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Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman visit the Fortress of Solitude with gifts on Superman's birthday, only to find him in a catatonic state, a large alien plant stuck to his chest, its tendrils wrapped around his body. As they analyze the situation, the alien Mongul steps into the scene, revealing the name of the plant (the "Black Mercy") and how it has put Superman into a coma, feeding him an extremely realistic and plausible dream based on his "heart's desire" while it consumes his "bio-aura". As he explains, Mongul touches the Mercy while wearing a pair of protective, oversized gauntlets. Interspersed with the scenes in the Fortress are pages of Superman's dream of living a normal life on his long-destroyed home planet of Krypton, happily married with two children.
While Wonder Woman battles Mongul, whose power and strength exceed hers, Batman and Robin try to free Superman. Meantime, Superman's fantasy takes a dark turn. His father Jor-El's prediction of Krypton's doom was unfulfilled in the fantasy, leading to Jor-El being discredited and embittered. Superman's mother Lara has died from the "Eating Sickness", which has further isolated Jor-El from his son and the rest of his family. Even the death of his brother Zor-El has not reconciled him to his sister-in-law Alura and niece Kara Zor-El.
The Kryptonian society within the dream is undergoing polarization and political upheaval. Jor-El has become chairman of an extremist reactionary movement called the "Sword of Rao" which calls for a return to Krypton's "noble and unspoiled" past. The Phantom Zone, Krypton's other-dimensional prison system, has become a major point of contention in this dreamworld. As it was developed by Jor-El, the House of El is unpopular with the public, who see the Zone as cruel and unusual punishment. Kara Zor-El is brutally assaulted by anti-Zone protesters, who use the criminal Jax-Ur (sentenced to an eternity in the Zone) as a martyr and symbol.
Superman gradually begins to wake up from the increasingly disturbing dream, with it finally dissolving with a scene of his "son", Van-El, slipping away from him as they visit the Kandor crater. In the conscious world, Batman has resorted to trying to pry the Mercy off Superman's chest. Without protective clothing, the plant immediately attacks him, submerging Batman into his own "heart's desire" dream, in which the murder of his parents is narrowly prevented by Thomas Wayne disarming the mugger. Superman awakens, infuriated by the Mercy's attack and the loss of the fantasy (as Mongul later describes, "escaping it must have been like tearing off your own arm"). He savagely attacks Mongul, who was about to kill the defeated Wonder Woman. The two adversaries battle across the Fortress, causing massive damage to it.
Robin, anxiously seeking a solution, puts on Mongul's discarded gauntlets and pries the Mercy off Batman. Thinking quickly, he stuffs the Mercy into one of the gauntlets, allowing him to safely carry it to the battle. Superman, on the verge of delivering a crushing blow to Mongul, becomes distracted by the sight of the statues of his parents, allowing Mongul to deliver a stunning counterattack. Mongul is on the verge of delivering a lethal blow to Superman when Robin drops the Mercy on him. Mongul is instantly seized by the plant and submerged into his own deepest fantasy, in which he swats the Mercy aside, kills Robin, then Superman, then goes on to conquer Earth and the universe.
In the aftermath, Batman and Wonder Woman's wounds have been bandaged up; Batman idly explains how his fantasy had included him marrying Kathy Kane and having a teenage daughter, while Wonder Woman confesses envy that she could not find out what her heart's desire was. After revealing plans to imprison Mongul by dumping him in a black hole on the other side of the galaxy, Superman unwraps his gifts; Wonder Woman had brought a replica of Kandor made by "gem-smiths" of Paradise Island, which prompts Superman to fly off, hide his own replica of the Bottle City, and return at super-speed before his absence is noticed. Batman’s gift, sadly, turns out to be another plant – a new breed of rose which has been named “The Krypton” – which had accidentally been stepped on and killed during the fight. Philosophically stating that it’s perhaps for the best, Superman asks that someone from the group of friends make coffee for everyone while he cleans up the mess around the Fortress. The final page documents Mongul's universal conquest fantasy - "The stars run red", "The nebulae echo with the screams of the dying" – leaving him at last content.
