Comicbook: Superman: Red Son
"There is only one superpower now."
Everyone knows the basic story of Superman
. Strange visitor from another world, who can change the course of mighty rivers, and bend steel with his bare hands. He's faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But in one universe, instead of fighting for truth, justice, and the American way, he fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, communism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact
.Superman: Red Son
is a DC Universe Elseworlds
story, written by Mark Millar
and published in 2003, that dares to imagine what would have happened if the spaceship holding baby Kal-El had landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States, due to a small difference in the Earth's orbit compared to the main DCU. Instead of being adopted by the Kents in Smallville, Kansas, he is raised on a collective farm in Ukraine, where he discovers that he has powers greater than any man, powers he decides to use for the good of his country, and the world.
As an adult, he aligns himself with the government of Josef Stalin
, protecting the citizens of the Soviet Union from even the smallest crimes and accidents, eventually succeeding Stalin as the country's leader. When the people of the United States learn of Superman's existence, they're naturally terrified, and the government turns to the smartest man in the country, scientist Lex Luthor
(husband of Lois Lane
), to combat this newest threat to the American way. Thus begins a superhuman arms race and a legendary battle of power and philosophies between Superman and his archnemesis.
The world of Superman: Red Son
is part of the new DC Multiverse as Earth-30, presenting the possibility of Soviet Superman visiting the mainstream continuity, or vice versa.note
This miniseries contains examples of:
- Anti-Villain: Everyone. Except Brainiac.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Brainiac. OK, he was already evil, but as it turns out, he was able to evade Superman's attempted reprogramming of him.
- Alternate History: The Cold War happens very differently when you throw Superman and Lex Luthor into the mix. Also, the Roswell spacecraft was Abin Sur's ship.
- Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome
- Armor-Piercing Question: "Why don't you just put the whole WORLD in a BOTTLE, Superman?"
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Luthor gets really upset with Superman, because the Bizarro he created had the temerity of beating him at chess.
- America Takes Over the World: The end of the comic has not only President Luthor winning, but also manages to use the United States as the basis for his One World Order. By the time he dies centuries later, his utopia's still noticeably American.
- Artistic License – Geography: While Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, it wasn't part of Russia at that time. Russia and Ukraine were constituent republics of the USSR. The final page fails to make this distinction with a caption reading "Ukraine, Russia, 1938".
- The Backwards R: Supes is a Soviet, so surely.
- Badass Army: The Green Lantern Marine Corps and the Amazon army.
- Badass Normal: Batman, of course. (The original, that is.) Lex Luthor mixes this with Mad Scientist and Magnificent Bastard.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Batman blows himself up rather than be turned into a Superman robot.
- Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Batman, of all people, is this in this continuity.
- Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Superman does this to dissidents, turning them into "Superman robots". He also reprograms Brainiac to serve his cause. It doesn't take, but Brainiac just rolls with it because Superman is essentially turning Earth into a world that lives by Brainiac's own motto.
- Break the Cutie: Wonder Woman, who loses a piece of herself when she has to break her own lasso to save Superman.
- Breaking Speech: Lex manages to squeeze an entire Hannibal Lecture into a single question: "Why don't you just put the whole WORLD in a BOTTLE, Superman?"
- Britain Is Only London: And its most famous landmark gets destroyed.
- Broken Aesop: Played with
- On one hand, Lex's Armor-Piercing Question is appropriate. Then, he goes to do the exact same thing with Luthorism except this time, Superman doesn't mind only because the only difference between Lex and him is Lex being human. It defeats the point of the utopia since, you can improve a place only if you were born there. It goes on for for millions of years to boot. It's heavily implied a single bloodline has been ruling Earth during all this time. So much for democracy and the right to choose its ideology.
