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4.4 out of 5 stars78
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on 11 May 2016
“Superman: Red Son” is a graphic novel from DC Comics, and presents an ‘Elseworlds’ story (not being set within the standard continuity of Superman comics). The premise of this adventure is: ‘what if Superman had been raised in the USSR, rather than the USA?’ It was originally released as a 3 issue mini-series in 2003, and is here collected into a single book (some 160 pages in length, containing some early concept art as a bonus feature).

The story offers an alternative version of DC characters and events, set within an altered reality of the 20th century. Historical figures are depicted – such as Joseph Stalin and John F. Kennedy – and the author, Mark Millar, attempts to build a serious narrative as if super-heroes really existed. The rocket ship carrying baby Kal-El crash lands in the Ukraine, rather than in Kansas and, as an adult, Superman now exists as “the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.”

The USA and the USSR are locked in deadly Cold War – but with Superman on their side, the soviets have a major advantage. Lex Luthor is recruited into the CIA – and works on behalf of the US Government, seeking to defeat Superman. Year after year, Luthor sends all he can – from an attempted clone of the superhero to Green Lantern technology – in an effort to destroy the Man of Steel … but nothing works. All of this serves to persuade Superman that – in order for world peace to exist – he must proactively pacify all citizens of the world, controlling their actions … Realising that this would create a dystopian society, Superman decides he will no longer involve himself in human affairs. And so Luthor emerges victorious … the USSR falls, and a Global USA is proclaimed. There is an excellent plot twist as a finale – which I won’t spoil!

This is an imaginative, well-conceived and effectively executed story. The artwork is also excellent. At 160 pages, there is sufficient depth of narrative for the plot to be explored in thorough detail. If you’re a fan of Superman, and of the ‘Elseworlds’ adventures, then I fully recommend this book. It’s amazing how one little change – Superman’s ship crashing elsewhere – can result in such a varied universe.
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This three issue Elseworlds mini-series is collected as Superman Red Son TP. Those of us old enough to remember ‘imaginary’ stories from the good old days will remember especially the story of ‘Superman Red and Superman Blue’. This is definitely the story of Superman Red, whose ship landed in the Ukraine in the 1920s, and not Kansas, and was raised believing in the idealistic socialist way of life. However, unlike many Elseworlds’ stories, it is not just a parody, or a pastiche, of the life of Superman Blue; it is a well-thought-out story that goes way beyond the usual run-of–the-mill ‘what if’ premise. I cannot give any details without spoiling the story, but even the ending, set in a future utopian society, will leave you amazed at the cleverness of the plotting and construction. And yet, there are clues planted (or, if we remember the ‘dog in the night’), missing, that would have warned us if we had stopped to think about it. I actually saw one of the ‘holes’ and just didn’t think it through!

This is a superbly written and illustrated story, featuring the regular cast, but seen in a different light and from a different viewpoint, warts and all. Everything that you’d expect to be crammed into a What If story is here – Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman robots, Brainiac, Luthor Lois Lane, a shrunken & bottled city, Bizarro – and yet is exactly in the right place.
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I bought this for my son who was 13 at the time (14 now) as I'm trying to get him to read more, he's into all the recent Superman, Batman and Spiderman type movies so thought I'd give it a go! I myself was a big comic, graphic novel reader as a kid and looked forward to this myself.

Red Son is the trilogy (all three in here) of an alternate Superman, Russia/USA. Instead of crash landing in America he lands in the Ukraine. A sort of adopted son of Stalin, Superman no longer fights for truth and justice in the American way he supports Stalin, socialism and extending these ideals to the world over! The trilogy spans the years from 1950-2001 and maybe beyond?

There is a hell of a lot in here if you look and some you will miss even after reading twice over. Loads of real life people and other superheroes pop up in their own alternate forms such as the Russian anti-superman terrorist Batman! and our very own Tony Benn can be seen with trademark pipe in one scene (see if you can spot him!)

The plot line is brilliant (and I won't give anymore away) so much going on to make you think if you read deep enough into it all. The artwork is fantastic, great colours, facial expressions are spot on bringing all the emotions to life and the alternate superhero costumes and back stories are brilliant too! The last few pages will blow you away!

Well my lad really enjoyed this book anyway so that good in itself. He read it!

A very good if not one of the best graphic novels I've read as a Superman/graphic novel fan. Definitely worth reading if you're into this type of stuff.

Up! Up! and awaaaaayyyyy!!!!!

God I'm old :(
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on 19 July 2014
I'll be honest, I bought this out of curiosity more than a genuine interest. Superman has never been a popular character with me; I've found him far too righteous and a little clichéd.
This storyline has given me a different perspective. I understood Superman as a person, not just a character. The alternate storyline just told you so much about him that really changed my opinion on the character.
The story itself is fascinating, giving fantastic, well-thought out alternate origins for the characters. This review certainly does not do it justice, but I certainly recommend it for ANY comic book fan, even if they don't particularly like Superman.
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on 3 May 2010
I'm not a big reader of comics, though I do occasionally like to dabble. The idea of this I found intriguing - an alternate history of a fictional, and yet familiar enough with a big enough back story and enough cultural cachet to justify an alternate history all of his own.

