Everyone needs a Comrade sometimes.
This comic comes from the Elseworlds series of comics from DC wherein slight changes in how the superheroes personalities and actions affect the world they live in. This particular story follows typical Superman over three issues. He has the power, speed, and boring invincibility he always has. If this was another tale of Superman insta-winning his conflicts through sheer unkillability it wouldn’t be worth writing about. However, there is much meat in this short arc.
The storyline divergence comes from Superman not landing in the United States, but instead landing in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. As you can tell from the image, he goes hardcore communist and that changes the personality of Superman completely. Throughout the normal DC universe, Superman has always intervened in humanity’s affairs but tends to believe that humans deserve to have their own free will to make decisions. Red Son Superman eschews that silly freedom thing completely and takes over the communist regime using superpowers to convert nation after nation to communism. When you have a live-in god to protect you and all of your people from disasters it is amazing how good any flavor of government can be — and Superman is big brother. Eventually, the only country resisting communism is the United States, run by Lex Luthor.
The main conflicts in the series come from Lex Luthor trying to bring down Superman with all of the economic backing of a democratic America he has managed to keep from complete ruin without the constant intervention of Superman. This goes against the entire notion that Superman’s method is the only method of salvation in the world.
There are also internal conflicts within the Soviet Union, with a few usurpers to Superman’s throne (child Stalin for one). Batman and Wonder Woman both make appearances, though Batman is also a member of the Soviet Union this time around and Wonder Woman is the only person who can relate to being the nigh-unkillable leader of a nation with Superman.
The art in this is fantastic. It really makes you feel like Superman isn’t residing in America, which is critical to the premise. I actually felt like Superman looked and came off better as a Soviet monolith than he does as Captain “Almostmerica” because there is no question of why he doesn’t just conquer the world. Russia remains the same throughout with the artists making the technological advances feel as if they were made more by Russian minds than a more Western-influenced superpower.
The writing for Red Son focuses a lot less on the action of Superman, since he is seen as a god on Earth. That being said, there is a lot more focus on the questions most people have asked about what Superman is like when he isn’t tethered by the complete morality expected of the American Man of Steel. You never quite want Superman to win and his means of keeping dissent under control is more akin to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — forced brainwashing for those that rock the boat — than anything sane. This just leads to someone with ultimate power and more or less omniscient capabilities slowly feeding into their own quest to save humanity from themselves. This is portrayed amazingly well and still manages to include enough familiar faces to make sure the series doesn’t feel like it’s taking place on an entirely different world.
Worth the read and time to complete?
I was able to read all three issues of this in one sitting. Comics are naturally pretty quick reads no matter how long they are but I found the plot development in this to be almost perfect. Considering how little time the author and artists have to explain an entire world, a reader with a little background knowledge of Superman in general will feel like they are picking up right where another issue has finished. This is definitely worth the read and I would honestly like to see this as a Superman movie because it is captivating and everyone likes a nice “what if” story.
Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Comic Vine