Writer Francis Manapul talks being inspired by Alan Moore's "For the Man Who Has Everything"
Warning: This post contains spoilers about the recent issue of DC Comics’ Trinity.
2016 was a big year for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ poignant 1985 story “For the Man Who Has Everything.” In the tale, the evil dictator Mongul uses a plant called the Black Mercy to trap Superman in a dream world where Krypton was never destroyed and he has a family, and the only way for him to escape it is to willingly give up this idyllic life. Several DC Comics properties decided to tackle this classic story this year: in February, The CW’s Supergirl (then on CBS) put its own spin on it in the episode “For the Girl Who Has Everything,” and most recently, Arrow 100th episode followed a similar storyline. However, the most interesting take on the story, naturally, came in the comics, specifically, the new Trinity series.
Written by Francis Manapul, Trinity focuses on DC Comics’ big three: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. “Better Together,” the first arc, uses that classic story to examine the three superheroes’ relationship and finds them trapped in a dream world by the Black Mercy plant. Issue #4, drawn by Emanuela Lupacchino, ends with the Trinity coming face to face with not only Mongul, but it also gives us our first look at the hitherto unseen force, the White Mercy, which is revealed to be a person and not a plant.
EW spoke to Manapul about the issue’s big reveal, why he turned to that important Superman story to kick off his series, and what to expect from issue #5.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is it fair to say that “Better Together” is very much inspired by “For the Man Who Has Everything”?
FRANCIS MANAPUL: Absolutely. That was a big inspiration for the story. It essentially came out of trying to find a way to differentiate Trinity from their respective books. Superman has like three or four titles, and Batman has more. Same with Wonder Woman. And, they also have this book called Justice League, right? All of those books are big threat books and they’re getting together for the purpose of defeating something larger. Going into Trinity, I realized that the best approach was to make it more of a personal book. Essentially, the goal of the book was to take them from these three guys that worked together to eventually friends and, ultimately, to be more like a family. That’s been the goal with Trinity from day one. What better way to do that than to expose each other to their emotional baggage than using the Black Mercy plant to allow each of them that very, very rare peak at each other’s past, the things that they need, and all of the emotional baggage that they carry.
When you started writing, were you scared to take on such important and beloved story?
Yeah, especially since Alan [Moore] did that whole story in like 30-40 pages and I have to tell mine in six issues. There’s definitely a disparity there. The way he did that original story was so masterful and it was very concise. I realized was never going to be able to do that, so with my story I’m taking a bit more of my time.
Each member of the Trinity is going through his or her past because one of the key goals of the book was, “How do we get these three guys to connect?” The easy answer is, okay a threat shows up and they fight this villain together and through that experience they become friends. Realizing I couldn’t do that, I decided to expose them to each other’s past in a way that’s similar to if you and I grew up together, we would have a very close bond that, perhaps, somebody we may have met a year ago wouldn’t have. Because of the continuity, that past can’t happen; I can’t do that without affecting everyone’s continuity. So, using the Black Mercy is kind of a way for me to have each of them experience each other’s past, so that when they come back to the real world, they’re gonna have this bond as if they actually grew up together, even though in continuity they didn’t. That bond is really what Trinity is about. That’s why it hasn’t been too action filled because at the heart of the story, it’s really about strengthening their bond and why they need to be together and by the end of this story arc, we find out that each of those moments that they had in their life that they felt were dark times actually will end up being the thing that saves the day.
At the end of issue #4, the Trinity comes face to face with Mongul, who used the Black Mercy to trap Superman is a dream world in “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Is this ending supposed to mean that Mongul is behind this latest attack, or is this just another illusion?
That’s a good question. It’s fair to say a lot of things. Again, going back through the last three issues, obviously it’s very clear that this isn’t their world. There’s a lot of inconsistencies: Dr. Harley Quinzel wouldn’t have been that age and wouldn’t have been the one to be Bruce Wayne’s therapist. The same thing [goes for] Themyscira: There’s just a lot of inconsistencies and a lot of things that are being homogenized with the different iterations of Wonder Woman. If you’re a long time fan, you’re going to see a lot of the scenes that they’ve actually portrayed in George Perez’s Wonder Woman and there are some scenes that are seen in the current Wonder Woman [series]. So, there’s a lot of mishmash going on. So, what’s real?
