This is a story that's been alluded to in DCnU in RHATO but with it potentially being touched on in Batman/Superman annual #1 I thought it'd be a good time to talk about it. My first exposure to it was the animated version that heavily edited out most of the plot. As much as I liked the work Dini does I wasn't really moved by it and after reading the source material I know why. This was a hard one to track down for a decent price and I was only able to do so after getting a trade of the masterworks of Alan Moore. So why was this so memorable and can it fit in the new 52?
It's Kal-Els birthday--or rather "firstday" (February 29th) and his friends Wonder Woman and Batman have come to celebrate with him bearing gifts. They arrive to the party a little late to discover that Clark has opened some other presents early and he's trapped in a imaginary world where he lives on Krypton.
The gifts Diana and Bruce get give some good insight on the characters. While the animated version got the best laugh by having Bruce giving him money (or was it a check?) it's less heartfelt. A key aspect in this story is the loneliness that Clark (and later to an extent Bruce) feels. His longing for a connection to his home world of Krypton. Diana gives him a replica of the bottled city of Kandor to replace the real one that's been enlarged. Even though Clark actually has a replica (which he moves before they can see it) it's a nice gesture. Bruce gives a new type of flower created just for Superman called "The Krypton." It shows that their on the same wavelength and know him well enough to see what he wants even if he's hard to shop for.
One of the things the animated version took out was Robin who's adds an interesting layer to the dynamics of the trinity and their confrontation with the big bad. What's crucial to his role is twofold, his youth and inexperienced. This Robin is Jason Todd and we get the impression he's still new to the world of superheroes as he's introduced to people and things for the first time. He's not Dick Grayson and thus the reader has a reason for not automatically assuming he'd jump in the fight. Jason represents the least threat to the towering Mongul, someone who's not as powerful or knowledgeable enough to warrant much attention. Granted Mongul is pretty egotistical and doesn't think any of them will offer much resistance but he barely acknowledges Jason. This is a mistake that will be important later.
Jason is sort of along for the ride and meets Wonder Woman. I'm not to wowed by this meeting for a few reasons. One being Diana saying that Jason looks so much like Dick that she forgot there was a new Robin. (She basically says this as she trails off at the end.) That just feels sorta of insensitive for Diana to say especially since she's normally so good at reading people. Still I do like this line:
Wonder Woman: Nice to meet you. Welcome to an interesting career.
That's such a perfect thing to tell a sidekick, humorous and causal sounding. She tells them to move along to the Fortress of Solitude before they freeze which prompts Jason to ask Bruce why she's telling them when she's dressed as she is. Which is weird since Jasons' obviously is freezing (art shows as much too) and he's wearing the impractical Robin costume with the man panties. Bruce tells him to think clean thoughts...is this supposed to imply Jason wasn't? Because that isn't how his character acts as he canonically respects women (more so the post-crisis and although I think this is pre-crisis.) I certainly didn't read it that way. Judging by their expressions Jason's shocked at Bruce's implications then uncomfortably as he tries not to think dirty thoughts since Bruce made his mind go there. Bruce's smirk only seals the deal that he was trying to make the teen think that and is pleased with the results of his trolling.
Inside Jason admits it's his first time at the Fortress of Solitude and he doesn't really know Superman that well. I really like this detail, the feeling of him being new and not as at ease as the others. Despite this being written during the pre-crisis I think Jason fits pretty well into the characterization of post-crisis Jason Todd and RHATO. He's not depicted as the Superman fanboy he was before the relaunch but doesn't have any real negative reactions like the one in RHATO. But you could read it that way with his uneasy reactions, more of that later. The only things I've seen that would make me question it's placement in the current timeline (ignoring the costumes) is Kara being mentioned in Clarks' dream world of Krypton and another iffy character later on. And I only question Kara because I don't know if he was aware of having a cousin before they met since I don't know Supergirl's new history in the new 52.
One of the things that intrigued me in the Dini version was Clark's wife on Krypton being a combination of Lana Lang and Lois Lane. Here's it's a woman named Lyla that used to be an actress. I have no idea if that's based on someone he knew but it struck me as funny that it wouldn't be Lana or Lois. It makes sense as he wouldn't know them on Krypton but this is dream world logic, it could happen if he wanted it to. As Mongul says it's based on his hearts' desire yet no humans from Clarks' real life make an appearance. Not Lois, Lana, Jimmy or even the Kents. Still it's not like the world the Black Mercy created is without it's troubles. Jor-El has become a bitter old man after he was kicked off the Science Council for his theory of Krypton ending. The death of his wife Lara only made things worse. He's part of a dangerous political movement to bring back the old ways and refuses to speak with his brother's family. Things get worse from there as Kara is attacked by people that aren't thrilled with the house of El and their involvement with the Phantom Zone.
