Created by Apokoliptian scientist Himon using the mysterious Element X, they are generally thought to be sentient, miniaturized, portable supercomputers, although their true nature and origins are unknown. They possess wondrous powers and abilities not understood even by their users, the gods of New Genesis. These range from teleportation (they can summon Boom Tubes) to energy manipulation. Mother Boxes have been seen healing the injured, including Darkseid himself, after he was beaten by Doomsday. Metron stated that each Mother Box shares "a mystical rapport with nature". They provide their owner with unconditional love and self-destruct when their owner dies.
Mother Boxes have sacrificed themselves for causes they have believed in and are greatly respected by the people of New Genesis. In physical appearance they are most often in the shape of a small box, but they can also be much larger (as is the one carried by the Forever People), and do not always need to be in the shape of a box at all (Mr. Miracle had Mother Box circuitry woven into the hood of his costume). They usually communicate with a repetitive "ping!" which can be understood by their users.
Superman uses a Mother Box to get to Apokolips in Superman/Doomsday Hunter/Prey #1.
Mother Boxes can access the energy of the Source for various effects; they can change the gravitational constant of an area, transfer energy from one place to another, sense danger, sense life, create force fields, rearrange molecular structure of matter, absorb or project powerful shock blast, create electro-webs, control the mental state of a host, communicate telepathically with a host or other life form, manipulate the life-force of a host to sustain it past fatal injuries, open and close boom tubes, take over and control non-sentient machines, evolve non-sentient machines, merge sentient beings into a single more powerful being, sustain a life form in a hostile environment such as space, and do many other things. Mother Boxes have an affinity for the Source and are believed to draw their power from it. In that sense, they can be seen as a computer that links man to God.
To the New Gods, they are common appliances (used much like a PDA on Earth), in as much as a sentient device can be called an "appliance". Other DC characters are given access to them at specific times, when they are in need of aid. Notably, Superman was given one when he went in pursuit of Doomsday, which managed to open boom tubes to take Superman to Apokolips, heal Darkseid (when Superman needed his foe's aid against the Cyborg Superman after he'd taken a serious beating from Doomsday), give Superman a power boost to battle Doomsday in the form of various high-tech weapons such as an ultrasonics gun and a laser sword, used Waverider's gauntlet to send Doomsday to the end of the universe, and healed Superman's injuries (simultaneously restoring his original clothes) at the end of the battle, although this last act drained it of power.
Mother Boxes can only be manufactured by a being born either on New Genesis or Apokolips, and not all of them can do it (at least one on Apokolips failed). This is accomplished through much training. It is implied in the books that the maker's character influences the successful construction of a Mother Box. This quality applied to all the Fourth World books (Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Pal; The Forever People; The New Gods; and Mister Miracle) at the time of their original run by Jack Kirby. In later versions of the previously mentioned books, and in other stories where elements from the Fourth World books (such as the Mother Box) were used, other writers altered the crafting and abilities of Mother Boxes to allow for their making and usage by humans and entities from other planets (such as Superman).
Orion has a Mother Box which controls his rage and bestial appearance, but it has been removed several times: Once when it was used by Steel as a means of blocking a telepathic probe on the planet Rann (Orion was unable to use it in this manner as he was so enraged by his current capture that it was unable to block his thoughts due to it expending so much energy simply trying to calm him down) and also when Metron gave it to Oracle during the Mageddon crisis after Orion had removed it so that he could confront Mageddon with his full rage and power, where it bonded with her computers to allow her to telepathically connect with the minds of every person on the planet. During Walt Simonson's Orion series it seemingly died, and he used a unique Apokaliptian Father Box instead. This box communicated by going "ting!" rather than "ping!", and was designed to turn him towards Darkseid.
Due to time travel, a Mother Box spent hundreds of years in a Japanese temple, waiting for the Forever People to reclaim it.