Background and context
Between 1980 and 1984, Alan Moore became a recurring presence in comic books published in England. Both the British division of Marvel Comics, as Fleetway (responsible for magazine 2000 A.D.), and Quality Communications (responsible for the magazine Warrior) hired Moore to write for them. On more than one occasion, this would be on comics with artist Dave Gibbons, and the two enjoyed working together.
Gibbons's talent caught the attention of DC Comics in 1982. That year, Len Wein hired him as the artist of the Green Lantern series.
The following year was Moore's turn to be hired by Wein, who was seeking a writer for Swamp Thing, which had seen low sales. Alan Moore reinvented the character and introduced new themes, dealing with social and environmental issues. Moore took over the series in 1984 and his scripts soon attracted the attention of audiences and critics.
Both before and while working on Swamp Thing, Moore submitted numerous proposals to the publisher, seeking to work with characters like Martian Manhunter and the Challengers of the Unknown, but all ended up being rejected because DC had already developed projects with other writers for the characters with which he intended to work. When the editor Dick Giordano finally approved the project that would become Watchmen, Moore and Gibbons began working on planning the stories. Shortly after, the editor Julius Schwartz asked Gibbons if he could draw a Superman story. Gibbons said he was available. When Schwartz told Gibbons he could also choose who wrote the story, he immediately requested Moore. "For the Man Who Has Everything" began to take shape.
As in such other Moore/Gibbons projects as Watchmen, "For the Man Who Has Everything" is rich in detail, showcasing many minor elements drawn from decades of stories about Krypton, such as Superman's dream-wife being Lyla Lerrol, a character who first appeared in a 1960 issue of Superman. The final page, detailing Mongul's universal conquest fantasy, includes appearances by numerous extraterrestrial DC characters including Hawkman and Hawkwoman; Brainiac; Adam Strange; Hyathis (empress of Thanagar); Bolphunga the Unrelenting (from a story in Green Lantern #188, May 1985, also by Moore and Gibbons); an Oan Guardian; J'onn J'onnz (Martian Manhunter); and a bearded long-haired human representing Alan Moore himself bowing, among others. The fantasy also incorporates "a resurrected Warworld", a copy of the planet-sized battle station used by Mongul but destroyed by Superman and Supergirl in DC Comics Presents #28 (Dec 1980).
The 2005 comic Infinite Crisis featured two references to "For The Man Who Has Everything". In Infinite Crisis #1, a panel showing Mongul Jr. confronting Batman and Wonder Woman at the remains of the Watchtower uses the same composition as Mongul's entrance in the earlier story. Later, in a tie-in story in Green Lantern (vol. 4) #7 and 8, Mongul Jr. uses a Black Mercy to capture Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), although the two are trapped by the same Black Mercy rather than each being 'caught' by a separate plant. As a result, Queen is able to break free because Jordan's greater willpower allows his desires to override his fantasy and describe what he thinks Queen's perfect life would be, rather than what Queen himself would wish for.
Since then, the Black Mercy has been given an origin tale, and Mother Mercy (which birthed the Black Mercy) is given a choice between joining the Sinestro Corps or the Green Lantern Corps. It chooses the latter, becoming the Green Lantern of Sector 2261.
In the JLA: Destiny Elseworlds mini-series, a mysterious figure named Khouriga Edjem has turned a fictional Middle Eastern country Kamburu into a modern day Eden. It is revealed through the course of the miniseries that Edjem is in fact Mongul who has come to Earth to conquer it. He used a Black Mercy on Green Lantern Guy Gardner to incapacitate him and use him as a power source for the entire country of Kamburu.
"For The Man Who Has Everything" was parodied in "Operation: U.T.O.P.I.A.", an episode of Codename: Kids Next Door.
Two chapters of Injustice: Gods Among Us-Year Three are titled "For the Man Who's Lost Everything." An alternative version of Superman who became a tyrant is put into a magical coma where all the tragedies that set him on his path (his accidental killing of Lois Lane and their unborn child and the destruction of Metropolis) never happened.
The thirteenth episode of the live-action Supergirl television series, "For the Girl Who Has Everything", features a similar premise in which Non sends a Black Mercy to Kara and traps her in a fantasy in which Krypton was never destroyed.