Superman Vs Mongul Trade Paperback Review
A Review by Jesse Baker
Collections of Bronze Age, Pre-Crisis Superman material are rare things, so “Superman vs Mongul” is a rare treat for fans of the Pre-Crisis Superman fans. The collection, released in 2013, collects the four clashes between Superman and Mongul that ran in the Superman team-up book “DC Comics Presents”, along with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s iconic “For the Man Who Has Everything”, which was published in the 1985 Superman Annual #11.
Created by Len Wein and Jim Starlin, Mongul was created to give Superman a new villain in his rogue gallery. A brutish yet cunning tyrant who bares a striking resemblance to co-creator Jim Starlin’s more famous creation Thanos, Mongul was created to serve as a fresh face for the then stagnant Superman rogues gallery. Though these days, he’s mainly known for his role as the mass murderer that destroyed Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s home city Coast City in Reign of the Supermen; triggering Hal’s descent into madness and his possession/transformation into Parallax. Sadly, Hal never got to have revenge on Mongul as Mark Waid notoriously killed Mongul off in “Underworld Unleashed #1” purely to establish Waid’s creation Neron (a Satan stand-in) as a bad-ass. However, in the early 00s, Jeph Loeb introduced Mongul Jr, an exact doppelganger of his father who has since replaced his father as the default Mongul.
Though capable of fighting Superman in a straightforward fight, Mongul was first and foremost a schemer who sought to manipulate and extort Superman and other heroes to advance his own schemes in these early appearances. In his first appearance, DC Comics Presents #27, Mongul kidnaps various allies of Superman (Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Steve Lombard) to blackmail Superman into his service. His aim, is to force Superman to do battle with the Martian Manhunter (who at the time had been written out Justice League of America and was MIA for nearly a decade and a half from comics) in order to retrieve the key to a giant orbiting satellite known as Warworld. Filled with all sorts of murderous missiles and planet destroying lasers and weapons galore, the Warworld satellite is Mongul’s obsession and the tool he seeks to use to enslave the universe.
Having forced Superman to provide him the key to Warworld, the following issue (DC Comics Presents #28) features Superman and Supergirl launching a desperate assault onto the murderous satellite in order to destroy it. In a battle against the marauding satellite of death, Superman and Supergirl must find a way to outsmart Mongul and destroy his new vessel even as Mongul discovers there price one must pay to control Warlord.
The first two stories are written by Len Wein, who with Jim Starlin created the character of Mongul. Under Len Wein, Mongul is a schemer who attacks from a distance and who uses manipulation and extortion to torment Superman. By contrast however, Paul Levitz, who writes Mongul’s next two appearances in DC Comics Presents, (#36 and #43) however has Mongul as a legit powerhouse who could go toe-to-toe with Superman in a physical fight… and potentially win.
Levitz’s first Mongul story (#36) sees Superman team up with the 1970s Steve Ditko created version of Starman, who had flopped with readers and been written out after a couple of appearances in Adventure Comics in the late 1970s. Here, we have Mongul kidnapping Starman’s girlfriend and holding her hostage to force Starman to give up his royal throne (as Ditko’s Starman was an alien prince) so he can force the empire that Starman rules help Mongul conquer his native home world, then the universe. Lucky for him, Superman arrives on the scene to help defeat Mongul and rescue Starman’s girlfriend.
The final DC Comics Presents story, #43, has Levitz pit the villainous Mongul against Superman and the Legion of the Super-Heroes. Featuring a cover by famed Judge Dredd artist Brian Bolland and artwork from Curt Swan, the story also stars the Justice League and Supergirl, both of which are easily defeated by Mongul in hand-to-hand combat at the start of the story.
Here Mongul, furious at his previous defeats, has decided to eliminate Superman once and for all by destroying the Earth. His method for this act of genocide, is a rogue “Sun Eater”; a cloud/blob hybrid creature that feeds on planets and stars. Mongul quickly imprisons Superman in a crystal cube (a trademark method of keeping prisoners captive in Mongul’s stories to this date) and beats the Justice League and Supergirl in combat. With no one else available, Jimmy Olsen summons the 30th Century heroes, the Legion of the Super-Heroes to save the day.
The final story in this compilation is arguably one of the most popular Superman stories ever written: the famed “For The Man Who Has Everything”. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by Moore’s Watchman collaborator Dave Gibbons, the story has Mongul launching his most horrific attack yet on the Man of Steel. Using a psychic parasite creature known as the Black Mercy, Mongul has trapped Superman in a dream world where Krypton never exploded. But the mental prison that the Black Mercy provides gives Superman a dystopian dream world; one where the El family has fallen into shame and disrepute due to his father’s failed prediction of Krypton exploding and the growing backlash against the use of the Phantom Zone Projector to imprison criminals. As Superman struggles to escape his wildest dream turned nightmare, the trio of Wonder Woman, Jason Todd, and Batman must stop Mongul before he can take over the Earth.
“For The Man Who Has Everything” is widely considered to be one, if not the best Superman stories ever made. A chilling deconstruction of the “what if Krypton never exploded?” imaginary stories of the Silver Age, Alan Moore puts Superman into a cruel position of staying (and eventually dying) in a helpless state as a parasitic plant feeds on his lifeforce, or waking up and leaving a world based upon his perfect world. Of course, the world Superman envisions of himself gives sway to the notion that Superman is more human due to upbringing than he might think. While married with children he loved, Superman’s dream prison has his father Jor-El a disgraced scientist who’s reputation never recovered when his prediction that Krypton was about to explode never happened. Kara, Supergirl is savagely attacked by social justice warrior types who call for the murderers in the Phantom Zone be freed and accuse Jor-El of creating a perpetual torture chamber when he created the Phantom Zone. And by the time Superman eventually wakes himself from his dream, he is trying to shield his children from finding out that their grandfather has joined with a motley crew of reactionary right wing politicians that publicly protest the declining state of Krypton.
While in his dream world, Alan Moore pits Mongul against Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Jason Todd Robin. “For The Man Who Has Everything” is the only time Moore would write Wonder Woman and he pits her as the only person who can buy time by brawling with Mongul, so Batman and Robin can free Superman. In the end, it is Jason Todd (who, being that this is Pre-Crisis, is a cheerful cipher and not a street kid with serious anger issues) who secures victory, as not even a super-pissed off Superman can beat Mongul in combat.
All in all, Superman Vs Mongul is worth having in your library if you are a Superman. The stories are well written, the art stellar, and it provides one a chance to have the seminal Superman Annual #11 in your library of books.