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Friday, June 21, 2013

Graphic Novels - Superman: Red Son

There is a place that sits beyond the normal DC Universe and it's only known to few... or many. It's a plane of existence where virtually anything can happen to our favorite characters. On one world, one single nail kept Kal-El from being raised by the Kents. In another world, we see a dark future where superhumans are running rampant and judgement is coming. In another, the Sentinel of Liberty meets the Dark Knight in World War 2. All of these worlds have something in common... they are known as Elseworlds.

By the way, yes, I like The Twilight Zone.

Welcome back to the Month of Superman where I will be looking at a miniseries from the 2000's called Superman: Red Son. It was printed under the Elseworlds imprint. If my description above didn't help you, Elseworlds were modern versions of "Imaginary Stories." They mostly stood alone and in their own timeline. I really own about a few of them like Kingdom Come, a Flash Annual, and this one. Anyway, back to this story. I watched the motion comic version of this story on YouTube a couple of years ago. Since it is an acclaimed story, I decided that this would be one I would look at here.

The writer for this book is someone we've seen before: Mark Millar. While he's known for things like Wanted and The Ultimates, he's not a stranger to Superman. He was a writer on Superman Adventures, a book that looked at the adventures of the animated Superman from the 90's. He was also one of the writers who pitched an idea called Superman 2000 back in 2000, I believe. The pencillers are Dave Johnson and Kilan Plunkett. Johnson is mostly known for his artwork on 100 Bullets and Plunkett is mostly known for  his work on Star Wars comics. The inkers are Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong. With all of that said, let's look at the man who stands for "Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact"... just give me a second to laugh at that.

When trying to write out a detailed synopsis, I realized something: this thing is dense. It may even be a little too dense to do a synopsis on, so I'll just do the main points and fill in some detail.

Part One: Red Son Rising
The first part of the story takes place around the beginning of the Cold War and shows Superman's early years. We get introduced to this different situation of Superman being standing for the Soviet Union instead of America. We see America's reaction to the news. We also get introduced to characters like Lex Luthor, Lois Luthor (they're married in this) and special agent James Olsen. Lex was handpicked by the President to find a way to combat Superman. Lex and the Americans somehow cause the Russians to lose control of Sputnik 2 and the satellite falls towards Metropolis. This gets Superman to race over to America and stop a big disaster from happening. This event also introduces Lois to Superman, who she sort of fawns over. Afterwards, Lex and the government find the crashed satellite in the river. Lex plans to use strands of Superman's DNA from the satellite to clone America's own Superman.

Ha. It reminds me a lot of this scene from the Rocketeer. 

A few weeks later, it's Superman Day in Moscow and Superman is hanging out with Stalin and Pyotr Roslov, the Chief of Police. After Superman hears about a disaster and leaves, Stalin and Pyotr (Stalin's illegitimate son) get into an argument about Superman. Pyotr thinks Superman is a threat to his position in the government. Later at a party, Stalin and Hippolyita (Wonder Woman's mom) try to hook up Superman and Diana and it looks like they hit it off well. Superman then notices that Pyotr isn't at the party, so he leaves to find him.

Superman finds Pyotr in a field drunk and shooting off a gun. The two then have a pretty good talk where it's revealed that Pyotr had shot up a family of protesters but he let their only son live... Just guess who this. Pyotr also feels threatened that Superman will one day enter into politics to which Superman immediately replies that doesn't want that life. Suddenly, Superman hears about Stalin being poisoned. He rushes back to Moscow and figures out what the poison is. Unfortunately, it is too late as Stalin dies from the poison. It's implied that Pyotr arranged for Stalin to be poisoned.

While Russia is in mourning, the USA and Lex unveil the cloned version of Superman. They send this bizarre-looking thing and a submarine towards Superman and a fight breaks out in Great Britain. During the fight, a US missile accidentally goes off.  When the missile heads toward Great Britain, the clone does something weird: it freezes Superman with freeze vision and takes the missile out into the atmosphere and away from Britain.

 "America! America!
What in the hell is that?"

After Stalin's funeral, the public wants Superman to be their leader but Superman doesn't want that. Back in America, Lex calls Lois up and tells her that their marriage is going on hiatus... what a guy. He then starts his war on Superman. Back in Russia, Superman is flying around when he runs into Lana Lazrenko and her children. They reminisce about old times and it's revealed that Russia is suffering without a leader. Superman looks at the whole situation and decides that he will do all he can for Russia as their President.
 
