This must have been a rough comic to pitch. Most people would not be ecstatic to read about Superman, an American icon, becoming a hero for the Soviet Union. Despite the weirdness of the overall concept, Red Son turned out to be a gem among DC comics by not only expanding our view of Superman, but also expanding our perspective of the Cold War.
In this alternate universe, Kal-El’s escape pod leaves Krypton a few hours later than the other universes. Due to the rotation of the Earth, Kal’s late departure results with him landing in Soviet Russia, not in Kansas. This change in origin completely alters the development for the man of steel. Superman grows up to become Joseph Stalin’s greatest warrior and the Soviet Union’s ultimate symbol of power.
Superman is not the only changed character in this alternate universe. Lex Luthor rivals both Superman and the Soviet Union as the President of the United States. Bizarro becomes the defender of America and the symbol of capitalism. Batman also experiences a change in his origin, but instead develops as a hero for the Russian people who fights against the Soviet government and Superman.
Superman encounters many obstacles that try to overthrow him, but he faces every challenge to preserve the communist way of life. Throughout the graphic novel, his challenges continue to escalate until he reaches the peak of his capabilities, all for the sake of protecting his adopted homeland.
The drawings of Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett capture the intensity of these characters immensely well! The most notable part of their talent is seen with how they present the aging of characters. Since this novel takes place over the course of decades, these characters have to look the part. Johnson and Plunkett allow the audience to grip the sense of time through the aging of characters over the years.
The inkers, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong, provide superb color tones that allow the audience to make emotional connections with each environment in the graphic novel! The red and black tint of Superman’s Russia paints a clear picture of the dreariness caused by communism at the time.
Mark Millar’s unique take on Superman is unlike anything I’ve ever seen! He creates this moral dilemma for the audience that can be quite the thrill ride. I instinctively wanted to root for the USA in its conflict with the Soviet Union, but I also wanted Superman to be the savior and overcome every obstacle. Millar also brought twists and turns throughout the novel that kept me guessing! I mostly read comics with a blank face, but this graphic novel had me gasping and frantically flipping through the pages with a constant look of suspense and surprise. The final twist of the graphic novel left me in a place where I had to sit and rethink everything that Superman fights for.
Why is the comic so special?
The creation of Superman’s alternate self proved an essential point to his character. No matter when or where he grows up, Superman never ceases to fight for other people. He always thinks of others before himself. Sure this version of Superman had more extreme and erratic ways of doing it, but he still meant to create a safer world and make a positive change.
Another reason this graphic novel is so great is its Cold War environment. Mark Millar’s writing provides a deep look of what life was like for both sides of the conflict. Lex Luthor’s use of metahumans to challenge Superman is a great representation of the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union at the time. Batman’s attempts to override the Soviet government really brought a clear perspective to the suffering of the Russian people under Soviet rule.
Red Son is easily one of the most intense and thought provoking graphic novels in the history of DC comics! It provides a deep look at what makes Superman such a great character while also giving the audience a full perspective of life during the Cold War.