I haven’t seen much of the DC Animated Universe outside of Batman: The Animated Series, but when I learned that the second episode of Justice League Unlimited was an adaptation of one of my favorite Superman stories ever told, I figured I’d see how it holds up.
I first read For the Man Who Has Everything when it was reprinted in DC’s Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? trade paperback. Besides the title story and For the Man…, this book also collects an issue of DC Comics Presents that starred Superman and (my favorite!) Swamp Thing. All in all, it’s a stellar collection of Alan Moore’s Superman stories – and no matter what the Wizard of Northampton feels about superheroes today, the comics he penned while working for DC remain some of the best and most human comics ever written. That is especially true of For the Man Who Has Everything, a heartbreaking story about Superman’s birthday.
Wonder Woman, Batman, and Jason Todd – who has just recently taken on the mantle of Robin – journey together to the Fortress of Solitude with gifts for Superman. However, they find that their big blue buddy has already been given the ultimate present: alien vegetation called Black Mercy clings to his chest, consuming his energy while feeding him dreams based on his heart’s most precious desires. The story is one of Alan Moore’s most tender works, delving into the very core of Superman’s sadness and heroism. Our hero is presented a world that he never got to live in: a regular life on Krypton with a family. However, the fantasy isn’t simple, and it isn’t purely happy. Moore paints Krypton as a world embroiled in political turmoil, and re-reading it today admittedly hits a nerve.
Also worth noting, this issue features art from Dave Gibbons, who was busy creating Watchmen with Alan Moore around the same time they did this issue together. I wish we lived in a world that featured more collaborations between these two comics giants, but considering how utterly satisfying both Watchmen, For the Man, and their other shorter works are, it’s hard to ask for more without feeling greedy.
Justice League Unlimited’s episode lacked much of the comic’s nuance, but followed the plot pretty closely. One thing I thought was very smart was Robin’s absence. I don’t know much about that series’ continuity and if they chose not to include Robin because of that, but keeping the plot centered on Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman made the central conflict between the heroes and Mongul, the alien tyrant who set Superman up, more streamlined. I also like that the episode gave Wonder Woman the ultimate win against Mongul, while the comic allotted that move to Todd. Here, Wonder Woman is given more to do and is able to triumph in ways that we didn’t see in the comic, which I appreciated. The episode spent less time on the dark politics of Krypton, cutting that plotline entire except for a brief conversation between Kal-El and his father, and instead focused on the relationship between Superman and the son he knows isn’t real. I really liked the more day-to-day aspect of Superman’s Black Mercy-induced dream, but with the impending threat of riots in Krypton removed, much of the urgency and drama that led to Superman’s realization that he is living a false dream is also gone. However, the gift that Wonder Woman gives him has far more poignancy here than in the comic, where her offering is played for a joke. A great joke, but still.
All in all, both stories are good on their own terms. The Justice League Unlimited episode makes me more interested in the DC Animated Universe than probably anything I’ve seen before, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original For the Man Who Has Everything remains among the best Superman comics I’ve read. The final image of that comic, which reveals Mongul’s own darkest desire, sticks with me to this day.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Family Pets, Robyn Hood, Hellchild), novels (Charmed for HarperCollins), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He believes that, if the Batman dream in For the Man Who Has Everything doesn’t completely wreck you, you’re probably a robot.