Superman TAS: Ghost In The Machine

Featured Screen Shot

Screen Shots

Quotes

Superman: Why are you willing to risk your life for Luthor? What does he have on you?
Mercy: Nothing. Before I met him I was living on the streets like a stray dog. He took me in, made me what I am.

Synopsis "Ghost In The Machine"

Previously in “Stolen Memories“: All Kryptonian computer networks, libraries, and research facilities were integrated into the Brainiac artificial intelligence. Brainiac frustrated Jor-El’s attempts to prove that Krypton was doomed because it was too busy downloading itself into an escape craft. After Krypton exploded Brainiac began a campaign of terror across the cosmos. It destroyed dozens of civilisations after stealing their scientific and cultural records so that it alone would have that information. Brainiac eventually reached the planet Earth were it was seemingly destroyed in a collaboration between Jor-El’s son (Kal-El alias Clark Kent alias Superman) and the industrialist Lex Luthor. However, Luthor arrogantly ignored the strange computer code that Brainiac had left in his systems…

The Pentagon’s top brass and the Press have gathered in Lexcorp’s rooftop exhibition suite to see whatever new wonder Lex Luthor has to reveal. Mercy Graves, Luthor’s bodyguard, fusses over him as he prepares to face the Press. Lex takes the podium and tells his stunned audience that two sidewinder missiles have been fired at the building they are in. He then reveals the Lexcorp Sky Sentry, a high-intensity magnetic canon designed to knock out the guidance systems of incoming missiles. However, the Sky Sentry fails to turn on and Clark Kent makes a quick exit to become Superman. He deflects the missiles so that they explode harmless in the harbour. The Press, who have had their lives put in jeopardy by Lex’s product stunt (“premature product launch” as Lois Lane taunts), angrily crowd around him, but he leaves the exhibition area without commenting. In private, however, Lex is furious and decides to investigate the matter “personally and alone”.

Luthor is working late into the night when he receives an untraceable message telling him that morning’s incident was not simple equipment failure and that he should go to R&D in Sector 6 if he wants to learn the truth. Lex finds the lab robots in Sector 6 behaving strangely. One of them grabs him and drags him before a bank of monitors. The computerised image of Brainiac then appears on the monitors and tells him that “I managed to survive your betrayal by downloading myself into these computers.” The Sky Sentry stunt was done to attract Lex’s attention. Brainiac has been using the robot drones in Sector 6 to create a new android body for himself, but they have only been able to do so much. Brainiac now needs Luthor’s “hands and brilliance” to finish the job. The captive Luthor reluctantly gets to work, but Brainiac pushes him to exhaustion and won’t let him sleep. A starving Lex has to subsist on chocolate bars from the lab’s vending machine.

Knowing that Lex Luthor is too smart to slip-up so publicly makes Lois Lane and Clark Kent suspect sabotage. The next day Kent goes to the Lexcorp building to interview Lex, but is told that he is not seeing visitors. However, Clark’s x-ray vision shows him that Luthor’s office is empty. He warns Luthor’s secretary that he’s going to publish a story alleging sabotage within Lexcorp. Mercy over hears this and tries contacting Lex on the intercom again. A computer simulation of Lex created by Brainiac tells her that he doesn’t want to be disturbed, but Clark knows that there is nobody is in the office that the digital-Lex appears to be speaking from. He barges past Mercy and shows her that Luthor’s office is indeed empty. She’s stunned, but regains her composure and asks Clark to leave. He tells her to call him when Lex turns up.

Lex enjoyed watching the altercation between Mercy and Clark on Brainiac’s monitors. However, Brainiac tells him that they are a “minor problem easily eliminated.” That evening Clark is working from home and talking to Lois on the telephone. She notes how closely Mercy hovers around Lex, closer than a body-guard would normally be. Their call is interrupted by an anonymous telephone caller who asks Clark if he is indeed Clark Kent before hanging up. Seconds later a missile crashes through his window. Clark catches it and tries to fly it out of the city before it explodes. He’s clear of his apartment building, but the missile explodes before he’s clear of the roof line. He’s unharmed, but his civilian clothing is shredded (conveniently leaving him in his Superman costume). The explosion destroys an overhead roadway and Superman has to struggle to catch the debris before it crashes into the railway far below.

Mercy reviews the Lexcorp Building’s security tapes which show Lex going to Sector 6, but she is ambushed by a horde of Brainiac’s drones before she can investigate further. They surround her just before Superman crashes through the ceiling. He makes swift work of the drones and then tells Mercy that he followed the vapour trail from the rocket fired at Clark Kent back to Lexcorp. She struggles with her loyalty to Lex, but realises that he could be in danger. Mercy then shows Superman the video of Lex entering the R&D lab and they set off to investigate together. He questions her loyalty to Luthor and she tells him that before she met Lex she was living on the streets, Lex took her in and made her the person she is today.

In the Sector 6 Lab Luthor admits that he has a begrudging admiration for Brainiac’s design and tells him that his circuitry is the most advanced that he’s ever seen. However, Brainiac retorts that it’s also the last circuitry he’ll ever see. Luthor throws down his tools and refuses to complete the job as it would mean his instant death. Unfortunately the android is complete enough for Brainiac to download his programme into and complete himself. The operational Brainiac android fires a blast of energy that sends Luthor sprawling, knocking himĀ  unconscious as he lands. He is discovered by Superman and Mercy as the explore the darkened laboratory.

