Krypton: Who is Brainiac?

Superman fans are finally getting the Brainiac they've always dreamed of on Syfy's Krypton.

Finally. We are finally getting the Brainiac we deserve on screen. How it has taken this long for one of Superman’s greatest foes to make it to the screen properly is a mystery, but now that it’s happening, it’s a big deal. Yes, there was a Brainiac on Smallville, but they never really went for it, we’ve never had him in all his green-skinned, lightbulb-headed, skull ship ridin’ glory.

There had been plenty of other attempts to bring Brainiac to life in live action, notably in Cary Bates’ excellent (but abandoned) script for Superman V in the early ’90s (which I’m going to have lots more details on for you soon), and he was the key villain in a number of abandoned attempts to revive Superman on the big screen throughout the ’90s, including Kevin Smith’s Superman Lives and the infamous Dan Gilroy/Tim Burton era of the project. While those would certainly have been a little closer to the version of the character fans have hungered for (especially that Superman V one), they still never quite captured the potentially horrific elements of the character the way this design has.

That’s all changed in a big way with Blake Ritso’s Brainiac on Krypton. Ritson is well aware of how important it is for a Superman villain of this stature to finally get done justice on screen, and he’s clearly done his homework on the character, too.

“This is a Brainiac you will have never seen on screen before,” Ritson promises. “I think the only time he’s ever been in live action is Smallville, where he was effectively a kind of self aware AI, and in that version he appeared as a 20th Century human professor. This one will not be like that. He will be infinitely more terrifying. This one is the full-fledged collector of worlds.”

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“This version of Brainiac is a hyper intelligent alien android, who is busy traversing the universe in his gigantic metal skull ship,” Ritson says. “He is effectively in the process of cataloging, absorbing all of creation. He views each world as a receptacle of intelligence, and he rips a whole city from each planet before destroying it, or not. And then moves on. And the idea is he miniaturizes it, puts it in a tiny box on his ship and sucks the information out of it. So, he is basically in the process of becoming creation.”

Ritson has given Brainiac considerable thought though, and promised that there’s no “mustache-twirling” in his version of the character. “I’ve played a number of villains over the years,” he says. “Generally in life, you consider yourself to be the hero of your own narrative. I think you need to find a way into the perspective of a character, where what they’re doing is essentially noble at some level.”

How could an android with a twelfth level intelligence possibly consider his cause, which consists of kidnapping entire cities from their respective worlds, noble? “He’s trying to save creation, effectively,” Ritson explains. “I mean, you could say it’s an allergist or Noah, going around putting two of every animal on the ark. He is taking this kind of flawed, broken, temporarily finite cultures and he’s trying to make them permanent, perpetual. He is trying to fix a kind of temporal deficiency. For him, I think it’s a very noble agenda.”

This isn’t just a cool TV version of Brainiac, it looks like the kind of design that would be right at home in the movies. If Man of Steel 2 had happened as planned instead of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this is exactly the kind of Brainiac design I would have hoped to see.

See for yourself:

That might not be a coincidence, as one of Krypton‘s executive producers is none other than David Goyer, who wrote Man of Steel and squeezed an insane amount of Kryptonian worldbuilding into that film’s first 15 minutes. Goyer’s influence is present in this version of Brainiac, as well.

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“I think [David Goyer] has managed to bring someone to the foreground, who you could have written off as a simple kind of villain plotting dastardly deeds for the sake of it, in the distance, and made him very present, very psychologically complex,” Ritson says. “And perhaps, at some level sympathetic, you never know.”

As you can see, the show isn’t shy about which period of Brainiac’s history they’re pulling from. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank told what is generally considered to be the definitive Brainiac story in the pages of Action Comics in 2009, and you can see elements of that design all over what Krypton is bringing to the screen, too. That story, appropriately titled Brainiac, is basically the Superman III (or Man of Steel 2) you always wanted to see. It’s also one of the best Superman stories of the modern era. You should check it out. 

It had an effect on the actor playing Brainiac, as well. “I think that version was perhaps one of the first I had read anyway, where he suddenly physically incredibly powerful,” Ritson says. “He’s one of the few people how can actually have a fist fight with Superman and best him.”

While he won’t be taking on the Man of Steel on Krypton any time soon, Superman’s grandfather Seg-El, as well as DC hero Adam Strange, are going to have their hands full.

Krypton airs every Wednesday at 10 pm on Syfy.