Wednesday, March 17, 2010

History Rewritten

For decades, Superman has been on his unending battle for truth and the American way. He's a household name, even amongst the non comic book readers. We've watched his movies and know his origins. His story is something of an American mythology now. America in the flesh, born on a distant, destructed planet. Sent here so that he might live while his planet was consumed by its own red sun. 

That's until Mark Millar decided to go on the opposite direction. Much of Superman's American ideals comes from the fact that his ship crashed landed in a farm in fictional Smallville. He is raised by his foster parents Martha and Jonathan Kent, he attends school and goes off into the real world, just as any normal human being might do. He meets Lois Lane and falls in love with her. He feels a sense of responsibility to use his powers for the good of mankind, sparking jealousy from his arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. 

That is the Superman we've come to know over the ages, but Mark Millar pondered the what if of our hero's origin. What if Superman's ship crash landed in a Ukrainian field, rather than Smallville? What if he was raised to believe in Communism, rather than Capitalism? What if Superman was an enemy of the state?

But Superman Red Son is more than just a tale of the what if; it's also a colorful depiction of the what is. From America's constant need to be on top of the world, demanding others to follow suit, insisting anyone against Capitalism as a dictator, a tyrant, a foe, a terrorist threat to our way of life. In this alternate world, Superman comes out from obscurity, promising to do what is right. He doesn't only save lives from within the USSR, but aids America as Sputnik 2 nearly crashes into Metropolis - as part of Lex Luthor's plan to figure Superman out. Lex Luthor is the evidence of a visionary gone awry. Unlike his "real world" counterpart, Lex Luthor does promise to fix the world and he does in the end. But much like the Lex we've come to know and hate, his goals can only be met by destroying Superman no matter who is killed or injured in the process. And in this sense, Lex Luthor is the embodiment of the American Way. As long as the consequence turns in favor of the American people, then things went as according to plan.

Red Son also gives us the origins of other well known DC Universe heroes. A young child who witness his parents slaying by a KGB operative vows revenge, becoming a masked terrorist who stands opposed to Superman. Wonder Woman falls in love with a blind-to-the-fact hero turned USSR leader, sacrificing her well being in the process. Green Lantern appears as a USA military force along with his marines with the same advantages. It seems a perfect example that despite the alteration of history, people still have a legacy to follow.

Mark Millar's story is seasoned with inside jokes that one can only understand if you're a fan of the Superman mythos - and even if you're not a fan of the comic books, TV shows or movies, I mean, it's pretty common sense things. Two memorable scenes that both made me snicker and groan both contained the probability how things would be if the ship had crashed in America. A scene with President Eisenhower remarks to Agent Jimmy Olsen, "Just think, Agent Olsen: if that rocket has landed twelve hours earlier, this Superman they're talking about would have been an American citizen." Later, Lex Luthor is speaking to Agent Olsen: " It's such a shame he works for the other side. I honestly believe that Superman and I would have been the best of friends if he'd popped up in America."

Altering more facts, Mark Millar allows us a glimpse into the future and leads us down the Superman bloodline. The ending is both cunning and probably the most original since Krypton exploded for the first time over half a century ago.

And let's not ignore the incredible art work. Had it not been for the artists involved, the concept of Superman as a member of the socialist party wouldn't have been as convincing. Nor would had the transfer of Batman as terrorist or Wonder Woman as part of the regime.

It's something worth reading and having upon your shelf for the times when you feel like seeing the world through a different lens.

Magazine Sale - $10 off select titles!
Magazine Sale - $10 off select titles!

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