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Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #79

by  in Comic News Comment

This is the seventy-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous seventy-eight. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

This is a special theme week. To commemorate the release of the Superman Returns DVD, this week’s theme is “Superman’s Rogues Gallery”!

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: DC got the idea behind Brainiac from a “make your own computer” kit.

STATUS: False

In the mid-50s, Edmund Berkeley developed an educational toy that was advertised as a “computer,” while essentially a rotary switch construction set. It was called Geniac, which stood for “Genius Almost-Automatic Computer.”


The toy was highly praised at the time, but was not a huge seller, so a little while later, Berkeley debuted a new, simpler version of the toy called “Brainaic,” which stood for “Brain-Imitating Almost-Automatic Computer.”


Soon afterwards, in 1958, a certain green-skinned bad guy showed up in the pages of Action Comics #242, named Brainiac.


Brainiac made a few notable appearances over the next couple of years, but eventually, Berkeley took issue with DC’s use of the name “Brainiac.” The allegation was not so much that DC actually stole the name from Berkeley, but rather, that they were interfering with Berkeley’s trademark. In either case, DC and Berkeley came to an agreement which was shown in 1964’s Superman #167.


In the issue, the evil scientist Brainiac is re-envisioned as quite literally a “living computer.”

This change was accompanied by the following interesting footnote:


In addition, in the letter column of the issue, the following was placed:

Thousands of DC readers have avidly followed the spectacular duels between Superman and his greatest foe, the nefarious scientist, Brainiac. Their exciting clashes have taken place deep beneath the ocean and in distant galaxies. But whether the battleground has been Atlantis or Arcturus, each time Brainiac has proved himself an opponent worth of the Man of Steel’s mettle!And now let us go behind the scenes and reveal a remarkable coincidence. The fictional character “Brainiac” was created for us by Otto Binder, a famous science fiction writer who is currently the editor of “Space World,” a magazine for rocket experts (Otto also created “Bizarro” and wrote the great Superman novel, “Krypton Lives On”).

Shortly after the first “Brainiac” story appeared in Action Comics, in 1956, we learned that a REAL “Brainiac” existed…in the form of on ingenious “Brainaic Computer Kit” invented in 1955 by Edmund C. Berkeley. Mr. Berkeley is a distinguished scientist and a world authority on automation, computers and robots.

In deference to his “Brainiac,” which pre-dates ours, with this issue of Superman, we are changing the characterization of our “Brainiac” so that the master villain will henceforth possess a “computer personality.” We are confident that our readers will approve of this transformation; it should make Brainiac a mightier adversary for the Man of Steel.

Readers will be interested to learn that they can build their own “Brainiac” by purchasing one of Mr. Berkeley’s computer kits and assembling the parts. Thousands of youngsters, as well as adults, have bought these kits and, by following the simple directions, have been able to construct home-made computers which can solve interesting problems of all kinds. “Brainiac” kits cost less than $20.00 and make an ideal educational hobby. (Then they list Berkeley’s address to write away for a free brochure).

Interesting, eh?

Therefore, DC likely settled the legal situation by making their character more like the toy, and hopefully making kids more likely to BUY the toy, as it was connected to the popular Superman line of comics.

It is one of the rare examples of a trademark suit where the result is to make the infringing product MORE like the infringed product! But it’s good to see some nice, out-of-the-box thinking!

Thanks to my buddy Loren for suggesting this one!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Lex Luthor went bald due to an artist’s mistake.

STATUS: True

Fairly soon into his career as the artist for Superman, the amount of work demanded of him overwhelmed Joe Shuster, so he soon hired a studio to ghost-draw for him. An interesting side effect of this, though, is that occasionally certain nuances are missed in the transition from one artist to another.

One such detail was Lex Luthor’s hair!

In Superman #4, drawn by Paul Cassidy, here is how Luthor appeared:



And, just for fun, here’s a weird scene in that issue, where Luthor appears to Superman from a tree…


Cassidy was also the first ghost used on the Superman comic strip. He was followed on the strip by Leo Nowak, and it was here that the first bald Lex Luthor appeared. Soon after, in 1941’s Superman #10, Luthor appears again, bald.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the artist on #10?

You guessed it, Nowak, the artist who made the initial mistake in the comic strip.

It is most likely that Nowak’s confusion came from the following character from #4, a henchmen of Luthor’s…



Note the striking similarity to how Nowak depicted Luthor in #10…


Apparently the change worked for everyone else, as that’s how it has been ever since – I guess sometimes mistakes work out for the best in the end!!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Joe Kelly did not originally intend for his Zod to be Russian.

STATUS: True

Fairly early on in Joe Kelly’s Action Comics’ run, there was a big crossover called Emperor Joker, where a new character named Ignition debuted. Ignition made reference to a mysterious master.


Eventually, during the Our World at War crossover, we met his master – General Zod, ruler of a former Russian state named Pokolistan.


My pal, Loren, also asked me the following question awhile back, regarding General Zod… Starting with Emperor Joker, Joe Kelly built up his Zod arc, eventually culminating in the revelation that Zod was a cosmonaut’s kid who was exposed to Kryptonite. But in the earlier stories (particularly in the Our World at War Secret Files and Origins), that didn’t seem to be the direction he was going at all. Especially since Ignition referred to his master even during the Emperor Joker arc.

I asked Joe about it himself, and here was his reply:

Zod was a while back, so forgive me if I don’t remember the whole thing. Ignition was definitely Zod’s boy from the beginning, and the gag there was that (as a young man) Zod had found him and rescued him, so despite the fact that he was infinitely more powerful than Zod, Ignition was loyal to him. Eventually, the loyalty would have been eroded, of course!But my original take for Zod was not the cosmonaut’s son business. (Even though I do like the symmetry of it) He was going to be Kal-El from the Silver Age Krypton (which we had always intended to be real) [Ed Note: Another crossover during Kelly’s run on the title involved a visit by Clark and Lois to Silver Age Krypton] corrupted by the Zod whom Superman “executed.” I wanted Superman to suffer for that violation of his own principles, and giving him an “evil twin” who had been tainted because of Superman’s fall from grace seemed like a cool way to do it.

There ya go, Loren!

I think the original idea sounds pretty cool.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!