The 2003 graphic novel is a thought-provoking alternative time-line tale.
Red Son is a three-part, epic Superman story from DC Comics, which looks at the entire idea of Superman from a different angle.
The question answered is: How would the superman story have been different if he had landed on earth 12 hours earlier or later, landing in rural Russia instead of the heartland of the US.
The first book opens with an announcement from the Warsaw Pact states, that they have a new super weapon with which they will be upholding their right to rule in Asia, and which will be used to protect any new inductees to the Warsaw Pact. T
hat weapon is a young man in a tight-suit and cape, with the hammer and sickle emblazoned across his chest, calling himself a name that translates best to “Superman.”
He appears beside Lenin, and it is announced that he is an extraterrestrial who was found as a baby in a small village in Siberia, where he was raised by an elderly couple.
In America, the president orders an analysis of the threat Superman poses, and calls on the greatest mind in the country, genius millionaire, Lex Luthor. In this story, Lex is a pleasant and gregarious man with a full head of hair, and a beautiful wife: the charming star newspaper reporter Lois Lane.
Lex devises a scheme in which he can get some readings and samples from Superman, and from this, develops a ‘bizzarro’ version of the young man to serve as America’s version of the caped weapon. The creature does not last, however, and Luthor becomes the center of America’s part in the arm’s race which follows.
This rivalry between Superman and Luthor becomes the focus of the three-book novel, but it’s not only that relationship which gets an alternative take. The story shows us Jim Olsen entering politics, Lois Luthor taking control of the Daily Planet, Bruce Wayne growing up normal in Gotham, while a young man in Leningrad whose parents were killed by Superman supporters take on a bat persona to fight at the front of a revolution.
Wonder Woman brings her colony of Amazonia into the Warsaw Pact, and fights along-side Superman. Hal Jordan doesn’t take on the mantle of the Green lantern until he is needed to fight Superman.
By the third book, Superman has been convinced to rule the Warsaw Pact States himself and every country but the US is part of his global Utopia, with no crime, no accidents, no hunger, etc. Despite that, in this world, communism has been successful while Capitalism is failing; the US continues to fight to hold onto their capitalist ideals.
One of the most interesting aspects here is the time-lapse of the story. It begins in the 1950’s and the bulk of the novel takes the reader through today. Unlike the canon story, all of the characters age and grow within the span of the tale, making the actual course of their lives an integral part of how the story develops.
The attention to detail here is outstanding. The DC writers and artists crafted a masterpiece of Superman fiction, which feels like an alternate history tale in the telling. Super man is such a part of our collective conscious that seeing the way this story plays out feels like an analysis of our real historical world, rather than of the fictional world of DC Comics.
That said, the story is extremely accessible. Unlike some of the Superman graphic novels over the years, one does not need understand what’s been going on with Supes lately to get this tale, as it covers the entire Superman mythology all on its own, and it very self-contained. Of course, those familiar with the comic books will catch some details that others might miss, but understanding really only requires a basic knowledge of who Superman is.