Why Superman: The Animated Series Drastically Changed One Of The Man Of Steel’s Greatest Villains

Brainiac from Superman: The Animated Series
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Animation)

Taking certain creative liberties is to be expected when adapting comic book source material, and Superman: The Animated Series did its fair share of that during its run from 1996 to 2000. One of the biggest examples of this was the show’s depiction of Brainiac, who’s been one of the Man of Steel’s most famous foes since being introduced in 1958’s Action Comics #242. Rather than hailing from the planet Colu, the DC Animated Universe’s Brainiac, voiced by Corey Burton, was Krypton’s rogue supercomputer that downloaded its program off-world before the planet’s destruction.

Despite the differences with his comic book counterpart, this version of Brainiac scored a lot of positive reception, comparable to how Batman: The Animated Series’ take on Mr. Freeze was received several years earlier. As for why Superman: The Animated Series decided alter Brainiac so significantly, I learned from producer Bruce Timm during an interview for the show’s Blu-ray release that fellow co-creator Alan Burnett thought it up. As Timm explained:

That was Alan Burnett’s idea, and at first I was against it because I’m a purist [laughs]. I’m one of those nerds that goes, ‘Oh, that’s not like the comics! That’s terrible!’ But it didn’t take much to talk me into it. Once I got used to the idea, it was like, ‘Well, why can’t he be from Krypton?’ And the idea that he was basically the Siri for the whole planet Krypton. He was like their robot slave, their robot AI, and yet he had sinister motives of his own and was aware that Jor-El was telling the truth, and that Krypton was gonna explode, and he was already making his own getaway plan. I think it was brilliant. Once Alan outlined the whole thing for me, I was like, ‘Ok, that totally works. It’s great.’ That was pretty much an easy sell.

While the comics Brainiac had already been tied to Krypton for years thanks to him shrinking the capital city of Kandor and bottling it up for his personal collection, Superman: The Animated Series took things a step further with the connectivity, as the Brainiac supercomputer publicly dismissed Jor-El’s claims that Krypton was dying, but secretly made plans to save himself. From there, he created an android body for himself and began traveling to other planets to steal their knowledge, then destroy them. Similar to how Batman: The Animated Series’ Mr. Freeze later influenced how the character was depicted in the comics, elements of Superman: The Animated Series’ Brainiac would later find their way into his printed page counterpart. 

Brainiac appeared in nine episodes of Superman: The Animated Series total (including cameos and as a hologram), and he went on to be a recurring villain in both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as well as caused trouble in the Static Shock two-parter “A League of Their Own.” Brainiac’s DCAU arc saw him form a unique bond with Clancy Brown’s Lex Luthor, to the point that they briefly merged into one being. Corey Burton also voiced Brainiac in non-DCAU projects like Legion of Super-Heroes and DC Universe Online.

Superman: The Animated Series’ Blu-ray set is now available for purchase from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, and the show can also be streamed on HBO Max. Keep your eyes peeled on CinemaBlend for all the biggest updates concerning upcoming DC Comics movies and TV shows.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.