Essentially, without damaging the enjoyment of anyone that wishes to read this for himself, Superman arrive on Earth 12 hours earlier than he would have in the established mythos and becomes a more literal Man of Steel, next to Stalin (which, of course, means Man of Steel. Also: not his real name). The Superman character is, as I've come to expect, a good man. In spite of the system he's working in, he attempt at all times to do the right thing. So, whilst the outcome of much of what Superman does is less than good, his intentions are uniformly good. He really believes in socialism and wants it to work - I think Millar handles this quite well - it would've been easy to make him the "bad" Superman, but he resists this and thus keeps the character sympathetic.

The comic is then an entertaining romp through the DC universe with many other characters making an appearance throughout to side or battle with Superman. I particularly liked the Soviet Batman (and this is really a personal political quirk of mine - I like Batman! Really! So no implied criticism here) seemed a little less of a reactionary in the context of the Soviet system (he fights purely for people's liberty in this - he's not a rich vigilante - though I realise that now Batman has a rich back story now and there is more to the character than that). It includes also, naturally, Lex Luthor, an un-assassinated JFK, Hal Jordan, Wonder Woman and many other people real and from the Superman universe.

As far as I can tell, it's written in a good comic book style (so rattles on at a fair pace) showing respect for its source.

My only criticism would be that as, I believe, it was originally only 3 issues, it's probably a tad on the short side. There's a lot of stuff going on on this, all of it highly enjoyable.
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on 30 October 2011
Like so many of the greatest works of the iron age of comics, Red Son is at its heart a dialectic (to use a classically Marxist term) between the merits of freedom on the one hand, of and the controlling hand of benevolent superpower on the other. As usual, this title comes down on the side of freedom with a heavy, resounding thud. But even if it is a little crude in hammering home its ultimate message, in all other aspects there are ample shades of gray.

It's this capacity for moral complexity and ambiguity that made all the best iron age titles what they were, and this one is no exception. Red Son tells the tale of an alternate DC universe in which Superman's capsule lands not in Kansas, but in Stalin's Ukraine. And, simply put, just as the "regular" Superman stayed true to the mainstream ideology of the culture in which he was raised, so too this Superman grows up to be a committed communist.

The fact that the story begins in a very specific mid-twentieth century world, with Stalin in the Kremlin and Eisenhower in the White House, is absolutely fundamental. For, much like Watchmen, Red Son is a tale that inherently takes place within a definite social and political milieu. And, again as with Watchmen, this adds considerably to the depth and resonance of the work. All that said, it's important to stress that the other great thing about Red Son is that while the standard iron age themes do predominate, this story is not just another repackaging of Watchmen. Mark Millar, the writer of Red Son, most definitely takes his own path, and explores his chosen themes in his own way.

A number of artists lent their talents to rendering the graphic side of this story: it was initially released as a series, with different artists working on different issues. While there are noticeable differences between their respective styles, all do an exceptional job, and there is also a cohesive, unifying vision holding the work together. This is particularly noticeable in the coloring, which is far more restrained and subdued, even brooding, than in most other offerings.

A great many of the characters who form the pillars of the standard Superman cosmology - Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Louis Lane, a couple of Green Lanterns, Wonder Woman, and even Batman - show up in this tale, and all make memorable appearances. Yet in this alternate universe, in the absence of an American Superman they too are in varying degrees profoundly altered from the characters we are all familiar with.

But the very fact that first and foremost it is Superman who is altered has profound implications for this tale on both logical and emotional levels. Unlike, say, Spider-Man or Batman, and indeed, unlike almost any other superhero, Superman commands a sheer magnitude of power that can inherently very easily skew the mortal world from its normal axis. At the same time, because the traditional Superman is so "plain vanilla", when Superman does stray from this expected purity, it has an immediate emotional impact that would be difficult to achieve with another hero.

Overall, Red Son is a work that easily earns its five stars. If you have any interest at all in the superhero genre, the graphic novel medium, or - dare I say it? - just in Superman, this is not a title to miss.

