DC Graphic Novels: Superman: Red Son (2003)

What would happen if Superman's rocket ship landed in Russia instead of the United States? 

How would The Man of Steel represent the tenants of socialism instead of democracy? These questions and more are explored in Mark Millar's "what-if" story Superman: Red Son. This comic run was published under the Elsewhere imprint of DC which deals with plotlines that occur outside of the regular canon. Though some of them have been incorporated into the regular continuity over the years, it was a home for some of the more out there stories.

Superman: Red Son takes place in a alternate timeline where Superman grows up with a poor Ukrainian family as opposed to a Midwestern setting. It's ingenious how Millar incorporates Superman's classic origin story into this reimagining of well-known events. One of the most interesting themes is how even though Superman is working for the "enemy" he still thinks he is doing the right thing for humanity. This idea plays around with the concept of perspective and context and delves into grey areas of morality and what is considered to be justice. From the viewpoint of the reader, it's hard to determine who the bad guy is in the narrative because both sides are depicted with a lot of nuance. Comrade Superman's core persona is still exactly the same, his frame-of-reference has just changed.

My favorite character in this alternate timeline is Lex Luthor, who is portrayed as a charismatic super genius (with hair) who only wants the best for his American brethren.  Because of the power imbalance that Superman causes by working for the Soviet Union, instead of a nuclear arms race there is a superhuman arms race, and Lex is at the forefront in creating that type of weapon. It is genius the way his character is flipped around to be the "good guy" even though he is still as narcissistic and myopic (when it comes to Superman) as ever. Russian Batman makes an appearance as well, complete with a sweet fur Ushanka hat with adorable little bat ears. The characters are all the same but since their environment is different it changes how their actions are perceived.

Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett's art is outstanding in Red Son and it's definitely channeling the feel of Soviet-era propaganda posters. It has thick, defined line work and a strong red-based color palette that practically jumps off the page. All of the character redesigns are slick and it's fun to see such iconic characters with foreign costumes. The panels are beautiful as well with a lot of impressive attention to detail to the backgrounds.  Astute fans will catch a couple of references to various Action Comics covers and scenarios. A bold story like this needed an equally striking art style and everyone involved delivered.

Though this is overall a tight narrative, I do feel like the third act drags on a bit longer than it has to. Wonder Woman also is somewhat underutilized though she does have a few interesting moments scattered about. I just love when comic writers are allowed to think outside the box with these stories, but due to the nature of the beast, these chances are few and far between. Superman: Red Son is a great reprieve from the normal day-to-day DC Universe and is definitely worth a read by any comic fan.

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-Michelle Kisner