Vril Dox. That’s not a name you hear very often, even if you have a pull list at your local comic book store. It’s the sort of DC Comics lore that is most often remembered by devoted fans of Superman and cosmic stories. Yet when it comes to those stories, it’s also one of the names that contains the most potential and, luckily for DC Comics readers of all stripes, one that appears to be on the rise. In the newest issue of Justice League Odyssey, a series exploring the fringes of space as new planets and galactic forces emerge, Vril Dox made his return and seemed to ensure his place in future events that will affect all of DC Comics.
While it can be fun to collect trivia and characters from lesser-known series of the past, the real joy of comics comes with sharing these stories. It looks like that’s part of the plan as creators like Scott Snyder, Joshua Williamson, and Stjepan Sejic reshape the cosmic nature of DC Comics. They are pulling from classic characters and stories as well as inventing plenty of their own, and that means Vril Dox is a name that all readers will need to know soon enough. It’s also why we’ve prepared a quick guide to help anyone catch up on who this green skinned alien is and what makes him an especially interesting addition to the current line of Justice League comics.
Vril Dox is best known for appearances in the post-Crisis era of DC Comics, but he was created far earlier in the publisher’s history. He first appeared in the pages of Superman #167, created by writers Cary Bates and Edmond Hamilton and legendary Superman artist Curt Swan. In that story he was introduced in the midst of a team-up between Lex Luthor and Brainiac, where the two villains shrunk Superman and almost managed to defeat their nemesis before outside forces intervened. This story also featured the first appearance of the Computer Tyrants of Colu, the rulers of Brainiac’s homeworld. He appeared in only a brief appearance in this issue as the adopted son of Brainiac and made scattered appearances throughout the rest of the Silver Age in comics like Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
In the wake of the cataclysmic reorganization of continuity in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was unclear when, or even if, Vril Dox would reappear in DC Comics. It took three years for him to be introduced (and reimagined) by writers Keith Giffen and Bill Mantlo and artist Todd McFarlane in the 1989 crossover event Invasion!. In this reimagining, his original name is actually Vril Dox II, as he is now a clone of the original Brainiac, choosing to use his Coluan name rather than his “father’s” title. In this new conception of the character he was still intended to be Brainiac’s successor if anything were to happen to the original mastermind and conqueror of worlds. This new version also introduced the organization known as L.E.G.I.O.N., which received a spinoff series with Vril Dox at its helm soon after Invasion! came to a conclusion.
The original L.E.G.I.O.N. series established Vril Dox as a similar sort of character to his father, but one with a radically different set of intentions. While Vril Dox was both brilliant and manipulative, he sought to be a source for good in the universe. He formed L.E.G.I.O.N. as a universal peacekeeping force willing to use violent means to support what Dox considered to be the greater good. The team was primarily composed of new characters, but the alien bounty hunter Lobo joined them in the early issues and would remain an important figure for both the group and Vril Dox. Over time many changes would be made, including a rebellion led by Vril Dox’s own son, Lyrl Dox, and the establishment of a similar team renamed as R.E.B.E.L.S. Throughout it all, Vril Dox was an anti-hero dedicated to the establishment of galactic peace by any means necessary.
Another major continuity mixup, the creation of the New 52, led to Vril Dox’s seeming erasure from DC Comics. The name was only mentioned as Brainiac’s original identity, but no sign of a son or clone was to be seen in the stories of this era. Vril Dox only returned following recent fresh start provided by the Rebirth line, in which many of the changes of the New 52 were retconned or simply ignored.
Vril Dox was reintroduced in the pages of the miniseries Justice League: No Justice, discovered by Earth heroes deep within the prisons of his home planet Colu. When they free Vril Dox, they also inform him that his father was recently killed in an accident initiated by Amanda Waller. His characterization in this story shows him to still be a brilliant strategist, but an initial unwillingness to help the Justice League save Colu leaves it unclear whether this version of Vril Dox would continue to occupy a heroic role. That will certainly be clarified in the pages of Justice League Odyssey as Vril Dox continues his return to DC Comics and reasserts his place in a chaotic galaxy.
Even in the current age of superhero media, in which DC Comics is supporting a wide array of new stories in movies, television, and video games, in addition to the continuation of their extensive comics line, Vril Dox has remained largely contained to comics. His most notable adaptation came in the DC Universe Online: Legends game, which posed Brainiac as the game’s central villain. In this version of the DC universe, Brainiac is actually Vril Dox who has accepted his father’s intended destiny and attacked Earth as a result of his evolved role in the galaxy.
There have also been rumors of Vril Dox making an appearance in the ongoing Supergirl series on the CW. Brainiac recently made his first appearance on the show and appears likely to continue as a recurring villain. Vril Dox has already appeared in a digital tie-in comic to that same series, implying his current existence even if he has yet to appear on screen. The expansion of the Brainiac mythology and groundwork laid in comics might mean that it’s simply a matter of time before Vril Dox arrives for his first live-action adaptation on television.