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Comic Book / For the Man Who Has Everything

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He is content.

"For the Man Who Has Everything" is a classic Superman story by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons; it was published in Superman Annual #11 (1985). The story was later adapted into a very popular episode of Justice League Unlimited, being one of the most faithful adaptations of one of Moore's comics. It also received a live action (and far looser) adaptation in Supergirl. The story was also included in the trade omnibus of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?.

The story works around the idea of The Final Temptation: Superman's mind is trapped in an illusion of him living a happy life on an intact Krypton. In the illusion, he's married to a former actress and has a large, loving family. However, Krypton is shown to have changed since the time it would have been destroyed, turning from the idyllic representations in the Canon to a dystopia teetering on social collapse. Amongst other things, Kara is in the hospital after being assaulted by an anti-Phantom Zone protester. Further compounding the problem is Kal-El's estrangement from his father, Jor-El; while the latter was often portrayed as a heroic visionary in the Silver Age, this Jor-El is a bitter shell who turned to radical reactionary politics after wrongly predicting Krypton's self-destruction (his wife dying of "wasting sickness" might have something to do with it, too).

In reality, Superman has fallen under the spell of an alien plant called the Black Mercy, which grants a logical extrapolation of its victim's fondest desires. Superman is discovered by Batman, Wonder Woman, and Robin (Jason Todd), who have come to the Fortress of Solitude to celebrate Superman's birthday. They run afoul of Mongul, the powerful supervillain who trapped Superman in the Black Mercy's grasp; while Wonder Woman engages Mongul in battle, Batman desperately tries to figure out a way to remove the plant.

While Superman feels contentment with his family and his career (being free from the conflict inherent with being a superhero), he realizes all is not as it seems as the dream deepens. Through sheer force of will (Mongul comments that the sensation is akin to Superman tearing off his own arm), Kal-El tells his beloved son that he doesn't think he's real. With this revelation, the illusion is dispelled, and Superman is freed in time to save his friends from Mongul. During the ensuing fight, the Black Mercy attaches itself to Batman; we see briefly images of his idea of an idyllic life (which involves his parents never being gunned down in front of him). Jason Todd manages to pry the Black Mercy off of Batman using Mongul's special gauntlets.

As Superman prepares to deliver a crushing (perhaps killing) blow to Mongul, he is distracted by the sight of the statues of his parents, which allows Mongul to deliver a stunning counterattack. Mongul is on the verge of killing Superman when Robin attaches the Black Mercy to Mongul, who is instantly seized by the plant and submerged into his own deepest fantasy: he swats the Mercy aside, kills Superman, and conquers the universe.

The animated version removes the darker aspects of the original dream world and gives Superman a mostly idyllic life. In this adaptation, he is a Kryptonian farmer with his wife Loana (three guesses as to which two characters she's an amalgamation of — her voice actress is the same as Lois Lane's, to boot), his son Van-El, and a pet dog named Krypto. Jor-El appears as a contented, doting grandfather (who is somewhat dismissive of Kal-El's farming lifestyle), and his bitterness at his false prediction is reduced to a single line about how his reputation took years to salvage. Brainiac even appears as a dutiful household A.I. The only clues something is amiss are a constant stream of random earthquakes and Jor-El's voice continually changing. Jason Todd is also absent from this adaptation; Batman instead escapes from the Mercy's dream with Wonder Woman's help, and Wonder Woman is the one who puts the plant on Mongul.

The Supergirl episode, "For the Girl Who Has Everything", makes rather more significant changes. Kara retains her old memories and spends a while trying to get out of the dream world before accepting that it's "real," and her sister Alex has to actually enter the dream herself to get her out. The Black Mercy then dies once it's pulled off, allowing the perpetrator Non to live to fight another day after a beating from Supergirl.

The Batman: The Animated Series episode, "Perchance to Dream" follows a similar structure. The Black Mercy also appears in Season 2 of Krypton.

