Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunkett
This is a great story concept – What if Superman was a commie? It brings a smile to the face just saying it out loud. It genuinely subverts the basis of the mythos and uses it for something entirely new, rather than the normal of having a minor change (time setting or location) and doing the same story. So, instead of fighting for truth, justice and the American way, Superman ‘as the champion of the common worker, fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, Socialism and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.’ That’s funny.
I tend to ignore politics and history, as I am a useless layabout, so I can’t comment on the interpretation of alternate histories, but the book tells the tale of what the world might be like if the USSR didn’t collapse because it had the ultimate deterrent in the form of Superman, who landed in a collective in the Ukraine, in such a compelling and entertaining way that it doesn’t matter.
The art is a fun mix of classic comic book iconography and propaganda stylings, especially the full-page spread of Superman holding the Daily Planet globe from crushing a mother and child. It would have been better if Johnson had stayed the course, not that Plunkett isn’t excellent, just for visual consistency.
There are lots of Silver Age references, from all the characters who turn up (from the Superman people – Lex, Lois, Lana, Jimmy, Perry – to Batman, Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan, and a cameo from Oliver Queen and reference to Barry Allen), to the whole feel of the story, which turns out to be, at heart, a Silver Age tale told with politics (particularly the sentence that affects Superman so strongly near the end).
There is some sloppy laziness. The sentence ‘England, London, Oxford Street’, which shows the Big Ben tower getting destroyed annoys me as a Londoner. The houses of Parliament are not on Oxford Street, let alone near them. I know Millar is a bloody Scot, but surely someone could have picked that up. There is the small thing of having a caption saying that Stalin dies in 1953, only for mourners to pass by a tombstone that says 1954. And would Stalin really say ‘Okay’ as Millar has in an exchange? I think not. The lack of attention to detail here seems irritating compared with the fanboy referencing in the Superman museum (I’m not a Supes buff, so I don’t recognise all the history there).
Overall though, it is very enjoyable. I think the final fight is a little weak, and the suggestion that Superman allowed himself to be manoeuvred to allow Lex to think what he believes is ambiguous, but I did enjoy the panel on p142 where Superman says, ‘Well played, old friend’ and smiles. Millar may have his storytelling crutches, but if the story he tells is as fun as this, I don’t mind a bit.