Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Superman: Red Son - Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson, and Walden Wong

Superman: Red Son is a three-part graphic novel/comic book that is on par with The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke, and nearly rises to the heights of Watchmen.  In short, while I hasten to note that my education in comics is still pretty elementary, this must stand among the best comics ever done.  It may be that I am more obsessed with Batman at the moment and so have not given Superman my fair attention--but it seems to me that Red Son is not as highly-touted as either of the above-two mentioned Batman comics.  This is a mistake and more people need to know that this is out there (of course I may be extremely ignorant and this may be common knowledge to even the most casual reader of comics--but I have to believe I am more objective than that and have a realistic understanding of the common knowledge of mass culture: if this story was part of it, then it boggles the mind that it had not been turned into a movie--there were rave reviews of the new Man of Steel trailer and one hopes the film will incorporate elements of this book's tone).

Where Watchmen has an alternate version of 1985 with Richard Nixon still President, Red Son has an alternate version of 1978 with John F. Kennedy still President (and with Nixon assassinated in 1963).  Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern all show up, and Lex Luthor becomes basically the greatest American hero of all time.  The creativity in the book is summed up nicely in a quick conversation between Superman and Wonder Woman as they are flying through the air:

"'So, how was America?'
'Disgusting, Superman.  Absolutely disgusting.  It's Nineteen Seventy-Eight and children are still sleeping in the streets over there.  Why does Kennedy cling to this capitalist dogma when it's quite clearly tearing his country apart?'
'Pride, I suppose.  He'll come around eventually.'
'I told him he should devote more time to his crumbling economy and less to those painted movie stars he seems to pursue with such vigor.  That country has never been the same since Nixon was assassinated in Nineteen Sixty-Three.  I still maintain that was the beginning of the end for them.'" (75)

In the introduction to the book, Tom Desanto writes that Red Son is "a sharp social commentary on capitalism vs. communism and current American foreign policy."  That gets it about right.  It is really amazing what insights can be made when a classic comic book is re-imagined from the perspective of the Other.  Superman basically becomes a totalitarian leader, and Batman symbolizes the underground rebellion.  Lex Luthor saves America from economic ruin and re-establishes capitalism as the global norm, but all in an effort just to destroy Superman, and with the irony that his end goal of perfectionism of the human race is basically the same as Superman's vision but under a different name.

There is much more I could say about this book in terms of plot, but like the review for Watchmen, that would spoil much of the fun of reading it.  It is just worth reiterating that the entire DC Universe is perfectly accommodated by the story.  It is hilarious at times and profound at others, and the ending is masterfully done.  Perhaps one day in the future this will be made into a movie, but I am afraid that it would require enormous resources and be difficult for a studio head to get behind--even though this subject matter is not really "controversial" anymore, it may be regarded as an extremely subversive plot line.  Regardless, like Watchmen it is hard to imagine that a movie could match up to the experience of reading the book itself.  I read it in about two days and it was nice to be reminded that I can still be blown away by something that hasn't been hyped to death.

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