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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 72

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we take a look at “For the Man Who Has Everything,” from Superman Annual #11 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons…

Enjoy!

In the 1985 Superman Annual, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons delivered a wonderful tale about Superman’s birthday.

In it, the villain Mongul uses a telepathic plant called the “Black Mercy” to give Superman his heart’s desire, and effectively then leave Superman’s Fortress of Solitude ripe for Mongul’s taking.

Here is Superman trapped in the fantasy of the Black Mercy…

Luckily for Superman, his friends Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin (the second Robin, Jason Todd) were coming by to celebrate his birthday and they fight to save him.

Here’s a very nice character beat introducing the heroes to the issue…

The “chum” line is great.

Mongul’s introduction to the heroes is also handled beautifully…

While they tussle with Mongul, Superman is trapped in his “heart’s desire,” although he finds himself trapped in a Krypton where he is an ineffectual bureaucrat and his father is a person ridiculed for his beliefs (and Krypton itself is stuck in the middle of a religious war), which is presumably Superman trying to break free from the “Black Mercy’s” effects.

In any event, due to a little help from his friends, Superman eventually breaks free, and he is none too pleased…

This leads to an encounter where Moore and Gibbons have Superman deliver one of the rare occasions of Superman looking scary…

“Burn” has become an extremely memorable moment.

This Annual is a great example of a creative team taking an “adult” approach to superheroes without losing any of the glamor or coolness of the underlying concepts or characters. Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin and Superman are all very “cool” characters within this comic – it’s not making light of them, it’s embracing them, and that helps to make this such an impressive piece of stand-alone fiction.

And, of course, Dave Gibbons is absolutely amazing here – he makes EVERYone look good, he makes Superman look SCARY (which is hard to do), he makes Mongul imposing, he makes Jason Todd even look good!

If only Moore and Gibbons could have worked on another project after this one – who KNOWS how cool it could have been?

41 Comments

Rohan Williams

March 13, 2010 at 9:52 am

This was my favourite Superman story before All-Star came out. Nothing else touches it.

I loved Johns’ reintroduction of the Black Mercy into GL, as well – he’s one of the only guys able to pick up concepts left on the table by Moore and Morrison and use them effectively.

Jason Todd’s greatest moment, this story.

“The “chum” line is great.”

I have a feeling Batman wasn’t thinking clean thoughts. Then again, he’s Batman and can do whatever he wants.

It’s worth noting that this was made into one of the best episodes of Justice League also.

I wasn’t thrilled with this when I read it. I should read it again.

If what I’ve read is to be believed, the Justice League adaptation of this story is the only adaptation of Alan Moore’s work that the man himself likes. True or not, that episode was one of the best, in a series filled with great moments.

Yeah, the Justice League adaption was made of win.

“What’s you get him?” “Money”.

Great story.

You forget how thrilling DC comics were in the late-80s. It seemed like we were on the verge of something special. Sadly, folks fixated on bits and pieces of great comics like these and took them in the most obvious direction.

The “clean thoughts” moment is great because its ambiguity. WW makes a point of mentioning that Jason looks exactly like Dick. Jason points out that WW is half naked. Bats is addressing the reader as much as he is Jason. Moore is pretty directly saying “ignore the homosexuality and fetish behind the curtain”. Sadly, that has somehow devolved into Bat-WW shipping.

Same deal with the brilliant “Burn” moment. Moore and Gibbons used it to underscore how much pain Superman was in that moment. In the years since, we have gotten seemingly “hundreds of burning red eyes” moments. The gimmick has totally lost its power.

I look at Jason Todd and can’t help but see a young Comedian

Another part I liked about the Justice League adaptation: Thomas Wayne wailing on Joe Chill, and Bruce cheering him on. Then cut to Batman with a big smile on his face. Good times.

Also, I’d never noticed the sound effect in that last panel before. That’s awesome.

I love this story too, the first Alan Moore DC tale I read: I still prefer it to the Killing Joke or any Swamp Thing stories.

