What are the cables connected to Brainiac's head and how do they help him? Is he less powerful when he is untethered?
from Superman: Unbound
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Brainiac was a fashion-challenged Silver Age villain in the Superman Rogue's Gallery. He was originally an alien from the planet Colu. The inhabitants of that world resembled humans with green skin. Brainiac was the most intelligent and ruthless of the species. Brainiac is considered to be one of the most intelligent beings in the galaxy. This will remain a primary element of the character's overall psychology even as the character evolves over the decades.
Brainaic (in most of his modern depictions) is a computer in the shape of a man. His most recent depictions have him as the supercomputer that participated in the destruction of Krypton by falsifying Jor-El's data to the council of Elders. He is also noted for having miniaturized the city of Kandor and stealing it away for his own purposes.
The cables he is often depicted with are usually a connection to a much larger and more formidable computational aspect of his body. Think of his smaller body as a remote and the larger structure he is standing in as the actually Brainiac computer. The cables also connect him to power sources, energy supplies, control of weapon systems and often the ability to control various technologies either within him or of an alien origin. The most depicted source of those tentacles has been a skull-shaped construction which acts as a spaceship and base of operations for Brainiac.
Depending on the medium, era, and writer, Brainiac's abilities vary widely. He is considered to be one of Superman's deadliest enemies, potentially because he has harnessed the knowledgebase of dozens of worlds which he stores in his main computer body. He connects to this database, by the cables in his head. And for the record, he is able to go wireless, but he is generally less powerful that way.