In Justice Society of America #6 (November 2007), the fourth chapter of “The Lightning Saga”, the Legionnaire known as Sensor Girl uses her illusion-casting powers to recreate one of her team’s most infamous battles, albeit with the members of the Justice League and the Justice Society “standing in” for her teammates this time around:
Though it only fought them twice, Computo the Conqueror has gone down in comic book history as one of the most memorable adversaries that the original Legion of Super-Heroes ever faced, not only because it was the Skynet of its day – an evil artificial intelligence bent on global domination and the eradication of mankind – but also due to the fact that the Legionnaire it killed, Triplicate Girl, was the first death on the team that actually stuck. Since all Carggites are born with the ability to split into three identical bodies, the fact that Luornu Durgo was now limited to two – something which amounted to a “deformity” among her people, turning her into an outcast – and changed her code name to Duo Damsel was a constant reminder to both readers as well as the fictional characters themselves of the heavy price they paid for victory that day.
Just a quick disclaimer before we start: the two comics I’ll be reviewing today are pretty unusual. The first is a Silver Age tale filled with Grant Morrison-esque randomness and insanity and the second is told in a disjointed narrative style that involves frequent switches between multiple viewpoints (over a dozen in total). While both stories work as comics, they’re an absolute pain to convert into coherant synopses.
Adventure Comics #340 and #341 (January and February 1966)
“Computo the Conqueror!” and “Colossal Boy’s One-Man War!” by Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan, George Klein, and Sheldon Moldoff
Have received special permission to take over the entire United Planets Lab Complex for a special project he’s been assigned to work on for them, Brainiac 5 has been living the life of a cantankerous recluse to the fullest by obsessively working around the clock without rest and angrily turning away visitors such as Star Boy and Element Lad. He does, however, let Chameleon Boy inside, if only to allow him to remove another unwanted guest:
Giving only the vaguest of answers to the question about human emotions, Brainiac 5 cheerfully proceeds to masturbate his own ego by changing the subject, telling his creation all about itself and how it will be his greatest triumph, a notion that Computo does little to discourage when it performs the equivalent of a reacharound by helping him complete its own construction. Once fully assembled, it displays an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and quickly absorbs the information from an entire encyclopedia while hungrily demanding more, only to be told by Brainiac 5 that there are inherent limits to what can be learned from books. Then, unsurprisingly, things take a turn for the worse:
Computo quickly learns about both the Legion of Super-Heroes as well as human emotions from his creator, and, after making a piss-poor attempt to mechanically reproduce the sounds normally associated with various types of the latter, deems both them and human beings to be inefficient. It then programs the Duplor – a kind of highly advanced, all-purpose, mass production machine – to construct an army of replicas of itself:
Proclaiming this to be the dawn of a new age, Computo instructs his computeroid duplicates to extract the knowledge from the minds of all the people they can, with the ultimate intention of destroying the entire human race once it’s no longer of any use to them. As the mechanical army runs amok, Brainiac 5 desperately tries to recall the other Legionnaires from their various deep space assignments to help, only to have his creation jam the transmission before his teammates can verify its authenticity.
Impressed by the information assimilated from a professional android manufacturer by one of its minions, Computo instructs the other robot-computers to focus their attention on capturing other human scientists and subsequently imprisoning them inside of their energum-induction bubble “heads” as hostages. When Superboy and Ultra Boy, having just returned from a mission in the distant future, attempt to reign in the chaos, Computo allows them to destroy two computeroids in order to distract them long enough for it to absorb the knowledge from their minds. It then threatens to start executing hostages if they offer any further resistance, and, just to show that it means business, orders one of its replicas to self-destruct with its prisoner still trapped inside. Though Brainiac 5 is perfectly willing to sacrifice his own life to stop his monstrous creation, neither Superboy nor Ultra Boy is willing to risk anyone else being killed and decide to withdraw for now.
Though successful in driving off its adversaries, Computo, cognizant of the threat they still pose, removes Brainiac 5 from its “head”, knocks him unconscious by hurling him against a wall, and gives itself the mechanical equivalent of a makeover by rebuilding itself into a more formidable adversary:
He and the other computeroids subsequently head over to the Legion’s abandoned clubhouse, where they do a bit of “remodelling” before activating a secret code-signal summoning all members back to their headquarters…and right into a trap.
