It’s hard to imagine it’s been 11 years since “Superman: Red Son,” the Elseworlds comic book series-turned-graphic novel that imagined a world where baby Kal-El’s rocket from Krypton crashed in the Soviet Union, was published.
It seems more like 40. And that’s a compliment.
The comic, written by Mark Millar and drawn and inked by a creative team of artists, came out in 2003 but read like something published as a Cold War fever dream. Millar’s storyline – which recasts Superman as a symbol of – and later, leader of – the Soviet Union and all his supporting players in re-imagined roles – is so clever it feels like a product of those uneasy decades of stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Of course, the comic probably couldn’t have been produced during that time. There’s too much subversive material here for most Cold War tastes.
Beyond the premise – that rocket from doomed Krypton lands in the USSR rather than Heartland USA – young Clark’s powers quickly draw the attention of the Soviet authorities and he is adopted by Stalin himself.
Meanwhile, in America, Lex Luthor is an aloof scientific genius who works for long-tenured President Kennedy and Lois Lane is his neglected wife.
After Superman becomes a global figure – curiously, a threat to the American way of life who also swoops in to rescue people at disaster scenes around the world – Luthor ramps up his efforts to destroy him via Brainiac, Bizarro and other means.
Millar has Jimmy Olsen as a CIA agent, Pete Ross as a KGB agent and, most effecting, Diana – aka Wonder Woman – in a familiar role for her, trying to bridge the gap between worlds.
There’s even Batman as a Russian saboteur, a role that pits him against Superman, the thoughtful tool of the Soviet Union.
The art is perfect – so many deep blues and reds that it was startling to see one version of the Superman costume that looked like that in “Man of Steel” – and the story is clever not just because it holds up a mirror to the familiar Superman story but because the characters and circumstances ring as true as they seem alien to us.