Superman: Red Son
|Superman: Red Son|
Cover art from the Superman: Red Son TPB.
|Number of issues||3|
and Walden Wong
Tom Palmer Jr.
|Red Son||ISBN 1-4012-0191-1|
|Deluxe Edition||ISBN 1-4012-2425-3|
Superman: Red Son is a three-issue prestige format comic book mini-series published by DC Comics that was released under their Elseworlds imprint in 2003. Author Mark Millar created the comic with the premise "what if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union?" It received critical acclaim and was nominated for the 2004 Eisner Award for best limited series.
The story mixes alternate versions of DC super-heroes with alternate-reality versions of real political figures such as Joseph Stalin and John F. Kennedy. The series spans approximately 1953-2001, save for a futuristic epilogue.
In Red Son, Superman's rocket ship lands on a Ukrainian collective farm rather than in Kansas, an implied reason being a small time difference (a handful of hours) from the original timeline, meaning Earth's rotation placed Ukraine in the ship's path instead of Kansas. Instead of fighting for "...truth, justice, and the American Way", Superman is described in Soviet radio broadcasts "...as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact." His "secret identity" (i.e. the name his adoptive parents gave him) is a state secret.
The ideas that made up the story came together over a long stretch of time. Millar has stated:
|“||Red Son is based on a thought that flitted through my head when I read Superman #300 as a six-year-old. It was an imaginary story where Superman's rocket landed in neutral waters between the USA and the USSR and both sides were rushing to claim the baby. As a kid growing up in the shadow of the Cold War, the notion of what might have happened if the Soviets had reached him first just seemed fascinating to me.||”|
|“||As I got older, I started putting everything together and I first pitched something to DC when I was thirteen, I think — although it was in a much cruder form, of course, and my drawings weren't quite up to scratch.||”|
By 1992, he had already developed many of the plot points:
|“||Instead of landing in Kansas as a child, I've decided to explore what could have happened if his rocket would have landed on a collective farm in the Soviet Union. Instead of working for the Daily Planet, he'll be a reporter for Pravda. There's a reversal of the current situation, this time it's the U.S.A. that's splitting up with Georgia and Louisiana demanding independence — tanks rolling through the streets of New Orleans. I'll be including a whole bunch of DC characters, like Batman and Green Lantern — who you'll see in a new light||”|
Certain images from the series are taken from famous comic book covers or panels. A splash panel from the first issue references Superman's pose on the cover of Superman #1. Also, a panel showing the riots in the U.S. mimics the famous cover to Action Comics #1.
In the 1950s, the Soviet Union reveals its newest asset to be Superman. The sudden revelation of a superpowered alien under Soviet control causes panic in the United States, shifting the focus of the Cold War arms race from nuclear weapons to superhumans. CIA agent James Olsen recruits Lex Luthor, a scientist employed by S.T.A.R. Labs, to destroy Superman. Luthor's first act is to cause Sputnik 2 to plummet towards Metropolis. After Superman diverts the satellite away from the city, Luthor retrieves his genetic material and creates a clone of Superman whom Lex Luthor officially names Superman 2 when he is unveiled to Olsen. The clone's appearance is monstrous, and is this world's equivalent to Bizarro.
Meanwhile, Superman meets Wonder Woman at a diplomatic party, and she becomes smitten by him. Pyotr Roslov, the head of the NKVD and Joseph Stalin's illegitimate son, is angry that Superman has turned his father's attention away from him and ended his chances of advancement within the Soviet regime. Pyotr shoots a dissident couple in front of their son for printing anti-Superman propaganda. Stalin dies from cyanide poisoning, and Superman initially refuses command of the Communist Party. However, a chance meeting with Lana Lazarenko, his childhood sweetheart, changes his mind. Superman chooses to use his powers for the greater good and turn his country into a utopia.
The U.S. government sends Bizarro to engage Superman, and their duel causes an accidental nuclear missile launch in Great Britain. The clone sacrifices itself to save millions. Luthor murders his research staff at S.T.A.R Labs and founds LuthorCorp, dedicating his life to destroying Superman.
By 1978, the United States is on the verge of social collapse whereas the prosperous Soviet Union has peacefully expanded its influence to nearly every corner of the globe. The cost of this progress is an increased infringement on individual liberties, with Superman fast becoming a Big Brother-like figure; a brain surgery technique that turns dissidents into obedient drones, or "Superman Robots", is in use. Superman now works with Wonder Woman to save lives as well as govern the Soviet state. Wonder Woman has become enamored of Superman, but he considers her simply as a comrade, and is oblivious to her love for him.
