In a former life, I minored in Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies. So, I arrived at Superman: Red Son from a place of somewhat biased interest. Soviet Union iconography is extremely interesting to me, and that’s what I wanted to see: the utterly American imagery of Superman juxtaposed against Soviet propaganda.
When I look at Red Son in this perspective, I loved it. The images of the Soviet Superman are appropriately stark, and I was treated to a cold-eyed, ushanka-wearing Batman. Image-wise, Red Son is a great success.
But plot-wise, something does not set right with me. I was expecting an honest look at a Superman who belonged in the Soviet Union. What I did not want was a look at a Superman who was mistakenly born in the USSR. But, unfortunately, that was exactly what I got.
First, there’s the occasional aside from Superman that is a direct reference to “if he was the Superman we knew.” The most obvious is when he first meets Lois. Superman remarks that “Centuries later, after a thousand interpretations of this meeting, a famous poet would write an alternate history of the world where Lois Luther and I became lovers.” These references continue throughout the book, and make it clear to the reader that Superman belongs to our universe, and that this simply a flight of fancy.
More striking is Superman’s sudden need to become a Soviet dictator. Yes, when he is an American superhero, he is sometimes said to fight for the “American Way.” But this is often said of him, not necessarily by him. And while comics have of course had him reflect the politics of the day since his inception, Superman’s most recent reaction to politics was to renounce his American citizenship so that he could help people without the interference of politics.
Yes, in Red Son, Superman gets to a point where he sees that he should not be a dictator. But not until he tries to take over the world. I find it rather insulting to Superman (a superhero that I admittedly do not greatly enjoy) to say that simply because he was born in the USSR he suddenly becomes a world-dominating dictator.
Of course, I’m not sure how I would have liked this to play out. Maybe just to see the Superman that we know, one thatmaintains an interest in the welfare of people outside of politics, interact with the Communist system in a way that reflects his true character. That would have been fair, at least.