Sunday, March 29, 2009

Superman Annual #11 (1985)

On February 29th, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin (Jason Todd) gathered at the Fortress of Solitude to present birthday gifts to the Man of Steel. Instead, they found Superman standing stiff and blank-eyed, a bizarre plant attached to his chest. Wonder Woman and Batman agreed that there must be some magic to the plant, as it grew through Superman's costume and into his person. Kal-El's breathing was faint, and the plant's thorny tendrils were securely wrapped about his torso, neck and arms. It appeared Superman had opened a gift box, and found a trap inside. "Listen, it has to be alien in origin. I know that a lot of alien cultures send him gifts," and it likely arrived through some teleportation channel, possibly from a benevolent party unaware that it could do harm. A voice bellowed from behind the trio, "How remarkable. You animals really are almost intelligent, aren't you? That's exactly what happened... except for one or two minor details."

Mongul strode past the heroes to eye his handiwork, wearing a pair of massive gauntlets. "Firstly, I knew precisely what it would do to him. Secondly, it was not intended as a token of gratitude... Do you like it? It's called a 'Black Mercy.' I traveled a great way into the tangled zones to locate it... It's something between a plant and an intelligent fungus. It attaches itself to its victims in a form of symbiosis, feeding from their bio-aura... It gives them their heart's desire... It's telepathic. It reads them like a book, and feeds them a logical simulation of the happy ending they desire. Of course, its victims could shrug it off... They just don't want to. I delivered it to him, and when I was certain that it had done its work, I followed it along the teleportation channel. Poor little creature, I wonder where he thinks he is? Perhaps he's playing happily as a child in whatever sordid aboriginal backwater he was raised in..."

In fact, Kal-El was seeing his potential existence on Krypton, had the planet survived, and he had remained on it throughout his life. Rather than a fairy tale though, Kal-El suspected something was wrong with his world, as his father became a political extremist, and there was rioting in the streets. While Superman dreamed, Batman asked who this massive alien sandman was. Sitting on his heels just to see the Dark Knight eye-to-eye, Mongul dismissed him. "If you don't already know my name, then you're not worthy of an introduction. I'm the new manager around here. Naturally, I shall need time to settle in and adjust to your many interesting customs... I know, for example, that your society makes distinctions on a basis of gender and age. Perhaps, then, you could advise me... which of you would it be polite to kill first?" After a silent pause, Mongul urged, "Well?" Wonder Woman leapt up to punch him in the jaw, but did more damage to her hand. "Hmm... Thank you. I think that's answered my question.

Mongul knocked the Amazing Amazon through a wall to the Hall of Weapons. "Well, you're certainly lasting longer than I anticipated. You're a female, I think. You wouldn't be the Kryptonian's mate, by any chance?" Just a good friend, and now one arming herself. "Oh, dear. Is that a Neural Impacter? Do they still make those? I'd advise you to try the Plasm Disrupter. It's smaller. More of a female's weapon." Mongul grinned as Wonder Woman's attack proved ineffectual, then shoved the side of her face against a wall.

Outside, Batman focused on the Black Mercy. "Because whatever's going on through there is way out of our league." While Superman was coming to terms with his dream world, and saying goodbye to the son he never had, Batman noted his real tears and the loosening grip of the plant. Robin wished to use Mongul's discarded gauntlets, but Batman insisted on ripping the Black Mercy free while the opportunity presented itself. The plant released Superman, but latched onto the Caped Crusader, whose parents were imagined to be alive. While Robin fretted, Superman was revived. "Who... did this... to me?" Jason Todd replied, "I... I don't know. A big yellow guy. He's through there hurting Wonder Woman now... Superman? Are you okay? You look sorta, uh..."

Todd may have been thinking of an impolite way to say "peeved," as a scowling Kryptonian howled for the first time in the story the name "MONGUL"

The jaundiced giant was holding a limp and bruised Amazon by the hair, pulling his arm back to deliver another punch, when the "voice like Armageddon" reached him. Mongul let loose of the unconscious princess to reach for his armor's weapon systems, but was struck by 400mph wind before the Kryptonian flew into his backside. Mongul was on his belly when he heard "Get up. Get up, you vermin! Do you understand what you did to me?" As Superman tugged at his shoulder straps, Mongul backhanded the Man of Steel through the room's ceiling. "Perfectly. I fashioned a prison that you could not leave without giving up your heart's desire. Escaping it must have been like tearing off your own arm... and now I'm going to kill you anyway. Happy birthday, Kryptonian. I give you oblivion." As Mongul prepared to snap Kal-El's head back, Superman's eyes lit up with heat vision, as he simply said "Burn."

While Mongul screamed in pain at the rays crossing his chest, Robin used the gauntlets to remove and contain the Black Mercy. Furious at the "insufferable... little... speck" that hurt him, Mongul's "muscles shift like continental plates, roiled under a hide of jaundiced leather." The benevolent and malevolent aliens engaged in combat that caused death and destruction throughout the Fortress of Solitude. His chestpiece destroyed, Mongul indulged his raw savagery, but eventually found himself on his back. However, Superman was briefly distracted by traumatic recent "memories" of Krypton, and was leveled by Mongul. "There... do you know, I almost believed that you were going to kill me. How stupid of you to hesitate like that... Not a mistake I'll make, I assure you..." As Mongul prepared to finish Superman, Robin called out from a hole in the ceiling. "Uh, excuse me... but I think this is yours. Almost intelligent, huh?" The latest Boy Wonder dropped the Black Mercy onto Mongul's chest...

"...and he swats the thing aside, reducing the boy to ash with the twist of a circuit... and then he rips the Kryptonian's head from his shoulders, laughing at the way that the eyes roll for long seconds after death... and then he places it upon a spike and goes out to trample the world, carrying it before him, his hideous standard... Like an insatiable virus he sweeps out across the universe, and his enemies are as dust beneath his feet. Suns shudder at his coming. The great powers of the cosmos kneel before him and kiss his fingertips. Vast and implacable, a resurrected Warworld wheels through the bottomless night, reducing galaxy after galaxy to smoking ruin. The stars run red. The nebulae echo with the screams of the dying... He is content."

In his Black Mercy-induced vision, Mongul saw the Martian Manhunter, a Branx of the Citadel, Hyathis, Adam Strange, Bolphunga the Unrelenting, Brainiac and more line up to give him tribute. In reality though, Superman had other plans. "I'm going to put him somewhere secure... Have you ever noticed that black hole as you come in via the western spiral arm of the galaxy?... It's quite large. I think I'll drop him into it."

"For The Man Who Has Everything..." was by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

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