In this column, I will dive into times, throughout superhero history, that comics got political. There seems to be a constant debate if political discussion has a place in the medium. I hope to show that politics and superhero comics go together. This time we look at Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons “For the Man Who Has Everything,” in Superman Annual #11.
We have recently touched on Alan Moore’s work in V for Vendetta. His political messages found there seems to worm its way into many of his narratives. But before we get into that I should explain what this title is about. The story “For the Man Who Has Everything,” can be found in Superman Annual #11, and numerous “best of” collections since. It brings together the team that would give the world Watchmen only a year later. In this issue, Superman falls into a dreamlike state after receiving a plant (The Black Mercy) from the supervillain Mongul. After the black mercy attaches itself to Superman he enters a comatose state. The plant feeds off the host by giving them their deepest desires, so they are unable to find the will to break free. Therefore, Superman believes he is on Krypton where he has a wife and children. Batman, Wonder Woman and Robin (Jason Todd) fight to free Superman and defeat Mongul. On its own, this is a pretty fun concept, but since we are dealing with Alan Moore there is always more to the story.
The Political Landscape of Krypton
The political message in this comic is overt and clear but does not take center stage, unlike most comics discussed in my articles. The politics only come into play in Superman’s dream version of Krypton. Jor-El, Superman’s father, becomes a fascist after feeling ostracized by his Kryptonian people. He becomes friendly with a group called the Sword of Rao. Superman himself questions why he would befriend such radical and dangerous individuals. While this book was written in 1985, Jor-El basically says he wants to “Make Krypton Great Again” and wants to return them to their old and traditional ways. Jor-El goes so far as to lead a fascist rally and talk about the dangers of immigrants, refugees, and the changing of the culture. For the B-plot in this 1980s Superman comic, it clearly has a heavy message.
Why have Jor-El the Fascist?
Alan Moore has conducted interviews where he has stated that his intent with this comic was to examine the relationship we have with nostalgia and looking at our past regrets. This passage comes from the book “Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics”:
“The idea behind the story was to examine the concept of escapism and fantasy dreamworlds, including happy times in the past that we look back on and idealize, and longed-for points in the imagined future when we will finally achieve whatever our goal happens to be. I wanted to have a look at how useful these ideas actually are and how wide the gap is between the fantasy and any sort of credible reality. It was a story, if you like, for the people I’ve encountered who are fixated upon some point in the past where things could have gone differently or who are equally obsessed with some hypothetical point in the future when certain circumstances will have come to pass and they can finally be “happy.” People who say, “If only I hadn’t married that man or that woman. If only I’d stayed in college, left college earlier, settled down, gone off to see the world, got that job I turned down … ” or who say, “When the mortgage is paid off, then I can enjoy myself. When I’m promoted and I get more money, then I can have a good time. When the divorce comes through, when the kids are grown up, when I finally manage to get my novel published ….” These people are so enslaved by their perception of the past and future that they are incapable of properly experiencing the present until it’s vanished.”
This theme of living in, and idealizing, the past comes full circle in many parts of the book. On a surface level, Superman realizes that living in a fantasy world is not fulfilling. He is willing to give up his newfound comfortable life in order to break free and fight to create a better world on the outside. Mongul falls victim to the black mercy at the end of the book and freely accepts his dreamed fate as an all-powerful ruler. Showing the real difference between what a hero and villain wants. But the more interesting critique comes from a wholly ”imagined” character, Jor-El. In many ways, it is through his flaws that teaches Superman to break free. He is living in his own fantasy within a fantasy. Hoping for a world where he can return Krypton to its former glory, and one that most likely never existed. Because Jor-El was an ostracized member of Krypton he is more vulnerable to joining up with a fascist movement. These movements prey on people who think they have lost power, with the promise of gaining importance. Alan Moore is showing the readers flaws in this way of thinking and that we should stand up and live in the present, much like Superman does. It is a short yet powerful political message that fits in perfectly with the grander themes and thesis of this comic.