But I’ve only just properly noticed now: ‘Thrutch’? Was that sound effect ever used anywhere else?

For a second I thought that last panel was Mongol shouting “SHIIIIIIIIIT!”

What’s up with Wonder Woman’s wimpy wrist? Was she given a power boost since then?

he makes Jason Todd even look good!

Why wouldn’t Jason Todd look good? I realize that Jason wasn’t the most popular character in the world, but he always looked just like the Dick Grayson Robin.

One quote not mentioned that I liked. Forgive me, but my copies of the story aren’t available, and an online search only came up with the summary from the Justice League adaptation. I believe this is the quote in the comic:
Mongul: “Oh dear. Is that a neural impactor? I didn’t know that they were still making those. I’d advise you to try the plasma disruptor. It’s more of a woman’s weapon.”
Wonder Woman: “Go to Hell.”

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 13, 2010 at 2:18 pm

“If only Moore and Gibbons could have worked on another project after this one – who KNOWS how cool it could have been?”

Wouldn’t that project have been something called “The Watchmen”? ;-)

that story is one of Alan and DAves great works for they showed that they got super man and wonder woman and batman as characters being normal without destroying their cores. plus love Batman telling Robin in his own way to keep his mind out of the gutter since he pointed out wonder woman is half naked in her outfit. plus this story is one of the few times where super man showed why one should not really tick him off as Mongol learned the hard way. a classic super man story.

Superman has never been invoked as a God more effectively. “A voice like Armageddon shouting his name…”

The Crazed Spruce

March 13, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I read my brother’s copy of the comic back when it first came out, read it again a number of times in the “Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told” trade paperback, and read it yet again in the Alan Moore trade that DC came out with a few years ago. Enjoyed it every time I read it. (And the Justice League episode is definitely the best adaptation of an Alan Moore story ever made.)

Shame you couldn’t show the end of the battle with Mongul without spoiling it. That was definitely the pre-Crisis Jason Todd’s crowning moment of awesome (as TVTropes would put it).

A great choice Brian. A few random comments:

1. Writing: Note the density of Moore’s description in the prologue. If Moore were to re-write that piece today, he would probably cut out everything but the dialogue. That fact alone shows how much comics have changed since 1985.

2. Technocracy: Note the quite negative portrayal of Jor-El. The apostle of Utopia through technology has become a nostalgic reactionary. Given his links to the military and to the Kryptonian “religious right” (SWord of Rao, Old Krypton movement), we are probably meant to see him as a kind of Kryptonian fascist (Cf. the Norsefire movement in V for Vendetta). This seems to link up with Moore’s overall dislike for technocrats (Cf. his sympathetic portrayal of Hyde, the ID incarnate, as compared to his treatment of NEmo).

3. FEb. 29: Nice to see that Moore remembers Superman’s official birthday.

4. In conclusion, Brian, I think that Strange Tales 130-144 should be your next pick (If Cato could do it, so can I).

Fabulous story. I read it years ago, and I’d forgotten just how strong the art was– Gibbons is always great, of course, but his work here seems even more special. Forgive my ignorance, but did he ever do more Batman stories? He draws him beautifully, and I’d love to see more of it.

“The “clean thoughts” moment is great because its ambiguity.”

Quite frankly, I don’t see anything ambiguous about it.

The “Burn” line is also reminiscent of the 1982 Gerber/Colan Phantom Zone miniseries, a few years before this.

There was a telekinetic and pyrokinetic team of Phantom Zone criminals, Nadira and Az-Rel, and when they attacked she would say “Convulse.” & he would say “Burn.”

@ Namor:

Quite frankly, I don’t see anything ambiguous about it.

…. and that is why the ’90s happened.

What Moore was pretty clearly doing was twofold. First, was a minor meta-textual wink at the audience about the Wetham-ish subtext of Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman. The second was a little bit of misdirection. He is drawing the readers attention to one thing, so that the Big Reveal has a bigger impact.

