Rise of the Super-Communist

Superman: Red Son: written by Mark Millar; illustrated by Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong (2003): What if Superman’s rocket landed in Stalin’s USSR in the 1930’s? That’s the initial changed premise in this Elseworlds ‘What if?’ story of a Communist Superman and his crusade to keep everyone on the planet safe, all the time, whether they want him to or not.

It’s a much-praised story that riffs an awful lot on a classic Silver-Age Superman ‘Imaginary Story’ in which Superman, concerned by his failures, exposes himself to a barrage of various types of Kryptonite radiation and ends up splitting into two mono-coloured versions of himself, Superman-Red and Superman-Blue. They’re both about 100 times smarter than the original, and thus proceed to eliminate all crime, disease, poverty, and want from Earth in about a week. That was presented as a utopia. What’s presented here is also a utopia unless one wants a certain level of freedom.

Superman’s powers here are actually greater than pretty much any other version of the character in comic books: he actually can protect everyone on the planet from even relatively small-scale dangers such as car accidents. This causes people to start driving recklessly in great numbers (!!!). Once the Soviet Man of Steel takes over from Stalin, the countries of the world join the Communist Bloc with the exception of the United States. Lex Luthor helps keep the U.S. free while trying to figure out how to stop Superman. Some heroes join Superman (Wonder Woman being the prime example) while others are deployed against him (Green Lantern and Batman).

It’s all fairly enjoyable, though I’m not entirely sure why this is praised as much as it is: besides Superman-Red/Superman-Blue, there’s a Marvel graphic novel from the 1980’s, Emperor Doom, which covers pretty much the same territory in about 1/3 the space, while Alan Moore’s Marvelman (aka Miracleman) epic also ends in similar territory, only with much better writing.

Time constraints also forced an art change with the last third of the collected book (the third issue of the three issue miniseries in its original printing). Dave Johnson’s work is cleaner and more suited to the narrative, making the change a bit jarring when the art switches to Kilian Plunkett. The twist ending is nice, if a bit gimmicky and telegraphed a bit too much in the closing pages. Lightly recommended.

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