1. Superman gives up everything he ever wanted
If you think finding a present for your mom is tough, imagine being best friends with Superman. Unless Amazon ever adds a sidebar that suggests "Demigods May Like..." you'd probably feel a tad self-conscious about your gift. That's how Batman and Wonder Woman feel when our story begins in "For the Man Who Has Everything," based on a classic comic from the Watchmen team Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
For the occasion, Diana made a pretty thoughtful gesture by synthesizing an entirely new kind of flower, called the Krypton. Bruce, on the other hand, proved that he has yet to master human customs by bringing a wad of cash in an envelope. Walking into the Fortress of Solitude, the other two-thirds of the Trinity are surprised to see that Superman was already given everything he could ever ask for. Sort of.
The hentai tentacle weed straddling Superman is called Black Mercy. It's a psychic plant that hypnotizes its host and makes them see their ideal reality while it uh, does psychic plant stuff. The specifics aren't important -- all you need to know is that Superman is paralyzed and doesn't know it because he's living in a dream world. It's the same kind of ignorant bliss Cipher was willing to kill for in The Matrix.
This "gift" turned out to be from Mongul, a pasty Darkseid wanna-be with a serious grudge against Kal-El. Mongul, unthreatened by the leftover weaklings in the Justice League, explains how his masterstroke has just ensured his dominance over Earth. Looking at Superman, Mongul ponders aloud just what kind of fantasy land the Black Mercy has cooked up for him.
In Mongul's mind, no one could be as altruistic or as purely good as Superman. The whole boy scout routine has to be a facade, one that hides a deeper yearning to rule Earthling peons with an iron fist. A guy who spends so much of his time saving people has got to have some thoughts on how the world should be run, right?
Well, no. Of course not. As it turns out, Mongul doesn't understand Superman at all. Instead of a king astride the galaxy, Superman's greatest wish is that he were just another man. Another man on Krypton.
In his ultimate fantasy, Superman is a normal citizen of his home planet, which is still bustling with life. There seem to be some earthquakes here and there, but other than that, life is wonderful. He's just Kal-El, a normal dude on the world he never really got to know. He's even got a kid named Van-El, who gets into trouble but always learns his lesson. Even in Superman's perfect reality, people still make mistakes so they can learn from them.
That's not to say that Superman's fantasy is completely devoid of his life as Clark Kent. This Kal-El lives on a farm away from the city, married to a woman named Loana (a somewhat creepy mix of Lois Lane and Lana Lang). As much as he wishes to rejoin his people as a full-fledged Kryptonian, there's still some Smallville left in Superman.
But part of Superman's subconscious knows there's something wrong. This is all too good to be true. Yeah, his father is alive and well, but what's going on with these earthquakes? Why isn't anyone else worried about them?
Out in the real world, Wonder Woman is having a knock-down drag-out fight with Mongul. Beating him one-on-one is a tall order even for an Amazonian, but really she's just giving Batman time to help his friend snap out of his paralysis. It's unclear as to whether Superman is hearing Batman's calls for sanity or if Superman's subconscious is working this out himself, but the illusion is slowly breaking.
This is the moment where Superman's heart starts to crumble. He's being pulled back down to earth, regaining his lucidity. This is a good thing in general, but it comes at a steep cost. Krypton is a lie. From the alien wheat fields on Kal-El's farm to the futiristic cityscape, right down to his wife. The Black Mercy's grip is so strong that it creates memories that never happened. Superman probably can recall his first kiss, or his wedding day. He even remembers the "birth" of his fabricated son.
When Van-El urges his father to disregard these feelings, it's really the Black Mercy talking. The plant wants Superman to stay in his dream world, on the imaginary Krypton. But that doesn't make it anymore heartbreaking when Kal-El has to say goodbye to the son he never had, by destroying the fantasy that has taken over his subconscious.
All this time, Batman has been trying all sorts of tricks to free his friend. Unfortunately, Batman is the closest person when the Black Mercy lets go of Superman in search of a new host.