- On the other hand, it shows how hypocritical Luthor is. As usual, no matter how clever his arguments, ultimately Lex is Driven by Envy the same as always, and only doesn't want Superman in charge because he is convinced he should be. Indeed, Luthor is not necessarily intended to be portrayed as much better than Superman. Even though he led to an era of peace and prosperity, it should be noted that Superman was doing the same.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Subverted. Even a few days after the fact, Pyotr Roslov can no longer remember the names of the future Batman's parents or why he was sent to shoot them, but even decades later he remembers the little boy with the piercing Death Glare with perfect clarity.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Brainiac. In his first appearance, he is defeated by Superman in less than a minute, but then he is reprogrammed by Superman to serve him. Except he wasn't really reprogrammed at all, but actually manipulating Superman into turning Earth into a world upholding Brainiac's ideals.
- The Chessmaster: Luthor, complete with Chess Motifs and to a lesser extent, Brainiac and Superman.
- In fact, it becomes personal for Luthor when Bizarro beats him at chess.
- The Chosen Many: The Green Lantern Marine Corps. For all the good it does them; Superman easily and completely kicks their asses.
- Clark Kenting: Used and lampshaded by Superman at the end, after he survives his apparent death.
- Cold War
- Conflict Killer: Inverted. Braniac turns on Superman after the main moral question is resolved.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Lex Luthor breaks off his engagement and relationship to Lois Lane in order to devote his entire life to beating Superman because... The deformed clone of Superman beat him in Chess! This is particularly hilarious because earlier he had explicitly stated "I have no doubts that [Superman] and I would get along if we had been born in the same country."
- Domed Hometown: Stalingrad.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Superman robots. A "Superman robot" in this continuity, rather than a robotic double for Superman, is someone who has been subjected to mind control.
- Flying Brick: Faster than ten times the speed of thought, more powerful than... well, basically anything, and immortal, not to mention lacking several of his usual weaknesses, this Superman is even more powerful than usual.
- For Want of a Nail: Subverted in the sense that this isn't really just what if Superman's rocket landed in the Ukraine instead of Kansas. Certain characters have been relocated as well, such as the Russian Lana Lang, Pete Ross and even Batman. And then there's The Reveal that all of it is in one big Stable Time Loop, that Krypton depicted here is actually the future fate of this Earth and that Supes is Luthor's distant descendant! (That's what the L in Kal-L stands for!) It can however be argued that this is how the mainstream characters would have turned out if they were born in such conditions.
- Gambit Roulette: Lex Luthor explains that everything has gone exactly as planned. "One can almost be forgiven for thinking that this had all been worked out to the tenth decimal point forty years ago, eh?"
- Generation Xerox: Red Supes shares his ancestor's taste for global domination.
- Genius Bruiser: Superman. When Stalin is poisoned, he quickly goes through several books of medicine for a possible treatment and later confronts the Bizarro Superman after learning English 10 minutes ago.
- Bizarro himself is one ironically, having beaten Luthor at chess.
- Glorious Mother Russia: Fuzzy Bat-hat and all.
- Godzilla Threshold: "What have we got to lose? Release all those supervillains Luthor created over the years!" Doomsday was set loose on the National Mall in hopes of damage control.
- Grey and Gray Morality: Superman is a Totalitarian Utilitarian, dissenter-brainwashing Knight Templar, but Lex Luthor, despite all he does for his country, is still Lex Luthor, a mad sociopathic manipulative egomaniac. Though Luthor does lead the world in a long Golden Age after Superman has gone, this is probably for his ego as much as anything else.
- Happy Place: Hal Jordan was a former POW in Malaysia, eventually chosen by Lex Luthor to wear the Green Lantern Power Ring because of the elaborate version of this he constructed as a survival mechanism while being tortured. In his, he literally imagined himself building a prison for his captors in real time. The time it would take him to dig a hole or chop down a tree or take a break was imagined in his head until finally after years of real time imagination, he had "constructed" the prison and set about killing each of his captors in what he called the most glorious night of his life.
- He Knows Too Much: Luthor murders the entire staff of S.T.A.R. Labs to ensure the Bizarro Superman can never be duplicated.
- Heel Realization
- Heroic Sacrifice: Done by the Bizarro Superman. "Hello everybody. Me very pleased to meet you."
- Later done by Superman, in a very similar fashion. However it doesn't take.
- Historical-Domain Character: Josef Stalin, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon (who is mentioned in passing).
