The first episode this week, “Stolen Memories”, ties the final few threads left over from the pilot neatly together by bringing Brainiac back for the first time since abandoning the people of Krypton to die. Lex Luthor has established contact with extraterrestrial being Brainiac and plans on meeting with him knowing this alien has a desire to learn a great deal about Earth. Luthor, ever the opportunist, decides to give him access to a vast array of human knowledge in exchange for alien technology.
Luthor is enthusiastic about all the possibilities of the new technology (including a possible cure for cancer, foreshadowing the ultimate fate Luthor and Brainiac would share), but Supes is much more apprehensive about the new alien on the block. Brainiac decides to invite Superman aboard his ship as well to show him the last remaining memories of the planet Krypton and extend the invitation to travel with him from planet to planet. He strongly considers the offer, thinking of all he can learn from Brainiac about his home planet. Before deciding Superman has a nightmare wherein it is revealed to him that Brainiac might not be the benevolent inquisitor he seems to be, and let the people of Krypton die.
Of all the major villains introduced these past few weeks, I have always disliked Brainiac the most. His cold and emotionless demeanor just doesn’t work for me, especially compared to how most of the other rogues are rounded out with a robust personality. Prolific voice actor Corey Burton does do a fine job of emulating what a soulless and unyielding robot would sound like, but Brainiac episodes were always the ones I remember having to slog through as a kid. Despite my reservations about Brainiac as a villain, there is no doubt there are still effectively creepy elements to the character, notably when he abandons his robot form to reveal the skeletal mess of wires and microchips within him.
Luthor’s biggest advantage is his uncanny ability to always be one step ahead of everyone else, always out-cunning those around him. Despite his agreement with Brainiac, he also has several megatons worth of missiles aimed directly at Brainiac’s ship in case anything went wrong. Of course something does go wrong as Brainiac is able to override Luthor’s systems to try and take control of all of Earth’s defense systems. Of course Lex would have backdoor access to every major defense system on Earth in his computer system, as good a sign as any that he always has a backup plan, even for when entire countries are gunning for him.
Meanwhile, Superman decides to check out some of the other planetary memories on Brainiac’s ship. He discovers that Brainiac has been harvesting the collective memories and knowledge of planets before destroying them to keep their knowledge for himself. Thankfully Superman alleviates this situation by punching a hole directly through Brainiac’s chest just before Luthor’s missiles take out the rest of the ship. After an episode’s worth of focusing on the past we finally do get our first look at the Fortress of Solitude when Supes decides the memories of Krypton are best kept where no human hands can reach.
The next episode for this week, or rather pair of episodes, introduces us to even more alien threats, although this time far more entertaining. In “The Main Man” intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo is sent by mysterious being known as the Preserver to hunt and capture the last known Kryptonian, Kal-El.
Lobo started in comics as a bit of a joke, a tongue-in-cheek answer to anti-heroes like Wolverine. Eventually he would become a character that was, in essence, exactly what writers were originally making fun of. His first appearance in animated form is coupled with a surprisingly appropriate butt rock soundtrack and the voice of Brad Garrett, whose baritone voice is the perfect fit for the rough and tumble Lobo. Our proper introduction to the character is through a violent bar brawl that gets started as he’s going after a bounty, indicative of the mindless violence that constantly follows Lobo.
After fighting Superman through the streets of Metropolis he eventually tires of the fight and instead lures Supes out to space to make it easier when he finally captures him. As it turns out not only does the Preserver now have the last Kryptonian in his hands, but also the last Czarnian in Lobo. Betraying him, he locks up Lobo and Superman intending to keep them forever in his interstellar menagerie. Superman gets to show off his cleverness when escaping the Preserver’s space zoo using the other animals, including the last dodo in existence, to his advantage.
Thanks to the natural sunlight used in the dodo preserve, he gains his powers back in full and is able to finally escape, but not before encountering the true form of the Preserver. Instead of the Paul Williams circa 1974 looking mope from before, he is revealed to be a demonic looking beast with a fantastic Mike Mignloa-inspired design. Once the Preserver is defeated after being launched out of the airlock of his own ship, we see that Lobo is enjoying a life of luxury after capturing a valuable bounty and Superman has decided to turn part of his newly found Fortress of Solitude into a safe haven for the remaining near-extinct animals from the Preserver’s ship.
“The Main Man” was the first of a few two-part episodes for the series, but has noticeably lower stakes and simply less story to work with than the others. It falls into the weird trap where there is definitely more content than a typical 22-minute episode, but not enough to carry two full episodes on its own. Many of the fighting scenes, while fun at times and aided by the constant wisecracks of Lobo, just start to really drag past a certain point. Despite some shortcomings the introduction of Lobo to the series, and the DCAU as a whole, shows that there is more than just destruction and despair outside of Earth’s atmosphere and lays the groundwork for a ton of other fun space faring episodes in the future.
-My dislike of Brainiac is offset by the fact (SPOILERS) that later on down the line his death scene is probably the coolest thing ever animated in the DCAU.
-“He’s changed the OS! He put up a firewall!” Is there anything better than awkwardly written computer speak from the late 90s?
-The robotic punk girls used to keep Lobo company in his cage go from hot to undeniably creepy in seconds once they open their faces to spray knockout gas.
-Lobo gets away with a lot of his dialogue including a lot of pseudo-cursing and weird references to bondage here and there. S&P you used to be so cool man, what happened?