**Somewhat spoiler-ish information about the beginning of the book, but it shouldn’t harm your reading of it**
Everyone has their favorite DC superhero. Mine is probably Batman, out of pure nostalgia for the animated series, as well as an appreciation for both Frank Miller and Grant Morrison’s take on the caped crusader. Some people like Green Lantern, or the Flash, or Wonder Woman, all of whom are characters I respect and who have iterations that I really like. However, whenever the question, “Who’s the most powerful?” comes up in a conversation, it always comes down to whether anyone in the room is willing to say what everyone else is thinking. “Duh, I mean, it’s Superman right?” On paper, there seems to be no contest. Superman is theoretically the greatest superhero there is. (No, I do not want to have a discussion about the numerous times he has lost due to kryptonite. I’ve had that conversation one too many times already.)
However, Mark Millar had a crazy thought (he does that a lot). While Superman is great and all that, the fact that he is upholding Western values and interests is due entirely to the fact that he landed in the United States as an infant Kryptonian jettisoned from his dying world. Well, what if he didn’t land in the U.S.? What if he landed in Soviet Russia? Thus, we have Superman: Red Son, Millar’s answer to the question, “What if Superman was raised a Soviet Russian?”.
I love alternative “What if…”-type reinterpretations of canonical backstories. For example, I really enjoyed Marvel’s “What if…”-series of spin-off comics. The lengths to which Red Son goes in order to preserve the “Oh wow” factor of the initial premise are the same as any other “What if” comic. First, we see a redefinition of the staple characters from Superman’s conventional past, such as Ma Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor (who I will expand on in a bit), and Jimmy Olsen. These characters are shown early on in this interpretation reacting to news from Soviet Russia that they now have a new super-weapon, whom America has dubbed Superman.
Second, we have a re-evaluation of character traits and responses. After hearing the news of Superman, we get a look at the personal responses of each of these characters, and they range from fear from Ma Kent, journalistic vigor from Lois Lane, and childlike curiosity from Lex Luthor. While these are reactions we sort of expected, it’s still nice to see the change in tune when Superman is working for the other side. For example, the Kents now play little to no role in this Superman myth, and so they become lost in the crowd of fearful onlookers. The authors sentimentality towards some characters was just too strong though, and so characters like Lois Lane were impossible to leave out. Besides, a reporter of her caliber would hardly miss a scoop like Superman.
Since we mentioned Lex Luthor, let’s talk about the changing of character traits. Luthor is a scientist in this version, and we see that he has a full head of hair, which is a change from the usual clean scalp. For those who do not know the story behind Luthor’s baldness, it occurred as a result of one of his childhood experiments gone wrong. Seeing that Luthor was having trouble escaping from a chemical lab fire, Superboy (yes, younger Superman), came to the rescue by using his cold breath to blow out all of the chemical fumes. However, in the process of doing so, the chemicals burned off Luthor’s hair, leaving him incurably bald. It’s said that this is the reason why Luthor hates Superman so much, although I’ve personally always found that very hard to believe. Either way, this is one of the many ways in which Millar plays with the details of the mythos and leaves scraps and references for ardent fans to pick up on.
We also see a recreation of other important characters in the DC Universe, such as Wonder Woman, Batman and Green Lantern. I don’t want to bring up any information that will spoil the reading, but let’s just say that the Justice League isn’t going out for bowling any time soon.
Overall, it tickled my hypothetical bone pretty good and the ending had a twist that sure got me thinking. If you’re looking for a story that’s outside of the vein of the usual (overdone) Superman legend, then Superman: Red Son is right up your alley.
You can find Superman: Red Son on Amazon.com, or at your local comic book store/retailer.