Superman: Red Son is a comic book published by DC Comics that was released under their Elseworlds imprint in April, 2003. Author Mark Millar created the comic with the premise "what if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union?" It received critical acclaim and was nominated for the 2004 Eisner Award for best limited series.
The series was told across three large prestige format comic books. It mixes alternate versions of DC super-heroes with alternate-reality versions of real political figures such as Joseph Stalin and John F. Kennedy.
In Red Son, Superman's rocket ship lands on a Ukrainian collective farm rather than in Kansas, an implied reason being a small time difference (a handful of hours) from the original timeline, meaning Earth's rotation placed the Ukraine in the ship's path instead of Kansas. Instead of fighting for "... truth, justice, and the American Way," Superman is described in Soviet radio broadcasts "... as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact."
His "secret identity" (i.e. the name his adoptive parents gave him) is a state secret.
The series is split into three parts and spans roughly 1950-2000, save for a futuristic epilogue.
The series was collected as a trade paperback in 2004 (ISBN 1-4012-0191-1), and remains available to this day.
Use of DC characters
The DC universe is reinvented in Red Son, and the work makes extensive use of existing characters and historical figures.
Superman supporting cast, villains and paraphernalia
- Lex Luthor is a genius American scientist and married to Lois Lane.
- Jimmy Olsen is not a photographer for the Daily Planet, but is first a government agent, before becoming head of the Central Intelligence Agency and then Vice President of the United States.
- Pete Ross, here named Pyotr Roslov, is one of the illegitimate sons of Stalin and one of Superman's political rivals.
- Lana Lang is replaced by Lana Lazarenko, who grew up in the Ukraine (used here as the closest Soviet equivalent to Kansas) along with a young Superman. She becomes a tour guide in a Superman museum.
- Bizarro is - along with other villains in Superman's rogues gallery - a being created by Luthor to rival the Soviet Superman. The concept of a Superman-clone being used in a superhuman arms race bears similarities to Nuclear Man from Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
- Captain Marvel villain Dr. Sivana makes a brief appearance as a scientist working for Superman and the Soviets. It is mentioned that he used to work for Lex Luthor before defecting to Russia. However, Captain Marvel does not appear.
- The bottled city of Kandor is replaced by Stalingrad, which was shrunk by Brainiac in a joint plan with Lex Luthor to capture Superman. Superman's "one failure" is his inability to return Stalingrad to normal size. His guilt over this haunts him. Brainiac, meanwhile, is apparently reprogrammed into Superman's service.
- Superman retains his Fortress of Solitude which is still opened through the use of a giant key. However, it is now located in Siberia and is referred to as "the Winter Palace", a reference to the Russian Winter Palace, vacation home of the Tsars. Located within is a statue of Darkseid, the Titanic, and a Soviet Krypto.
- At the beginning of the series, a widowed Martha Kent is seen running a hardware store in Smallville, Kansas. Jonathan Kent is dead. Neither have had any direct contact with Superman.
- Superman briefly appears in a disguise similar to Clark Kent. However, this identity is not given a name. Also, Superman's 'real name' (the equivalent of Clark Kent) is never given within the series.
- A statue that appears to be the Red Son Universe counterpart of Krypto appears in the (Moscow) Superman Museum and the Fortress of Solitude. Other characters that appear in the form of statues include the villains Parasite, Atomic Skull, Chemo and Satanus. The museum also has a replica of the key to the Golden Age Fortress of Solitude and a statue of Superman's parents holding a Hammer and Sickle, mimicking a statue seen in the mainstream comics' Fortress of Solitude.
- Humans who have been forcibly lobotomized and given cybernetic implants as a punishment for certain crimes are known as Superman robots in reference to the genuine robots of DC continuity.
- In Red Son Setting, several villains of Superman's rogue's gallery are created and released by Luthor. These include Parasite, Atomic Skull, Livewire, and Doomsday.
- One of Superman's chief allies is Wonder Woman, who is a Soviet "Peace Ambassador" from Themyscira. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, also makes appearances in the first two installments of the trilogy. Her support for Superman is however based in more than pure idealism; merged completely in camaraderie, Superman is oblivious to her love for him.
- Batman appears as the child of parents murdered by Roslov. His anarchical terrorism is a thorn in Superman's side. Batman later inspires an entire team of Batmen. He is smart and resourceful enough to avoid being caught by an all-seing, all hearing regime, and uses his wit to momentarily seize Wonder Woman and Superman. He hides in an abandoned underwater Batcave, and Alfred Pennyworth is still his servant/butler. He is described by Superman as "anarchy in black".
- Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) appears as a pilot and vengeful ex-prisoner of war who comes to lead a super-powered army of Luthor's devising. Some of the other members of this group are named after other Green Lanterns (Scott, Rayner, Gardner and Stewart). Jordan's predecessor as Green Lantern of Sector 2814, Abin Sur, also makes a brief appearance as a deceased unnamed alien, whose crashed spacecraft provides Luthor with a power ring and battery.
- Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) works as a reporter for the Daily Planet. It is hinted that he is living out a "Clark Kent" double-life (as Queen/Green Arrow) since Lois Luthor says, "...no Pulitzer Prize winning journalist could be as scatter-brained as he acts" much as the original Lois Lane would have said about Clark Kent.
- Iris West (wife of the "Silver Age" Flash, Barry Allen) also appears as a photographer at Perry White's retirement party. She makes a reference (familiar to comic book fans) about Barry "always being late" indicating that he is perhaps also active in his super-hero identity.
- Two American scientists are named "Palmer" and "Tyler", presumably in reference to scientists/superheroes Ray Palmer (The Atom) and Rex Tyler (Hourman).
- Joseph Stalin is a major character, with a close relationship with the young Superman. He is poisoned by his illegitimate son, Captain Roslov.
- President Dwight Eisenhower delivers a radio/television broadcast at the start of the story.
- John F. Kennedy is President in 1978. He divorced his first wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, after he was elected president, and is married to Marilyn Monroe.
- Wonder Woman also mentions that Nixon was assassinated in 1963.
- The British socialist politician Tony Benn appears at Superman's Birthday celebration, smoking his trademark pipe.
Red Son Rising
The first part starts in the 1950s, and sets up the board and the pieces. The world is nearly identical to our own to begin with, but starts diverging rapidly as the Soviet Union unveils its newest asset, Superman, upsetting the Cold War and turning the nuclear arms race into a super-being arms race.
At this point Superman is a newcomer in Stalin's inner circle. He's kind-hearted and just, and also dedicated to the cause of communism. When possible, he spends his time detecting and preventing accidents around the USSR. His opposing number is the American Lex Luthor, a legitimate scientist at the employ of S.T.A.R. Labs and a super-genius who is very well aware of his intellect and has very little regard for lesser minds. He is married to Lois Lane. At the behest of his CIA contact, Agent Olsen, he begins attempts to destroy Superman.
In order to collect genetic material for his first attempt, Luthor causes Sputnik 2 to plummet towards Metropolis. As Luthor predicted, Superman arrives in time to divert its course. In the process, he meets Lois Luthor, and though there is immediate romantic tension between them, they do not pursue their mutual attraction as Lois is married. In a nod to the mainstream continuity, the story makes mention of a best-selling fictional work which depicts Superman and Lois involved in a romance. The satellite is retrieved by the United States government and Luthor uses the traces found on it to create a Bizarro clone of Superman.
Meanwhile, Superman meets Wonder Woman at a diplomatic party. She becomes rather smitten by Superman, but he is forced to leave when he spots Pyotr Roslov, Chief of the wikipedia:NKVD and Stalin's illegitimate son, who is drunk and extremely disgruntled. Pyotr is angry at everything, especially at Superman, whose arrival has rewritten the Soviet Union's power structure, turned his father's attention away from him and putting a stop to his chances of advancement. Having had to shoot a dissident couple before their own son's eyes for printing anti-Superman propaganda, Pyotr snapped and arranged Stalin's poisoning, which in turn has caused him horrible guilt, though not enough to confess. Stalin dies from cyanide poisoning, but Superman initially declines the leadership of the Party.
Meanwhile, Luthor's clone is finished and engages Superman. The duel is inconclusive on its own, but causes an accidental nuclear missile launch at Great Britain. The clone, which has been made too much like Superman, sacrifices himself to save millions, although Superman's visible heroism and the accidental nuclear missile launch coupled with damage in London resulting in high civilian casualties apparently lead to an irrevocable breach in Anglo-American relations. Horrified at the implication that Superman is more intelligent than himself after losing a chess game to the clone, Luthor murders his research staff before leaving S.T.A.R Labs and founding Luthorcorp, dedicating his life to destroying Superman. Lois is nigh-abandoned and longs for Superman. Superman himself tries to put this all out of his mind, but a chance meeting with Lana Lazarenko, his childhood flame, changes things entirely. Seeing the suffering of her and her children, Superman realizes that his powers could be used for a greater good, and assumes leadership of the country in order to transform it into a utopia.
Red Son Ascendant
It is an alternate 1978, and the fictional world of Red Son has diverged greatly from our own. There are no references to Soviet interventions in East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) or Afghanistan, which implies that Soviet prosperity has spread to its satellites, and mitigated the existence of dissident movements in those societies.
