Superman vs. Mongul


By Len Wein, Paul Levitz, Alan Moore, Jim Starlin, Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4256-5

Almost 80 years ago Superman jump-started the entire modern era of fantasy heroes: indomitable, infallible, unconquerable, outlandish and flamboyant. He also saved a foundering proto-industry by personifying an entirely new narrative construct – the Super Hero.

Since June 1938 The Man of Tomorrow has grown into a mighty presence in all aspects of the arts, culture and commerce, even as his natal comicbook universe organically grew and expanded to today’s heady heights.

Superman is comics’ outstanding icon: the hero who effectively started a whole genre and, in the decades since his nativity, one who has survived every kind of menace imaginable. With this in mind, it’s tempting – and usually very rewarding – to gather up whole swathes of his prodigious back-catalogue and re-present them in specifically-themed collections, such as this fun frolic chronicling the genesis of an awesome antagonist designed to be the hero’s modern antithesis: a monstrous militaristic madman with greater power, better resources and far more sinister values and motivations…

As initially envisioned, Mongul the Merciless was an alien tyrant and extinction-level threat in the manner of Jack Kirby’s Darkseid and Jim Starlin’s own Thanos: an unrepentantly evil intelligent monster beyond the scope of everyday costumed crusaders. He debuted in DC Comics Presents #27 (November 1980). The title was one wherein the Man of Steel would star beside a different company character (mostly heroes but not always…) and the other champion involved here was J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars.

Unlike companion team-up vehicle The Brave and the Bold – which boasted a regular artist for most of its Batman co-starring run – a veritable merry-go-round of creative talent contributed to DCCP. Issue #27 proved the value of such tactics when Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin (as inking collective “Quickdraw”) collaboratively changed the shape of Superman mythology by introducing seemingly unstoppable marauder Mongul in ‘The Key that Unlocked Chaos!’

The overwhelmingly powerful deposed despot of a far-away planet kidnapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Daily Planet gadfly Steve Lombard to force Superman to attack his former JLA comrade. This was because the Martian had already successfully driven off the rapacious fiend when Mongul attacked New Mars in search of an artefact granting its possessor control of the universe’s most terrible weapon…

The Yellow Devil wanted the Metropolis Marvel to get it for him and, although the resulting planet-shaking clash between old allies did result in the salvation of his friends, Superman subsequently failed to keep the coveted crystal key out of the villain’s gigantic hands…

The story continued in #28 (December 1980) as Supergirl united with her Kryptonian cousin to scour the cosmos for the Sallow Supremacist and the ancient doom-weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Starlin & Romeo Tanghal) that he now controlled.

Unfortunately, once they found him and it, Mongul unleashed all its devastating resources to destroy his annoying adversaries and in the resultant cataclysm the mobile gun-planet was demolished. The resultant detonation also blasted Kara Zor-El out of existence…

(Although not included in this tome, that triptych concluded a month later as Ghostly Guardian The Spectre helped retrieve his cousin from Where No Superman Has Gone Before! At least now you won’t wonder or worry…)

Back here and now the cosmic clashes continue with ‘A Universe Torn Asunder!’ (also known as ‘Whatever Happened to Starman?’) by Paul Levitz & Starlin: another system-shaking saga first seen in DC Comics Presents #36 (August 1981).

Here the Great Dictator resurfaces, having turned his nefarious attention to Prince Gavyn, ruler of a distant sidereal empire as well as a covert stellar powered crusader, rather confusingly employing the title Starman for his secret superhero shenanigans.

After snatching the monarch’s beloved fiancé Merria, Mongul tries to take over the masked hero’s interplanetary empire but is thwarted once more by the timely arrival of the Man of Steel and the vengeful fury of the cosmic crusader he has challenged…

You can’t keep a good citrine psychopath down, however, and the brutal beast resurfaced in DCCP #43 (March 1982) to challenge both Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes ‘In Final Battle’ (Levitz, Curt Swan & Dave Hunt). Hungry for revenge, Mongul again steals a universal ultimate weapon – this time a Sun-Eater (the clue is in the name) – and points it in the direction of Sol. He never expected the cavalry to arrive from the 30th century though… The all-out, all-action exploits then conclude with a modern masterpiece by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons who produced one of the last truly memorable Superman stories before the cosmic upheaval and reboot triggered by the Crisis on Infinite Earths publishing event.

‘For the Man Who Has Everything’ (Superman Annual #11) sees despicable deceptive Mongul cunningly invade the Fortress of Solitude to ambush the Action Ace with the most insidious of weapons on his birthday.

A valiant last-minute intervention by Batman, second Robin Jason Todd and Wonder Woman are barely enough to turn the tide…

Moreover, when the Man of Steel recognises the culprit for the emotional hell he has barely survived his furious response is terrifying to behold…

Essentially a blockbusting battle royale, this tale carries plenty of intellectual weight too, showing a dystopian Krypton for the first time: a view that the fabulous lost world might not have been a utopian super-scientific paradise after all and one that has become a given for most later interpretations…

Also including an illustrated fact-file of Mongul (from Who’s Who #16, June 1986) and a cover gallery by Starlin, Brian Bolland & Gibbons, this is an incomprehensibly enthralling collection of Fights ‘n’ Tights feasts: a pure package of superhero magnificence: fun-filled, action-packed, absolutely addictive and utterly irresistible.
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