Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons present one of the finest Superman stories of all time in Annual 11, and no matter how cranky Moore gets about his work for DC, nothing can lessen the craftsmanship and impact of this tale.
The story, which delves into a Krypton that did not blow up, bears a notable resemblance in its opening to the story from the late 50s that explored the same territory. Both begin with Batman and Robin visiting the Fortress of Solitude to give Superman a present, although in this case they are joined by Wonder Woman. And it’s Jason Todd who is Robin, meeting the Amazon warrior for the first time.
They find Superman completely unresponsive, in the grip of a plant they have never seen before. The story cuts back and forth between the action in the Fortress, and the fantasy world the planet has placed Superman in.
Kal-El is married to Lyla Lerrol, and they have two children. Krypton is alive and well and all should be fine. But this is not a happy alternate reality. Jor-El still made his prediction about the planet’s destruction, and has been living in public humiliation ever since. He has aligned with the more extreme conservative elements of the society, to the dismay of Kal. We learn that his brother, Zor-El, had died, and Jor is estranged from his sister-in-law Allura and niece Kara, although they too are linked with the unpopular El family.
Kal has a long talk with his unhappy father, ending in the statement that he suspects his father regrets that Krypton did not explode.
Back in the Fortress, the heroes theorize how the plant arrived, amidst other presents from alien worlds. Mongul shows up. That’s no surprise, he’s on the cover. Mongul had appeared in a few DC Comics Present issues, the last three years earlier, but this story really solidified him as a force to be reckoned with.
After Kara is attacked and critically injured by the people seeking to overthrow the domination of the Science Guild, Jor simply makes things worse, taking the leadership of the extreme right wing side. Kal watches in despair as riots break out.
He brings his son to the Kandor crater, while in the Fortress, Batman struggles to remove the plant, Black Mercy, which kills by creating these fantasies. Superman’s consciousness was fighting the plant as well, and he regretfully tells his eldest child that he is not sure the boy is actually real.
At this point, Batman removes the plant and Superman is thrust back to the real world. Batman winds up in a fantasy in which his parents were not killed, and he goes on to marry Kathy Kane.
Superman discovers what Mongul has done to him, and is not happy about it.
To a degree, Wonder Woman gets the short end of the stick in this story, but it is the dominant fighting role, as she has been battling Mongul one on one until Superman gets free. Robin removes the Black Mercy from Batman, and carts it over to where the action is.
So it’s actually Jason Todd who saves the day, dropping Black Mercy onto Mongul.
Batman’s present, which was also a flower, though not a deadly one, got crushed in the fight, but Wonder Woman still has her gift. She had created a duplicate of the bottle city of Kandor, complete down to the details, only visible through microscopic examination. In a delightful sequence, Superman hides the one he already has, at super-speed, before accepting hers.
The story ends with a glimpse of Mongul’s blood drenched fantasy.
Mongul returns the following year in another DC Comics Presents tale.