Writer: Mark Millar
Penciller: Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett
Inker: Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong
Colourist: Paul Mounts
Letters: Ken Lopez
Publisher: DC Comics
Apologies for the delay in posting. It turns out that accurately predicting the future is not my forte. That said, enjoy the review.
What's it about?
This is one of DC's Elseworld's titles. The term Elseworlds refers to books where the characters are "taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places, some that have existed, and others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist". In this story Superman's rocket from Krypton lands on a Ukrainian Collective farm in the Soviet Union, not a Kansas farm in America. Subsequently he is brought up as a faithful Communist instead of the more familiar American icon.
His 'S' shield is substituted for a sickle, the Cold War takes a sharp new turn and America becomes the last bastion of capitalism. Lois Lane never marries Superman and Lex Luthor becomes an American hero.
What's good about it?
Obviously it's a very good read. All characters are fresh and and well portrayed with enough individual traits to distinguish them from each other, and enough mannerisms and peculiarities to make them truly individual and to allow you to empathise with them. On a superficial level this is an intriguing tale about two opposing forces each convinced they are fighting for the greater good. Neither seem to be able to see that their actions may be harming those they are sworn to protect, although the readers can see the greater complexity and ramifications of their behaviour.
On the whole, Russian history and culture is dealt with well. This could have become a caricature, pandering to stereotypes, but it is not. Wonder Woman, Batman and Green Lantern make appearances in this book, being slotted into the story in a natural manner without breaking the flow. If you don't know who these people are, no problem, no previous knowledge is necessary.
The book provides a discourse on the meaning of freedom, the rights of human beings and the relative merits and problems with both capitalism and communism. Millar has obviously done his homework and what could simply be an anti communist tirade becomes a thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of life under both regimes. Like all good alternative history fiction, he has thought extensively about the impact of this alternate chain of events, and has provided clear in text guidance and explanations to justify the characters personalities and beliefs.
What's bad about it?
Like many Western created depictions of the Soviet Union, this book also insists on using Cyrillic characters in English words. So, instead of simply writing 'Superman: Red Son'' on the cover, we read, 'supeяmaи' and 'яed soи'. Apart from this leading me to pronounce the three words as something akin to 'supeyamae' and 'yaed soe', it is also an attempt to exoticise the subject matter, and one that I feel is completely unnecessary, both for personal reasons, and also because the book does such a pretty good job of transporting you into the Soviet Union anyway.
What's the art like?
The artists have given us a stylised representation of 1950s comic art and Soviet propaganda as art. The start of each chapter features a Superman splash page, produced in the style of Stalinist era posters. The colour schemes and layouts are planned well to lead you through the story and build on the dialogue and narration in order to give you a fully rounded image of this world. The pencils are gentle and the characters are allowed to aged in accordance with the progression of the story.
This is a beautiful book giving a refreshing interpretation of the Cold War, and American and Russian history and culture.