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Superman: How a Trademark Dispute Led to a Major Brainiac Retcon!

In Abandoned an' Forsaked, we examine comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically "overturned" by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent).

Today, based on a suggestion from reader Tom A., we look at how a trademark dispute led to a major retcon!

Many years ago, I did a Comic Book Legends Revealed about this, but Tom suggested that I spotlight the specific retcon, as well.

I'll quote the first part from that old Comic Book Legends Revealed....

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."

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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 after this, Brainiac debuted in Action Comics #242 (by Otto Binder and Al Plastino)...

Brainiac's evil plans involved shrinking cities down...

He also fought Superman with a force field...

Eventually, Superman ended up in a shrunken Kryptonian city! They helped him find a way to grow the cities...

but sadly, the Kryptonian city could not be saved...

Three years later, Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney introduced Brainiac's descendent, Brainiac-Five, who was a HERO!

However, the owner of the Brainiac then threatened to sue DC over the trademark. Not that DC stole it from him, but rather that their use of the term was interfering with his ability to sell his product. So they cut a deal together. DC would help promote the Brainiac in their comics and he would not pursue the legal claim.

Part of the deal was to lean into the confusion and make Brainiac LITERALLY a computer! It occurred in 1964's Superman #167 (by Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and George Klein)...

Hamilton even made sure to explain away the Brainiac-Five confusion!

Clever stuff all together.

By the way, a young Cary Bates sent in the idea for the cover of Superman #167 (with Luthor and Brainiac teamed up against a shrunken Superman), so he sort of kind of co-plotted the issue, in a manner of speaking.

Thanks for the suggestion, Tom!

If anyone else has a suggestion for a future Abandoned an' Forsaked, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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