Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: Superman: Red Son by M. Millar et al.

Superman: Red Son written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunket, and inked by Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong

What if Superman's spaceship had crashed not in the American heartland, but in the middle of the Soviet Union? That's the premise of this book. Superman is adopted at a commune by farmers and doesn't come to the big city until his powers have grown. This time, the big city is not Metropolis but Moscow. He doesn't bother with the mild mannered report gig. He goes straight to Stalin and becomes a state hero. But Superman's ambitions are more than protecting the Motherland. He prevents accidents and saves people from tragedies on a global scale. American Lex Luthor puts this to the test when he has a Soviet satellite crash toward Metropolis. Superman averts the disaster and has an all too brief meeting with Daily Planet report Lois Luthor (yeah, she's Lex's wife in this story!). Superman believes in doing what's right but how will that work out with a Soviet upbringing?

The plot and politics of the story are more complicated than an initial impression and, indeed, the first half of the book reveal. Superman works to spread a utopian ideal across the globe, but his passion for truth, justice, and the Soviet way leans too much on the later element to the detriment of the first two elements. Wonder Woman shows up but she is little more than a love interest and battle partner with Superman; the writer missed an opportunity to contrast the Soviet utopia with Paradise Island's utopia. There's a Soviet Union version of Batman, too. He's more of a freedom fighter against Superman and all he stands for (I guess like the Batman vs Superman movie), though he is a less active opponent than Luthor.

The first two-thirds of the book were interesting but unsatisfying to me. A lot of conventions and tropes of the Superman mythos are reversed or twisted in different ways, leaving me with a feeling of inconsistency. Lois as Luthor's wife is an interesting idea and is played out fully; Jimmy Olsen is a CIA liaison to Luthor's company for no apparent reason other than to have Olsen show up. He doesn't get any development that makes any sense. The conflict between Luthor and Superman dominates the last third of the book and plays out in interesting and satisfying ways for both comic book conventions and for the deeper ideas the story comments on.

I almost quit reading this book about a third of the way into it. I kept reading to see how it would play out and am happy that I did. I still feel like this premise could have had an even better treatment or would be more convincing if it was more detailed. The book didn't hit the mark for me, it's surprisingly average for a great starting concept.

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