- Humble Hero: Superman initially resists the idea of being elevated to leader, noting (correctly, but unsuccessfully) that putting him in charge because of his inborn advantages is utterly contrary to socialist principles.
- Ignored Epiphany: On the part of Pyotr. His heart to heart with Superman, complete with Drowning My Sorrows and attempted suicide sure didn't change him, did it?
- In Spite of a Nail: Green Lantern and Superman's entire Rogues Gallery end up existing in this world in much the same way as they do in our own, with only the circumstances of their creation changing.
- Infallible Narrator: Superman is telling the entire story from some future point, and doesn't miss one detail. Justified by his super memory.
- Actually somewhat subverted. He remembers the big things with perfect clarity, but he's pretty bad at picking up on subtext. He never does realize, for example, that Pyotr was trying to drunkenly confess to having murdered Stalin.
- Insufferable Genius: Luthor.
- It's All About Me: Luthor. He becomes maniacally obsessed with beating Superman, not because of ideological differences, Patriotic Fervor, or even Fantastic Racism, but because he can't countenance the idea that someone might actually be as smart as he is.
- Kryptonite Factor: Batman uses red sun radiation to block Superman's powers, but kryptonite itself is noticeably absent throughout the comic; in the end it's implied that this is because instead of a separate planet that explodes and becomes kryptonite, Krypton is actually Earth in the far future. However, kryptonite is given a Shout-Out of sorts when Brainiac nearly kills Superman with a green beam of energy.
- Knight Templar: Superman. As if becoming absolute dictator of the Soviet Union isn't enough, the final chapter involves him launching an all out invasion of the United States. It turns out that Brainiac is an even bigger Knight Templar however. In the end, Brainiac is defeated, and the USA is saved.
- Legacy Character: Batman inspires other Batmen over the years.
- Liberty Over Prosperity: The Global Soviet Union rules over the whole world, save the Divided States of America. Despite people all over the world living in a socialist utopia, the Americans remain independent, living in a war-torn country, to avoid being ruled over by Big Brother Superman.
- Man Behind the Man: Brainiac to Superman.
- Mary Sue Topia The book creates two. At first, that's what it seems like. In the world Superman creates "Every adult had a job, every child had a hobby, everybody had a full eight hours sleep. Crime didn't exist. Accidents never happened...Almost six billion citizens and hardly anyone ever complained. Even in private". (Granted, this is because of frequency with which dissidents are lobotomized by having mind-controlling chips forcibly implanted in their brains. "A totalitarian state can work very well when the leader has super-hearing.") However, Lex manages to shake this with his Armor-Piercing Question, and Superman realizes he's no better than Brainiac. "Another alien bullying a less-developed species." In the world Lex creates: the world does become perfect, Lex manages to creates a one-world government of scientists, writers and artists, colonizes the solar system and makes humanity the most advanced race in the universe. But, millions of years in the future, Earth is about to be consumed by its growing red sun. Jor-L sends his son back in time to make sure humanity never becomes "this cold complacent lot".
- Monumental Damage: Big Ben gets taken out after Bizarro punches Superman through it.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Superman, after reading Luthor's letter: "Why don't you just put the whole WORLD in a BOTTLE, Superman?
- My Greatest Failure: Superman considers Stalingrad being shrunk by Brainiac the black spot of his career.
- Mythology Gag:
- This isn't the first time Lex Luthor becomes President of the United States.
- The shot of Superman handing the balloon back to the little American boy is an homage to the cover of Superman #1.
- When Brainiac and Superman are discussing the political situation in America, an image of people rioting appears on the page. The image is very similar to the cover of Action Comics #1, where Superman first appeared, featuring the same man fleeing, except here it was from ordinary rioters instead of Superman lifting up a car.
- Stalingrad and the Winter Palace are the story's versions of the bottle city of Kandor and the Fortress of Solitude.
- Krypton actually being Earth in the future mirrors the original origin story of Superman in the first newspaper comics, where he was a time traveller from Earth's future.
- The Soviet propaganda about Superman mimics the intro of The Adventures of Superman.