That is good story-telling.

Sadly, any hint of ambiguity about anything that could be read as salacious, or bleak, was not allowed to remain that way. As a result, its usefulness as a misdirect pretty well disappeared.

Zor-El of Argo

March 13, 2010 at 5:38 pm

“What’s up with Wonder Woman’s wimpy wrist? Was she given a power boost since then?”

This is Silver-Age WW, before Perez’s reboot. She was only about as strong as Spider-man. Also, this is pre-reboot Jason Todd, a blatant, unapologetic rip-off of Dick Grayson; not the whiney street punk.

Zor-El of Argo

March 13, 2010 at 5:51 pm

The JLU episode was superior in its depiction of the dreamworlds and Wonder Woman being the one to give Superman the flower(Batman giving Superman flowers just always struck me as WRONG).

However, leaving Robin out of the JLU ep gouged a lot of fun out of the story. Also, the cartoon left out my favorite line from the book: “Whom would it be polite to kill first?”

Never caught it before, but Superman’s “voice like armageddon” seemed a little like a nod to Star Trek II(“KAHN!!!”)

If Superman’s birthday is 29 February, then isn’t this annual a year late? (Or is it three years early?)

For me this has always been a collection of brilliant moments and lines surrounding a core of confusion. The bleak ugly Krypton has never made sense to me either in-story or narratively. Narratively, the Black Mercy should have worked as advertised and Kal-El should have had to leave behind a *happy* life when his strength of will made him know that it was false. The impact of his waking up is very greatly diminished by the fact that it’s become a nightmare that he should *want* to wake up from.

I get, or I think I get, that his strength of will in fighting the Mercy is what corrupts dream-Krypton in the first place. But in that case his post-waking fury feels off to me. He’d been gradually fighting off the effects for a while, and then wakes up to a world that *isn’t* the corrupt one in his mind. His fury seems like the reaction of someone who’s gone through what Mogul described– which is not what he actually went through.

Best Superman story ever?

Where is the best place to find this story nowadays?

Jacob, as I mentioned in my earlier post, I think that the negative portrayal of Jor-El can be seen as part of the anti-technocratic bias (E.g., Captain Nemo, GRiffin, Gull in FROM HELL, Ozymandias, Adam Susan in V FOR VENDETTA, etc.) that is implicit in much of Moore’s work. As you rightly point out, this bias is out of place in FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING, especially when one bears in mind that Batman’s vison seems to be untainted by any troubling elements (I.e., we don’t hear that Thomas Wayne is hanging out with Jerry Falwell, etc.). I think that Moore simply could not help himself.

Cracking story. Second only to Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow.

Dean:

Dean:
What Moore was pretty clearly doing was twofold. First, was a minor meta-textual wink at the audience about the Wetham-ish subtext of Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman.

Interesting theory, but I’m not convinced. I think Batman is just having a little joke at Jason’s expense.

@ JayPhonomancer

Try finding DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. I think it’s still in print. It’s good stuff. My only regret is that I already had The Killing Joke, but it doesn’t really hurt to have an extra copy.

http://comicbookrealm.com/series/13730/0/DC+Universe%3A+The+Stories+of+Alan+Moore

Zor-El of Argo

March 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Also try the “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow” hardcover. I just yesterday saw a copy at Barnes & Noble. It includes this story plus a guest appearance Superman made in Swamp Thing.

Zor-El of Argo

March 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm

As for the not-quite-perfect-life the Black Mercy gave Superman, I see it as a “Be careful what you wish for” sort of thing. Like the genie that grants wishes not because he’s grateful to you for releasing him but because he is bound to by whatever spell trapped him in the lamp in the first place. You say, “I wish Krypton never blew up” and he says “Alakazaam!” Then you ask, “If Krypton never blew up, then why am I still here?” to which the genie says, “Your father still predicted the end of the world and sent you here. He’s in a nut house now and no one is coming for you because space travel is still against the law on Krypton(your wish did not include the moon that Jax-Ur blew up). But hey, look on the bright side: no Kryptonite!”