Part Two: Red Son Ascendant
Issue two starts about 20 years later at the height of Superman's reign. We find out that Luthor and Superman have pretty much been at it since that time. He basically creates Superman's rogues gallery. Luthor even teamed up with Brainiac to shrink Moscow. They ended up shrinking a city called Stalingard instead. Superman defeats Brainiac but is unable to bring Stalingrad back to its proper size.

We then find out that a large majority of the world is now under the rule of Superman except for Chile and the US. Instead of imprisoning or killing bad men, Superman gets the baddies lobotomized and forces them to do random jobs. The Soviet Union is close to being a utopia, but there are dissidents... or a dissident who goes by the name of Batman. He basically stages a one-man war against Superman's Soviet Russia. As leader of the KGB, Pyotr Roslov has taken up himself to chase down the Russian Dark Knight and is tired of Superman's stance on not killing Batman.
Batman - the only hero who makes those hats look cool. I can only hope we see it in the New 52.

In America, their economic system is beginning to break down. A lot of stuff is different. For example, JFK is alive and still President. Lois is put in charge of the Daily Planet. Her marriage to Lex is still... bleh. We end up seeing that Lex has a familiar invention that will incapacitate Superman: red sunlight. James Olson, now leader of the CIA, also informs Lex about an alien spacecraft that crashed in Roswell. Eventually, it's revealed to be Abin Sur's ship and they find his Power Ring. In Russia, Batman kidnaps Rolsov and the two form an alliance in taking down Superman. It's also revealed that Roslov knows America has the red sun generator.
Superman, you're being stupid. She's right there, man! Right there for the picking!

During this time as being President, the only person Superman has seen as true friend has been Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, he doesn't see that she is in love with him. That gets put to the test on Superman's birthday. Batman kidnaps Diana and uses her as bait to lure Superman to Siberia.When Superman gets there, Batman activates the red sun generator and Superman loses his powers. The two fight and Superman loses and is locked in a cellar. Because of Superman's pleading, Diana is able to break out of her Lasso and get rid of the generator. Unfortunately, breaking her lasso messed up her mind, made her hair white, and ultimately got her peeved at Superman.

Superman: Do you also carry those ridiculous hats as well? 
Batman:  You're da--- Hey! Don't change the subject! I supposed to kick your butt, remember?

Superman busts out of the cellar and tries to arrest Batman, but it turns out that Batman had a bomb inside him. Before Batman sets off the bomb, he tells Superman that Roslov was in on this. Sometime later, Lana (who now has a job) tries to find out where Superman is through Roslov. It's shockingly revealed that Roslov has had been lobotomized and turned into one of Superman's robots. The issue ends as we find out that Superman reprogrammed Brainiac to be in charge while he goes to build the Fortress of Solitude.

Part Three: Red Son Setting
The last issue takes place a few years later at the end of Superman's reign. Superman is 63 years old now and the the world has pretty much accepted his way... except for the US of course. It turns out that Lex Luthor has become President of the US and has helped pull the country out of the gutter. It also turns out that he was able to figure out how to make more Green Lantern Rings. Hal Jordan is chosen to be the leader of the Corps because of his awesome willpower. Lois goes to Themisycara to recruit Diana and the Amazons in defeating Superman.

At the Fortress, the reprogrammed Brainiac suggests that Superman invade America to achieve peace but Superman refuses. Suddenly, Luthor shows up in cool fashion and tries to make Superman surrender. Meanwhile, Diana's forces and Hal's forces are ready to face Superman. Realizing that Luthor could talk Superman in to suicide, Brainiac incapacitates Luthor and tells Superman that they need to invade. Superman takes the East Coast and Brainiac takes the West Coast.

Oh no! Superman's playing chess with a computer like Luthor did earlier! Symbolism alert! Symbolism Alert!

Superman easily plows through the Green Lantern Marine Corps, Diana's forces, and Luthor's rogues gallery. When he makes it to Washington, Lois is there ready to stand her ground with a letter Luthor wrote. Superman reads the letter with his x-ray vision and it says "Why don't you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?" This basically makes Superman see the error of his ways in that he was wrong to force his will upon others. Brainiac shows up and Superman tells him that this invasion is over. Brainiac then turns on Superman and blasts him, revealing that he was waiting for the right time to take over the world. Suddenly, Brainiac stops attacking as it's revealed that Luthor has shut him off. Superman then bursts into the ship and rips apart Brainiac's CPU.

