“You can’t control a living thing without destroying what’s alive about it” — Zor-El
That quote is key for Superman Unbound, as Superman deals with a new threat to Earth, a threat from Krypton’s past that threatens the galaxy at large in addition to his adoptive home. Brainiac travels the universe capturing cities in bottles and then destroying their planet of origin, in an attempt to absorb all the knowledge in the universe. In order to prevent new knowledge from existing, Brainiac keeps the cities in the same state they were when they were captured. No one ages, everything stays the same, they are trapped in purgatory. As you can imagine, Superman is not okay with this fate befalling Earth, nor is he fine with leaving the lost Kryptonian capital of Krandor as a bottle decoration in Brainiac’s ship.
Superman: Unbound is based on Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Brainiac presented here is a cold, calculating monster that is an unstoppable force in the galaxy. He’s been at it for decades, adding city after city to his collection and leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake. Brainiac brings up echo of the Borg, as he arrives in a lone ship (though his is shaped like a black skull), his robot troops adapt to the local defenses and absorb the knowledge of his victims. They both carve out cities from the ground, and Brainiac is more machine parts than organic at this point. But he’s also just one guy, as opposed to a collective consciousness. The motivations are similar but also different.
We begin with seemingly normal situations on Earth, massive violence in Metropolis (committed, they say, because Superman will obviously be busy with an earthquake in South America that happened a bit ago!) The heavily armed thugs manage the best the surprisingly militarized Metropolis police, but what they don’t bank on is Supergirl showing up to ruin their fun. Lois Lane (who volunteered to be their hostage) provides the snark as Supergirl rips through their defenses, joined by Superman, who faster than a speeding bulleted his way back to the US in time to take out the last of the bad dudes.
All these flicks have the short sequence at the beginning to demonstrate the hero’s power right before the main plot begins, and it does as a mysterious alien robot probe lands in the Arizona desert. It turns into a tough-to-beat robot by way of Skynet, but eventually Superman pounds it to pieces and breaks its homing beacon before it can call for help. Supergirl recognizes the robot, as they attacked Krypton back in the day. They are the minions of Brainiac, who invaded Krypton’s capital city of Krandor, and shrunk it to tiny size and disappeared with it. As she was there when it happened and barely escaped, she’s obviously shocked.
Brainiac only didn’t destroy Krypton after his attack because the planet was about to destroy itself anyway. In fact, Superman’s attempts to stop Brainiac’s reign of destruction end up alerting him to Earth’s presence even after the initial probe was destroyed before it could transmit. The Brainiac attacks are more gruesome than you’d expect, with dozens of people (and aliens) getting razor wires through their heads as Brainiac’s robot army extracts their minds for processing
John Noble is beyond perfect for giving life to Brainiac, with his booming and ominous voice making alive a biomechanical being that has attempted to shed all emotion in search of knowledge. Brainiac is a special kind of threat, because not only does he want to absorb all knowledge, he’s willing to destroy all civilizations in order to prevent more knowledge from being created. He’s the ultimate control freak, wanting everything to exist in little bottle cities displayed in his ship as he sits back content that he is beyond it all.
As Superman is only too happy to point out while beating on Brainiac, he only knows his safe bottled version of worlds. Brainiac has been away from a real planet and real nature for so long, the reality of a universe outside his control is more powerful a weapon than any physical harm.
The themes with Supergirl parallel the lessons of Brainiac. As a child on Krypton, she was powerless and just as helpless as everyone else when fighting his forces. Now on Earth, she actually has power and is willing to use it to stop bad people. She’s still young and learning, but she is learning. Superman learns that he can’t just sit on her and bend her to his will, he needs to let her find her own way through life, let her become her own hero. She’s not him, ha can’t force her to be him, he can’t control her or her actions. He can only be a mentor and an inspiration, and let her find her way.
Lois Lane here is independent and personalitied, one of the better portrayals of her in animated movie form. She’s perfectly willing to put herself in danger to protect others and is content to handle creeps on her own. Lois even fights robot invaders when they pop up in the office. Lois is upset that Clark/Superman wants their relationship secret, in case anyone were to find out who he was. She’s willing to take the risk even if he’s not. After all, it’s just another day for Lois Lane: Threat Magnet! Probably the defining Lois Lane moment is when Brainiac is looking down on the shrunken Metropolis and decrying how pathetic it and humanity is, and she flips him the double middle fingers. Defiance against tyrants to the end
A movie could be made of all the cities in bottles and the efforts to find them compatible worlds, possibly cities placed on the same planet that world together or fight amongst each other. The subject is broad enough you could write a book series about it without even needing to talk about Brainiac or Superman. Just random alien cities that are dumped on a mystery planet. Someone get to writing that ASAP! Until then, check out Superman: Unbound and watch a cool Superman who tries to save lives in the name of justice.
Rated 8/10 (Superlogo, green ape alien, blue catlizard alien, Jimmy, Perry, Ma Kent, Brainiac’s robots are in the Nova Corp?, engagement ring)
Please give feedback below!