- Nice Hat: Russian Batman's Bat-Ushanka. The sketches included in the trade paperback have the commentary: "I took a lot of flak for this hat, but it's cold in Russia. Why shouldn't Batman have a warm hat?"
- Noble Demon: Lex Luthor. Everything he did was to prove his superiority over Superman, but that still doesn't change the fact that he did so by being a better, more merciful leader.
- No Poverty: Superman manages to eliminate poverty in his Global Soviet Union. Later Luthor achieves this as well.
- Not Brainwashed: Brainiac, due to his Level 12 intellect.
- Not My Driver: How does Batman secretly meet with a high official of the government he's opposing? By posing as the man's driver and kidnapping him, of course.
- Not So Different: From the original Superman, that is; one of the key elements of the story is that while this Superman becomes increasingly authoritarian throughout the story, he still shares a lot of the same values and characteristics as the one we are all familiar with.
- Also, Luthor's post-Superman global utopia isn't all that different from Superman's global Soviet state — in fact, Luthor actually admits that his old enemy had some good ideas and incorporates them into "Luthorism".
- Brainiac to Superman as well.
- Red Scare
- Rogues Gallery: When Luthor creates under CIA contract to kill Superman.
- Secret Identity: Superman's given name is mentioned as being a "state secret", but it doesn't come up much because he never uses a Secret Identity, spending all his time as Superman until the end. We never even find out what his real name is.
- Self-Made Orphan: Pyotr is implied to have had Stalin assassinated.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Luthor attempts a face-to-face Hannibal Lecture to Superman, but Brainiac restrains him. Too bad Lex already thought of that.
- Smart People Play Chess: Superman, Brainiac, and especially Luthor (who is first seen playing fourteen games of chess at once while reading The Prince and teaching himself Urdu on a tape recorder he designed that morning).
- Smug Snake: Pyotr Roslov.
- Stylistic Suck: Not the miniseries itself, of course, but the first few pages are deliberately written in the style of a bad Silver Age comic... then Superman saves Metropolis from a Sputnik-turned-meteor. Which, as you should have guessed, is in the country he's at war with.
- Stable Time Loop: Albeit a very, very long one; Lex Luthor's leadership leads Earth to become Krypton in the future, then his descendants (whose last name has atrophied from Luthor to Luth to L) send their son Kal-L back in time.
- Super Senses: Played with. A totalitarian state can be very effective if its leader has x-ray vision and super hearing. Before he becomes leader, it's mentioned that he doesn't stick around watching parades by Stalin's side when he knows someone needs help hundreds of miles away.
- Talking the Monster to Death: Brainiac prevents Lex from talking to Superman, stating that someone of Lex's intelligence is able to talk Superman into committing suicide within fourteen minutes. Actually, it takes Luthor only one single sentence to completely shatter Superman's values.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Surprisingly, Superman still sticks by this policy despite his different values, though for different reasons: He could take over the world in 10 seconds if he used brute force, but he wants other countries to join him willingly because of the success of his economy and government. Not that he isn't fond of brainwashing his enemies.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: The relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman is one of best friends, but there are enough hints to let the reader know Diana wants more than that. Superman, however, is shown to be utterly clueless about it.
- There's also this between Superman and Lois. The first time the two see each other there's an immediate and powerful spark of attraction, but their being on opposite sides and Lois's marriage to Lex prevents them from acting on it.
- Utopia Justifies the Means
- Villain Protagonist: Superman.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Stalingrad. Did they ever fix it? We never do find out for sure. Also, everyone who became a Superman Robot.
- Who Writes This Crap?!: Perry White has this reaction to Soviet propaganda about Superman. It doubles as a Take That, since said propaganda mimics the introduction of The Adventures of Superman.
- Writers Cannot Do Math: Kal-L's ship lands in Ukraine in 1938, yet the story begins in the early 1950s...Superman would be 14-15 at most.
- Subverted if the idea of Kal-L possibly arriving at the age of 2 or 3 - as he does in Smallville - is taken into account.
- Stalin died in 1953. Unless Kal-L was at least 15 when he landed in 1938, there's no way he could be in his thirties by 1953. Mark Millar really fails at math.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Batman organization.