What Does It Take to Compel Superman to Say 'Burn'?

In "To Quote a Phrase," I spotlight memorable quotes from comic books.

There is an interesting question at the heart of the classic Superman Annual #11 by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, titled "For The Man Who Has Everything."

The set-up of the issue, of course, as everyone here is likely well familiar, is that the villainous Mongul has attached the deadly Black Mercy plant to Superman. The Black Mercy plant burrows into your mind and gives you your heart's desire, but then you're trapped lying there like a lump while your mind is experiencing your fondest dream. The plant then essentially just feeds off of you until you die.

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Okay, so here's the thing. Superman's dream is that Krypton never exploded. He is living there, married with kids on a still very much non-exploded Krypton. However, instead of a dream, it is a nightmare. Now, clearly, this is meant to symbolize that Superman is so strong-willed that he is able to resist the Black Mercy and that's fine. However, then that means that its first usage actively didn't work. So the question is whether it should have actually given Superman his heart's desire instead of a nightmarish world of Krypton.

In any event, whether it was truly his heart's desire or not, these are still what Superman believes to be his family and his son. So when Batman and Robin succeed in loosening the Black Mercy, it is still torment for Superman to be torn away from his "son"...

The Black Mercy then lands on Batman and what's interesting is that the Dark Knight gets a LEGIT happy ending in his dream. But the awakened Superman is not a happy camper, leading to a brilliant panel by Gibbons where he has Superman shouting out Mongul's name at exceptionally loud levels...

(Even before that point, the bit where he asks Robin who did this to him is also brilliant).

Then, in an amazing combination of Moore and Gibbons' talents, we see that Superman is flying so fast in his rage that Mongul can't do anything to stop it...

Mongul brags about how bad Superman must be feeling right now, which leads to the iconic line where Superman is so angry and distraught right now that all he can think to say is one word - "Burn" - as he uses his heat vision like a weapon against another living being, which was a rare thing for Superman to do back then, thus giving it so much more power at the same time...

Robin cleverly figures out that they should try to weaponize the Black Mercy and he gets it off of Batman and drops it on Mongul and then, in another strikingly clever page break, we see Mongul's fantasy and the reality of the situation back to back...

There is a reason why this story is considered one of the most classic superhero adventures of the modern era. It's really, really good.

Okay, folks, if you care to suggest cool comic book quotes that you'd like to see spotlighted here, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com. There's a decent enough chance that if you think the quote in question is super cool than I, too, will find it super cool and feature it here. Not a 100% chance, though, of course. Let's say roughly a 60% chance.

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