"For the Man Who Has Everything" provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Robin is absent from the Animated Adaptation, both due to the Bat-embargo and the fact that Jason Todd never existed in the DCAU (although they would probably have used Tim Drake, who was the incumbent Robin, instead). Also, Kal's daughter Orna is absent from Superman's illusion.
  • Arc Words: "He is content." It's how people who are subjected to the Lotus-Eater Machine known as the Black Mercy feel while they're subjected to it.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Kal tells his father, "Sometimes, I think you wanted to be right. Sometimes, I think you wanted Krypton to be destroyed." After he leaves, Jor-El angrily smashes a crystal tree sculpture then sobs piteously.
  • Bad Vibrations: Animated version only. Superman's life on Krypton is interrupted by small earthquakes, which are implied to be caused by his mind rebelling against the Black Mercy. The earthquakes get worse over time, and turn into full-blown volcanic eruptions that destroy Krypton when the illusion is broken.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Apparently the Black Mercy tries to give you a happy illusion, but if the logical extrapolation of what you want is not really happy, you'll end up in a nightmare like Superman does.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: It is rare for Superman to truly unleash on someone with intent to kill, but that's what he does after the Black Mercy is removed and he's pieced together what happened. Mongul is lucky Superman is one of the nicest guys on Earth, otherwise he could have been killed.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: It's Superman's birthday, and he gets a house call from someone who wants him dead.
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning of the comic, Wonder Woman says she got Superman a recreation of Kandor made by Themiscyran jewelcrafters. At the end, Superman receives this gift — and hastily puts away the Kandor replica he already has before she can see it.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Some things have a different name on Krypton (at least, the illusory Krypton in Superman's mind) than they do on Earth, from the simpler things ("first-day" instead of birthday, "units" for minutes) to inventions analogous to Earth ones ("holofactor" for television, and "paragondola" which is a floating, wheel-less automobile).
  • The Cameo: Among the great powers of the cosmos that pay tribute in Mongul's fantasy are some of the DC Universe's biggest heavy hittersJ'onn J'onzz, Adam Strange, and Hawkman and Hawkwoman. As a background joke, Dave Gibbons also includes Bolphunga the Unrelenting from "Mogo Doesn't Socialize", another story he did with Moore that year.
  • Continuity Nod: Countless, particularly to the Silver Age. Superman's wife is Lyla Ler-Rol, who Superman met while time-stranded on Krypton, the various Kryptonian geographical landmarks are callbacks to other Silver Age stories, etc. Alan Moore has stated repeatedly that he is a great fan of the Silver Age Superman, and everything that goes along with him. On Batman's side, his fantasy involves him marrying Kathy Kane, the Silver Age Bat-Woman.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: Superman talks casually about taking Mongul and dumping him in a black hole located in the Milky Way's Western Spiral Arm.
  • Crapsack World: What Krypton has apparently become in Superman's dream — at least that's what Jor-El believes.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: While Krypton is generally portrayed as a utopian society, the comic book version subverts this heavily. The fact that Kryptonian skies are a sinister red tone (due to Krypton orbiting a red sun) is the reader's first hint of the darkness of the illusion. Played straight in the JLU version.
  • Decapitation Presentation: In Mongul's fantasy, he rips Superman's head off and puts it on a pike, taking it everywhere he conquers.
  • Deus Angst Machina: There's probably no logical reason why a logical extrapolation of what Superman's life on Krypton would be like would not involve the world having descended into social upheaval and riots, his father having become a reactionary bigot, and his mother having died of cancer. But there's also no reason it would have to involve those things other than it being necessary for the plot. One might surmise it's his subconscious telling him that something is very wrong — in fact, Kal-El mentions at the Kandor Crater that the entire situation somehow feels wrong.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Mongul breaks Wonder Woman's arm and mops the floor with her, then gets Superman in a death grip. He finally gets taken out by Robin, who cleverly uses the Black Mercy as a weapon. A rare Big Damn Heroes moment for Jason Todd.
  • Dream Apocalypse: "You're my son and I'll always love you... But I don't think you're real." And once you wake up, all those you loved who were not real will be gone, of course.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: In both versions, it's implied at the end that Mongul is perfectly content with the fantasy of bloody conquest the Black Mercy is giving him. Whereas Superman is able to break free because, being a hero, he was able to comprehend something wrong with the fantasy he was given. In the animated version, Mongul even goes as far as to speculate that Superman is living out a fantasy of conquest.
