I’ve been getting a few emails recently asking me to do a few more character-based I Should Write The Legion bits, which seems fair because I’ve been concentrating a lot on plot ideas lately. But the thing is – most character issues end up being plot ideas anyway, or at least subplot ideas. Character issues in an ongoing serial adventure narrative should either shape action or initiate it, especially when said narrative is about twenty-plus different characters.
But it’s worthwhile to discuss, so let’s start with my favorite.
Tie onto this the secondary point that being smart, in and of itself, is not a good reason for Brainiac Five to be a dick. Smart people can be wonkishly engaging just as often – if not moreso – than average folks, eager to tell you and explain to you about stuff they know, because they like knowing stuff. There has to be a reason Brainy’s defensive and arrogant and personally combative.
And here’s one more thing that doesn’t make sense: “twelfth-level intelligence.” How many fingers do Coluans have? Ten. They would be most comfortable working with a base ten numerical system, and we know as humans that we’re naturally inclined to create ordering systems in tens: top ten lists and top one hundred lists exist for a reason. Why on Earth would Coluans create a system of ordering and describing intelligence with twelve steps, rather than ten? Believe me, they’d find a scientific excuse to make it a ten-level system. Coluans might be smart, but they’re still prey to basic psychological foibles. It seems to me that the natural inclination of a Coluan would be to invent an intelligence classification system with ten levels, not twelve (and naturally put themselves at the top).
The answer, for me – not that this will surprise some of you – lies in the hidden history.
When Vril Dox overthrew the Computer Tyrants of Colu, way back in the day, the emerging scientific council wanted to thank him. They did so by making him the beneficiary of a new, as-yet untested (but of course it would work) process to elevate his intelligence. The Coluan intelligence ranking method uses processing capacity as its intellectual denominator, and this new process would expand Dox’s intellectual processing capacity by two levels, making him a hundred times smarter than any Coluan – already the species with the highest processing capacity in the known universe. More impressively, the process was genetic, so it would be passed on to Dox’s heirs.
Unfortunately, Vril Dox was kind of an evil bastard. Worse, the process worked, but also led to mental instability. The combination of the two led to the first Brainiac.
Still, Colu wasn’t too worried yet. Sure, Vril Dox turned out to be a bad apple, but the process itself was fundamentally sound, and when applied to a normal Coluan it would no doubt advance their intelligence safely. Vril Dox II was everybody’s proof of this: although only ten times smarter than the average Coluan (“eleventh-level intelligence”) and kind of a cold fish to say the least, he wasn’t insane, and his creation and leadership of L.E.G.I.O.N. proved the case. Colu prepared to start applying the genetic remodeling to its entire populace…
…until Lyrl Dox, Vril II’s son, turned out to be insane from the crib, with twelfth-level intelligence making it even worse. Lyrl temporarily turned L.E.G.I.O.N. into a fascist police force before his father stopped – and lobotomized – him.
Colu was stunned, and the genetic process abandoned forever – but it was now inherently tied to the genetic legacy of the Dox family line. As other Coluan family lines grew in size, the Doxes steadily shrank until they were just a single family. Most of the time, of course, Doxes proved to be brilliant scientists and politicians – maybe a bit unstable or quirky, but nothing dangerous. (Interestingly, a side effect of all of this was that for a Dox, romantic love relationships were the norm – completely the opposite of cool, logical Coluan society, but such irrationality was necessary for the line to survive.) Most Doxes worked quietly at home or subtly in public, their eleventh-level intelligences advancing Coluan – and even galactic – society in prodigious and uplifting ways.
Lyrl was posthumously referred to as “Brainiac Two” and forgotten…. until Brainiac Three, Pril Dox, blew up half of Colu with his anti-bombs in 2421. That set Colu on guard. The Dox line barely survived – and again, in 2706, when Brainiac Four, Orl Dox, created a massive interstellar pirate fleet and led her minions to destroy galactic communication networks in a bid to completely control interstellar civilization as she knew it. The rare glimpses of twelfth-level intelligence in the Dox line became dreaded events, and Coluan society prepared more intensely each time.
Being Coluans, they decided that the gains perpetuated by the Dox line were worth the occasional sacrifice of a Brainiac popping up, so they let it continue. But when Querl Dox was born, and his twelfth-level intelligence was obvious within hours of his birth, this time they took steps. Young Querl was designated Brainiac Five less than a month after being born. He was taught separately from all other Coluan youth, banned from the thoughtcreches, feared and shunned by just about everybody. The title of “Brainiac” became not just a condemnation but an insult, a declaration of advance perfidy.
Maybe his parents could have helped him get past this, but his father, Kell Dox – a kindly, gentle dreamer who took to writing haiku in between his brilliant chronal experiments – died of Nux Syndrome six months after Querl was born. (Nux Syndrome is dreaded in Coluan society – a brutal, random, nonhereditary genetic disease that strips away intelligence before it kills. Praetor Lemnos later created a modified, contagious version of it and unleashed it on Colu.) His mother, devastated by the loss of her husband (Coluans aren’t used to romantic love, remember) and unable to deal with society’s condemnation, fled her son, working in isolated labs and refusing to contact him.
Eventually, Colu decided to just cut its losses in advance and exiled young Querl offplanet. (It wasn’t an official exile – it was an “intellectual exchange program” but everybody knew what it was.) Querl studied everything – everything – he could get his hands on. And eventually he found out about the Legion.
He’d probably tell you that he joined it to make sure that the Legion did what it vitally needed to do – namely, implode the stagnation of the United Planets – properly. And to be fair, that’s what he believes. But he believes it because he can’t admit the real reasons he joined. He’ll never admit to anybody that he joined the Legion because he’s terrified – absolutely fucking petrified – of what he might do when he goes insane and really earns the name Brainiac, and that he wants to make sure that he’s surrounded by the most capable and powerful heroes in the universe when he finally snaps so they can deal with him. (The fact that he might be the first Coluan to ever have stable twelfth-level intelligence is one he’s never allowed himself the luxury of considering.)
And he could never admit, not even to himself, that what he wants more than anything is a family.