Superman: Red Son

July 22nd, 2008 by

Originally a three-issue miniseries, this TPB was a bit more dark and foreboding than what I normally think of as a Superman comic.

The premise is simple: let’s assume Superman’s cradle/spaceship landed in Russia rather than the U.S.A., and that he was raised on a Russian farming commune. The concept that he would also embrace and adopt the principals of communism is not terribly difficult to accept. After all, it doesn’t seem like that far a leap from saving humanity to giving everyone basic human needs and treating everyone as equals. But, like communism, the implementation doesn’t quite match up with the theory, and in the end of this book, Superman’s ideals are twisted and corrupted.

Read on for more analysis and discussion, along with some pretty major spoilers.

Where the comic gets a bit harder to swallow for me is how Superman as a Russian doesn’t seem to value human freedom or individuality. I know these are supposed to be American ideals, but are they really that looked down upon in Russian culture? I guess maybe the idea is that they were under Communism, or under Stalin anyway, and we do get to see that historic figure portrayed in this comic as well. He basically takes the young Superman under his wing, so maybe in that regard it’s a little more believable when Superman orders dissidents to be “reprogrammed” (with actual cybernetic implants, rather than the more traditional brainwashing techniques). I guess there is also the Brainiac issue. We don’t even know if it was really a corruption of Superman’s ideals, or if it was just a level 12 intelligence hard at work!

Also fascinating about this comic was the reversal of Lex Luthor and Batman’s characters. Batman essentially becomes a Russian freedom fighter and revolutionary. He doesn’t seem to be fighting crime so much as full time fighting against Superman and the communist regime. Lex Luthor, on the other hand, is the smartest man in the U.S., a highly respected business man, and eventually becomes president just so he can fund his grander schemes for Superman’s defeat with government/millitary money. I found the way Lex is portrayed in the end of the comic particularly interesting. I actually found myself not knowing quite who I should be cheering for. Clearly Superman had gone too far, but Lex is borderline evil still, and it’s easy to view the U.S. as a hostile political entity these days, even when they’re supposed to be the underdog. (In this future, Superman has won all the wars, so Russia and communism have pretty much had their run of the rest of the world, with only the U.S. and some of South America holding out.)

When I said the comic was dark and brooding, I definitely meant that in a good way. I liked the art quite a bit. Artist Dave Johnson does a spectacular job bringing the scythe and hammer to Superman’s chest.

Finally, I wanted to comment on the last few pages of the comic. I’m by no means a Superman expert, and honestly this may be the only full run of any Superman plot or story that I’ve read. But I really enjoyed the cyclical nature of the idea that Superman was actually just sent back in time from a future earth that calls itself Krypton. I wonder if that has been done before.

In summary, I liked this quite a bit, and would really recommend it, especially if you’ve always found Superman to be a bit too… vanilla… for your tastes, but find yourself liking the characters and ideas anyway.

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