Because it wouldn't fit, Mr. Luthor?

Unfortunately, Brainiac left a little surprise for them: a bomb that will basically take out the solar system. Superman takes the ship and rushes out into space where it explodes. Since it's implied that Superman's dead, Lex has won. The world then pretty much goes back to normal with Luthor at the lead. Under his leadership, the world does become a better place. Disease and poverty are abolished and the solar system ends up getting colonized by them. Luthor also extends the life span of humans by hundreds of years. As he laid dying by Lois's arms, he admits that his greatest achievement was defeating Superman.

At his funeral, Lois almost spots Superman who's in his Clark Kent disguise. She pays no attention to him though. After this, Superman goes on living in the world as a human. Over the next few million years, Luthor's lineage continued to thrive as the sun starts to turn red. Luthor's descendant, Jor-L, hypothesized that the sun would go supernova but the society chose to not believe him. Believing there was no other course of action, Jor-L and Lara send their son, Kal-L, back in time using some sort of device. The story ends as Kal's ship lands in Russia 1938... WOAH.

OPINION
Sorry for the kinda dry synopsis but this book is a dense one. So, is it one of the best Superman stories ever? It might be, I'm just not sure about that. I know that this is one  heck of an awesome story. If I had to say anything negative about it, it would be that I really wish that it was longer.
  • Great premise - The premise itself was a sound one: What if Superman grew up in the Soviet Union? We see that he's basically still the same man but with different set of ideals. Over time, we unfortunately end up seeing  Superman become sort of a dictator without him even realizing it. All he wants to do is protect the people of Earth and in that mindset, he goes overboard with it. I really see this version of Superman in a gray mindset... and no, it's not because of his gray uniform which looks awesome. 
  • Lex Luthor - Lex makes a great antagonist for Superman in this story. You could even argue that he is somewhat of a protagonist. While he is still the villain we love to hate, you got to admit that he kinda becomes a hero at the end. If anything, both Superman and Luthor are in shades of gray with Luthor being a little darker in some places. We see him get completely obsessed in trying to defeat Superman. He even neglects his own wife. He is literally the guy you love to hate in this story.
  • Great use of other DC characters - I like the way other DC characters were used. Superman's supporting cast were used in some unique ways. Lois gets put in the position of a neglected wife, editor of the Daily Planet, and First Lady. Batman is probably one of the more interesting characters because he's basically a terrorist though Green Lantern's not far. His story about how he was a prisoner in Malaysia was cool. Also, look out for other DC characters that make small cameos. I think I even saw J. Jonah Jameson in the first issue.
  • The Art - The art is pretty good but it's not my favorite. One thing I like about the art is the different costumes our heroes wear. While Batman does look ridiculous in that hat, it's cold in Russia, man! I also though Wonder Woman looked beautiful in most of the art... until the whole "lasso" thing of course. I liked how Superman's look varied throughout the story. As we go through the story, his suit starts to become more and more militaristic. I also liked how each issue was intrenched in its own time period. The art really sold which time period we were in. If I had to say anything negative, it would be that the artwork wasn't as awesome in the latter two issues.
  • The Ending - I like how this book ends with the reveal that Kal-L is really from Earth's distant future and that he is a descendant of Luthor. It really comes out of nowhere in that Twilight Zone type of way. If you were wondering why Superman and Lois didn't hook up, this is why. Still, it's weird to think that Lois thought of Superman in that way.
Are there any negatives to the story? There aren't many, but there is one complaint. As I said before, I wish it was longer. We really don't see where Superman's vision of a perfect society went wrong. We just see the the aftermath in the second and third issues. It would have been nice to see Superman's communist society grow and then we see the aftermath of it. It also would have been interesting to see more reactions from the rest of the world.

Well, this post has gotten long enough. I definitely recommend the story. It's got nice art, interesting characters and an interesting premise. I guess this does it for me in terms of comics and trades for this month... Dang, I did a lot this month and in the last month as well. I need a break! This is me saying Peace, God Bless, and "God Save the Queen"... wait, that's British. How about this instead: "Do svidaniya, comrade!"

NEXT TIME: ... I DON'T KNOW.

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