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on 8 August 2010
What if Superman had landed in communist Russia and had become a Russian hero during the Cold War?
That's the question this book tries to answer, as we see Superman going from working class hero to strategic asset (much like Doctor Manhattan in the much more relevant Watchmen book), then to Soviet president.
This Superman is nearly omnipotent and, despite being raised by normal folks, absorbs enough Soviet propaganda to become a benign (in intent, at least...) but very strict dictator, going as far as lobotomising defeated rebels. This oddly reminded me of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but not entirely in a good way, since Kesey's masterpiece is on an entirely different level and much, much more subtle too, especially when compared to Millar's typical in-your-face approach.
In any case, this different attitude is well portrayed, although oversimplifed.
Much as I enjoyed this book and much as I enjoy the work of both its creators, this has failed to impress me as other works by them have.
Trying to compress 60 years of history in 160 pages while at the same time re-inventing al main DC Universe heroes in addition to the title character might have bee too much for Millarto handle. It apparently was for main artist Dave Johnson too, who had to be replaced by Killian Plunkett in issue 3. It must be said that Johnson does an astounding job of channelling Soviet propaganda posters in his absolutely marvellous covers, which possibly are the real highlight of the book. And the Russian Batman wearing a pelt hat...? A classic! Funny as hell, and so blatantly practical it makes you chuckle.
However, my guess is that Millar wrote it years before ad that it suffered from the artist's slowness, as the writing here is more reminiscent of some of Millar's less succesfull early efforts.
Nonetheless, Millar shows a deep and thorough understandng of what makes Luthor such a cool villain and why one might root for him instead of the all too perfect alien God he faces.
Luthor's "inhumanity"is often played upon, but eventually he's the one saving and reforming the world to reach the Utopia Superman himself couldn't achieve. Luthor finally beat Superman, using layer upon layer of carefully orchestrated plans and incredible discoveries and inventions that are born in a phrase and never expanded at all (thus sounding cool while not having to withstand closer examination, or further development). This is even above the average the likes of Millar and Morrison usually manage in their high concept-crammed but still much better books.
If you are really interested I'd recommend waiting for a decent price, and steer clear of the uselessly more expensive hardcover re-release!
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on 8 March 2008
I have read this book over ten times so far and am still finding layers I had not seen before. I cannot recommend it enough. Red Son takes Kal-L (note spelling old school Superman fans) and places him in Soviet Russia at the height of Stalin's power. It shows how the world would be if Superman had ultimate power but communist ideals.

The story begins in 1953, continues up to the modern day and far beyond. Superman remains the same kind hearted hero he has always been portrayed as but now his actions have as much political impact as physical particularly with Stalin's influence. As time moves on his responsibility grows and he must decide what to do for the best. America fears this new Soviet weapon and so commission their greatest mind Lex Luthor to come up with a solution. Luthor is portrayed brilliantly here, his genius pouring out of every word and action. When he is first introduced he is learning Urdu from a tape recorder he designed in the washroom, reading Machiavelli's Il principe and playing fourteen games of chess at once, all in his coffee break.

Millar does a good job of making extraordinary things like this seem simple and relatable to the reader. The Superman presented here is massively powerful but also very human. When he meets Luthor's first but by no means only plan to remove him, a bizzaro-esqe clone, and his true blue spirit is shown as well as his awesome power. He says, in perfect English "Pardon me if my English isn't perfect but I only learned the language ten minutes ago and I'm still having trouble with the grammar but... these shores are off limits comrade." He wants to help everyone but finds that the more responsibility he has the more control he must exert over the people bringing the point that absolute power corrupts, not nessaceraly the man but his ideals. He laments later "Life was so simple in those days: deflecting meteorites, welding tectonic plates, managing a global economy single handedly."

The writing is immensely clever and the art reflects both the idealistic and darker elements of the narritive. Other Dc characters are placed in the story subtly while various political viewpoints both old and contemporary are discussed. The narrative twists and turns and the ending comes as a complete surprise...something very rare in comics.
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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2009
I bought this on a whim after reading a short review that basically said: A Superman story that's actually good!

The story is based on one premise, and it's an extremely clever one with incredible cosequences: What if Superman had landed on Earth 12 hours earlier? ...and then been brought up as a good communist at the height of the cold war to become Mother Russias ultimate weapon/deterrant.

America is left with the cleverest man on Earth to find a solution: Lex Luthor.
Along the way we see the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and a Russian Batman all try and 'stop' Superman from what seems at first an ideal way of leadership.
Enough said, if you have'nt read this I dont want to spoil it for you.

It's definatley one of the most clever stories I've read in a while with extremely well thought out issues. What could have been a boring political book is nothing but entertaining and a real page turner. And the ending...? One of the most jaw dropping that you'll remeber for a long long time.

Mark Miller is writer, Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett on artwork duties.
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on 12 July 2011
With its intruiging 'what if?' plot and great artwork, this had me lured in. I'm fairly new to graphic novels, but I knew I was looking for slightly more adult, slightly more subversive material than that offered by the usual lighter collections.
This certainly lived up to my hopes. It's richly detailed with period information and character, with some nice little twists on real history and characters as well as a real flavour of being set in old 'Soviet' Russia.
The reversal of characters is captivating, and as Superman's power and influence grows we get to see greater ripples as his normal friends and foes from the traditional mythos crop up in intruiging and inventively twisted ways. Lex Luthor is fascinating, Lois has depth, and Batman is utterly terrific, his redesigned costume a weird but eye-catching triumph. Ageing, rivalries, compromised morals, revenge, bitterness and warped ideals of the greater good all play a very serious part, and the story never failed to throw me a new and interesting curveball every time I thought it might run out of steam.
Utterly standout.
Highly recommended for those who grew up fascinated with the 'Russian Bear' like myself, and what went on in Russia before the fall of communism. And equally highly recommended for fans of superheroes and great storytelling - this really hits the mark.
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