Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (email@example.com).
Writer: Alan Moore Penciller: Dave Gibbons Inker: Dave Gibbons Cover: Dave Gibbons
"For The Man Who Has Everything"
As the red sun sets, a weary figure makes his way home through the city. After a long day at his excavation of Kandor Crater, he will spend his evening watching a new episode of "Nightwing and Flamebird", then read his children another story of the Scarlet Jungle. He opens the door to his living quarters to be greeted by a loud, "SURPRISE!". "Happy birthday," says his wife Lyla. Around him are his friends and family. Kal-EL smiles. He is at peace.
It is February 29th. That strange little day added every fourth year to allow the calendar to catch up with itself. "Leap Year". It is also Superman's birthday. This year, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin meet outside of the giant door to Superman's Fortress of Solitude to take Superman his presents. As they climb the steep ice to the entrance, they barely notice that the door is already open. Inside, Superman stands rigid as a statue. Attached to his chest is a large plant, seemingly growing through his costume. Studying him, the three friends see that he is still breathing. The pupils aren't contracting," says Batman. "He must be cut off from just about all sensation. He's in a world of his own...."
"Kal, why are you still staring out of the window?" asks his wife Lyla Lerrol. Amid the happiness, there is still a note of sadness. "It would have been nice if my father had been here tonight," sighs Kal. "All over a stupid argument over politics."
The next day, Kal-El visits his father, and is surprised to find Jor-El associating with the Sword of Rao sect, a group supporting the Old Krypton Movement. Bitter at being forced to resign from the science council for predicting the end of Krypton, the bitter man sees Krypton torn by drugs and racial strife and argues that the only solution is to return to the ways of "Old Krypton". Kal is so disappointed by his father's fatalistic beliefs that he can take no more. Turning to leave, Kal sighs. "Father, sometimes I wish you were right. I wish Krypton had exploded after all." In response, Jor-El angrily smashes one of the crystal trees growing on his balcony.
"I think it's safe to assume from those wrappings that Superman received this thing as a gift, but how?" ponders Batman. Wonder Woman and Batman surmise that once a year Superman utilizes a teleportation channel, and perhaps some world has sent him this plant as a gift not knowing it would harm him. Behind them, a voice booms. "That's exactly what happened... except for one or two minor details." Turning, they face Mongul. "Firstly, I knew precisely what it would do to him. Secondly, it was not intended as a token of gratitude."
Amazed by the giant, yellow figure, they can only listen as Mongul speaks. The "flower" is called the "Black Mercy", part plant and part fungus, which feeds on the victims' bio-aura. In return, the plant provides the victim with the illusion of their heart's desire. The victims could shrug off the plant; they simply don't want to. When finished with his explanation, he turns to the heroes. "Now, which of you would it be polite to kill first?" Looking at each other, Wonder Woman calmly walks forward, leaps into the air and smashes her fist into Mongul's chin. Falling back to the floor, Wonder Woman clutches her hand in pain. "Thank you," says Mongul reaching for the Amazon, "I think that's answered my question."
Rushing to the hospital, Kal-El finds Allura, Zor-El's widow sobbing hysterically. Kara has been critically injured by a group of protestors who feel that the Phantom Zone is an instrument of torture and should be outlawed. Since Jor-El invented the Zone, the House of El has become increasingly unpopular. Rushing to a vid-phone, Kal calls Lyla, and tells her that she should pack and take their daughter Orna with her to her parent's living quarters for safety. Kal tells her he will bring Van-El, their son, and join her in Atomic City as soon as possible.
Hurriedly trying to escape the city, Kal and Van climb into their floater, but are stopped by a crowd filling the streets. A Justice Officer flashes them, insisting that they stop to allow the Sword of Rao parade to pass.
After smashing Wonder Woman through a wall of the Fortress, Mongul follows her into the room. He is amazed at her durability, and wonders if she is the Kryptonian's mate. Finding a weapon, she blasts Mongul with full power. After she releases the trigger, she is startled to see Mongul still standing. Mongul smiles and again smashes the Amazon into a wall. "Superman? Kal? We're in serious trouble here, old friend," says Batman. "You've got to wake up."
"Excuse me? Can I get my floater through here, please?" asks Kal-El. But the throngs have clogged the street and there is no way to pass. In amazement, Kal stares at the podium, where his father, Jor-El, speaks of establishing the old ways. Anti-Phantom Zoners scream in protest. Realizing the danger, Kal turns the floater around, and heads away from Kryptonopolis, away from Atomic City, toward Kandor Crater.
Standing on the site where Kandor had been reduced and put into a bottle, Kal begins to cry, Van, he begins, something is wrong. "You're my son. I was there at your birth and I'll always love you, but...I don't think you're real."
"His eyes are starting to water," says Batman.
"Father, you're scared, you're talking funny. I want to see mother," says Van-El.
"One of the coils is loose," says Batman "It's slackening his grip on him."
"Van? Oh my son," screams Kal, "I'm losing you once more..."
With a mighty yank, Batman pulls the plant off of Superman's chest but it quickly attaches to the Caped Crusader's form.