Luthor plans to shrink Moscow, but this plan fails when Brainiac, his collaborator, shrinks Stalingrad instead. Superman intervenes and retrieves both Brainiac's central processing unit and the tiny city, putting an end to the Brainiac-Luthor cooperation. He is unable to restore Stalingrad and its inhabitants to their proper size. This becomes his one failure and a source of great guilt.
Luthor's second plan involves Batman, who is revealed as the boy orphaned by Pyotr. Batman joins forces with LuthorCorp and Pyotr, now head of the KGB. They capture Wonder Woman and use her as bait for Superman, hoping to sap his powers with rays that imitate the light of Superman's native sun. The plan works, but Wonder Woman breaks free and rescues Superman, seriously injuring herself. Rather than face capture and likely lobotomization, Batman commits suicide, and Pyotr is turned into a Superman Robot.
Luthor enacts his third plan when he finds a mysterious green lantern found in an alien ship that crashed at Roswell, New Mexico. Brainiac is reprogrammed into Superman's aide, and the construction of a Fortress of Solitude, located in Siberia and referred to as "The Winter Palace", begins. Superman's reign continues with no crime, poverty, or unemployment, but with an ever-present state authority. Superman is committed to "winning the argument" with the U.S., and repeatedly refuses Brainiac's suggestions of an invasion. Stalingrad remains his one failure, now contained within a protective glass "bottle".
Luthor is elected President of the United States, with Olsen as his Vice President. Using his scientific expertise, massive economic capital and dictatorial powers, Luthor returns prosperity to his country. This is only a part of a more general plan to provoke Superman into invading the United States. Luthor shows Olsen two of his greatest discoveries: the Phantom Zone, a place that super-hearing cannot reach; and the Green Lantern Corps.
Luthor confronts Superman in the Winter Palace. Brainiac yanks Luthor deep into the recesses of the Fortress to be converted surgically into a Superman Robot, claiming that Lex would convince Superman to commit suicide in less than fourteen minutes. Superman agrees that his hand has been forced, and prepares to attack.
First Lady Lois Luthor visits Themyscira to forge an alliance with the Amazon empire, now ruled by an embittered and vengeful Wonder Woman. Superman attacks the East Coast, confronting and defeating the Green Lantern Marine Corps, which is led by Colonel Hal Jordan. The Amazon forces, commanded by Wonder Woman, attack Superman but are quickly defeated, along with a collection of "super-menaces" (including Atomic Skull, Parasite and Doomsday) that Luthor has put together over the years. Brainiac's spaceship cuts the U.S. Pacific fleet to pieces, and the two superbeings meet at the White House. They are greeted by Lois Luthor with the last weapon, a small note written by Lex that reads, "Why don't you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?"
Realizing he has meddled in affairs that he had no place in, Superman orders Brainiac to end the invasion. Brainiac, however, reveals it has never been under Superman's control, and instead attacks Superman with green radiation (analogous to green kryptonite). Braniac is shut down from inside by Luthor, who evaded surgery. As the singularities powering Brainiac's ship threaten to collapse, Superman rockets it into space, where it explodes. The Earth is saved, but Superman is thought dead.
The Soviet Union falls into chaos, but is soon brought back under control thanks to the Batmen (resistance members who began wearing the costume after Batman's death). Lex Luthor integrates many of Superman's and Braniac's ideas into the new philosophy of "Luthorism" and forms a "Global United States". This becomes the defining moment for mankind's future as it enters an unprecedented age of peace and stability. A benevolent world government is formed and maintained. Luthor presides over a string of scientific achievements, including the curing of all known disease, and colonization of the solar system. Luthor lives for over one thousand years.
At Luthor's funeral, it is revealed that Superman survived the explosion of Brainiac's ship and is apparently immortal. Superman attends the funeral wearing a business suit and thick glasses essentially identical to the appearance of Clark Kent, an identity he never adopted in the Red Son storyline. Luthor's widow, Lois, sees "Clark" in the crowd and, other than an eerie sense of deja vu, suspects nothing. Superman walks quietly away from the ceremony, planning to live among humans rather than ruling over them.
