I am trying to branch out a bit in terms of the graphic novels I read, and I had heard good things—and was really intrigued—by this story. While I liked it, it was quite different than I was expecting. I’ll tell you what I was expecting: I guess a version of Smallville set in the Ukraine. However, the graphic novel skipped over that bit and shifted the emphasis, as ever, as much on the US as on the Soviet Union. It’s an Elseworlds which is particularly bold in conception: the world as we know it has never been, for Superman was not raised in America but as Stalin’s protégé. Would things have worked out differently, I wonder, if Superman had come to Earth under Lenin?
I have to say, I’ve never been a fan of Superman, and even this interesting take on it hasn’t convinced me. What is unsurprising is that my favorite part of this story is Millar’s version of Batman. His parents murdered in purges by Stalin’s illegitimate son Roslov, Batman emerges years later as a dissident who is a thorn in Superman’s side. I love this—even if Batman and Superman have not always seen eye-to-eye, in the normal DC universe, they’re allies. In this story, they are enemies, and it’s much easier to root for Batman (which, in my opinion, is how it should be). Of course, Batman is defeated by Superman, but his legacy lives on.
In this version, Lois Lane never has a romance with Superman, and she marries Lex Luthor, quite unhappily. Luthor spends his life in a personal vendetta against Superman (which I guess is the whole point of his character), eventually becoming the US President. He sends superheroes such as Green Lantern against Superman, and a disgusted Wonder Woman even turns against Superman, but the truth is, Superman is undefeatable. That kind of a character really annoys me. Okay, sure, so in the end he is “defeated” by his own conscience, but really, Superman’s character here scares me. He crushes opposition in the USSR by brainwashing, no doubt a trick he picked up from Stalin. He wants the whole world to enjoy the miracle of communism, and by doing so, causes people to leave their safety entirely to him. What right has an alien such as he to come down to the planet and interfere, anyway? (This question, of course, is explained in the timey-wimey ending which, I guess, made sense, yet created quite a let-down anyway.)
The art, needless to say, is brilliant. Dave Johnson’s cover paintings are absolutely amazing, and his work with Kilian Plunkett et al is superb, particularly in the first volume, Superman: Red Son Rising.
I definitely recommend reading this, just for a whirling adventure that will flip your head upside down. Superman still isn’t my cup of tea, and I’d love to have seen what Vasily Grossman would have done with Superman, but this is one of the more interesting additions to the Elseworlds collection.