Synopsis: Based on DC’s famed Elseworlds tale from 2003, Superman: Red Son takes place in an alternate reality where the spaceship bearing the last survivor of Krypton crash lands—not in rural Kansas, but in Stalinist Russia. Can this Cold War-era Earth survive the coming of a Soviet Superman?
Review: The marvelous DC Animation team brought all but one crucial aspect of Mark Millar’s bold tale to vivid life. I’ll include spoilers concerning that crucial aspect when I discuss it later in the review.
Writer J.M. DeMatteis did a masterful job adapting Mark Millar’s source material. He followed the plot while updating the frameworks of the characters for a contemporary audience. Lex, Lois, and Jimmy were the primary beneficiaries.
Lex retained the innate qualities of the original Red Son Elseworld variation, but DeMatteis humanized him. As a result, Lois’ love and loyalty were truly justified. For her part, Lois had much more depth and believability. Jimmy — a bit of a non-entity originally — ended up an aspirational figure.
The new layers DeMatteis gave the characters allowed for contemporary political allegory. Superior Man was regrettably but necessarily broad. The tweaks to Superman’s diplomatic dynamic with Themyscira were pointed, but not overpowering.
All that said, the changes were a double-edged sword. He spent so much time exploring the psychological and political aspects of the story that DeMatteis dispensed with Millar’s original ending. The revelation that the story is a time-loop — that descendants of Lex and Lois Luthor from a far flung future sent their son Kal-L to Russia of the past — framed Lex’s genius, drive, and ambition perfectly. Without that ending, individual and collective character choices lack complete scope.
Jason Isaacs, Diedrich Bader, Amy Acker, and Vanessa Marshall are all excellent in their respective roles amid strong supporting actors. I especially applaud Isaacs’ casting. He wouldn’t have fit playing Superman in mainstream continuity but was spot on in this edgy Elseworld.
The animation was, as usual, top notch. It was also necessary, as it was better suited to the contemporary allegory that the original aesthetic would have been. I particularly liked the rendering of Brainiac’s ship.
Superman: Red Son was an extremely well thought out and well-performed, if incomplete, take on Mark Millar’s important work. Given the quality of this and other productions, I can’t wait to see which comics DC Animation adapts next.
Superman: Red Son is available on V.O.D., D.V.D., and Blu-ray now.
- Allegory, Performances, Animation
- Original ending would have been stronger.
- Musical Score8.5