    • Zig-zagged in the comic, where Mongul guesses that Superman's fantasy is him going back to "whatever aboriginal backwater" he was raised in. He's wrong in this case, but it's a perfectly valid assumption considering Superman's love for the Kents and Smallville.
  • Evil Gloating: Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman go in the Fortress of Solitude and stumble upon a comatose Superman. Instead of attacking while they're distracted and with their backs turned, Mongul greets them, introduces himself, explains what he has done to Superman, and smugly declares he'll take over the world after killing them one after the other.
    Mongul: 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?
  • Exposed to the Elements: Wonder Woman wears her usual costume in the Arctic. Lampshaded by Robin.
  • Expy: The Sword of Rao are pretty obvious Ku Klux Klan expies.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: In Superman's vision of Krypton in the comics, Moore imparts a Prejudice Aesop through the depiction of Krypton's black population, the Vathlo. Vathlo immigrants attempting to integrate into greater Kryptonian culture are cited by Jor-El and the Sword of Rao as one of the signs of modern society's decadence, and Kal-El mentions a "Little Vathlo" neighborhood of Kryptonopolis, suggesting that racial bigotry has forced them into ethnic enclaves by necessity, not choice.
  • Faux Affably Evil: "I understand that your society makes distinctions based on age and gender. Perhaps you can tell me which one of you it would be polite to kill first."
  • The Final Temptation: What the Black Mercy gives its victims, as shown in the case of Superman, Batman, and (in the comic book) Mongul.
  • Fridge Logic: In-universe, this is what ruins the idyllic illusion.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: A downplayed case, but before this one-shot, Mongul was merely an Arc Villain; this story along with Reign of the Supermen catapulted him to one of Superman's select arch-enemies who could stand toe-to-toe with him using nothing but his monstrous strength.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mongul is defeated by the very plant he used to immobilize Superman.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: Or a Black Hole. Either way, it's how Mongul gets disposed of.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Superman's greatest desire, as shown by his dream in the Black Mercy, is to just live as a normal man with a family.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Batman actually says this when he's trying to get Superman out of the Black Mercy. Whether it gets through to Clark or not is unclear, but Bruce tries it anyway.
  • Ironic Echo: When encountering Batman, Wonder Woman and Robin trying to figure out what happened to Superman, Mongul sneers that they're "almost intelligent". At the climax, just before Robin drops the Black Mercy onto Mongul, he quips "Almost intelligent, huh?"
  • Just Friends: Superman and Wonder Woman, according to Wonder Woman. Then Moore tosses in the Ship Tease noted below.
  • Karmic Death: Mongul's fate. Death being figurative here, of course. Depending on if Mongul's dream turns sour or if he's dissatisfied with it, he got exactly what he wanted and was satisfied with it. In the Justice League Unlimited episode, Batman bitterly states that whatever he sees is "too good for him".
  • Kick the Dog: General consensus seems to be that Mongul's sexist remarks are done just to be a prick.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The Black Mercy traps people in a prison of their heart's greatest desire. Mongul compares wanting to break free of the Black Mercy like "tearing off your own arm" once Superman manages to escape from it.
  • Manly Tears: In the comic, Jor-El sobs after angrily smashing a crystal bird feeding its young after Kal tells him he's no longer the loving father he used to be after his career was ruined by falsely predicting the planet's destruction.
  • Meaningful Name: Batman (Wonder Woman in the animated version) bred a new rose as a gift for Superman, calling it "The Krypton". It's ruined at the end of the story. Superman is aware of the irony and meaning.
    Batman: Well, I'm afraid it got stepped on, and... Well, frankly, it's dead.
    Superman: Don't worry about it, Bruce. Perhaps it's for the best.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Many, but the most affecting is that Brainiac still shrunk Kandor in Superman's fantasy and took it away. At the end of his dream, Kal-El visits the Kandor Crater with his son.
    • The story might have been influenced by another comic, "Superman's Secret Afterlife" from 1979, where the hero was also trapped in an illusionary alternate life by some of his enemies, also using an alien creature.
    • Lyla Ler-Rol's replacement in Justice League Unlimited, Loana, whose name is a combination of Lois Lane and Lana Lang, the two loves of Superman's life. For extra points, she was voiced by Dana Delany, Lois' voice actress.
  • Nerves of Steel: As Mongul and Wonder Woman fight, Batman goes on examining Superman's condition, on the basis that the superpowered fight is beyond him, so awakening Superman is the most likely way to be able to help.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Superman deals one to Mongul in a fit of rage. Even Mongul, who during the Pre-Crisis era was consistently portrayed as being slightly stronger than the Man of Steel, was afraid that he was going to kill him.
