Since we'll be having a blog crossover during Superman's birthday on Wednesday, here's an early present...
The Arctic Circle, February 29th: Wonder Woman said "Beat you" when Batman and Robin arrived. "If I ever develop a Bat-Plane that responds to thought-control, I'll take you up on a rematch. It's good to see you again, Diana. You're looking great." Batman introduced her to Jason Todd, whom she gave a peck on the cheek. "You look so much like Dick that I forgot for a moment... Nice to meet you. Welcome to an interesting career. Anyway, he's left the door open for us. Let's get inside before you two freeze." Robin, with irony, pointed out that Wonder Woman wasn't exactly dressed for the weather. With a smirk as they headed for the Fortress of Solitude, Batman said "Think clean thoughts, chum."
Wonder Woman complained about the increasingly steep slope up to the entrance. "I wish someone would tell him that not everyone can fly." Diana refused to reveal her gift in earshot of super-hearing, while Batman figured no one else would have gotten Superman a unique breed of flower for his birthday. Robin said, "Maybe it's not too late to change it for something else. Did you get a receipt?"
Superman was standing stiff and blank-eyed, faintly breathing, a bizarre plant attached to his chest. "Bruce, this thing feels funny. I think it might have some magic in it..." It had grown through Superman's costume and into his person, the plant's thorny tendrils securely wrapped about his torso, neck and arms. It appeared Superman had opened a gift box, and found a trap inside. Diana said, "Listen, it has to be alien in origin. I know that a lot of alien cultures send him gifts..." It likely arrived through some teleportation channel, possibly from a benevolent party unaware that it could do harm. A voice bellowed from behind the trio, "How remarkable. You animals really are almost intelligent, aren't you? That's exactly what happened... except for one or two minor details."
Mongul strode past the heroes to eye his handiwork, wearing a pair of massive gauntlets. "Firstly, I knew precisely what it would do to him. Secondly, it was not intended as a token of gratitude... Do you like it? It's called a 'Black Mercy.' ...It's something between a plant and an intelligent fungus. It attaches itself to its victims in a form of symbiosis, feeding from their bio-aura... It reads them like a book, and feeds them a logical simulation of the happy ending they desire. Of course, its victims could shrug it off... They just don't want to." Kal-El was seeing his potential existence on Krypton, had the planet survived, and he had remained on it throughout his life. However, rather than his heart's desire, Kal-El's false life was tormented.
Meanwhile, Mongul declared himself boss of the Earth, and told Batman "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?" After a silent pause while he removed his gauntlets, Mongul urged, "Well?" Wonder Woman leapt up to punch him in the jaw, but did more damage to her hand. "Hmm... Thank you. I think that's answered my question."
Following some off panel brawling, Mongul knocked the Amazing Amazon through a wall to the Hall of Weapons. "Well, you're certainly lasting longer than I anticipated. You're a female, I think. You wouldn't be the Kryptonian's mate, by any chance?" Just a good friend, and now one arming herself. "Oh, dear. Is that a Neural Impacter? Do they still make those? I'd advise you to try the Plasm Disrupter. It's smaller. More of a female's weapon." Mongul grinned as Wonder Woman's attack proved ineffectual, then shoved the side of her face against a wall.
Outside, Batman focused on the Black Mercy. "Because whatever's going on through there is way out of our league." While Superman was coming to terms with his dream world, and saying goodbye to the son he never had, Batman noted his real tears and the loosening grip of the plant. Robin wished to use Mongul's discarded gauntlets, but Batman insisted on ripping the Black Mercy free while the opportunity presented itself. The plant released Superman, but latched onto the Caped Crusader, whose parents were imagined to be alive. While Robin fretted, Superman was revived. "Who... did this... to me?" Jason Todd replied, "I... I don't know. A big yellow guy. He's through there hurting Wonder Woman now... Superman? Are you okay? You look sorta, uh..." Todd may have been thinking of an impolite way to say "peeved," as a scowling Kryptonian howled for the first time in the story the name "MONGUL"
The jaundiced giant was holding a limp, bruised and bleeding Amazon by the hair, pulling his arm back to deliver another punch, when a "voice like Armageddon" reached him. Mongul let loose of the unconscious princess to reach for his armor's weapon systems, but was struck by 400mph wind before the Kryptonian flew into his backside. The battle that followed was no holds barred and highly destructive. "Eyes spit out suns. Muscles shift like continental plates, roiling under a hide of jaundiced leather... Their enmity can only be measured in the skipping heartbeats of distant seismographs. Both indestructible, each damages the other. Both irresistible, each finds himself thwarted... surrender is not a possibility."
Meanwhile, Robin used the discarded gauntlets to remove and contain the Black Mercy as he tried to pursue the pair across multiple floors. Finally, Mongul was preparing to deliver the deathblow to a fallen Kryptonian, but Robin called out from a hole in the floor above. "Uh, excuse me... but I think this is yours. Almost intelligent, huh?" The latest Boy Wonder dropped the Black Mercy onto Mongul's chest, and the merciless menace dreamed of murder. First Robin, then Superman, then great swaths of the universe fall before Mongul. "He is content."
Mongul was propped up against a wall, lost absolutely in the dreams of the Black Mercy. Batman's chest needed bandaging, as he recalled his own fantasy experience as the husband of Kathy Kane and father of a teenage girl. Her own wounds dressed, Diana admitted "I'm a little envious. It must be wonderful to find out just what your heart's desire really is... Kal? Now that we've broken the ice at your birthday party, can I give you this? It's an exact duplicate of the bottle city of Kandor, to replace the real one, which was enlarged. The Paradise Island gem-smiths made it. You need x-ray vision and microscopic vision to really appreciate it..." With extraordinary speed, Superman flew off to hide his other replica of the bottle city of Kandor before Diana saw it. The two kissed, and Kal asked why they didn't do it more often. "I don't know. Too predictable?" Kal agreed, then accepted Bruce's trampled flower...
"For The Man Who Has Everything..." was by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.