Heroes Never Rust #32 by Sean Ironman
Dark Knight: How much can one person change the world?
This question runs throughout Superman: Red Son #2, which takes place years after the first issue. The second issue opens in media res with Superman stopping Luthor and Braniac. the two villains have shrunk the city of Stalingrad and handed it over to Superman to try to revert the city and its citizens to normal size—a task in which Superman never succeeds. The world has known about Superman for years. Luthor and the CIA ready for attach number 307. The Soviet Union is under President Superman’s control.
Superman doesn’t kill; even landing in the Soviet Union hasn’t changed that. But in order to get control of its citizens, Superman has created a version of Braniac as a form of lobotomy. The Soviet Union under President Superman’s control has become the world’s greatest superpower, but its citizens live in fear of the demi-god. America is in ruins by focusing its energies on destroying Superman, but the American people are free.
The star of this issue is Russian Batman. Technically, introduced last issue with a flashback of Superman’s Head of Security, Pytor Roslov, who killed Batman’s parents and left the child to live. Here, though, Batman isn’t Bruce Wayne. His parents were dissidents, not Thomas and Martha Wayne from Gotham City. This Batman’s real name is unknown. It’s interesting that Superman and Wonder Woman are the same characters, but Batman’s identity can change. Who knows what happened to Bruce Wayne in this world. Unlike Superman and Wonder Woman, Batman is human. In Superman: Red Son, he represents humanity, not those like Luthor, but the everyday person on the streets. Roslov killed his parents. Superman enslaves the working man. Batman fights back.
Batman has become a terrorist, which isn’t too far off from his normal DC counterpart. The difference is that now he fights against the government. In an effort to defeat Superman, Batman teams up with Roslov. This is a huge development. The Batman we know would never side with a criminal like Roslov, the criminal who gunned down his parents. But Batman being Batman, he’s too smart to let an opportunity pass by.
On Superman’s birthday celebration, Batman captures Wonder Woman and with Luthor’s help has created an area under heat lamps that recreate the effects of a red sun. Superman’s powers are derived from the yellow sun, so under a red one he’s powerless. For a moment, Batman actually defeats Superman, something many fans have always seen as the outcome if Superman was powerless. It isn’t until Wonder Woman breaks free and rescues Superman that Batman is defeated. Instead of letting himself get lobotomized like other dissidents, Batman sets off a bomb he had attached to his ribs.
Of course, his last words to Superman are, “Oh, and by the way. It was Pyotr who betrayed you. While Superman doesn’t kill Pytor Roslov, he does lobotomize him. The issue ends with Luthor finding the Green Lantern ring and a plan to use it against Superman, who has now created his Fortress of Solitude, only here it comes off less peaceful and more as a tyrant. But one of the most interesting developments goes back to Batman. Another man has taken up the mask. A man in a bar gives a suitcase with the bat suit to another man, possibly one we saw earlier, but it’s not made clear. Batman has become an idea, maybe always has been in this world.
Superman says in the end, “My desire for order and perfection was matched only by their dreams of violence and chaos. I offered them utopia, but they fought for the right to live in hell.” But that’s what Superman doesn’t understand, hasn’t learned in the Soviet Union, would have learned in Smallville, Kansas, had his ship landed there. Freedom is more important than perfection. We want control of our own lives. Wars and rebellions throughout our history have been fought for freedom. We don’t want some outsider coming in and showing us how to live. What good is living in Superman’s utopia if you spend the day afraid of him, afraid of doing what you want?
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.