John F. Kennedy is president of the United States, having replaced the tragically slain Richard Nixon, who won the 1960 election but was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. Luthor has devised and executed several plans to thwart Superman, none of which have worked. Only the United States and Chile remain independent from the Soviets, and both are on the brink of collapse, while President Kennedy is forced to grant independence to Georgia, and he acknowledges that there have been similar secessionist pressures in Detroit and Texas, riots in California, and even a "communist sympathiser" terrorist attack on the White House. He has also married Marilyn Monroe, and divorced Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in this world. By contrast, the Superman-led (Global) Soviet Union has grown without resorting to war, and has virtually eliminated poverty, disease and the like, but this has started to infringe on individual liberties, and Superman is fast becoming a Big Brother-like figure. A brain surgery technique that turns dissidents into obedient drones, or "Superman Robots," is in use.
Wonder Woman and Superman have now become a duo, using their superpowers to save lives in addition to their ambassadorial and governing duties. Wonder Woman has fallen for Superman, but he sees her simply as a comrade, and is cheerfully oblivious to her love for him. Lois Luthor succeeds Perry White as the editor-in-chief of a failing Daily Planet, while her estranged husband feverishly works on his obsession.
Luthor plans to shrink Moscow, but this fails when Brainiac, his collaborator, shrinks Stalingrad instead. Superman intervenes and retrieves both Brainiac's central processing unit and the tiny city, putting an end to the Brainiac-Luthor cooperation, although he is unable to restore Stalingrad and its inhabitants to their proper size. This becomes his one failure and a source of great guilt.
Luthor's second plan involves Batman, who is revealed as the boy orphaned by Pyotr early in the story, now a grown man and the head of an anarchist terrorist network that sees the abundance forced upon the people by Superman's system as little more than oppression. Their persistent success in avoiding capture is a thorn in Superman's side. Batman joins forces with Lexcorp and with his parents' killer, Pyotr, now head of the KGB and consumed by jealousy of Superman, to attempt a coup. They capture Wonder Woman and use her as bait for Superman, hoping to sap his powers with rays that imitate the light of Superman's native sun. The plan works, but Wonder Woman breaks free and rescues Superman, although the process (which requires severing her golden lasso) seriously injures her, snapping something inside her and causing her hair to turn instantly white. Batman commits suicide to avoid capture, but not before revealing to Superman that Pyotr had a role in the plot. Pyotr is then turned into a Superman Robot.
As the part ends, Luthor's third plan begins, when Luthor is given a mysterious green lantern found in an alien ship that crashed at Roswell, New Mexico. Batman has become a martyr for his cause, Brainiac is reprogrammed into Superman's aide, and the construction of a version of the Fortress of Solitude, here located in Siberia and referred to as "the Winter Palace", begins. The stage is set for the finale.
Red Son Setting
It is the year 2001, and the Global Soviet Union encompasses all countries except for Chile and the divided remnants of the United States of America, which underwent a disastrous civil war in 1986, after which an unnamed sixteen states seceded from the union. Within the Soviet sphere of influence there is no crime, no poverty, no unemployment, and no choice. The "Superman Robot" operation is a common punishment for dissent. Superman is committed to "winning the argument" with the US, and repeatedly refuses Brainiac's suggestions of an invasion. His sole failure remains Stalingrad, which is ravaged by a green microscopic organism bearing resemblance to a Sheep louse.
Luthor runs for, and wins, the American presidency, with Jimmy Olsen as his running-mate. He has succeeded a President "Friedman", whose misrule resulted in food riots and tanks on New York's First Avenue. Whether or not this is the late economist Milton Friedman is unclear. Using his scientific expertise, massive economic capital and dictatorial powers, he returns prosperity to his country, overcoming the secession that had sundered the United States fifteen years beforehand. He remains as asocial as ever, though, and this is only a part of a larger plan to provoke Superman into invading America so that he can be destroyed, as Lois Luthor and Lucy Lane Olsen concur in the deserted offices of the long-closed Daily Planet in Metropolis. Luthor confronts Superman in the Siberian Winter Palace. In a seemingly anticlimactic moment, Brainiac yanks Luthor deep into the recesses of the Fortress to be surgically turned into yet another Superman Robot. Superman agrees that his hand has been forced, and prepares to attack.
Superman takes on the East Coast, confronting and defeating the Green Lantern Marine Corps, which is led by Colonel Hal Jordan, and featuring Privates Scott, Stewart, Rayner, and Gardner. He defeats the Amazon forces commanded by a highly disillusioned Wonder Woman, and a collection of "super-menaces" that Luthor has put together over the years. Brainiac's spaceship cuts the U.S. Pacific fleet to pieces, and the two superbeings meet at the White House, where Lois Luthor waits with the last weapon, a small note written by Lex that manages to break the Comrade of Steel's resolve. It reads, "Why don't you just put the whole WORLD in a BOTTLE, Superman?"
