Superman: Red Son

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

There is only one superpower now.

Everyone knows the basic story of Superman. Strange visitor from another world, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands... and who, as the champion of the common worker, fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, communism and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact!

Wait, what?!

Superman: Red Son is a DC Universe Elseworlds story, written by Mark Millar and published in 2003, that dares to imagine what would have happened if the spaceship holding baby Kal-El had landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States, due to a small difference in the Earth's orbit compared to the main DCU. Instead of being adopted by the Kents in Smallville, Kansas, he is raised on a collective farm in Ukraine, where he discovers that he has powers greater than any man, powers he decides to use for the good of his country, and the world.

As an adult, he aligns himself with the government of Josef Stalin, protecting the citizens of the Soviet Union from even the smallest crimes and accidents, eventually succeeding Stalin as the country's leader. When the people of the United States learn of Superman's existence, they're naturally terrified, and the government turns to the smartest man in the country, scientist Lex Luthor (husband of Lois Lane), to combat this newest threat to the American way. Thus begins a superhuman arms race and a legendary battle of power and philosophies between Superman and his archnemesis.

The world of Superman: Red Son is part of the new DC Multiverse as Earth-30, presenting the possibility of Soviet Superman visiting the mainstream continuity, or vice versa.[1]

Tropes used in Superman: Red Son include:
  • Anti-Villain: Everyone. Except Brainiac.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Brainiac. OK, he was already evil, but as it turns out, he was able to evade Superman's attempted reprogramming of him.
  • Alternate History: The Cold War happens very differently when you throw Superman and Lex Luthor into the mix. Also, the Roswell spacecraft was Abin Sur's ship.
  • Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Why don't you just put the whole WORLD in a BOTTLE, Superman?"
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Luthor gets really upset with Superman, because the Bizarro he created had the temerity of beating him at chess.
  • The Backwards R: Supes is a Soviet, so surely.
  • Badass Army: The Green Lantern Marine Corps and the Amazon army.
  • Badass Normal: Batman, of course. (The original, that is.) Lex Luthor mixes this with Mad Scientist and Magnificent Bastard.
  • Break the Cutie: Wonder Woman, who loses a piece of herself when she has to break her own lasso to save Superman.
  • Britain Is Only London: And its most famous landmark gets destroyed.
  • The Chessmaster: Luthor, complete with Chess Motifs and to a lesser extent, Brainiac and Superman.
    • In fact, it becomes personal for Luthor when Bizarro beats him at chess.
  • The Chosen Many: The Green Lantern Marine Corps.
  • Clark Kenting: Used and lampshaded by Superman at the end, after he survives his apparent death.
  • Cold War
  • Conflict Killer: Inverted. Braniac turns on Superman after the main moral question is resolved.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Superman 'robots'. A "Superman robot" in this continuity, rather than a robotic double for Superman, is someone who has been subjected to mind control.
  • Flying Brick: Faster than ten times the speed of thought, more powerful than... well, basically anything, and immortal, not to mention lacking several of his usual weaknesses, this Superman is even more powerful than usual.
  • Elseworlds
  • Genius Bruiser: Superman. When Stalin is poisoned, he quickly goes through several books of medicine for a possible treatment and later confronts the Bizzaro Superman after learning English 10 minutes ago.
    • Bizarro himself is one ironically, having beaten Luthor at chess.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: Fuzzy Bat-hat and all.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Superman is a Totalitarian Utilitarian, dissenter-brainwashing Knight Templar, but Lex Luthor, despite all he does for his country, is still Lex Luthor, along with all that that entails. Though Luthor does lead the world in a long Golden Age after Superman has gone, this is probably for his ego as much as anything else.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Lex Luthor is (true to form) such a Magnificent Bastard that he manages to squeeze an entire Hannibal Lecture into a single question: "Why don't you just put the whole WORLD in a BOTTLE, Superman?"
  • Heel Realization
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Done by the Bizarro Superman. "Hello everybody. Me very pleased to meet you."
  • Historical Domain Character: Josef Stalin, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon (who is mentioned in passing).
  • Humble Hero: Superman initially resists the idea of being elevated to leader, noting (correctly, but unsuccessfully) that putting him in charge because of his inborn advantages is utterly contrary to socialist principles.
  • Ignored Epiphany: On the part of Pyotr. His heart to heart with Superman, complete with Drowning My Sorrows and attempted suicide sure didn't change him, did it?
  • Infallible Narrator: Superman is telling the entire story from some future point, and doesn't miss one detail. Justified by his super memory.
  • Inferred Holocaust: At the end of the story, the world is liberated from Superman's Soviet tyranny...only to join back up into another world state overseen by the United States, which in the course of fighting Superman has essentially become a command-economy state run by a Luthor-approved oligarchy. So... why were we fighting Superman again?
    • It says that freed from needing to concentrate on defeating Superman, Luthor was able to assemble a government made up of artists, scientists, philosophers and the like, leading to an age of human achievement unthinkable under Superman. The galaxy was colonised, the human lifespan became measurable in centuries, and all of it was explicitly democratically chosen. Thats why.
      • It's implied that not much was really democratically chosen, or even remotely egalitarian, since this Lex Luthor we're talking about here...and would go on to Take Over the World and rule for another 2,000 years, basing his economic policies on Superman and Brainiac. He went on to become another Big Brother-figure, and there were hints that's all he was going to be from the get go.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Batman uses red sun radiation to block Superman's powers, but kryptonite itself is noticeably absent throughout the comic; in the end it's implied that this is because instead of a separate planet that explodes and becomes kryptonite, Krypton is actually Earth in the far future. However, Kryptonite is given a Shout-Out of sorts when Brainiac nearly kills Superman with a green beam of energy.