Joey Chill reaches for the woman's pearls, but Thomas Wayne steps between them and quickly disarms the man. The thief is led away, and the child is safe in his mother's arms. A darkness lifts, a terror that had lasted forever... is gone. Batman is content.
"Batman, please wake up," yells Robin. Behind him, he feels a presence. "Who... did this... to ME?" asks Superman. Looking up, Robin tells him that it was a big yellow guy. Screaming Mongul's name, Superman speeds off faster than the eye can follow. Hearing the scream, Mongul knows that he has little time to react. The wall explodes behind Mongul and a 400 mile-an-hour wind slams into him like a steam hammer as big as the world.
With patience, and diligence, Robin slowly removes the plant from Batman's chest using the same gauntlets Mongul had used to control the entity. Making sure that Batman is safe, he heads off to join the fight, carrying the plant with him.
"Do you understand what you did to me?" Superman asks. "Perfectly," whispers Mongul, smashing Superman through the ceiling into a room filled with alien beasts. Grabbing Superman by the neck, Mongul pronounces gleefully, "Happy birthday, Kryptonian. I give you... oblivion." Superman's eyes glow red. "Burn," whispers Superman, and flames shoot from his eyes. His heat vision sears Mongul's flesh and the yellow giant screams in pain.
Smashing Superman with all of his strength, Mongul says, "You should have stayed in whatever happy fantasy the Black Mercy granted you..." "Happy?" asks Superman. "HAPPY?" screams Superman. Suns explode from Superman's eyes, and titanic blows that would crush mountains are exchanged. Both creatures are indestructible, yet each is injured. Both are irresistible, yet neither can gain an advantage. And, surrender is not a possibility.
Smashing through the floor Superman pins Mongul. Raising his hand to deliver the deathblow, Superman sees the statue of Jor-El and Lara holding Krypton aloft. A thought, a memory, a dream... His hesitation was just enough for Mongul to regain his composure. "How stupid of you to hesitate like that," says Mongul. The taste of victory burning on his lips, Mongul pulls back his fist for the final blow, "not a mistake that I'll make..."
From above comes a small voice. "Uh, excuse me," says Robin. "But I think that this is yours." Lifting up the gauntlet, Robin drops the Black Mercy, which lands squarely on Mongul's chest. Looking upwards, Mongul incinerates Robin with the touch of a switch, then turns his attention to Superman, ripping his head from his shoulders. He is content.
Superman stands, looking at the still, quiet body of Mongul. "It's over," he says.
After checking to see that all are safe, the group sits, staring at Mongul, propped against the wall. "What will you do with him, Superman?" asks Robin. I think I'll drop him in the black hole on the western spiral arm of the galaxy, Superman replies.
Still, it is Superman's birthday and Wonder Woman hands him his present. Wonder Woman tells Superman that a Paradise Island gem-smith made an exact duplicate of Kandor to replace the one that was enlarged. Again, moving faster than the eye can follow, Superman speeds into the Kandor room to hide the real bottle city, and returns to graciously accept Wonder Woman's gift. To his surprise, she puts her arms around his shoulders and kisses him passionately. "Mmmm. Why don't we do that more often?" asks Superman.
Batman lifts his gift, a newly cultivated rose called "The Krypton", however in the battle it has been crushed and destroyed. Holding the dead plant in his hand, Superman says, "Perhaps its for the best," and the group turns to continue their celebration elsewhere.
When they leave, the only living thing left in the room is Mongul, propped unceremoniously in the corner. In his mind, Mongul strolls through the defeated. His enemies are dust beneath his feet. The greatest powers of the cosmos kneel before him and kiss his hands in tribute. The stars run red with blood, and the nubulae echo with the screams of the dying. Mongul is content.
Story - 5: This is truly one of the Superman masterpieces. Of all the stories ever written about Superman, this one best captures the internal conflict that is Kal-El. If only Krypton had not been destroyed, Kal-El's life would have been so different. But it did explode, and that act thrust Kal-El into places he would never have gone, roles he probably would never have even imagined and enemies that would never have paused to give a second glance were he not the last son of the dead planet, Krypton. Alan Moore has received international acclaim for his work in comics, reaching his peak with the Watchmen. This story is masterfully crafted, with well-defined characters, excellent dramatic conflict and wonderful references to older stories. A must read for all Superman fans!
Art - 5: Dave Gibbon's work has been widely praised and this story does nothing to deflate that opinion. The pacing and page designs are well thought out and wonderfully executed. The drawing is very sound and consistent. And, this story has one of my favorite panels in all of the many Superman stories. When Mongul reaches to kill Superman his eyes full with fire and he whispers, "Burn". The intensity of that panel still shakes me. It is a window into Superman's psyche that few have tried, and only Gibbons has succeeded in showing. It is also fun to look in the background of each panel for the interesting things that Moore and Gibbons leave to tease us with.
Cover Art - 3: As good as this story is, the cover is merely average. From the cover, you can tell the protagonists and the villains, but the design and message seem rather mediocre compared to the drama inside.
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