Readers of The Lost Art

Superman: Red Son – Pauline’s Review

March 4th, 2009

Superman: Red Son

Superman Red Son¦lt;br /> Writer: Mark Millar

Pencillers: Dave Johnson & Kilian Plunkett.

Inkers:Andrew Robinson & Walden Wong

Reviewer: Pauline
This story is one in the series ‘Elseworlds’,(by DC) where heroes that we are familiar with, for example Superman or Batman, are put into a new situation and possibly time, so the characters’ natures have to follow a different path to the one that we usually expect.
In this one, the byline is,’The Great American Icon . . . Reimagined as a Soviet Hero!’


This stategy is potentially a risky one. The cynical view would be that the comic publishers are merely over extending the life of a well known character, as it will probably be bankable, but because most of the potential readership has had many years personal experience of reading the book and/or watching the film of the hero in their more conventional identity, we have raised expectations too. This means that the story has to be stong enough to maintain the levels of enjoyment that people normally  expect, while also exploring a completely new direction. It’s a bit like going to see your favourite old band, where you want to hear the old hits so you can sing along, but the band also wants to play their new album. You can sometimes be reluctant to welcome the new material.

In Red Son, you can see immediately from the cover artwork that the style and colouring borrow heavily from archetypal USSR post revolutionary art. As art styles go, this is a good era to plunder, and works well. They would have been foolish to have done anything else. Instead of the big ‘S’ emblazoned on his chest, there is a hammer and sickle symbol.
For those who flinch at pages of text embedded in within a graphic novel, there is no need to worry. There is a 3 page intro by Tom DeSanto, but it’s to the point and informative and also decorated by a kind of small scale poster in the centre of each page.
The story begins in the early 1950’s and is anchored in a mix of real cold war history, featuring Stalin, J.Edgar Hoover and the like and the cast from the world of comics including Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Batman and Wonder Woman. Superman’s spacecraft landed in the Ukraine instead of the USA, and he has absorbed the Communist doctrine from growing up on a farm collective. He is as earnest as ever, but he is a much straighter character in that there is no swift change shananigans, as there is no Clarke Kent equivalent. In the usual Superman stories various bits of plot hinge on this device, but to be honest (and a bit to my suprise) you don’t miss that.

Certainly, as a child and teenager, that whole apparently ordinary bloke in  glasses/superhero transformation was a huge part of my attraction to Superman, but as a Communist, what you see is what you get- sort of. There is humour in the story, Lex Luthor’s crazy list of Mad Genius achievements get pushed for all they are worth. Both Lex’s and Superman’s characters develop to be equally extreme, Lex’s in coming up with more and more elaborate ways to get rid of Superman, and Superman’s protection of
society quietly escalates to ruthless control. Batman plays a violent,dissenting role.
The story stretches over several decades and there is some lovely playfulness with history swerving into a whimsical track, Kennedy is married to Norma Jean, and everyone wishes Nixon hadn’t been killed! All the characters age accordingly, though I think Lois looks less pretty and more jaded from the start.

The themes of the story are freedom versus control in society. In the introduction Tom DeSanto quotes Ben Franklin as saying “Those who would sacrifice their freedom for safety will find they inherit neither”. I guess the power struggle for these things has been around as long as polititians have been, or maybe even longer. Mark Millar started writing this book in 1995, but in these days of the barking repetition of ‘the war on terror’ and Bush, Blair and now Brown wishing to reign in personal freedoms so we can all allegedly be more secure, I find it has a very contemporary resonance.

That’s the serious bit over- do I think this is worth taking the time and trouble to read? Well, yes. Mark Millar and the artists have created a really engaging story, and it’s got one of the neatest endings I’ve ever seen.


Format: Paperback
Publisher: DC Comics 2004
Language: English
ISBN: 1-4012-0191-1

(First published 03/08/2007.)

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