    Superman: Do you have any idea what you DID TO ME?
  • Noodle Incident: We only learn a bit of Batman's fantasy in the comics, but it seems to be a version of the Golden Age Batman's retirement years.
    Batman: It was so strange... I was married to Kathy Kanenote  and we had a teenage daughter...note 
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Unlike the comic version, in the animated version we never actually get to see what it is that Mongul sees in his fantasy (though we do hear small snippets of it). And yet, it is so much worse...
  • Off with His Head!: In Mongul's dream, he rips Superman's head off, puts it in a pike and parades it as he conquers Earth.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mongul has a minor one. When he hears Superman scream his name, he knows he only has a fraction of a second before a very pissed off Kryptonian arrives. And even then, that fraction of a second isn't enough time to avoid getting hit with what feels like "a steam hammer as big as the world" from Superman.
  • Phlebotinum-Handling Equipment: Mongul's gauntlets allow one to manipulate the Black Mercy safely, without it immediately taking over the handler. Robin uses them to pry off the alien plant from Batman, and then stuffs the Black Mercy inside a gauntlet to carry it, before dropping it on Mongul.
  • Playing Possum: Wonder Woman in the DCAU version.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Mongul makes a number of blatantly sexist remarks toward Wonder Woman in both adaptations, which is ironic since at least in the comic he speaks of gender distinctions as something he's only heard about.
  • Precision F-Strike: Rather obviously, it becomes a Curse Cut Short in Justice League Unlimited, as Wonder Woman fires the weapon just before she can say "hell".
    Mongul: Oh, dear. Is that a neural impacter? I didn't know 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!
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Wonder Woman, who quickly realizes that the only thing she gains by beating on Mongul is blistered hands.
  • Punctuated Pounding: After Superman gives him a face full of heat vision.
    Mongul: You... insufferable... little... speck... You HURT me. YOU! [pound] HURT! [pound] ME!
  • Putting on the Reich: The Sons of Rao in the comic.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning. "Burn."
  • Red Sky, Take Warning: In the comic, the skies are constantly red. It's justified since Krypton revolves around a red sun, but it's deliberately made to look dark and foreboding according to Word of God. invoked
  • Rule of Three: The narration of the comic includes three uses of the phrase, "He is content," which is also the same number of people who become affected by the Black Mercy.
  • Say My Name: In the comic, after Robin rips the Black Mercy off, Superman screams Mongul's name so loud that he knocks Robin over. Not only that, the word "MONGUL" fills the entire panel.
  • Ship Tease: Alan Moore has Superman and Wonder Woman having a long kiss on the mouth, with this exchange:
    Superman: Mmmm. Why don't we do that more often?
    Wonder Woman: I don't know. Too predictable?
  • Significant Birth Date: Superman's birthday is on February 29.
  • Skyward Scream: In the original story.
    Superman: MONGUL!
  • Straw Conservative: In the comic, Jor-El becomes one of these after his predictions of Krypton's fate don't come true. It's all but stated that the loss of his wife Lara is what really catapulted him to this.
  • Stripperific: In the comic, Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman are making small talk outside the Fortress in the Arctic snow. When Wonder Woman suggests they (specifically, Batman and Robin who are not endowed with superpowers like she is) get inside to avoid the cold, Robin (himself barelegged) comments on how little she's wearing compared to them: "Before us two freeze? Dressed like that?" Batman merely replies with "Think clean thoughts, chum," with a restrained smile on his face afterward.
  • Superhero Trophy Shelf: The story takes place partially at the Fortress of Solitude, which is the Trope Namer.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Jason Todd for Dick Grayson as Robin. Wonder Woman meets Jason for the first time in this story and even remarks on how much he looks like Dick that she briefly forgot it wasn't the latter. Pre-Crisis Jason in a nutshell.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Superman is stopped from doing so when he sees his parents' statues. Mongul Lampshades this.
  • Title Drop: In the adaptation, this is Batman's explanation for giving Superman cash.
    Batman: What do you get for the man who has everything?
  • Unstoppable Rage: Superman when he wakes from his dream and realizes what Mongul has done to him. The resulting rampage is both terrifying and awesome.
  • What Are You: Asked verbatim by Batman of Mongul in the original. Mongul scoffs that if Bats doesn't know who he is, then he's not worthy of an introduction.
  • The Worf Effect: Wonder Woman attacks Mongul but only hurts her fist, and spends the rest of the story getting pummeled while Batman and Robin try to figure out how to bring Supes around.


I'll Never Forget

You *will* believe a man can cry.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (42 votes)

Example of:

Main / DreamApocalypse

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