Superman is shocked to see Brainiac again, but has no time to question him as the laboratory’s powerful robot arm grabs him. Mercy dodges Brainiac’s blasts, but the android proves invulnerable to her own blaster and she too is knocked unconscious. Superman breaks out of the robot arm and stars brawling with Brainiac. However, Brainiac claims to have deliberately upgraded his new body to withstand Superman’s assault. Luthor regains consciousness just in time to dive out-of-the-way of the wreckage from their melee. Mercy shouts at Superman to use the Sky Sentry. He jumps into the firing seat and fires at Brainiac just as Brainiac fires at him. Their colliding blasts shift back and forth, but the Sentry eventually magnetises Brainiac. Every piece of loose metal in the lab flies at Brainiac including the overhead beams and even the Sky Sentry itself.

Superman holds up the roof while Luthor escapes, but Lex has no compunction about leaving Mercy who has been trapped under a fallen cabinet. Superman rescues her and carries her to safety. Later, construction crews are digging out the wrecked underground Lab and Lex is determined to salvage some of Brainac’s technology. He rebukes Superman’s assertion that the technology should be handed over to the Pentagon and leaves for a charity event. He snaps at a downbeat Mercy as they leave and its clear that her high opinion of Lex isn’t what it use to be.

Continuity

  • Luthor explicitly claims to be the head of the world’s largest multinational corporation.
  • Clark uses Mercy’s surname Graves. Mercy was living on the streets until Luthor rescued her and gave her a job. A more physical relationship is implied with Mercy showing obvious fondness and loyalty to Luthor that he neither acknowledges or reciprocates.

Commentary

Ghost In The Machine

The “Ghost in the Machine” is the name given to the mind/body dualism of Rene Descartes by the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle and to a book by Arthur Koestler on the subject. It is the classic conception of there being something different between the immaterial mind (the “ghost”) and the material brain (“the machine”). The meaning for this episode is two-fold. The most obvious one is that Brainiac is the “ghost”, the software programme, left over in Luthor’s “machines” since the events of “Stolen Memories“. The more subtle meaning is Mercy Graves – she is part of Luthor’s corporate machine, but may as well be a ghost for all the gratitude that she gets.

Lex/Brainiac

In some way Lex Luthor and Brainiac are mirror images of each other. Lex is the Earth-bound human genius supervillain where Brainiac is the outer space genius supervillain. These two vile villains first teamed up in Superman (vol 1) #167, “The Team of Luthor and Brainiac” written by Ed Hamilton (same bloke they named the Professor for) and artists Curt Swan and George Klein. It was the first story to acknowledge that Brainiac was actually a computer where he’d previously just be a green-skinned alien.

The idea of Lex Luthor building Brainiac a new body comes from a 1980s Superman story called “The Brainiac Trilogy” by Roger Stern and George Perez. The reimagined post-Crisis Brainaic was an alien intelligence called Vril Dox that had been executed on its home world by dematerialization. His intelligence survived and merged with the body of a human circus mind reader called Milton Fine who used the stage name Brainiac. Dox overwhelmed Fine’s mind and used his telepathy to effectively seal-off and control a remote Lexcorp laboratory. He used an entire team of scientists to upgrade Fine’s human body into a superhuman one more like his original.

Lex tried to investigate and was used as a puppet. Needless to say Superman eventually investigated and freed the scientists, however, Brainiac did manage to escape. This story is quite like that one, minus the Milton Fine body and the larger team of scientists. The name Milton Fine will familiar if you are a Smallville viewer as that’s the secret identity used by the BRAIN Inter-Active Construct (Brainiac) is that show’s continuity.

Notes

  • The first few bars of music from this episode opens is evocative of the Krypton Theme from Superman the Movie.
  • There are a lot of things in this episode that show up again in Justice League Unlimited. The Sky Sentry magnetic cannon shows up in “The Return” when Lex rebuilds it with the Atom’s help to use against Amazo. The partnership with Brainiac and Lex forms the foundation of the big plotline that runs throughout the first two seasons of Justice League Unlimited as Brainiac takes over Lex and then in the third season as Lex tries to recover Brainiac.
  • Normally there is a team of a dozen or so artists handling the story boards, character design, and prop design, but for this episode there are just two people doing storyboards and two people doing character/prop design. I’m not sure if that’s the smallest number ever, but it has to be one of the smaller teams.

Opinion

Highlights

The wretched and feral Lex Luthor

Oddities

Why would a bald man need his beautiful brown-haired body-guard to brush a brown hair off his suit? Think about it.

My Thoughts

“Ghost In the Machine” is one of those great Superman episodes that works on several levels. It appears to just be about the return of Brainiac who has been hiding in Lexcorp’s computer systems, but the real heart of the episode is Lex Luthor’s relationship with Mercy Graves, his bodyguard. She dotes on Lex Luthor and it is obvious to everybody – except the lead males – what her real feeling are. I thought it was interesting the way that Lois Lane serves as a form of Greek Chorus making the wisecracks and observations that are occurring to the viewers. Just like Lex, Clark is oblivious to what is going on until it hits him. The script deftly keeps him from becoming too dense and scenes like the confrontation between Clark and Mercy outside Luthor’s office remind us that this Clark Kent is not as mild-mannered as his predecessors.

From a production standpoint this episode of great and is scattered with little moments of true excellence – the Krypton Theme hint, the missile smoke trail as it flies past Superman, him crashing through the sealing. This is a really cool episode. Everything feels like it just comes together perfectly.

The Verdict

Stars
0
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
TypeSiteReviewerRatingEquivalent
Grand Average 80%
Character Site The Captain's Justice League Homepage Jason Kirk 4/5