The bigger question isn’t who is behind it. It’s rather, whose dream are the they in? Is it Superman’s? Is Batman’s? Is Wonder Woman’s? Is it Mongul’s? That’s really the bigger question. And at the end of the day, why are they there? I like to think that each issue has been a bit of a slow reveal because the villains that I’ve chosen to use, with regards to Mongul and Poison Ivy, they’re motivations for what they’re doing is actually pretty good, pretty human, and pretty relatable. I’d like to think that in Trinity, it’s not as clean-cut as good guy-bad guy, but rather it’s a story about people and the choices that they’re making in order to keep certain things that they care about safe. Obviously, I’m dodging the question completely, but yes, that is Mongul that you see at the end and there’s also another important player you see there, which is a little kid. That’s White Mercy. White Mercy was never a plant. White Mercy is a person. That’s the question nobody asks. I think that’s the big reveal in #4: that White Mercy is a person.
Is issue #5 the issue where we finally learn more about White Mercy?
Absolutely. Issue #5 is essentially where every question that you’re asking is answered. The importance of issue #4 is Diana’s discovery of the truth. In her current series, everything that she knows is lie and everything that she thought is real isn’t real, and here she is in this dream world. With Superman, he needed to talk to his father. With Bruce, he needed to tell himself [his parents’ murder] wasn’t his fault. And, Wonder Woman, what she needed was some kernel of truth, because everything that she knows about her past may or may not be true. This is her first big win in getting deeper into what’s real and that big reveal is that they’re not in the past. They’re not even in a different version of their world. The younger versions of themselves that they’ve met are actually them; those are there subconsciouses. Once you realize that the child version is their subconscious and you backtrack who they were speaking to, that’s the more interesting question. Who is speaking to their subconscious and what are they trying to get? I think issue #4 brings up that bigger question and that will ultimately bring us closer to the truth of why they’re there.
There were a few different takes on “For the Man Who Has Everything” in 2016. Here in Trinity and also on Arrow and Supergirl. Why do you think this story was so popular this year?
Obviously, we all work in our own separate universes unbeknownst from each other. But, I think the biggest take away from that is in tumultuous times, we escape to fiction. What’s interesting is that as the things that we read and the entertainment we consume reflect closer the world that we live in, eventually even those worlds need to escape from their own world. I think there’s a growing—not to get too political—group of people who want to escape into a whole other world that’s an ideal version of what they want rather than what they have. I think that’s ultimately what it is. I think there’s always this deep desire to dream of a better place. It’s really a classic kind of story. It’s pretty much along the lines of like The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan. It’s escaping into a place that’s unlike the world that we live in. It’s familiar, but something that offers us what we deeply desire or hope for. I think with the launch of Rebirth, I couldn’t think of a better way to express that than showing exactly what these characters deeply desire.
That’s interesting given the fact that the emotional climax of this story is the moment when the hero decides to abandon the dream and return to reality, and that decision ultimately makes him or her stronger…
There’s a sense of self-sacrifice there. I don’t want to spoil anything. This is very much inspired by “For the Man Who Has Everything” and there are certain cues in this where that story zigged and I decided to zag, but ultimately, the interesting about “For the Man Who Has Everything” was that the biggest decision he had was walking away from those things that he got. With this one, it’s a little bit different because rather than getting an alternate version of their life, this is them as adults going through unresolved issues. It’s a little bit more cerebral in a way that the Black Mercy is messing with them. My approach with this one was to fool the Trinity into thinking that their life or reality never changed and that they’re just having an opportunity to relive the past. That’s the big trick that the Black Mercy is playing on them. They think that they’re in control, especially in the Wonder Woman issue once she realizes that this is a dream and it’s affected by the things that we want. That’s how she found Themyscira. She’s there with her eyes closed and she just says, “Go this way.”
Finally, Trinity is one the many books that’s part of DC Comics’ “Rebirth.” How do you think it fits into that initiative?
It fits in that I’m taking a lot of the cues from the current writers of each characters’ books—who they are in those books is who they are coming into this book. Like I said, the baggage that they carry in each of those individual books, there’s such an individual baggage that it’s only in coming together do they realize that even though they’re three completely different people, they’re struggling with the same problems. By exposing each other to their inner selves, they’re gaining a very deep sympathetic and empathetic insight into the other parts of their team. I think the overall theme of the book is embracing that history and hopefulness. I’d like to think that the takeaway from each of the issues is hopefully a feeling of joy or some sort of heartwarming feeling, especially in issue #2 when we focused in on Clark’s past. Obviously each one is going to take you through different phases of emotions, from joy to despair and ultimately the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. I think how the conflict is resolved is very much in tune with the initiative of “Rebirth,” which is this sense of hopefulness and going back to the brighter versions of these characters, not just physically but also metaphorically in the way that we see these characters, without that glaze of grit and darkness that’s become very in vogue. This is kind of a closer to the classic versions, and I pay a lot of homage to certain things from the past; from seeing a glimpse of Rainbow Batman to seeing the different versions of Superman throughout the ages in an upcoming issue. It’s very much a story that a brand new reader can come in and enjoy. But at the same time, something that pays off [with] Easter eggs for longtime readers.