Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Happy Birthday, Superman!

Superman #207Check your calendars, note that it's the day that only happens once in every four years, and then break out the party hats and streamers. Why? I'm telling you why: it's Superman's birthday!

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 Annual #11Superman'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 1985—a 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 Batman—he'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:
Superman Annual #11 panel
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:
Superman Annual #11 panel

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):
Superman Annual #11 panel

...but it looks like the festivities have already begun! Hey, Superman...surprise?
Superman Annual #11 panel

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, 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:
Superman Annual #11 panel

Mongul, whose intergalactic despotism doesn't mean he can't be polite, kneels down to keep himself inside the panel...
Superman Annual #11 panel

...and delivers the sort of ultimatum that makes you, when you read it, sing aloud: "DA DA DUMMMMMM!":
Superman Annual #11 panel
Superman Annual #11 panel

Here's where the (Friday Night) Fight portion begins. Wonder Woman's action—and Mongul's response—is so good I gotta show you the entire page:
Superman Annual #11 panel

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 life—the "heart's desire" the Black Mercy grants him—of 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:
Superman Annual #11 panel

Needless to say, Mongul is upset: that's not the way you treat a guest at your birthday party, Man of Steel!:
Superman Annual #11 panel

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:
Superman Annual #11 panel

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:
Superman Annual #11 panel

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 YouTube segment highlights, 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.


R.A. Porter said...

Should anyone want a reprint of that great story, as well as "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" and a host of other great Alan Moore stories, it's collected in the excellent DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

Isaac said...

That sound effect, when Superman burns Mongol with his heat vision? That's totally the SSSHIZZZZZIIT.

Matthew E said...

The thing I like best about the JLU version is the gleeful expression on young Bruce's face as he watches his dad beat Joe Chill to a paste.

We never got to see what the Black Mercy would do to Wonder Woman. I guess it's because she doesn't have the same kind of traumatic backstory.

(But we did recently see it tried on Ryan Choi!)

Rich said...

Great story, and I'll add that the Alan Moore collection R.A. Porter noted above is well worth the cover price.

Brian Smith said...

I'd like to think that Wonder Woman's heart's desire was to overcome the Black Mercy and save her friends. Wonder Woman's just cool like that.

And I had one moment of panic there when the first two YouTubes worked for me, but the third one didn't. It eventually popped on but not before a "this video has been removed" message and I was all like "No!" but then after some searching I reloaded the page and it worked and I was all like "Yay!" I gotta get cable.

Anonymous said...

Bag of Hammers is offended.

Your Obedient Serpent said...

Nobody voted to kill off THIS Jason Todd. The Post-Crisis version was a totally different character, and in my heart of hearts, I like to think that they voted to kill HIM off our of respect for the REAL Jason.

But I'm just sentimental like that.

Anonymous said...

That is a great story, I love that whole page when WW punches Mongul. The look between Bats and WW, the way she just walks up. The realism in the art when she punches him. And then the effect it has on the Mongul. Great, great stuff.

Intruder_W said...

Does no-one think of the poor evaporated butterflies?

HansYHP said...

could you put more episode on justice league,and comics too!

Anonymous said...

This episode made me a fan of superman and wonder woman as I like them as a couple and would of liked to see it in this show but sadly it never happens but young justice may give us a chance as I see wonderwoman talk to superman more often and give him those looks :) I just love superman and wonderwoman but it would have been awesome if in this episode they did it just like in the comic and wonderwoman gave supes a kiss agh that would have made me squel of joy for that I totaly am a 100% SupermanxWonderwoman shipper <3 (: