By Will Barber – Taylor
It’s an American nightmare. What if baby Superman had crashed on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain and grew up to become Stalin’s right-hand man? And what if insane genius Lex Luthor was employed by the US government to develop their own countermeasure against the Man of Steel, turning the Cold War hot? Alive with historical figures and starring a host of familiar superheroes, including Batman and Wonder Woman as you’ve never seen them before, this superb graphic novel takes the arms race and infuses it with the thrilling powers of Kryptonite!
May people have tried to write good alternative comic versions of Superman. Few have succeeded in this task, the most obvious possibly being All Star Superman. However one other writer has managed to do it. Mark Millar, author of Superman: Red Son. Red Son takes one of America’s greatest icons and catapults him into a universe where he is no longer fighting for truth, justice and the American way but for the socialist rights of the people of Russia. While the simple idea alone is compelling enough, Millar manages to add to it by creating an interesting and thought-provoking narrative.
Millar manages to create a fantastic and realistic world for his Soviet Superman to inhabit. By having subtle cameos from well-known figures from the Superman myths Millar gives us glimpses of the lives of The Man of Steel’s nearest and dearest in this alternative world. This alternative reality also has some nice in jokes, such as Nixon being assassinated in 1963 and Sputnik being destroyed by Lex Luthor.
Millar’s best writing, however, isn’t anything to do with either DC continuity or real world events but firmly grounded in the central idea of: What would happen if the world’s most powerful man was part of a socialist republic? The answer is wonderfully put.
Two scenes in particular stand out. The first one sees Superman talking with old friend Lana who has travelled all the way across Russia to see Superman. When Lana mentions that she or her children haven’t eaten in days The Man of Tomorrow attempts to push her to the front of the queue but is stopped by other starving civilians who question why she should eat before them. Superman has to take a moment back before flying off to try and sort out how he feels about the world he lives in. It is a powerful moment which is further endorsed by the following sequence. Superman meets with Stalin’s illegitimate son and former right hand man, Pyotr Roslov. Roslov complains how it isn’t fair for him to compete against someone whose powers are almost godlike. Roslov also opens up the suggestion that Superman or someone like him shouldn’t exist in a socialist society simply because his powers make him unequal to everyone else. It makes the interesting point: can Superman only exist in a capitalist society? While this questions is not answered the fact that it is posed makes the book even more interesting.
The artwork is generally brilliant. The work by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett is astounding. The likeness of Superman is brilliantly realised and his various depictions of Lex Luthor are also astounding.
All in all, Superman: Red Son is a fantastic and thought provoking book which takes one of comics’ most iconic characters and manages to breath fresh life into him.