What if Superman’s spaceship landed in the USSR instead of Kansas? What if, instead of truth, justice, and the American way, Superman was brought up to believe in the Motherland? Those are questions posed by the excellent animated DC movie, Superman: Red Son and, if you think you have any idea how these scenarios will play out, you have a whole lot of surprises headed your way.
I really enjoy it when DC tells an Elseworlds story, a story free of continuity where the writers can change anything they want about established characters. This has brought us the very entertaining All Star Superman and Justice League: Gods and Monsters. I’m already a fan of alternative histories, so these kinds of movies are right up my alley.
With Red Son, we are introduced to a Superman who has been raised in the Soviet Union with a completely different set of values. While harsher and more militaristic, Superman maintains the things that make him Superman: He has a respect for life, he wants to protect the people, and he wants to use his powers for what he perceives is the greater good. To be honest, there are more than a few times in this story that you do see Superman as the good guy and the United States as the bad.
Of course, that is simplifying things. Red Son is a movie that revels in morally gray areas on both sides. While Superman fights for what he sees as right, he commits atrocities for the greater good. Where Lex Luthor, filling in the role as the starring American, unleashes dastardly and unethical attacks on Superman and the USSR, we also see him as a devoted husband and someone who, like Superman, wants to preserve a way of life he sees as precious. No one is a hero and no one is a villain… in another time and place, they all might have been friends.
This is a spectacular animated movie. While it is not as philosophical as I hoped, just seeing the DC heroes in Cold War roles; Batman as a terrorist, Wonder Woman as a sympathizer, and Green Lantern as an invader, is a lot of fun. The characterizations are deep and complex as are the themes. I appreciate that Red Son doesn’t lower itself to cliches or staunch nationalism as I feared it would.
All in all, it’s just a good movie with interesting characters and I would love to see more animated movies like this.