I figure the Black Mercy works sort of like that. It takes your fondest wish and turns it into the most realistic “reality” it could conjure with the information rooted from your brain. It should be noted that the nastiest turns occured while Batman was messing with the plant, but even still the humiliation of Jor-El is a pretty reasonable result of the planet not being destroyed.

Batman wasn’t subject to the plant for very long. Had he been we may have seen his adult was not as idealic as he might think it would have been. He might have actually married that actress and then lost half the Wayne empire in a messy divorce!

Ryan A. Brandt

March 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Jacob,

I’ve always seen it as the fact that what Superman wants is something that could never, ever come to pass. Which is to be alive on Krypton and know his parents, but have a life that is similar to what he has on Earth. Which, for all intents and purposes, is all he’s known.

So the Plant tried to give him that but it couldn’t, just because Krypton (of that era, at least) was a utopia and Earth isn’t one. Which is why in the dream he’s Kal-El of Krypton, but in an unremarkable job with society crumbling and his Parent’s lives are a mess… because that’s more than likely how it would be if Krypton had an Earth-like culture.It’s this discrepancy that ultimately allows Superman to escape, as his dream-world is one that simply can’t exist.

And the anger still makes sense because for a short while, it was a perfect world. He was married, he had kids, he was living on Krypton… in every physical and emotional sense it was real to him. And the notion that it was all a delusion, seeing it all go wrong and loosing the very things he wanted (being a Father) has to be an infuriating motion.

Ultimately, I’ve always seen this story about the duality of Superman’s existence. He’s too human to ever be a proper Kryptonian, but his Kryptonian powers and heritage keep him from ever truly being human. The Black Mercy tries to reconcile these two facets of his psyche into one whole, which isn’t possible because Krypton is a utopia (for the most part) and Earth isn’t.

Which is why I do love the fact that in the story itself, Superman rejects it by will because he realizes it’s all fake but Batman doesn’t, as Jason has to rip it off of him with all of his strength (because in Batman’s case, all he would want is to have his Parents back and live a normal life… so there’s no incongruities that would allow him to break the spell).

This and the Jungle Line go between being my favorite Superman story of all time. Both are fantastic character studies of the Man of Steel and despite hating the faux-rock soundtrack of the JLU episode, J.M. DeMatteis’ “For The Man Who Has Everything” was a great adaptation

I’m definitely in the minority when I say how underwhelmed I was by the JLU adaptation. The best I can say for it (besides the “cash” line being funny) is that it did the job better than the Watchmen movie. But it was still a case of almost all the ingredients, but none of the flavor.

The way I see it, Superman is fighting the Black Mercy, much as any person inspired by the ideal-made-flesh that he was in the 1970s and 1980s pre-Crisis was supposed to fight drug addiction and the like.

That is why the dream Krypton immediately shows the cracks around the edges. Superman is not one to be easily seduced, not in those days. He is as powerful mentally as he is physically, and he will NOT settle for a beautiful fantasy over the reality that he was sworn to protect.

Yeah Luis, that’s exactly how I read it.

“Luis Dantas
March 16, 2010 at 6:14 am

The way I see it, Superman is fighting the Black Mercy, much as any person inspired by the ideal-made-flesh that he was in the 1970s and 1980s pre-Crisis was supposed to fight drug addiction and the like.

That is why the dream Krypton immediately shows the cracks around the edges. Superman is not one to be easily seduced, not in those days. He is as powerful mentally as he is physically, and he will NOT settle for a beautiful fantasy over the reality that he was sworn to protect.”

I knows this is months later. But I whole-hearty concur. So many misunderstand Supes, your sentiment is sound and profound about him. He’s not a wimp,he’s the most powerful man on the earth. And has to keep that in check 24-7 365.

low good, in my opinion.

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