Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Comic Review: Superman - Red Son

    Look, I know he’s got a long history, and I know people really dig him.  But I just don’t cotton on Superman.  Like Batman, his direct ancestors are the pulp heroes of yesteryear.  Where Batman is a pretty straight lift from characters like The Shadow and The Spider, Superman’s genes include Doc Savage and John Carter (he even has Doc Savage’s ‘Fortress of Solitude’).  But while John Carter and Doc Savage were tremendously competent, and a bit larger than life, Superman went on to become a god, with basically no faults.  Is there anything more boring than a hero without faults?  Bad writing over many decades took him from very fast and very strong to a flying, invincible, laser shooting, cold breathing, deus ex machina.  Each week or month, the writers would paint themselves into a corner, then give him whatever power he needed to get out of the seemingly impossible situation, until there was nothing he couldn’t do.  Blah.  When you have a character like this existing in your universe, the best way to handle him is to make him a background element, not the focal point.  But of course, every month, there are a dozen comics put out with Superman as a central figure.  Still, as Watchmen showed with Dr. Manhattan, when used correctly a character of his type can be an excellent storytelling tool.  And that’s what Mark Millar has done with his thought experiment, Red Son.  What if Superman’s craft had deposited him in the farmlands of the Soviet Union, instead of the United States?

    This is denser than a lot of modern comics I’ve read, feeling a bit more from the Alan Moore school.  By the end of this 150 page volume, I felt like I’d read a solid story with a good beginning, middle, and end; with characters and conflicts well thought out and executed.  The same can not always be said for volumes of similar length, even those that are perfectly enjoyable.  The play on the mythology, seeing some of the same people rise in different ways, and the same archetypes rise with different faces was handled very well.  Lex Luthor is interesting for once.  The Russian Batman makes sense…maybe even more than the Gotham one.  And Wonder Woman takes an interesting turn.  The art is also quite nice.  Batman and Superman seem to attract the most retro-styled artists, those folks who want to give it a dash of 40s penciling, or 60s coloring, or what have you.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not.  This time, it works very well.  Good character design, nice coloring, good action, and interesting panel work that never makes a nuisance of itself.  It captures some of that gee-shucks comic book look, while also going for those great propaganda poster moments.

    You don’t have to be a Superman fan to enjoy this (I’m not).  So long as you have the general gist of the character (he’s an alien, landed in the heartland, became a champion of post-WWII American spirit) you should have no problem following along with this alternate world version of things, and still catch some of the more poignant moments.  The Red Son universe seems like there could be some more interesting stories to tell, but knowing how sequels and tie-ins to these things usually suck, maybe it’s best if they just leave it as a one-off.

Superman: Red Son
Author: Mark Millar
Artists: Dave Johnson, etc.
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0191-3


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