Billions of years in the future, it is revealed that Earth is being torn apart by tidal stresses from the sun, which has become a red giant. Luthor's distant descendant, Jor-L, sends his infant son, Kal-L, rocketing back into the past. The final panels of the comic book depict the landing of Kal-L's timeship in a Ukrainian collective in 1938, effectively causing a predestination paradox.
Continuity in the DC Universe
Although told as an Elseworlds tale, the characters and their universe are part of the greater DC Comics continuum. According to DC editors, the Red Son universe is one of the new post-52 Earths, each of which represents a different incarnation of the standard DC comics characters. Indeed, the Red Son Superman has made appearances in other comics, notably near the end of the fifth issue of Infinite Crisis as well as in Superman/Batman #22-#23. This version of Superman also has strong resemblances to other variants such as the "Golden Age" Superman, who lived on Earth-Two prior to its destruction in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Both share the name Kal-L, as opposed to "Kal-El", the name of both the pre-crisis Earth-One and modern versions. Red Son Superman is also extremely powerful, as was the Pre-Crisis Superman, and wields a number of super-abilities including such mainstays as super strength, hearing, and sight, flight, and heat vision. He is also depicted as much more intelligent than the average human and is something of a "super-scientist." With the exception of "red sun radiation", which reduces him to a "normal" (or at least vulnerable) level, he has no apparent weaknesses.
Kryptonite is never mentioned, although Brainiac attacks Superman with unnamed green energy near the end of "Red Son Setting". Kryptonite likely does not exist in the Red Son universe because the planet Krypton, where Kryptonite comes from, is never mentioned. It is revealed that this incarnation of Superman is a human from the Earth's distant future and a distant descendant of his own past nemesis, Lex Luthor.
The universe of Superman: Red Son is considered one of the 52 Earths of the current DC Multiverse. Specifically, Red Son is Earth-30, and was visited briefly by the Challengers From Beyond in Countdown #32, where they spotted the Soviet Superman and left immediately. It is revisited in the one-shot, Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer: Red Son, where the Challengers, Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner, Jason Todd, and Bob the Monitor assist Batman in saving Ray Palmer and subduing Wonder Woman before confronting Superman in Siberia. Despite their combined efforts, events play out exactly as they did in Red Son #2, with Batman imprisoning Superman briefly under red sun lamps, and detonating the bomb in his intestine upon his escape. The Challengers are captured, bound and gagged, and almost converted into Superman robots before the Atom threatens to destroy Stalingrad if his friends are not released. They are allowed to leave.
The Superman of Earth-30 is later seen with an army of Superman analogues in Final Crisis #7.
- Superman: Red Son (160 pages, DC Comics, February 2004, ISBN 1-4012-0191-1, Titan Books, March 2004, ISBN 1-84023-801-1)
It has also been collected into a hardcover Deluxe Edition:
- Superman: Red Son (168 pages, DC Comics, November 2009, ISBN 1-4012-2425-3, Titan Books, December 2009, ISBN 1-84856-431-7)
Figures based on characters from the series include Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, President Superman and Green Lantern. A boxset was released in 2008 featuring Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and a remoulded Bizarro.
In other media
As part of its motion comics series, DC/Warner released a 12-part adaptation of the story on iTunes, with a new episode being released every week beginning in late July 2009. The Superman: Red Son motion comic was animated by New Zealand-based Karactaz Animation  and featured a select voice cast based in the Los Angeles region. It had received positive reviews from the motion comics community.
The video game Injustice: Gods Among Us features DLC costumes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Solomon Grundy, Green Lantern, Batman, and Deathstroke as well as missions that are based on the Red Son storyline.
The newly released game Batman: Arkham Origins will have the Red Son Batman skin in the game's Season Pass and is a skin in the iOS version of the game.
- THE COMIC COMPENDIUM #3: Superman: Red Son (2003)
- Essay by Mark Millar on Red Son
- Interview with Millar and Morrison, Xstatic #1 (May 1992)
- Grant Morrison: Talking All-Star Superman, Newsarama, December 22, 2004. "The best Superman idea I ever had, I gave to Mark Millar for the conclusion of Red Son"
- Superman: Red Son trade paperback at DC Comics.com
- Superman: Red Son Deluxe Edition at DC Comics.com
- "Action Figures". DC Direct. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
- Official Announcement: New DC Comics Motion Comics for iTunes at the Wayback Machine (archived July 25, 2009)
- "DMC user reviews of Superman Red Son Motion Comic".
- "'Man of Steel': The four 'Superman' comics that inspired Henry Cavill".