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Superman : Red Son

Superman declares war on America!
A news piece on Superman : Red Son.

IS IT a Soviet spy plane? Is it a communist missile? No, it’s Superman — but not as we know him.
DC Comics, creator of the 1930s all-American superhero, is bracing itself for a patriotic backlash this week when it unveils the long-awaited new Superman, reinvented by Glasgow comic artist Mark Millar as a “weapon of mass destruction” for the Soviet Union — depicted as the world’s only superpower.
Millar says his Superman vilifies America’s “unethical foreign policy” in the aftermath of the war on Iraq.
“Superman: Red Son” imagines what would have happened if the Earth had turned for 12 more hours and the baby Kal-El from the destroyed planet Krypton had landed not in the golden Smallville wheatfield but in a Ukrainian collective farm and was raised not by Ma and Pa Kent, but under Joseph Stalin.
Instead of a quest for truth, justice and the American way, the world’s most famous superhero fights for international socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The iconic “S” on his rippling chest — one of the world’s most recognisable cultural symbols — is transformed into a Soviet hammer and sickle and, rather than morphing from a downtrodden Daily Planet journalist to the spandex-suited guardian of liberty, he becomes the power-hungry leader of the USSR.
Eisenhower’s hydrogen bomb is no match for Superman and so the Soviet Union becomes the centre of a global economy, with Tony Benn as his pipe-smoking deputy in Downing Street. America, the only country resistant to communist ideology, descends into a fragmented parody of the modern eastern bloc, run by warring mafiosi.
In America, 40,000 people have already reserved copies of the comic before publication, and magazines such as Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly are keen to promote it.
Yet Millar, the son of a Coatbridge trade unionist, accepts that he and DC Comics are taking a massive gamble with one of the world’s most enduring icons. He has already received criticism from right-wing commentators who see it as an attack on American values.

“Drawing images of Superman tearing down the stars and stripes and kicking in the Whitehouse doors with a hammer and sickle on his chest is the equivalent of making a joke about Princess Diana at her funeral,” he said.

Millar said he changed the storyline, created by Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster in 1934, to create a modern commentary on “unethical American foreign policy”.

“A character like Superman is as well known as the American flag itself and in the movies we see him rescuing cats from trees and doing all of these nice things,” he said. “But the logical conclusion of a guy who interferes with your life is one who is going to take over the world eventually.
“He is an allegory of George W Bush and very like America. Superman is rolling over every despot in the world and feels he has a moral justification to take away these problems, particularly the small wars in the Middle East and the starving in Africa.
“At the end of it, Superman has created 10,000 years of rule where there has not been a piece of litter dropped and this immortal figure realises what he has done. It is a ‘God is dead’ moment.”

In Red Son, Superman grows up to be Stalin’s personal bodyguard. When he takes over power, he can see and hear everything and performs reconstructive surgery on people who do not agree with him. His girlfriend is not Lois Lane but Wonder Woman, reimagined as a Soviet diplomat, while Batman has what Millar describes as an “Al-Qaeda role” as a terrorist freedom-fighter.
The world falls to Superman’s rule. Nixon becomes American president and is assassinated in 1963 after beating Kennedy, who grows old and paunchy with Marilyn Monroe. Lex Luthor, Superman’s legendary rival, later takes over the American presidency and is the country’s last hope.
Ivor Davis, manager of Red Hot Comics, the Glasgow-based specialist retailer, said:

“There is no doubt this will offend diehard fans and it is partly for the political commentary that it has been delayed thus far. But Superman was a bit of an anachronism and a 1930s wartime hero.
“My orders for Red Son have doubled normal sales, despite the fact that its cover price is more than double.”

Jordan Elliot, creator of a leading American Superman fan website, said:

“Millar has a point and he also has a message that should probably get out. But I think it unfortunate that it’s getting out at the expense of Superman. I’ve always thought that politicising Superman is a mistake.”

Superman: Red Son is published by DC Comics. A collected edition is now available.

Copyright 2003 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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Original content (c) 2002 Jim Connick