February 29th is traditionally known as the birthday of the Man of Steel and, coincidentally, his alter ego Clark "Mild-Mannered" Kent, which when you put together the skimpy-glasses-disguise and the fact that neither of them ever appears at the other's birthday party, really means that Lois Lane is indeed dumb as a bag of hammers. Could the fact that Mister El only celebrates his birthday once every four years account for his youthful, in fact boyish appearance? Or is that Oil of Olay? Only Clark's spa knows for sure.
Anyway, pull up a plate and enjoy some super-cake. Hey, why is the frosting green? Oh, I'm sure it's okay. We ordered it from Thurol Bakers and they've never steered us wrong yet. (nom nom nom nom)
Superman's Birthday is as generous as the man himself, because you get the present: a recounting of one of the finest Superman tales ever told, the story of the birthday gift that, no matter how polite he is when he accepts that birthday ice scraper from Steve Lombard, Superman really oughtn't to have opened. Let's set the Superman Way-Back machine for the summer of 1985a mere sliver of time before the multiverse got squeezed into one universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths...and pick up Superman Annual #11 by Alan "Watchmen" Moore and Dave "Also Watchmen" Gibbons, an issue that's not only a fine classic Superman tale but like Moore's slightly-later "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," is a fabulous farewell to the mythos and grandeur of the pre-Crisis DC Universe.
On February 29th, the Invisible Jet and the Batplane land at the North Pole, not in search of the vacationing Santa, but for Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin to surprise Superman on his birthday. This is not only a gentler, looser Batmanhe's a consummate professional, of course, but he has a close and dear friendship with Kal and Diana, and takes the opportunity to introduce Jason Todd, the new Robin, to Wondy:
All panels are from Superman Annual #11 (1985), written by Alan Moore, art and lettering by Dave Gibbons, colors by Tom Ziuko
...which leads to one of the finest, and funniest, Jason Todd-era Batman/Robin exchanges, ever:
What do you get for the man who has everything? Batman and Wonder Woman discuss that problem as they enter the wide-open Fortress, trying to sneak up on a man who can hear a pin drop on the other side of the world (if that's your idea of fun):
...but it looks like the festivities have already begun! Hey, Superman...surprise?
That big pink plant that looks like a Kryptonian fly-trap sticking out of Supes's barrel chest is actually the Black Mercy, a leech-like psionic plant that attaches itself to a victim and implants visions of your happiest dreams and your heart's desire in your head, rendering you insensate. Golly, I bet my Black Mercy would be full of Oreos and chocolate milk. Still, a rather rude gift on your birthday, huh? The gift-giver is not, as you might think, a careless Jimmy Olsen who clicked the wrong button on Teleflora.com, but Superman's big bad yellow nemesis, Mongul. Batman, who has left his copy of DC's Who's Who in his other utility belt, stalls for time:
Mongul, whose intergalactic despotism doesn't mean he can't be polite, kneels down to keep himself inside the panel...
...and delivers the sort of ultimatum that makes you, when you read it, sing aloud: "DA DA DUMMMMMM!":
Here's where the (Friday Night) Fight portion begins. Wonder Woman's actionand Mongul's responseis so good I gotta show you the entire page:
Wonder Woman and Mongul battle throughout the Fortress of Solitude, pretty much wrecking a lot of Superman's special exhibits, including the Lois Lane Gift Shop and the Steve Lombard Rest Rooms, while Batman applies his little bat-brain-cells to the problem at hand. If only Superman can defeat Mongul, they must save Superman. But Superman's deep within a fantasy lifethe "heart's desire" the Black Mercy grants himof living on Krypton with a wife and son, and cranky old Jor-El going off the rails every now and then. Yes, Clark has dreamed himself into an episode of Everybody Loves Kal-El. But back in the real world, Batman tugs the Black Mercy off Superman's chest, only to have it attach itself to him. Cue Thomas Wayne kick-assing Joe Chill in a dark corner of Crime Alley, but with Superman awake again, there shall come a reckoning, Mongul...oh yes, there certainly shall:
Needless to say, Mongul is upset: that's not the way you treat a guest at your birthday party, Man of Steel!:
Those of you who complain that Jason Todd was a whiny brat and gleefully kicked in your 99 cents to off 'im should be forced to sit down and re-read this story. Stuck in a Fortress tumbling down around him as Mongul and Superman fight, with Wonder Woman out of the count and Batman lost in a fantasy world of the Black Mercy, Rob grabs Mongul's power gloves, yanks the parasitical flower off Batman's chest, climbs up to the next level on the bat-rope, and drops it on Mongul. Sure, there are some good Jason Todd stories in that era, especially in Detective, but this, ladies and gentlemen...this is Jason Todd's finest hour:
With Mongul lost in his own fantasy world of ruling the Earth and universe, a villain-stopping trick so clever J'onn J'onnz used it later on against Despero, it's time to party down for the Superfriends, as Wonder Woman gives Superman the best birthday present of all:
Clark Kent: birthday playa.
Happy birthday, Clark. Happy birthday, Kal. Happy Birthday, Superman. And many, many more to come.
(Longin' to experience "For the Man Who Had Everything" but don't have Superman Annual #11? Click below and watch, in three fast-movin' parts, a fairly faithful but slightly changed (no Robin, boo hiss) adaptation of Moore's story from Justice League Unlimited. Watch it quickly, before the WB lawyers spot it and take it down! For that matter, Superman wouldn't want you to celebrate his birthday by stealing intellectual rights, so it's best if you just not look at it anyway.)
The cosmic funk of Bahlactus is the gift that keeps on giving.