Iron Man was given a Mother Box by Metron in the JLA/Avengers mini-series. He used it to predict the JLA's moves and had it interface with his own armor.
In Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle storyline, only one Mother Box has survived the destruction of New Genesis. It is owned by Shilo Norman, the third Mister Miracle, who sometimes calls it "motherboxxx".
In the video game Justice League Heroes, Brainiac steals a Mother Box from the Watchtower for Darkseid, but the game presents the device visually as larger and cube-shaped with a single red eye. It is far more powerful as well, transforming Earth into a New Apokolips and back at a whim.
In the Starman series, Ted Knight was lent a Mother Box by Orion to be incorporated, along with Kitty Faulkner's energy-detecting technology, into the spaceship his son Jack used to track down a former Starman, Will Payton. This Mother Box was destroyed along with the spaceship by missiles fired from Throneworld. A notable feature of this Mother Box was the fact Ted Knight's consciousness, memories and personality were apparently copied and served as the Box's consciousness, as well as creating a holographic image of Knight to aid Jack. Since this specific box was programmed by Orion, it was prone to violent solutions.
In the possible future seen in the JLA: Rock of Ages storyline (also by Grant Morrison), Darkseid relates how Granny Goodness and her forces attacked the central computer intelligence on New Genesis and how her mind became a part of the Mother Boxes, which were then transformed into an insane sentient computer called the "Grandmother Box" or more commonly "Granny Box".
The Father Box, an Apokoliptian version of a Mother Box, first appeared in the Orion series by Simonson in 2000. Darkseid’s former aide Mortalla presents Orion with an Apokoliptian Father Box.
In Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle storyline, a Father Box is mentioned as one of the "Seven Treasures" the New Gods left to the Earth's first superhero. It came in the form of two dice. It was called "the Foundation Stone of Manhattan" in Manhattan Guardian and "Croatoan" in Klarion. Eventually, it was stolen by Klarion the Witch Boy, who took it to the future.
In the Young Justice episode "Disordered", Desaad uses a Father Box to control the Infinity-Man until the New Genesphere joins with Infinity-Man to regain control of him. In the episode "The Hunt" Lex Luthor gives the runaways a Father Box to rescue the team and one to Deathstroke to retrieve the key to War World for The Light.
In Justice League Unlimited, the Mother Box appears in the double episode "Twilight of the Gods". In it, the Justice League travel to Apokolips, where in the end of the events Superman deals a resounding defeat to Darkseid. Batman uses a Mother Box to generate a Boom Tube to prevent a rage-blinded Superman from killing Darkseid, and to escape the destruction of Brainiac's base. It also appears in the episode "Question Authority", in which Superman and Captain Atom are fiercely attacked by Mantis, Superman later takes his Mother Box to generate a Boom Tube to send him back to his homeplanet Apokolips.
In Young Justice (TV series), the Mother Box appears in episode "Disordered" alongside the Forever People. Its various uses are used including opening Boom Tubes, tracking New Genesis technology, summoning Infinity-Man and healing Sphere. In the episode "The Hunt", Lex Luthor gives a Father Box to his band of young metahumans in order to track down the superheroes who had been kidnapped by the Reach. The Father Box is later destroyed by Asami Koizumi after she discovers that the teens had been manipulated and lied to by Luthor.
In Batman Beyond, the Mother Box appears in the double episode "The Call". In it, the Justice League Unlimited travel to the Fortress of Solitude, and Barda uses it to transport the star-shaped aliens back to their home planet.
In the animated film Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, the Mother Box appears in two different situations. First, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman seek Big Barda's help to reach Apokolips to rescue the kidnapped Kara Zor-El, Superman requests Barda expressly the lending of her Mother Box for such ends. And secondly, during Superman and Darkseid's climactic battle, Kara takes advantage of Darkseid's distraction to reprogram his Mother Box coordinates, to generate a Boom Tube that sends him not to his home planet Apokolips, but deep into space.