  • Knight Templar: Superman. As if becoming absolute dictator of the Soviet Union isn't enough, the final chapter involves him launching an all out invasion of the United States. It turns out that Brainiac is an even BIGGER Knight Templar however. In the end, Brainiac is defeated, and the USA is saved.
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: The Global Soviet Union rules over the whole world, save the Divided States of America. Despite people all over the world living in a socialist utopia, the Americans remain independent, living in a war-torn country, to avoid being ruled over by Big Brother Superman.
  • Man Behind the Man: Brainiac to Superman
  • Mary Suetopia The book creates two...At first, that's what it seems like. In the world Commie!Superman creates "Every adult had a job, every child had a hobby, everybody had a full eight hours sleep. Crime didn't exist. Accidents never happened...Almost six billion citizens and hardly anyone ever complained. Even in private". However, Lex manages to shake this with his Armor-Piercing Question, and Superman realizes he's no better than Brainiac "Another alien bullying a less-developed species". In the world Lex creates The world does become perfect, Lex manages to creates a one-world government of scientists, writers and artists, colonizes the solar system and makes humanity the most advanced race in the universe. But, millions of years in the future, Earth is about to be consumed by its growing red sun. Jor-L sends his son back in time to make sure humanity never becomes "this cold complacent lot"
  • Mind Screw: The ending.
  • Monumental Damage: Big Ben gets taken out after Bizarro punches Superman through it.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Superman, after reading Luthor's letter: "Why don't you just put the whole WORLD in a BOTTLE, Superman?
  • My Greatest Failure: Superman considers Stalingrad being shrunk by Brainiac the black spot of his career.
  • Mythology Gag: This isn't the first time Lex Luthor becomes President of the United States.
    • The shot of Superman handing the balloon back to the little American boy is a homage to the cover of Superman #1
    • In Red Son Setting, when Brainiac and Superman are discussing the political situation in America, an image of people rioting appears on the page. The image is EXTREMELY similar to the cover of Action Comics #1, where Superman first appeared.
  • Nice Hat: Russian Batman's Bat-Ushanka. You know you want to touch a hat this sexy. The sketches included in the trade paperback have the commentary: "I took a lot of flak for this hat, but it's cold in Russia. Why shouldn't Batman have a warm hat?"
  • No Poverty
  • Not My Driver: How does Batman secretly meet with a high official of the government he's opposing? By posing as the man's driver and kidnapping him, of course.
  • Not So Different: From the original Superman, that is; one of the key elements of the story is that while this Superman becomes increasingly authoritarian throughout the story, he still shares a lot of the same values and characteristics as the one we are all familiar with.
    • Also, Luthor's post-Superman global utopia isn't all that different from Superman's global Soviet state -- in fact, Luthor actually admits that his old enemy had some good ideas and adopts them.
  • Red Scare
  • Secret Identity: Superman's given name is mentioned as being a "state secret", but it doesn't come up much because he never uses a Secret Identity, spending all his time as Superman until the end. We never even find out what his real name is.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal: Luthor attempts a face-to-face Hannibal Lecture to Superman, but Brainiac restrains him. Too bad Lex already thought of that.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Superman, Brainiac, and especially Luthor (who is first seen playing fourteen games of chess at once while reading The Prince and teaching himself Urdu on a tape recorder he designed that morning all while on his coffee break).
  • Stylistic Suck: Not the miniseries itself, of course, but the first few pages are deliberately written in the style of a bad Silver Age comic... then Superman saves Metropolis from a Sputnik-turned-meteor. Which, as you should have guessed, is in the country he's at war with.
  • Stable Time Loop: Albeit a very, very long one; Lex Luthor's leadership leads Earth to become Krypton in the future, then his descendants (whose last name has atrophied from Luthor to Luth to L) send their son Kal-L back in time.
  • Super Senses: Played with. A totalitarian state can be very effective if its leader has x-ray vision and super hearing. Before he becomes leader, it's mentioned that he doesn't stick around watching parades by Stalin's side when he knows someone needs help hundreds of miles away.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Brainiac prevents Lex from talking to Superman out of fear that someone of Lex's intelligence would cause Superman to commit suicide.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Surprisingly, Superman still sticks by this policy despite his different values, though for different reasons: He could take over the world in 10 seconds if he used brute force, but he wants other countries to join him willingly because of the success of his economy and government. Not that he isn't fond of brainwashing his enemies.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: The relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman is one of best friends but there are enough hints to let the reader know Diana wants more than that.
  • Villain Protagonist: Superman.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Stalingrad. Did they ever fix it? We never do find out for sure.
    • Also, everyone who became a Superman Robot.
  • Xanatos Roulette: Lex Luthor explains that everything has gone exactly as planned. "One can almost be forgiven for thinking that this had all been worked out to the tenth decimal point forty years ago, eh?"
    • Fridge Brilliance: Luthor's ability to avoid Brainiac's tendrils makes it likely that he planted Brainiac on Superman all of those years ago in order to further his plans.
  • You Fail Geography Forever: While the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, it was not part of Russia. Russia and Ukraine were constituent republics of the USSR. The final page of fails to make this distinction with a caption reading "Ukraine, Russia, 1938".
  1. The last variety has already happened in Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer, although it didn't change squat.