were even seen together briefly in a seventh season episode of the series Smallville. However, this is the first, and in my opinion, one of the best stories uniting the two villains.

It begins with a familiar Ed Hamilton plot device, a character (Luthor) via audio/visual equipment having access to see events unfolding in the past. Part one of this story gives readers the origin story of Brainiac. Readers also learn in this story, a notation to readers that Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super Heroes is a descendant of the human boy Brainiac 2, not Brainiac as was previously thought, explaining why Brainy 5 is human, not a computer. As explained in this issue's letter column, Brainiac's origin is revealed to make him a human-like computer in honor of the real world Brainiac computer kit. A notation in the story informs the reader that the name "Brainiac" is a registered trademark of Berkeley Enterprises, INC, who manufacture the kit.

It is also in this story that Brainiac first appeared with the gridwork of red diodes across the top of his head, which would continue as his appearance until Action Comics #544 (June 1983).

Point of curiosity #1 - when Luthor and Brainiac arrive on Lexor, Luthor is approached by a women named Tharla, who loves him. She is next seen in Superman #168 but her name is Ardora. From the way she is drawn, it appears to be the same person, so I guess I'm curious why they changed her name.

Point of curiosity #2 - Since Brainiac's first appearance in Action Comics #242 (7/58) , his home planet has been identified by more than one name, Colu, being the name used most often. In this story, the planet is never identified, so it does nothing to resolve the question of the true name of Brainiac's homeworld.

4Art - 4: If you are a silver-age Superman fan, there is just not much to complain about in these Curt Swan-George Klein stories. As has been noted by others, this team is particularly good at getting facial expressions that match the dialogue, and the flow of the story is always good. If I have any complaint with Swan's work (and it's only a small one), Swan was probably not the best artist DC had at doing space-ships in outer space/sci-fi type stories. In this one, Luthor copies a design used by Brainiac, which resembles a sort-of generic version of the C-57D space-saucer seen in the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet. Carmine Infantino and maybe Gil Cane were a little better in my opinion at drawing science fictional equipment and space-ships. But when it came to people and backgrounds, Swan (again, my opinion) was as good as it gets.

5Cover Art - 5: The cover depicts the scene in this story that shows Superman in one of his most perilous and vulnerable situations. Tiny size in a birdcage, with Luthor and Brainiac disagreeing over which of them should have the honor of killing him. The sight of seeing these two villains in the same story for the first time, was most certainly one of the attractions to this comic book, and the Swan-Klein team certainly did it justice.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




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