Superman may not have much of a rogues gallery in the grand scheme of things. To be fair, most superheroes tend to only have one or two really prominent enemies and then a bunch of other, less memorable guys who keep coming back for more. One of Superman’s most prominent, an iconic character who has never appeared in a movie, is Brainiac.
Likewise, the Legion of Superheroes, friends and allies to Superboy in the Silver Age, included a member known as Brainiac 5, a benevolent ancestor of the original Brainiac.
But, you know, if there was an original Brainiac, and then there was a Brainiac 5, then at some point there were Brainiacs 2-4. Let’s take a look at Brainiac 2, often going by his real name of Vril Dox, and maybe we’ll mention Brainiac 3.
Now, first off, the Silver Age did have a Brainiac 2. The original Brainiac in those days was an android, often associated with the Computer Tyrants of the Planet Colu, and he and the Tyrants adopted a kid, dubbed him “Brainiac 2” and would have gone and done all kinds of horrible things had the boy, also from planet Colu, not realized he didn’t want to be evil and turn the tables of his “father” and the Tyrants, eventually setting up a friendly government after overthrowing the Tyrants and becoming an ancestor of the Legion member who would be one of Superboy’s close friends.
Now, post-Crisis, Brainiac has had a lot of different looks and backstories. Sometimes he was an organic being with telepathic powers. Sometimes he was an android, including rather large ones from the future. Sometimes he was an artificial intelligence from the planet Krypton. But during that organic period, he also had a clone for a son, and that’s where Vril Dox comes in.
Now, the people of Colu were generally known for being green with blonde hair, highly intelligent, but maybe somewhat stunted when it came to the emotional stuff. Vril was a lot like them, in that he was a 12th level intelligence, which was DC Comics space talk for “Super Genius”.
But Dox, despite being a sneaky SOB, was more benevolent than his father. He’d almost have to be. Vril Dox used his intelligence to set up some sort of interplanetary police work as the man who started the Licensed Extra Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network or L.E.G.I.O.N. because the Green Lantern Corps can’t be everywhere. Essentially, L.E.G.I.O.N., besides acting as a present day analogue of the Legion of Superheroes, were space heroes for hire by various interplanetary governments. Vril Dox ran the thing with a core group of operatives that included an early DC Silver Age cosmic hero Captain Comet, the last survivor of a universe destroyed by the Anti-Monitor in the form of Lady Quark, a giant caterpillar named Telepath, a gleaming stone powerhouse named Strata (who was actually female), and a host of other oddballs and weirdoes.
Oh, Dox also figured out a way to put Lobo on retainer. Yeah, Dox was a clever one, the guy who could win the war by outthinking and then talking his way out of trouble.
About the only thing he wasn’t was someone his employees liked.
But then he had a son…
I’m actually a little fuzzy on where Lyrl Dox (sometimes called Brainiac 3) came from, as I missed the issue where the conception happened, but I have a vague understanding that the mother, a L.E.G.I.O.N. operative named Stealth, may not have actually been part of a willing courtship, and her species maybe just does something to get themselves pregnant without necessarily finding a willing mate. Or, it being Vril Dox, he maybe did something to get her pregnant without her approval. Or something. At some point, they had a baby who at first was smarter than his father, took over L.E.G.I.O.N., and reduced Vril to running around with a handful of free L.E.G.I.O.N. members as a group called R.E.B.E.L.S. And that time, I don’t think the acronym actually stood for anything. When Lyrl was defeated and his intelligence reduced to that of a normal child, his parents retired from L.E.G.I.O.N. to raise him themselves.
This being comics, Lyrl would get the smarts back and go evil again, thanks to a freaky new version of the Justice League foe Starro the Conqueror. But then he’d be defeated again, and Vril would, as head of another R.E.B.E.L.S. group, stop the Rann/Thanagar war through smart diplomacy and find the Tamaranians a place to live since those guys keep blowing up their homeworlds.
And for his efforts, he got to settle down on Rann with his new consort Blackfire, the sister to Teen Titan Starfire. That’s, uh, something.
Vril Dox hasn’t really been seen since the New 52. I’m sure he’ll be back. This is a guy who would use any weapon at his disposal to stop a bad guy in the cockiest way possible, and the best weapon he had was between his ears.