Look up in the sky: it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s Comrade Superman!
Few icons truly bring to mind the American Spirit as well as Superman. He is an honest, kind man raised with small town Middle American values, protecting the weak and keeping the peace. Some might say he represents the American Dream, a man who can do anything and can achieve anything with the slightest effort. With his bare hands he can harness the power of industry, in seconds he can speed across the nation, and with a word he can halt even the most heinous of crimes. Everything about Superman screams America, yet why is it that he fits so well as a Soviet soldier?
Superman: Red Son, written by Mark Millar, penciled by Dave Johnson and Killian Pluckett, and inked by Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong takes everything people know about Superman and flips it on its head. This world’s Superman landed not in Smallville, Kansas, but on a collective farm in rural Ukraine. Growing up in the USSR taught this Kryptonian the ways of communism and the worker’s spirit. It is not long before word of his deeds spread and he heads to Moscow where he quickly becomes a key member of Stalin’s inner circle. With two Men of Steel, the Soviet Union quickly rises as the ultimate superpower. Yet, despite this new setting, Superman is still Superman. He goes out of his way to aid those in peril and works tirelessly to better than lives of Soviet citizens, all the while fighting against the machinations of his American rival, Lex Luthor. Soon, these two men become the respective faces of their nations, and a Super-powered Cold War begins.
Superman: Red Son is an excellent example of core DC canon interpreted in a novel way. Key characters from the Superman mythos such as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen make an appearance as do several members of the Justice League, their lives drastically different because of Superman’s altered origin. Yet, despite their outward changes, the characters all retain key features from their canon back stories. Thanks to this, the story feels at once alien and familiar, mirroring Superman himself: though he appears human, he is really much more. This allows the comic to give off a sense of wonder. As I turned each page, hundreds of theories popped into my mind: would a character act the way they had in other comics? Would they take a totally different approach? Millar truly penned a gripping story, and no event in the story is without purpose or consequence. The only part of the story I’m not sure I liked was the ending, but several other readers thought it was the perfect way to close the story, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. Thus, although there are drastic changes to the Superman canon, they allow for an enticing read.
The artwork found in Red Son possesses a quality all its own. The images of re-imagined characters are like their altered literary personas: their figures hold a sense of both the recognizable and the novel. Superman’s design perfectly fits the Soviet Hero persona, a red Hammer and Sickle adorning his chest instead of the trademark yellow ‘S,’ while still maintaining the familiarity of his red cape and blue jumpsuit. The evolution of the characters through artwork is also amazing: in each chapter, Lex Luthor ages several decades, in a subtle but poignant representation of his mortality. The panels themselves complement the story exquisitely: one particular scene I enjoyed involved Superman discussing the “will of God” before sitting down at a chessboard, the ironic juxtaposition of his words and the implication that he treats humans as simple pieces he can control with ease. Other images evoke ideas of politics, religion, and ideology, and truly turn the story from the excellent into the spectacular.
Superman: Red Son is a thrilling read and one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve recently picked up. The story and artwork are superb, and the volume even includes a section of concept sketches at the back which reveal some of the early ideas that went into creating this masterpiece. At only $19.99, the trade paperback is well worth it and will keep you entertained. It is so well put together that one of my friends read the entire thing three times in one weekend, and I myself have read the entire thing twice and plan to do so again in the near future. Each time I look at Superman: Red Son, I notice new things about the story. Perhaps, like Lex Luthor, it is necessary to go over every excruciating detail to learn as much as we can about the information before us. And since I’ve read and re-read this comic, I can safely say that it rates as one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I highly suggest you pick it up.
Brett Simon is a twenty-one year old recent re-convert to the world of comics. He’s currently hoping that he won’t think of Kal-El as Superman the next time he steps into synagogue.