Thursday, July 14, 2011

Superman: Red Son

Cover by Dave Johnson
Superman: Red Son (2004)
Writer: Mark Millar
Penciller: Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett
Inker: Andrew Robinson, Walden Wong
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Ken Lopez

Okay, this was sort of awesome.

Superman: Red Son has been recommended to me by a couple of different people and I’m so glad I was able to finally a get a hold of it. I was really intrigued to read it, especially after hearing that it is a re-imaging of the Superman myth, in which the Last Son of Krypton crash lands not in rural Kansas, but Soviet Russia.
First of all, this comic combined a good number of things that I have inherent weaknesses for: 20th century history and politics, a really angry and pretty crazy Batman, and a kickass Lois Lane and Wonder Woman.

In comics, women are typically either a femme fatale (Catwoman), ambitiously crazy (Harley Quinn), a good girl (Oracle… she’s even a librarian) or a victim, as Gail Simone famously pointed out in Women in Refrigerators. Which is not to say that there aren’t clichés when it comes to the male characters in comic books, as well. It’s just that with a fluid and ambiguous character like Lois, writers often seem to struggle with what neat little box she should fit into.

Millar, however, actually gave me a Lois I really enjoyed and believed in. She seemed incredibly real and dynamic to me. I was rooting for her, especially since in this re-telling, she’s actually married to Lex Luthor. Whoa. I realized right away that in this comic, everything was essentially going to be backwards, and it was probably going to be a lot of fun to read. It was.
Outside of these awesome comics by Kate Beaton, I haven’t really gotten a chance to read a Lois Lane that was completely satisfactory to me. You see, I love the idea of Lois Lane: a dedicated and talented reporter (I used to want to be a journalist, too, Lois!) with an awesome career and a no-nonsense attitude. But most of my encounters with Lois either remind me of these types of comics or she’s a super vixen who works in an office where it’s apparently acceptable to wear dangerously short skirts and massive cleavage. I think writers really have a hard time with Lois and are just unsure what sort of woman she is.

Superman is the right hand man of Stalin; a Soviet super-weapon who only wants to help people, all people, and eradicate war and famine. Luthor is the smartest man in the world, a brilliant scientist obsessed with finding a way to defeat Superman, even at the cost of America’s status as a superpower. Due to Superman’s existence in Soviet Russia, the comic gives us a warped alternative history to the latter half of the 20th century, almost in a sort of reverse-Watchmen style. Nixon was assassinated in 1963, JFK divorced Jackie and married Norma Jean (I loled at that, I couldn’t help it), communism spreads throughout the world until only the United States, with a faltering economy and increasing starvation, refuses to abandon capitalism.

I don’t really want to discuss the plot too much because I so thoroughly enjoyed reading this graphic novel and discovering what happened next and I don’t want to ruin anything. If anything, I can simply say that Millar provided the novel with awesome pacing, really fun and intriguing subplots, three-dimensional characters, strong women, great fight scenes and awesome re-imaginings of familiar characters, such as Batman, Green Lantern and even my beloved Wonder Woman. As Tom DeSanto said in his introduction, a lesser writer would have simply made these re-imaginings very gimmicky and cookie-cutter. I was never annoyed or embarrassed by Millar’s what-if scenarios but actively intrigued.

My only real complaint was the final confrontation between Luthor and Superman, which I felt that after so much build-up and tension between the two men during the entire course of the novel, was simply too quick. It was over and done with before I really had a chance to grasp what I was reading. I also felt that Luthor was occasionally a bit hammy (is that the correct term?); I found Superman a lot more believable than the world’s most intelligent man. Luthor just went a little too mad scientisty at points but he’s a supervillain and that’s what they do, I suppose.

I also would recommend this for the awesome and clever twist ending, which was just so damn satisfying. With comic books, twist endings are usually more obnoxious and nonsensical than anything else but here, it worked and I loved it.

The art by Johnson and Plunkett was spot-on, as well. I especially loved Johnson’s interpretations of the characters: they were familiar without being dated. The inclusion of his sketches at the back of the novel was also illuminating. He did a great job with balancing between epic fight scenes and smaller, minute moments, especially with expressions on characters’ faces. I also found the coloring by Mounts really good, as I was worried that as a Soviet re-telling, he was going to rely on clichéd greys and reds but I was pleasantly surprised by his use of warm colors and lighting.

I’m so glad this comic was recommended to me and I actually got a chance to read it. I really need to read more Superman comics, as this is a character that I used to hate irrationally (the big blue Boy Scout) but who has since grown on me quite a bit. I also wish I had more comics that featured a Lois Lane and a Wonder Woman that I could really relate to and admire, as I did here.

1 comment:

  1. and yet this book failed to answer the question on the lips of all Superman fans: does the Lois Lane of this universe go time traveling in a flying popemobile?