As we know, a huge cataclysm destroyed the planet Krypton but a scientist managed to save his newborn son, Kal-El, from total destruction by putting him in a spaceship and launching him into space. Thus, the baby arrived on Earth, to a farm in Smallville, Kansas, where he was adopted by a couple who discovered that he had wonderful super powers. Later, the boy grows up and becomes Superman, devoted to protect Humanity. Now, what if Kal-El’s spaceship, instead of falling in the United States, had fallen in the USSR? This is the starting point of a curious comic book series published in 2003 under the inevitable title Superman: Red Son.
The drawings were commissioned by Dave Johnson and Lilian Plunkett, with Andrew Robinson as inker, Paul Monts in color and Ken Lopez as signer. But it seems that the idea came from the Scottish writer and scriptwriter Grant Morrison, who suggested to his friend Mark Millar to send Superman back to the past, since he had been working for DC with that character for some time. Millar is also a screenwriter (and a Scot) and has signed some notable success stories in DC Comics (including the acclaimed The Swamp Thing and The Authority) and Marvel (Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates…), some of which have been adapted for the cinema (Kick Ass, Logan, Captain America: Civil War, Kingsman…). He has won a few awards (including the prestigious Eisner four times) and has even been distinguished with the Order of the British Empire.
Accepting Morrison’s challenge, Millar rewrote that unusual story of Superman taking advantage of an idea of his own that, he said, had been haunting him since he was a child and read comic books about the superhero: Kal-El’s spaceship falling into international waters and the two great powers of the Cold War claiming its possession. In fact, he drew a story with that theme himself when he was a teenager but his thing was letters rather than art, he admitted. Nevertheless, he kept on thinking about it and in 1992 he took up the pencil again to develop some points about it: the baby would grow up in the Soviet Union, he would work in Pravda, Georgia and Louisiana would have split from the USA, the streets of New Orleans would be controlled by tanks…
Finally, in 2003, DC was in charge of editing the project with the team of professionals reviewed. Under the common heading Superman: red son, it was published in three issues with monthly frequency (although in 2004 the trio was compiled in a single volume): the first, Red Son Rising; the second, Red Son Ascendant; and the third, The Red Son Setting. As can be deduced from the titles, the plot is very original. Even more, despite the fact that the context is historical and some characters are too, the author allowed himself many ucronic licenses that give it a fantastic tone: Stalin dies poisoned by his bastard son, Nixon also dies murdered, John Fitzgerald Kennedy has Marilyn Monroe as his first lady, etc.
The starting point is as follows: Kal-L’s spaceship (the alternative Kryptonian name that had already appeared on Earth-2, an imaginary universe that was part of the so-called DC Multiverse) falls into an Ukrainian kolkhoz of the 1950s, providing the baby with a life and a future somewhat different from that of the classic plot, since he is educated in the communist regime and for it he fights with a uniform similar to that of the classic Superman but wearing the hammer and sickle on his chest instead of the classic S and being the same state that keeps his identity a secret.
The comic begins with the official revelation by the USSR of Superman’s existence, something that triggers nervousness in the United States, causing it to change the direction of its military development in order to achieve its own superheroes and counteract the power of the Soviet. Jimmy Olsen, who is not a reporter but a CIA agent, recruits a scientist named Lex Luthor who deflects a Sputnik’s orbit over Metropolis. As expected, Superman comes to the rescue and this allows Luthor to obtain his DNA, with which he creates a clone. It is curious that, in the meantime, a romance arises between Superman and the villain’s wife, Lois, although she rejects him out of loyalty to her husband.
The argument continues to offer elements of the DC world but also of that alternative reality. Thus, while Wonder Woman falls in love with Kal-L at a party, he has to leave in a hurry to take care of Pyotr, the head of the NKVD, who hates him for taking him away from his father, Stalin, whose illegitimate son he is, and organizes a plot against him by killing him with cyanide. Without a general secretary, Superman is offered to lead the CPSU but he rejects it because he has to confront the clone, who, finally and in spite of his grotesque appearance, sacrifices himself to prevent some nuclear missiles launched by mistake from causing a massacre. Then a former girlfriend, Lana Lazarenko, convinces Superman to accept the appointment and he agrees, ready to turn the USSR into a model country.
