Posted by: Doc Comics | March 19, 2010

Superman: Red Son (2003)

Released by DC Comics under their “Elseworlds” imprint for graphic novels in April 2003, Superman: Red Son by writer Mark Millar imagines the world-shaking consequences of Kal-El’s rocket crashing in the USSR to bring a champion for Truth, Justice, and the the Soviet Way.

Mark Millar interview: “It’s very, very political, very much an allegory of what’s happening with the USA at the moment and a very, very mainstream project aimed at the same people who picked up the first Dark Knight book. Just as this was a commentary on the Reagan years, Superman: Red Son is an Orwellian examination of what happens when the balance of power tilts in the world and one country finds itself the only world superpower… What we have, as the story progresses, is a world where this super-communism has been embraced by most of the planet and capitalism has completely fragmented. Again, a reversal of what happened in the real world. The moral implications of one man or one country policing the entire world then becomes the big question. Like Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft, Superman finds himself wondering if total control is the best thing for the safety of the people he really wants to protect.”

Millar at Newsarama: “It’s quite a troubled Superman we meet in Red Son and that’s the Superman I really feel closest too. He’s not angry or tough or edgy or any of the mistakes made regarding Superman sometimes in the past. He’s just incredibly decent and trying to do the right thing when everything around him becomes increasingly crazy…. Just as the best science fiction is a reflection of what’s happening outside our windows, this story is an attempt to explore the dangers of one country becoming an international empire and perhaps stretching itself too thin…. It’s by no means a bash at America, just an interesting look at what happens to a culture and a system when it takes a huge leap beyond the possibilities of rivals.”

How different is this Soviet Superman?

And, just so you can distinguish communism from socialism better than contemporary political debate, you may want to bone up on the basics of Marxist Criticism and Gramsci’s reformulation for his critique of Capitalism. To check out a NeoMarxist critique of superhero cinema, here is one on Spider-Man 2 and another on Batman Begins.  But if you want a clear snapshot of how “class” is handled, look no further than IRON MAN’s union-busting past!


  1. What happens when we try to examine superheroes through the lens of socio-economic class, Capitalism, and privilege?

    Is “class” code for POLITICS?

    The Marxist beef summarized: “But power is ever portrayed as individual act or gift rather than as arising from collective purposeful activity, which is the only real hope for the Peter Parkers of the world. Evil can be combated and destiny controlled not by resource to magic but by the largely untapped superpower of labor.”

    Some Key Concepts: Economic Determinism, Dialectical Materialism, Commodity Production, Exploitation & Alienation of Labor, Surplus Value & Commodity Fetishism, class “false consciousness” (proletariat / bourgeoisie), contradictions of Capitalism.


    1) Aside from the obvious change in his national allegiance, how else is Superman in RED SON different from our icon for “The American Way”? How does this scenic realignment impact characters and actions in the story? Why and how is Lex Luthor the American superman in this tale, and is he “good”? Is there a “supervillian” in this story?

    2) Just as the political ideology of Communism is conceptually distinct from the economic ideology of Socialism, RED SON has Superman face political consequences for his economic interventionism on behalf of the Russian people. Why does the Soviet Batman oppose him? Why does Wonder Woman support him? Does this Ubermensch usher in new values?

    3) Does the conclusion of RED SON suggest a ‘tragic flaw’ of Superman, a person with totally admirable intentions who goes about saving the world in entirely misguided ways but nonetheless with terrible consequences? Is this potentially true of our American icon and ideology as well? What are the ‘checks and balances’ against such hubris? How does Superman atone for his tyrannical past?

    4) What did you think of the surprise ending of the story?

  3. Per our discussion of this Soviet Superman without a Clark Kent (and the relational influences of his supporting cast), consider the numerous times that Superman ‘murdered’ his alter ego!!

    Also: Is Spider-Man a proletarian superhero?

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