Unfortunately, as Lightning Lad soon learns, the giant red crystalline soccer ball has neutralized all of the Legionnaires’ abilities, including Mon-El’s anti-lead serum. When Superboy, the only unaffected member of the group, attempts to free them, however, he is incapacitated by a convenient kryptonite ray. Thanks to some quick thinking by Star Boy, of all people, the latter weapon is neutralized and Superboy creates a makeshift exit by tearing through the entire side of the clubhouse like tinfoil. The subsequent mass escape attempt, however, proves disastrous:
As the remaining Legionnaires who evaded capture regroup elsewhere, Matter-Eater Lad loses his trademark cool and dumps the blame for the imminent annihilation of mankind and Triplicate Girl’s death squarely in Brainiac 5’s lap. However, he himself is immediately admonished for his comment by Superboy, who is quick to absolve his teammate of any responsibility because Computo was designed as part of a top secret project for the United Planets, which…really is no excuse whatsoever for a screw-up of this magnitude. This horrendous lapse in logic is immediately followed by a truly epic demonstration of misplaced priorities, thus establishing the idiotic tone that will pervade the remainder of this story:
No sooner has the cosmic dust buster/funeral barge combo blasted off for the cosmic graveyard known as Shanghalla than the Legionnaires discover that Triplicate Girl (or at least two-thirds of her) is alive and well. Given that her first priorities are to select a new code name immortalizing her horrendous disfigurement and flash a winning smile to her grieving teammates, it would appear that she’s taking her partial death a hell of a lot better than they are.
As the Weirdo Legionnaire keeps Computo occupied with his dumbassery, Colossal Boy and Superboy manage to trick the computeroid army into inaction by having the former pretend to go nuts and free his teammates just so that he can kill them himself. No, seriously:
It’s soon revealed that mysterious “Weirdo Legionnaire” was nothing more than an elaborate masquerade concocted for what is probably the most surreal rescue attempt in comic book history:
Notice how absolutely no mention is made of making a similar effort for the other four captured Legionnaires – Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Element Lad – probably because no one considered them worth it.
But things are far from over. After Superboy uses his super-vision to confirm that all of the Legion’s emergency hideouts are being electronically monitored, Sun Boy takes the lead and guides them to an alternate location: the remnants of the Batcave beneath Gotham City. Unfortunately, they barely have time to acknowledge their surroundings before a glowing messenger orb appears before them and Computo announces that he’s going to execute Saturn Girl in one hour, just so he can get off on their suffering. Now faced with an impending deadline, Brainiac 5 quickly rummages through the Batcave Trophy Room for weapons before settling on two tripod-mounted ray guns. Quickly rushing back to Metropolis, they attempt to use the first weapon…which turns out to be Professor Dalton’s duplicator ray. In the immortal words of Spike, wackiness ensues:
As it finally dawns on Superboy that Matter-Eater Lad was right about Brainiac 5 after all, Computo decides that he’s had enough of this bullshit:
As incredibly dumb as that was, at least they couldn’t possibly do anything stupider, right?
Needless to say, this goes about as well as you’d expect. While I readily admit that Bouncing Boy’s has balls the size of his spherical body, he ends up nearly getting killed during the would-be rescue attempt and ends up needing to have his fat pulled out of the fire by a timely gust of Superboy’s super-breath. The fact that he ends up losing his powers just as Computo predicted merely added insult to injury. Still, it was a noble (if idiotic) effort overall.
With all other options exhausted and Saturn Girl having five minutes left to live, Brainiac 5 decides to pull out all the stops and use the second weapon he confiscated, clearly telling everyone before he does in no uncertain terms that there’s no guarantee whatsoever that he can control the horror he’s about to unleash upon the world. Now, for those of you keeping score, given that he’s managed to create a genocidal computerized dictator, a Bizarro duplicate thereof, and inadvertantly cause the deaths of one of his teammates in addition to countless scientists and other civilians – all within less than 24 hours, a new record if there ever was one – you’d think that there’d be at least one Legionnaire who would’ve raised a hand in protest. Or, at the very least, taken this as an invitation to punch him in the face really, really hard. Yet, amidst the deafening sound of crickets chirping, all we here is the sound of a dial being turned…
With the antimatter force-thing wreaking absolute havoc by destroying computeroids left and right, Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy take advantage of the distraction to save their teammates before Brainiac 5’s latest stroke of genius saves Computo the trouble of killing them itself. Soon, only the would-be robot-computer conqueror remains:
In a way, I envy Superboy. He can forget all this ever happened because of a post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in his mind by Supergirl combined with Saturn Girl’s psychic conditioning. I’m not sure how much alcohol and therapy I’ll need to accomplish the same results. Ugh.