That’s where the first number ends. The second number is years later, at the end of the seventies. Lex Luthor has failed again and again, allowing the Soviet Union to bring the world under his influence by ending poverty and disease, but at the cost of curtailing political freedoms (to the extent that dissidents are lobotomized into obedience and Superman’s physical appearance). Only Chile and the US remain free, although on the verge of social collapse and President Kennedy has to recognize the independence of the state of Georgia.
Luthor’s partner, Brainiac, invents a system to downsize entire cities and sets out to test it with Moscow but by mistake the city affected is Stalingrad. Superman manages to defeat Brainiac but not to return the city to its real dimensions, which causes him a strong feeling of guilt (the actor Henry Cavill declared to have been inspired by Superman: red son to get the tortured character that he showed in the film The Man of Steel). And while Wonder Woman continues to sigh for his love, he will have to face a new enemy: Batman, leader of a terrorist group whose parents Pyotr had killed but with whom he now allies, since he has power again – he is head of the KGB.
Wonder Woman is kidnapped to lure Superman into a trap, a red sunlamp, the only thing that can kill him as it is a recreation of the sun from his home world (kryptonite does not appear here). Finally, Superman is captured but Wonder Woman herself releases him, resulting in serious physical and emotional injury, as he realizes he does not love her. Batman prefers to commit suicide rather than fall prisoner, and Pyotr ends up undergoing the aforementioned brain surgery, just like Brainiac, and the construction of Superman’s personal refuge in Siberia begins, called the Winter Palace. This issue ends with Luthor working on another plan after finding an enigmatic green lantern aboard a crashed UFO in Roswell.
Thus comes the third and last installment, which takes place in the year 2000. By then, the USSR has already imposed itself on the whole planet because, in addition to its previous successes, it has put an end to crime and unemployment. Also with freedom, of course, and only the United States resists, in spite of having suffered a civil war. Superman tries to convince the Americans with words, rejecting Brainiac’s invasion advice, but things become tense when Luthor wins the presidential elections and, thanks to his fortune, restores national prosperity, at the same time as he provokes his enemy to agree to an invasion and thus have him close by so that he can destroy him.
In a direct confrontation, Luthor loses once again and is lobotomized. Superman then begins an invasion of the East Coast of the United States, defeating the Green Lantern Marine Corps, the Amazons of a resentful Wonder Woman and other characters gathered throughout those decades by Luthor. Once in the White House he meets Lois, who as a last resort gives him a note from her husband: “Why don’t you put everyone in a bottle, Superman? It is an allusion to Stalingrad, which the superhero kept in a bottle until a virus killed all the inhabitants.
The cunning resource succeeds and Superman orders Brainiac to stop the invasion but he disobeys. Then he discovers that his lobotomy had failed and he was faking it all the time. Now, his immediate attack is annulled by the unexpected reappearance of Luthor, who also had managed to avoid the effects of the brain operation. The subsequent fight threatens to blow up the ship they are in and, to avoid collateral damage, Superman takes it out into space, where it explodes and he dies, at least apparently.
There is an epilogue. Deprived of its leader, the USSR falls into chaos and has to be saved by the intervention of the Batmen, followers of Batman who dress like him and remember him as a martyr. Thanks to this and to a new philosophy called Luthorism, which joins ideas of Luthor and Superman, extends throughout the planet, the Global United States is formed, with Humanity entering an era of splendor, peace and stability, without diseases, and starting the colonization of the Solar System; Luthor himself, who is the soul of all, comes to live two millennia. When he dies, Lois discovers at his funeral a man dressed in a suit, tie and glasses, Clark Kent type, not suspecting that he is Superman, who survived and wants to live as someone normal.
A few million years in the future, when the sun becomes a red giant that is destroying the Earth, Jor-L is shown putting his son in a spaceship and sending him on a space-time trip to the Ukraine of 1938. Jor-L is the son of Lex and Lois.