Why Superman: The Animated Series Made So Many Changes To Brainiac

There has been a lack of Superman content in recent years outside of comics, but things look to be on the upswing for the Last Son of Krypton. It's recently been announced by James Gunn that a new "Superman" movie written by him is in the works featuring a younger Clark Kent, with Henry Cavill out of the picture. To hold fans over until this Superman reboot, now is as good of a time as any to resist a classic piece of Man of Steel media — "Superman: The Animated Series." The show was put into production following the massive success of "Batman: The Animated Series" and took place in the same universe as that show, meaning fans were given the occasional team-up between the two.

Similarly to "Batman," "Superman: The Animated Series" also took creative liberties with certain characters, changing origins or designs to better suit the world Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett were creating. One popular Superman villain, Brainiac, underwent significant changes, including a revamped origin story that completely shifted the emotional weight of the villain. According to the series creators, Brainiac was drastically changed to be a part of Superman's origin better. Moreover, Burnett had an interesting perspective that made this animated series Brainiac out to be a much more sinister version than his comic book counterpart.

A creepy and sinister Brainiac

In a retrospective piece on "Superman: The Animated Series" for CBR, Bruce Timm talked about how the significant changes to Brainiac came about, giving credit to his collaborator for the clever idea to make the villain an AI on the planet Krypton:

"That was all Alan Burnett's idea. I give him all the props for that. At first, I was really not into the idea because I'm such a purist — I'm one of those guys who watch a movie trailer and goes, 'Spider-Man shouldn't be shooting webs out of his own body! He needs to build the web shooters!' — but then Alan explained it to me that [Brainiac] is basically Siri — though, he didn't say Siri back then — for the entire planet."

In the original comics, Brainiac had no relation to Superman or his origin. However, the animated series decided to take the character down a darker route that was much more personal to Clark Kent and his journey. While Timm is a self-proclaimed purist, the way Alan Burnett framed the story of Brainiac's disturbing ties to the destruction of krypton and the AI's need for its self-preservation was too good to pass up:

"He knows that Jor-El is telling the truth about the end of the world. He's got his escape plan and a bigger plan beyond that's creepy and sinister; I was all-in."

Finding a voice to match the new origin

Having Brainiac feign ignorance about Krypton's demise to save himself creates a twisted origin that parallels Clark Kent's. Intertwining the two characters' history with each other shows that the nuance and character work in "Batman: The Animated Series" carried over into other series just as well. The voice actor would prove integral to the character, similar to other legendary villains from the DC animated universe, such as Mark Hamill's Joker. The "Superman" creative team would cast Corey Burton to bring a robotic and calculated coldness that complemented the new origin the series had given him. Bruce Timm would tell CBR how Burton would perfectly voice the character and further exemplify the traits of the evil AI:

"When we were doing voice auditions, Corey Burton came in to audition for everybody — he auditioned for Superman, Luthor, and everybody else — and I asked him to do Brainiac, and he asked what I was thinking of, and I told him something cold and did a version of Brainiac's voice, and he went, 'Oh, Vic Perrin from 'The Outer Limits!,” which is exactly what I had in my head. So he did it, and he got the job. That was the icing on the cake. God bless Corey Burton."

"Superman: The Animated Series" took the concept of Brainiac in the comics and turned it into DC's terrifying version of Skynet (but from space). The self-preserving nature of the character and the new Krypton computer origins allowed the character to return in new and exciting ways to fight Superman. Overall, the drastic changes to the villain would prove to be the best, allowing for a deeper exploration of Brainiac and Superman.