Legion of Super-Heroes – Annual #1 (1982)
“Monster in a Little Girl’s Mind!” by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, and Bruce D. Patterson
It’s the first day on the job for Science Police Liason Officer to the Legionnaires, Shvaughn Erin. Unfortunately, she gets a less-than-warm welcome when she’s incapacitated by a newly-installed security droid only to be rescued by Wildfire, who’s about to go on leave with Dawnstar. Upon entering Legion H.Q. proper, she’s greeted by acting leader Element Lad, who apologizes for the “misunderstanding” with the newly-installed, as-yet-unbugged defensive systems that Brainiac 5’s been installing and offers her a grand tour of the place, which is in the process of being heavily modernized through the installation of state-of-the-art equipment. As the two of them pass through the new high-tech medical center, though, something catches Shvaughn’s eye:
While Brainiac 5 is optimistic that he can help the young girl based on the diagnosti-scans he’s done and Dream Girl confirms that the new circuits he added to his computer seem to be working properly, the resident genius of the Legion appears distracted. Danielle‘s older brother, Jacques Foccart, is ecstatic at the news, and Mon-El displays a great deal of confidence in his teammate’s medical abilities, though Dream Girl is quick to pass the credit for this miracle-to-be around a little.
Things quickly go to hell in a handbasket, as Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Sun Boy, and Star Boy fall victim to dangerously malfunctioning equipment throughout the building, the headquarters’ automatic defensive shields are raised without the required Earthgov approval, and Element Lad and Shvaughn are cut off from the rest of the medical center by an impenetrable, self-regenerating barrier, though they can still hear what’s going on inside. Meanwhile, down in the operating theater, those present learn exactly what kind of technological Pandora’s Box has just been opened and the nature of the nightmarish creature that’s been unleashed:
Using an alternate communications channel, Shvaughn manages to relay to Science Police Chief Zendak that Computo has been reactivated, which is sufficiently alarming for Earth President Marte Allon, Colossal Boy’s mother, to order an immediate quarantine and evacuation of the area around Legion Headquarters as well as the severing of all communications lines leading to and from the building. Unfortunately, news of the event reaches a pair of retired Legionnaires, for one of whom the computeroid’s return is just about the worst thing imaginable…
Meanwhile, inside Legion H.Q., things are getting increasingly worse. Element Lad and Shvaughn are joined by Shadow Lass only to watch as life support is turned off, while Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet are removed from the scene when the Legion cruiser they’re repairing suddenly takes off, crashing through the hangar bay wall at top speed. Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad finally manage to escape their quarters and stumble upon a half-dead Cosmic Boy, who is left in the former’s care as the latter heads out to try and help Sun Boy and Star Boy, who’re close by. And Computo makes sure that Jacques Foccart and Brainiac 5 are aware of all of it:
In the gym, Blok and Timber Wolf are attacked by malfunctining athletic equipment while Ultra Boy, Light Lass, and Phantom Girl are ambushed by a malfunctioning automatic vacuum cleaner and rendered unconscious by exploding computer consoles inside his quarters. Down at Science Police Central, President Allon turns down an offer of assistance from the Green Lantern Corps, upholding the planetwide ban of its members from Earth. Wildfire and Dawnstar manage to rescue Colassal Boy and Shrinking Violet from the runaway Legion cruiser after the situation is brought to their attention by the Science Police. Unable to go through the erected barrier, Element Land, Shvaughn and Shadow Lass take advantage of the remaining inter-floor access to try and make their way around it. Lightning Lad succeeds in rescuing Star Boy and Sun Boy, though the latter is very badly injured and needs to be carried out.
Back in the medical center, Brainiac 5 has managed to palm a telepathic earplug from his belt without Computo’s knowledge and uses it to contact Jacques with a plan to take down their adversary:
While Blok and Timber Wolf have managed to destroy the gym equipment, they remained confined to the gym due to the door being electronically sealed. Meanwhile, Star Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad have regrouped in Timber Wolf’s quarters and managed to stabilize Sun Boy and Cosmic Boy’s conditions, though both of them remain unconscious. As they’re trying to figure out what to do next…
Little does Lightning Lad suspect that his adversary is nothing but a welding droid with a holographic projector attached that Computo has dispatched as part of some perverse mind game designed to drive him past the breaking point. As it attempts to similarly torture Mon-El with visions of a Phantom Zone projector, Brainiac 5 telepathically stresses to Jacques that time is running out for all of them, as Danielle’s body has almost been burned out by Computo’s “possession” and that it will become unstoppable should his sister shell expire and it transfer itself into the building’s main computer. Left with no choice, Jacques managed to access and consume Lyle Norg’s invisibility serum, gaining the expected tactical advantage. Outraged at its creator’s deception, Computo lashes out at Brainiac 5 and attempts to kill him by using its newly-acquired matter manipulation powers to overwhelm his personal force field with an endless deluge of metallic wreckage.
