Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Computo The Conqueror!” (Adventure Comics #340,

Element Lad and Star Boy stop by a top secret research facility to visit Brainiac 5, thinking how happy the reclusive young scientist will be to see his friends after what we presume must be weeks of hard work in the lab. Instead of being happy, however, Brainy is furious at the interruption. Wild-eyed, he tells his friends to go away and not come back. He’s not even moved that Proty II has disguised himself as a piece of lab equipment just because he likes being near Brainy. (I guess an ordered mind is soothing to a telepathic animal.) All Brainy cares about is his crucial project—an ambulatory super computer.

Looking at Brainy here, whose hostility goes way beyond the level of “Bastard People” snark that all Legionnaires display from time to time, we see him as an arrogant genius with little patience for the less-gifted. It’s easy to imagine that we’re looking here at the genesis of the “Brainy Goes Nuts” sequence of years later, in April, 1979’s Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #250-255.

 

Like Hank Pym in The Avengers, Brainy created an artificially intelligent monster that surpassed him in both strength of will and malice. Then it turned on his friends. Brainy, of course, got there first—in both cases. Brainy created Computo in January, 1966 (where Ultron was first introduced in Avengers #55, August, 1968) and he had his mental breakdown in 1979, where Hank’s arguably real breakdown happened in and around November, 1981.

Legion writer Jim Shooter handled Hank’s breakdown (badly, I’ve always thought), but I’m sure the similarities are the coincidence inherent in writing stories about inventive geniuses. After all, both stories pull from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (And yes, Marvel fans, I’m aware Hank had another breakdown in Avengers 59/60 when he became Yellowjacket, but that one didn’t actually cause him to become a criminal, or forever compromise him as a heroic character in the eyes of some fans.)

But for a guy who clearly lives on an intellectual above everyone else, Brainy sure tries to come off like a Man of the People when he’s talking to his creation in this story. What’s with all the colloquialisms?

When Computo grabs him and places him under a hood in the TechnoBabbleBubble, (The “Energum Induction Bubble” atop Computo’s head) he asks if he’s getting a “permanent wave.” Even 21st Century teens probably don’t recognize that expression!

“I feel so low, I could walk under a snake’s belly wearing a high hat!”

A metaphor that you’d expect to hear out of Cam from Modern Family rather than a 12th-Level intellect from Colu.

“That boiler-factory Benedict Arnold…”

To author Jerry Siegel’s credit, Lost in Space would probably not yet have aired when he wrote this script, so we can rest easy that Brainy wasn’t getting Dr. Zachary Smith to write his lines.

Most fans know how this first part of the Computo story ends—and, if you don’t, it’s right on the cover of the issue. After evolving himself, Ultron-like, to a knew form, Computo creates an army of drones and sends them out to kidnap all the human geniuses they can find, so that their knowledge may be downloaded into his memory banks. There’s a truly chilling moment when one of the kidnapped scientists, the Android Master, tells the Legionnaires that Computo is bluffing about killing his hostages if resisted. Computo’s drone blows up, taking the unfortunate inventor with it.

Still the Legion does challenges Computo, and Triplicate Girl is vaporized by the computer mastermind gone mad. And the damndest thing is, readers didn’t know if Triplicate Girl was really dead. Yes, two of her other selves had fled the scene, but who knew what happened to the others when one of them died?

The big three—Superboy, Mon-El and Ultra Boy—are sent away, on pain of death for Lightning Lad and other captured Legionnaires should they remain on Earth.

This is Curt Swan’s first issue as regular Legion penciller. He would remain with the title for years to come. It’s also the first 16-page Legion story to omit a chapter break. Siegel and Swan must have felt they were moving at such a clip that readers wouldn’t notice. I’d say they were right. This one moves fast.

It’s a crude but prescient story, given that, even in 2018, we talk about the day of the Singularity, when our machines become smarter than we are. What will they do? Will they turn on us, or will they simply be the next iteration of humanity, our evolution into something completely different, something that could not have existed if we had not first existed to create it?

Computo, of course, turns on us. Wouldn’t be much of a story if he didn’t.

Roll Call: Star Boy, Element Lad, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Ultra Boy, Superboy, Mon-El, Cosmic Boy, Light Lass, Sun Boy, Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Triplicate Girl

Firsts: Computo, Death of Triplicate Girl

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