I’m not a huge fan of superheroes. I’ll watch the movies whenever they are in theatres because I love the graphics and fight scenes, but other than that I’ve never expressed much interest in learning their stories. Therefore since I started reading comics, I’ve never been inclined to pick up any based on superheroes (except Watchmen because Brandon Sanderson and his buddies said it’s great). However, a couple weeks ago a coworker leant me Superman: Red Son saying that I would enjoy it and though I was skeptical about it at first, I’m glad I gave it a try.
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, illus. by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett (pencils), Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong (inkers), and Paul Mounts (colorist)
Action/adventure; science fiction
Superman: Red Son is Mark Millar’s reimagining of the superhero’s story, in which Superman is a proponent of communist values, rather than an all-American superhero.
In this comic, Superman is raised on a collective farm in Ukraine and later becomes a leader of the Soviet Union who strongly believes in socialism and strives to expand the Warsaw Pact. Concerned about the wellbeing of his people, he decides to keep them all safe by building them a utopia, where he protects them from all dangers and alters the minds of those who oppose his government. And because of his superpowers, he is successful in this goal.
However, despite minimizing crime and disease in the lands under his control, there are some (Lex Luthor and the Americans) who believe Superman is a control freak with a god complex so they plot to undermine him. But it’s hard to defeat one as powerful as Superman and one wonders how they’ll outwit him.
I enjoyed reading this comic so much that my thoughts are jumbled.
Though I don’t know the Superman story well or all the characters included in the original comic, I was able to read and understand this one, which works well as a standalone. There are some characters in it that I recognized, like Lois Lane who’s married to Lex Luthor in this and goes by Lois Luthor, Wonder Woman, Green Lanther, and Batman; and there are also historical characters like U.S. presidents Nixon and Kennedy and Soviet Union leader Stalin. As such, I think this comic is one that both comic fans and history lovers will enjoy.
The story is set during the Cold War so Lex Luthor’s conflict with Superman is reflected in the U.S.’s competition with the Soviet Union as well as in the comic’s commentary on capitalism vs. communism, which is portrayed as freedom of choice vs. total control.
There are many things this comic did that I appreciated, but the major one is that it’s not clearly stated who is the hero and who is the villain. The characters are complex and both them and their actions can be interpreted in a variety of ways. I think some who read this comic will first approach it assuming Superman is the villain because he represents a country and government system that is often viewed negatively, especially in the U.S. However, as I read, I didn’t consider him a villain.
Superman is the narrator and he dominates the story from the beginning. The first words we read are his narration so we can’t help but see things his way. Because of that, there are times when it’s hard to tell whether the people and events we see elsewhere, where Superman isn’t physically present or told us he wasn’t cognizant of, occurred with him truly unaware or are actually part of his narration as he reflects on the past.
I say this because how the story is narrated affects how one will consider the protagonist and in Superman: Red Son, it was sometimes hard to tell whether the story was entirely told by a first-person narrator or if the narration sometimes expanded from first-person to third-person. (It’s the same confusion I feel when reading Saga because how could the baby narrating it know all those things that happened to her parents in the past? Maybe I’m overthinking this.) The entire story seems to be Superman’s recollection of events that have passed.
Anyway, I also thought it interesting that the U.S. seems more like the villain because they are the antagonists who are trying to upset a regime that has created a safe environment for people to live in, though at a great price. However, I still find it hard to say the U.S. are the bad guys because, in a way, they are the heroes. They were able to return to people their freedom of choice, their sense of agency.
One of the major questions the story asks is if utopia is worth having at the price of freedom. Superman’s goal was to ensure the safety of all humans, but in doing so he took away their freedom. He even “reprogramed” those who oppose him. And because he was blinded by his good intentions, he didn’t notice this. He didn’t realize that he had become what he despised. I think this is a hard question to answer. When asked, people are quick to say they prefer their freedom, but I’m sure deep down there are some who would prefer safety.
Superman: Red Son was drawn in that standard comic book style. It’s not outstanding, but I liked it and I loved the illustrations of Superman’s face and costume and of Batman’s costume as well. I think Batman was my favorite character in it.
I loved it. It was awesome and you and everyone should read it. Since I borrowed the copy I read, I’m considering purchasing a copy for myself. I’d love to read it again. Of the entire comic, my favorite part was the end, or rather the last chapters/sections. When I completed it, I had to reread the entire thing with those last sections in mind.
P.S.: Batman is always my fav, except when the Joker is around.