5 out of 5
Due to the very fact that Moore writes comics (or wrote, as he’s retired at this point in 2020), we have to assume that he has a fondness for the medium. But a lot of his most notable works are either rather bitter takedowns of the scene, or elbow-in-the-ribs pastiches; it’s sometimes easy to overlook the joy of his early 2000 AD stuff, and then the spotty DC work he did, including this Annual, with his Watchmen buddy Dave Gibbons on art.
I’m pretty sure there have been variants of this style of tale, before and after, in books, movies, TV, and etc., but Moore’s version, here, is one of the best. It encompasses, perfectly, what’s great about comics, and these specific characters, while also being an accessible and entertaining story in and of itself.
Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman show up at the Fortress of Solitude – Moore doing a couple of cheeky status-quo type comments to set the timeline, but also casually setting his tone to that of Silver Age wonder and smiles – for Superman’s Birthday, chattering about, y’know, what to get the man who has everything, when they discover The Big Man himself frozen in place, an odd flower affixed to his chest. This flower is his “gift” from would-be conqueror Mongul, his first step toward Earth domination. He explains: that the flower senses your ultimate desire and allows you to experience them in your thoughts, while doing the parasite thing and feeding off of you. After some slaps from Wonder Woman, Mongul realizes he has some other pests to deal with, and their scuffle shifts to the background, while Moore juggles Supes’ dreamlife – a survived Krypton – and Batman and Robin trying to figure out how to disengage the flower.
The pacing on this is simply masterful: nothing feels indulgent or wasted. Even knowing that Superman is “dreaming,” the life he imagines – which slowly starts to fall apart as he wakes – is relevant and powerful; the fight between Mongul and WW is peppered with dialogue that gives us all we need to now about the two figures; and Robin, in his green booty shorts, is allowed to be the story’s ultimate badass. Gibbons’ is one of those “consistent” artists who can be perfect with a measured writer such as Moore, but it’s also nice to see him flex his chops on something with some Biff Bang Kapow in it, and Alan gives him that, balanced out by some more contained pages with careful timing and paneling.
I’m often a little bitter on Moore when rereading his work, but this is a story that has held up for multiple readings, at various points in my comic reading career when my tastes have varied. It’s a perfect way to show Watchmen readers that you can have the same quality when you’re dealing with the usual guys and gals in tights… although it has the same Watchmen problem of making a lot of other tales rather pale in comparison.