The Inadequacy of Superman
Mark Millar‘s “Superman: Red Son” is an alternate universe tale that presents to its readers what the Superman-verse would be like if he was landed in Soviet Russia instead of the United States. Thus, we are introduced to a world where Batman’s parents are murdered for their political views and transforms Bruce Wayne into a freedom fighter, who leads a coup against Superman, to overcome Superman`s Orwellian “Big Brother” approach to saving the world. What Mark Millar effectively delivers is essentially a narrative about the cold war and an insight into the minds of our superheroes, and how they relate to the world around them.
In Millar’s universe, Superman grows up in a farm in Soviet Russia, and falls in love with Lana, who, after having been witnessed by Superman lining up for food with her children, inspires him to accept the responsibility of leading the country in solid dictatorship.
Superman’s rise to fame is what spurs the Cold War to shift from nuclear weapons to the building of super humans. What comes out as a result is a horrifying league of super mutants – creatures that lack the motivation and back story that creates super heroes. Thus, the mutants created in defense of the United States becomes the physical manifestations of the fear and apprehension so dominant during the Cold War, an effective tool in demonstrating the effects the Cold War had on its people.
Lois Lane is a tragic heroine married to Lex Luthor, an obsessive S.T.A.R. labs scientist whose sole purpose in life is to defeat Superman. Though she is still a reporter for the Daily Planet, her non-existent romance with Lex Luthor highlights the isolation and lifelessness of this universe. Similarly, going along the trajectory of tragic heroines, Diana aka Wonder Woman is presented as Superman’s loyal companion in keeping everyone in line with Superman’s beliefs, and whose love is perpetually unrequited. Diana’s sacrifice towards the end of the story in order to help Superman defeat Batman is what clarifies the true nature of Superman’s intent: power and control beyond any means.
Superman’s inability to give the citizens of whichever universe he is written into, whether or not it’s in Metropolis or Soviet Russia, agency and independence in choosing the world they want to live in, is what keeps him fallible, and whats spurs Batman into action. Batman, a hero motivated by a flawed, humanistic trait – vengeance – is always going to be contrasted against Superman’s “good” intentions.The conflicts presented in this alternate universe tale is one that is inherent within the traits of Batman and Superman. Superman`s demi-god abilities is exactly what disconnects him from the creatures he protects – it is both what makes him heroic, and his hubris. Superman is the perpetual outsider, whose good intentions are thwarted because of his disconnect.
Perhaps what is most interesting in the Red Son is that it does not follow the standard morality concept of attributing communism to evil, and capitalism to good. The political views of the story are rooted in intent: Superman is not evil because he`s a Communist or because he`s Russian. His intent is grounded in altruism; it was his execution of his ideals that casted him as the villain. Similarly, though Lex Luthor`s actions pitted him as the hero, fighting for freedom against oppression, his intent is still grounded on his selfish and egotistic obsession of defeating Superman.
Thus, Red Son allows its readers to reflect on the fluidity of morality, and what that means when the responsibility of instilling morality falls in the hands of ultimately flawed characters, and what actions they perform that cast them into the roles of super heroes. This stand-alone story is both political and philosophical, but it also full of Superman lore that will keep its fans satiated. Truly a wonderful read, and amazing illustrations to boot, Red Son is definitely a must-read.