While Krypton gets nastier Mongul confronts the others happily insulting them on the way. Since Diana is the only one that can fight him on a physical level she attacks as Batman and Robin try to think of a way to wake up Superman. Diana is properly badass here even if the fight isn't going her way. I miss this take on her relationship with Clark as she states their just friends. It feels so genuine while their current romance feels so bland and forced. Something that's even more ironic given their exchange later on when they share a kiss and shrug off the idea of being an item.
Back inside Clark's mind his father has become the leader of one extremist fraction and Clark goes with his gut feeling that none of this is real. This has a rather brilliant scene between fathers and sons that I didn't pick up on in first read through. Clark has a teary goodbye with his fake son Van and is unable to cling to the boy that never existed. At the same time Bruce is trying to free Superman and ends up trapped in the Black Mercy. In his own dream he thinks of his father saving his family from Joe Chill and is stuck in a past that never was. In reality Bruce's reckless actions leave Jason alone and terrified that the alien plant will harm Bruce. He's the only real kid that's unintentionally been abandoned while the adults were stuck in their imaginary worlds. It makes the whole thing scarier and shows a real sense of helplessness as the rookie sees the world's greatest heroes at their weakest.
But then Superman gets up.
I could easily buy this story as one of the prime examples of Jason being mindful of Superman's power in DCnU. Superman is pissed and downright scary when asks who did this to him. Since Mongul was an arrogant ass that refused to introduce himself to them Jason doesn't know his name but describes him even pointing out the alien is hurting Wonder Woman. Now I get that he's furious but that shout seemed to have hurt Jason and I wouldn't be surprised if it deafened him. Seeing Superman not notice what he's doing to those around him while in a rage is frightening. While he goes off to fight Mongul the boy wonder tries to figure out how to get the Black Mercy off of Bruce. The weird thing is Bruce said to get the gloves Mongul used before but said to forget them as soon as he felt the vines loosening. (Practice what you preach about being careful Bruce!) Jason puts the massive gloves on before approaching the plant. After getting it off he follows the path of destruction to find Mongul and Superman. Resourcefully finding a solution for getting up and containing the Black Mercy.
After exchanging hits Clark gets distracted at the sight of the statues of his parents holding Krypton. This gives Mongul the upper hand that he happily uses to beat him back down with. Before Mongul can make good on his threat to murder Superman he's interrupted by Jason tossing down the Black Mercy throwing back Mongul's earlier insult for extra measure.
Jason Todd: Almost intelligent, huh?
Mongul becomes trapped in his own dream world happily destroying all life that gets in his way. For some odd reason no one mentions the day was saved thanks to Jason and they give Clark his presents. Gifts that he doesn't need thanks already having one and the flower getting stomped on in the fight. Since Diana is ignorant to the pain the dream can cause she thinks it would have been nice to know your heart's desire. Bruce lies to say he dreamed of marrying Kathy Kane and having a teenage daughter. Whether Kathy actually exists now seems to be up in the air since Morrison left. So for the most part this story can still be canon with very few obstacles.
I enjoyed it and think it's far superior to the animated version. But I'm still not 100% sure why Clarks' dreams were taking a turn for the worse. Because he was fighting it? I don't think I've seen Black Mercy being written like that since. In GLC I believe it showed their nightmares (it's been awhile since I read that vol. so I may be wrong) and in Stephanie Brown's Batgirl it just showed happy things even though she was fighting it off. Regardless this is very solid and satisfying read.
Since the Batman/Superman annual solicit does mention Mongul and has Jason Todd I'm thinking this might be mentioned. It's a good story that made all the heroes shine (although amusingly Batman does the least.) Who knows how it will fit given Forever Evil, the fallout with the bat family and the memory loss storyline. I'm not sure if Tim or Dick will be in it but I hope the portrayals are strong especially since RHATO has been lacking.
Did You Notice?: Diana comments on the ice being steep as she bends over to apparently lift Jason up as he struggles through the snow. Bruce is standing off to her side not offering any assistance to his pantless sidekick.
While Diana and Bruce are discussing what could have happened Jason is the first one to realize Mongul is coming towards them.
Mongul puts on one of his gloves after he reveals himself then after two pages takes them off again.
Bruce wrapped the flower? And he didn't make more than one "The Krypton"?
Post-Crisis Jason did something similar to the Scarecrow by tossing the fear toxin at him but he was scolded for that because he didn't wait for Batman to give the okay.
Apparently the Black Mercy does affect humans worse than aliens as Batman is seen in bandages.
Say What?: I usually don't put quotes here but I love this exchange with the reveal of Superman/Black Mercy.
Batman: I'm pretty certain no one else will have got him flowers...
Jason Todd: (Looking into the next room) Uh, Bruce... Maybe it's not too late to change it for something else. Did you get a receipt?
Why would you have glass trees? Are they and the birds organic? If so Jor-El just killed a glass bird.
Superman tells alien cultures when his birthday is and let's them send gifts to him? You'd think more pissed off aliens would send things to kill him.
Superman says he'll drop Mongul off in a black hole...why not put him in the Phantom Zone? Did his dream make him rethink it's use and believe it's too cruel?