For Stalin, Socialism, and the Communist Way.
Superman Red Son is one of the most iconic Elseworlds DC Comics IP of all time. Back in 2003, Mark Millar’s seminal comic book miniseries featured an intriguing premise; what if Kal-El/Superman’s shuttle crashed landed in Soviet Russia at the height of communism as a baby, instead of Kansas in the good old US of A?
Now, Warner Bros Animation has adapted Superman Red Son into a standalone animated feature film, which has surprisingly managed to leave the moral ambiguity and political complexity of the source material mostly intact.
For Stalin, Socialism, And The Communist Way
Superman Red Son takes place on an alternate reality where Kal-El/Superman’s pod landed in the Soviet Union in 1946. When he turns twelve, he shows his great secret to a dear friend, Svetlana, who then convinces him that it is his duty and responsibility as a communist citizen to use his powers for the good of the state.
Years later, the Cold War erupts, pitting the Soviet Union against the United States. Raised by Soviet Union premier Stalin himself, Superman (Jason Isaacs) grows up to be the living symbol of Communism, with the hammer and sickle emblazoned on his chest. Industrialist Lex Luthor (Diedrich Bader) is tasked by US President Eisenhower to assist the country against this seemingly all-powerful invincible Communist puppet.
Jason Isaacs is an English actor famous for many roles, including portraying Captain Gabriel Lorca in Star Trek Discovery and several prominent voicing roles such as the Grand Inquisitor in Star Wars Rebels and Admiral Zhao in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
He performs an amazingly-authentic Russian accent (or one that’s not cringe-worthy, at least), with all the heart and earnestness that Superman should have.
Other highlights include Diedrich Bader as Lex Luthor, who pulls off a great ‘good guy’ Lex Luthor while still somehow sounding like a villain with all his sleaziness, and Roger Craig Smith as Russian Batman, with all the menace of a Dark Knight. None of the actors (who voice the Russian characters) are actually Russian, but you won’t notice it.
The story essentially explores the opposite of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman (which also has an animated adaptation of its own), albeit with the same overall message. If you take out the ‘Kindly Couple’ from the equation, will Superman still be Superman?
Without Truth, Justice and the American Way, is Superman still a hero?
Without spoiling any of the plot points, the answer is this:
Superman Red Son strives to prove that Superman fundamentally remains Superman at his core no matter the circumstances, whether that be under the flag of America, Russia, or any political entity/ideology.
Fixing The Flaws Of Other DC Movies
The Superman in Red Son is sort of similar to the one in NetherRealm Studios’ popular Injustice games. However, he is not as overtly evil, nor is he an unhinged maniac who kills without remorse. It’s refreshing to see a Superman who’s not clearly-defined in being inherently good or evil; a grey Superman if you will.
Though, in an effort to add that depth to Superman, this movie has made its Batman a bit too dark and less heroic in the process, which is a departure even from the one featured in the source material. It’s not a bad thing, but overzealous fanboys may get triggered over this version of the (Russian) Dark Knight.
That said, Superman Red Son does feature some major changes from its source material, the biggest of which is the ending of the original comic.
In the comic, the brilliant plot twist at the end incorporates temporal paradoxes, which may have been too confusing for normal viewers, as well as harder to adapt into animation.
Director Sam Liu went for a simpler and more grounded yet still effective ending, which is an acceptable compromise.
Other standalone animated movies based on DC Comics properties tend to either be too long or too short, stretching the source material past its breaking point (2016’s Batman The Killing Joke) or just cutting too much stuff that it ends up butchering the source material (2019’s Reign Of The Supermen). I’m glad to say that Superman Red Son has managed to strike a balance without sacrificing too much of the source material.
Putting The “Action” In Action Comics
If you’re worried that Superman Red Son might cast a sleeping spell on you with all talk and heavy-handed philosophical stuff, you have nothing to worry about.
If there’s one thing that every DC Comics animated movie has, it’s great action, and this movie is no exception.
Recent DC animated movies have made the mistake of trying to be too edgy with action that features excessive gore and blood like they’re set in the freaking Mortal Kombat universe. Fortunately, Superman Red Son dials back on the unnecessary violence, though there’s still some plenty of blood in there for those who are into those things.
The Most Ambitious DC Animated Movie Yet
While it might not be perfect (what is, really?), Superman Red Son is one of the most ambitious DC Comics animated adaptations yet, which makes for a compelling and memorable entry into its already-massive library.
This is what we deserve to see more of from the folks at Warner Bros Animation. If they keep this up (and keep improving as well), maybe it’s finally time to trust them with adapting one of the most requested comics ever; Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come.
FINAL SCORE: 90/100