Superman orders Brainiac to end the invasion, but the robot reveals that he is not as reprogrammed as everyone thought, attacking Superman with green radiation that may be analogous to green kryptonite, given its effects on this Superman, while boasting that "eventually the entire universe" will "hum to his battery". He is shut down by Luthor, who evaded surgery (by undisclosed means) during the invasion, and is destroyed by Superman. This triggers a fail-safe self-destruct (though it is lightly implied that Luthor had planned for this to happen) and as the gravitational singularities powering Brainiac's ship threaten to explode, Superman rockets it into outer space, where it blows up. The Earth is saved, but Superman is thought to have been caught in an explosion which is said to have a kill radius of 15,000,000 miles (24,000,000 km).
The epilogue follows. The Soviet Union falls into chaos, and is transformed by the Batmen. Lex Luthor goes on to integrate many of Superman's ideas into the new philosophy of "Luthorism" and form a "Global United States". This becomes the defining moment for mankind's future as it enters an unprecedented age of peace and stability. A benevolent world government is formed and maintained, and Luthor presides over a string of scientific achievements, including the cure of all known disease, and colonisation of the solar system. Lex Luthor lives for over two thousand years. At his funeral it is revealed that Superman survived and is apparently immortal, although this is unknown to Lois, who has outlived her husband.
Now permanently retired from public view, he goes on to describe Luthor's descendants, culminating in Jor-L, "whose intellect exceeded that of even his beloved ancestor." Billions of years in the future, it is revealed that Earth is being torn apart by tidal stresses from its sun (which has become a red giant). Jor-L and Lara send their infant son rocketing back into the past. The final panels of the comic book depict the landing of Kal-L's timeship in a Ukrainian collective in 1938, effectively causing a predestination paradox.
Items: None known.
Vehicles: None known.
Weapons: None known.
Despite the ending stating that Kal-L's ship landed on Earth in 1938, it was stated earlier in the series that it landed thirty years prior to 1953.
- Stalin was an assumed name, and literally means "made of steel". It is sometimes translated as "man of steel".
- Grant Morrison has given interviews and said that he gave good friend Mark Millar the idea of sending Superman back to the past, as was used in the end of Red Son.
- During the military ball with Princess Diana of the Amazons, Superman wears the Soviet Air Force/Army rank of Major.
- Prior to the release of Superman: Red Son, a Soviet version of Superman appeared in a shard of time on a double-page splash in The Kingdom #2, during the revelation of Hypertime. This image was taken from a panel on page 9 of Superman: Red Son #1, lending credence to the belief that Dave Johnson was working on the Red Son project several years prior to its release, as The Kingdom #2 has a cover date of February 1999. Sketches in the trade paperback of Red Son reveal Johnson was working on the project since 1997.
- Action figures based on characters from the series include Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, President Superman and Green Lantern. A boxset was released in 2008 featuring Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and a remolded Bizarro.
- Certain images from the series are taken from famous comic book covers or panels. A splash panel from the first issue references Superman's pose on the cover of Superman #1. Also, a panel showing the riots in the U.S. mimics the famous cover to Action Comics #1.
- The concept of Superman's rocketship landing in another country, causing the Kryptonian to grow up under the influence of an entirely different political ideology than American capitalist democracy, is also found in Kim Newman's short story "Übermensch!", where the rocketship lands in Bavaria and "Superman" is raised in Nazi Germany. This same Nazi Superman premise is made in a 1978 Saturday Night Live sketch.
- The year of the "disastrous civil war" mentioned in Red Son Setting, 1986, is possibly a reference to a number of cataclysmic events in the comics world that occurred around that time, including Crisis on Infinite Earths. Millar used the same approximate time period for a major, cataclysmic event in his supervillain-themed Wanted.
- Captain/later Commander Pytor Roslov's apperence in Red Son Ascending is similar to terrorist and Bat-villain Ra's al Ghul.
- Red Son is the first and to date only Elseworlds story to feature Superman being related, directly or otherwise, to Lex Luthor, as this version of Kal-L is the son a direct descendant of Luthor himself. This is not revealed until the end of the series, but as a result, sets up the idea that Luthor has been battling his many times removed great grandson during the entirety of the series. Incidentally, he is somewhat related to Lois Lane.
Links and References
This storyline exists within an Elseworlds continuity, and as such is not a part of the mainstream DC Universe, although it may be the basis for one of the realities of the 52 Multiverse. This template will categorize articles that include it into the category "Elseworlds Storylines."
This event or storyline is specifically related to Superman, or to members of the Superman Family. This template will automatically categorize articles that include it into the Superman Storylines category.
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