Heroes Never Rust #31 by Sean Ironman
Red Son 1
I’m going to try something different over the next few weeks. I’m going to study one issue per week for a storyline. Perhaps some people may read along. Over the next three weeks, I will take a look at the three-issue miniseries Superman: Red Son.
DC Comics produces an imprint called Elseworlds, where the characters readers know are taken out of their usual context and placed into different times or situations. It allows writers and readers to explore the characters in different ways without being confined by continuity. In Superman: Red Son. Mark Millar and Dave Johnson take a look at Superman by asking, “What if his spaceship landed in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas?” One of my interests in writing is the exploration of what makes us us. What made Superman a good person—his Kryptonian birth or Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville?
The first issue opens in Metropolis with Superman’s thoughts presented to the reader in red and yellow captions. “In the middle of the twentieth century, the telephones started ringing all across America as rumors of my existence started circulating.” Millar places us in a city most readers know with a character’s voice we know. But the end of the first page has thrown the reader thrown for a loop. Lois Lane answers the telephone and corrects her name as “Lois Luthor.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower goes on television to tell the United States of Superman’s existence. At the same time, the president attempts to comfort the country over the fact that Superman is more of a threat than a nuclear bomb. Instead of Superman offering the world hope, he has become a sign of fear for everyone outside of the Soviet Union and its allies. Right away the reader is given something familiar and something new, something to keep the reader grounded and something to propel the reader to the next page.
The most interesting aspect, for me, of Superman: Red Son is the treatment of Lex Luthor, who is granted the status of America’s last hope in defeating Superman. Luthor is the world’s smartest man, always has been, even in the normal continuity. The tragedy of Luthor’s character in the Superman comics is that he could have done so much for the world, nothing was in his way, but he let his hatred and jealousy of Superman get in the way and he became a criminal instead of a savior. Now that Superman is America’s enemy, Luthor is free to do both—fight and try to kill Superman at the same time as saving the country. In a way, the comic comments on the Cold War, or even war in general. The same things Luthor does would make him a criminal normally, but because he’s doing them against another country it’s not only okay, it’s worshipped.
At the end of issue one, Luthor creates Bizarro Superman, one of my favorites. He’s called Superman Two here. In trying to defeat Superman, Luthor creates a monster who causes more damage. One must keep in mind that until this point in the comic, Superman never fights against America. In fact, he saves lives in America when Sputnik Two comes crashing down to Earth. The thought comes to me now that America is quite the villain in Superman: Red Son, a comic released by a corporate-owned American comic book company. While the comic book storyline uses fictional conceits in Superman and clones, it keeps coming back to being about war. When the newest technologies to destroy Superman fail, Luthor, and America, attempt to create more.
Superman Two fails and Luthor calls off his marriage to Lois in order to focus his life on destroying Superman, who still hasn’t done anything against the United States. Luthor’s story in this issue ends with him turning full-on villain and killing his lab technicians. He loses track of everything else he wants to do in life and leaves his wife in order to go to war. The war against Superman, against the idea of Superman, draws resources and lives away from the betterment of society. War is the focus. War over nothing. War over fear of something different.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.