We're going to go inside Batman's subconscious, so you know what that means: Yet another trip to that fateful night in Crime Alley.
This is interesting for several reasons. For one, Batman's ultimate fantasy somehow exists in black and white. That could be telling of how Bruce Wayne sees the world, or it might've just been a visual cue to tell the audience that this was a flashback. But the most interesting part is that we're seeing Thomas Wayne fight back against the mugger. Batman could have easily concocted a world where there was no creep with a gun waiting in that alley, but he didn't.
Instead, he wants -- more than anything -- a reality in which Joe Chill still stalks the streets. The big difference here that his father would have stopped Chill's assault orphan. It almost seems like Batman blames his dad for not being a little more proactive about saving his family, a thought that he'd probably never admit crossed his mind.
Out in the real world, Superman is pissed.
Mongul has made Superman suffer loss on a level he never thought possible. Imagine someone gave you a puppy that pooped gold and also doubled as a projector that contained the next 50 years of Star Wars movies -- and then that someone gave you a gun and made you shoot that puppy. That's what Mongul did to Superman. You'd kick the shit out of that guy, too.
In the end, the Black Mercy is re-gifted to its original owner, and justice is served. Sort of.
As usual, Batman is right. The Black Mercy is probably showing Mongul a hellish dystopia filled with pain and despair, ruled over by its rightful (if a bit jaundiced) ruler. Whereas Superman has to live on with the reminder that he'll never truly be at home, the bad guy gets a happy ending.
2. The heartbreaking tale of Solomon Grundy
Of all of DC's villains, Solomon Grundy might be the most sympathetic. Doomed to die and be reborn, again and again, Grundy often reemerges with a completely different personality. Sometimes he's a mindless rage machine like Doomsday, and other times Grundy comes off as a well-meaning (if irritable) simpleton who just wants to be left alone. In the episode "The Terror Beyond," Grundy is revealed to have been a gangster in his former life, a petty thug who was stricken with a curse that separated his soul and his body.
As the local angry magical zombie, it was only natural that Grundy would help the Justice league take on a Cthulu-inspired cosmic monster.
That is in fact Grundy, who has just snapped off one of the claws of an Old One, and is using that claw to stab that asshole in the god damned heart. Grundy, you see, is under the impression that these self-styled intergalactic deities have possession of his soul, and a firm ass kicking is all that's needed to get it back. This isn't exactly the case, however, and while the evil space gods are defeated, it's at the cost of Grundy's life. Having built up an odd friendship over the course of the adventure, Hawkgirl comforts Grundy at the end.
In the Justice League cartoons, Hawkgirl is strongly implied to be an atheist. Her people, the Thanagarians, once worshipped the Old Ones, but rebelled after the cost for their "protection" became too high. It's safe to say that she doesn't have any faith in gods, much less the concept of a soul.
But even if Grundy could understand, Hawkgirl realizes that he doesn't need to hear anything else than this:
After living in anguish for decades, Solomon Grundy has a moment of happiness. For once, he truly believes that he will be himself again, that he will be allowed to die. But we know that's not true, and Hawkgirl knows that she was lying to Grundy. He'll come back again and again, as long as they make comics and movies with DC's undead version of the Hulk.
Heck, Grundy reappears in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Wake the Dead." Only this time, he's a lot dumber, a lot meaner, and a hell of a lot stronger.
The situation gets so bad that Hawkgirl gets called back into action. Previously in self-imposed exile after going rogue (more on that later), the woman also known as Sheyara came back to see if her connection with Grundy could help halt his rampage. It took some doing, but she finally realized what Grundy needed.
For Grundy, every second he's alive without a soul is pure torture. The only respite he has is when he's dead, and even that is only temporary. Hawkgirl might have ended Grundy's suffering for now, but by his very nature, he'll always comeback. Such is the tale of Solomon Grundy.