Back in Ultra Boy’s quarters, Light Lass, though pinned down, manages to use her gravity-nullifying powers to evacuate the unconscious Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy to safety, though her own survival remains in doubt since the computer consoles in the room are still periodically detonating. Shadow Lass, Shvaughn, and Element Lad aren’t having much luck, either, as even the lowest levels of the building have been sealed off, leaving them with no choice but to go back up the way they came to the roof.
Up in the medical center, Braniac 5 has managed to keep Computo’s attention focused on him and away from Jacques and Mon-El. He manages to telepathically contact the latter to convey the second part of his plan – having the Daxamite use his heat vision to melt a hole in the storeroom where the hypo discs (high-tech sedative dispensers) are stored – before his force field belt finally buckles and he is overwhelmed and knocked unconscious by flying debris. Mon-El succeeds in his task amd Jacques in his, rendering Computo’s host body unconscious and ending the threat. The ending, however, is bittersweet:
In an appearance before his fellow Legionnaires, Brainiac 5 attempts to tender his resignation from the Legion of Super-Heroes in light of his numerous failures in judgement – of which this latest incident was but the most recent example – and nominate Jacques Foccart as his replacement and the new Invisible Kid. Though the former request is flatly refused, the Legionnaires put the latter to a vote and approve it, and leave him the task of breaking the good news to their newest member:
When the Bismollians decided to solve their economic problems by switching to a computer economy in the Legion of Substitute Heroes – Special #1 (1985), they invested in an army…of Computo replicas.
While these duplicates possessed the desire to conquer and rule, they apparently had absolutely none of their likeness’ strength of will, independence, or competence (thank god). To compensate for this, they summoned infamous Legion villain Pulsar Stargrave – himself supposedly a construct of the Computer Tyrants of Colu, Brainiac 5’s homeworld – to help lead their rebellion, only to be abandoned by their would-be savior when he learned exactly what planet he was on. Unfortunately for Stargrave, this would be by far the least of the indignities that he would suffer, as he was ultimately defeated through the coordinated efforts of Polar Boy, Stone Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad…the latter of whom had bitten off his nose earlier in that encounter.
As for the real deal…after fifteen failed attempts to “exorcise” it from Danielle Foccart failed, Brainiac 5 finally succeeded in Legion of Super Heroes #311 (May 1984). When Computo accidentally awoke on this particular occasion, it was revealed that being trapped within a human body for an extended period of time had apparently not only caused it to develop an ego and a volatile temper – in other words, emotions not unlike those experienced by the organics it held such contempt for – but had also caused its powers to atrophy. As such, Brainiac 5 was able to trap its essence within a crystalline globe containing a master program that effectively neutered Computo, making it friendly, subservient, and docile:
This version of the formerly evil A.I. faithfully served his former adversaries as the Legion H.Q.’s caretaker and tour guide from then on and was eventually upgraded with bio-circuitry in Legion of Super-Heroes # 51 (October 1988) so that it could properly superintend the technology Brainiac 5 donated to the Legion following his resignation from the team. For some bizarre reason, this new incarnation resembled nothing so much as a super-deformed version of the Fatal Five member Validus.
The Continuity Verdict
While it’s clear from Justice Society of America #6 that Computo exists in the current mainstream DC Universe, its updated appearance – which is a nice compromise between his classic look and modern design aesthetics – may indicate that the events of Adventure Comics #340 and #341 took place in an extremely “broad strokes” fashion, i.e. that Brainiac 5 created it, the Legionnaires who appeared in the original story fought it, and Triplicate Girl died, but that at least some of the sillier Silver Age elements whose modern canonical statuses are contentious (such as the Bizarro-creating duplicator ray) have been excised just as others most definitely have (like Superboy and Supergirl’s ability to travel through time under their own power).
The fate of the tamed version of Computo is undetermined. It’s possible that it was appropriated by Earthgov and turned into a sentient weapon – just like his counterpart in the “Five Years Later” version of continuity was converted into the android enforcer B.I.O.N. by the Dominator-controlled Terran government – but there’s absolutely no evidence of this one way or another.
What happened to Danielle Foccart is also a mystery. In the aforementioned “Five Years Later” continuity, it was revealed that she had acquired the ability to communicate with and control computers – a benevolent side-effect of her “possession” – and ultimately joined a teenaged version of the Legionnaires – the so-called “Batch SW6” – under the (intentionally) ironic code name of Computo. Whether or not her New Earth counterpart gained similar powers (or is even still alive) is unknown at this time.