Dec 16, 2019
Superman: Red Son #2 of 3 “Red Son Ascendant”
Last issue, Superman, having grown up in the Soviet Union, had become a staunch defender of all things communist. After Stalin’s death, Superman decided to lead the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and the only person who might be able to stop him is Lex Luthor, the United States’ (and possibly the world’s) greatest scientist.
Right off, this is a helluva splash page, as we see Lex staring down on a shrunken Stalingrad, bitching and complaining to someone that they were supposed to get Moscow instead. Hey, Stalingrad is a nice town; if it’d been Dayton, then I’d see a reason to complain. Judging by the “level-twelve intelligence” line, I’d say he’s talking about Brainiac. Sure enough, Superman bursts in and name drops his second most iconic bad guy… unless you count Lois Lane. Seriously, decades of Lois 1) trying to make Clark look like a chump, and 2) getting herself in situations where she needs to be rescued, preventing him from saving others makes her a good contender for his rogues gallery.
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Superman demands to know where Brainiac is and Lex says he left town two hours ago. Okay then, so we’re going to get an epic battle between Supes and Brainiac. This oughta be go—
Oh. Um, never mind then. As Superman flies home with his trophy, he innerlogues about Lex Luthor, wondering what was the point of him. This is spoken in past tense like last issue, and again, it seems a little spoiler-rific. Anyway, he wonders if Lex was born to keep him in check, or if it was the other way around. Whichever it is, he knows Lex hates him. Superman returns to Luthor and tells him that he’s scoped out Brainiac’s, um, brain and didn’t find a single shred of useful information to bring Stalingrad back to its original size. Luthor points out that Brainiac was a lot more interested in shrinking cities than unshrinking them. He then drops the jar containing Stalingrad, and as Supes quickly catches it, our resident mad scientist says that Superman is pretty smart, and solving this little problem shouldn’t be hard.
Supes leaves (by flying through a window) and we get an external shot of Luthor’s building, and there are American flags outside, and on a whim I counted the number of stars because Hawaii and Alaska joined the union in ’59. But the numbers are all wrong, because there aren’t 48 or 50 stars, but 39. I’d chalk this up to artist error (or cutting the guys some slack, artists Dave Duncan and Kilian Punkett didn’t think anybody would notice. Heh; I’d say if there’s any group of people statistically suffering from more OCD than anybody else, it’s nerds), but then I see the headline on a newspaper that a kid on the street is selling: “Kennedy grants Georgia independence.” So the United States is fractured and that flag is likely accurate. Now that’s some sweet attention to detail.
Luthor calls Miss Teschmacher—a nice shout out to the ’70s Superman movie—to call “the builders” for a “standard repair”, then he wants to have Loomis and Schott implement Attack Plan #307, because damn, he’s rolling today. And oh, hey, by the way, Lex is playing chess remotely with a bunch of guys, and it’s checkmate for table #81, who also gets an electric shock to go along with it. And the look on the face of the guy at nearby table #92 is priceless.
Cut to Moscow and the Superman Museum, where Lana Lazarenko plays host, decked out in a sharp uniform resplendent with hat and armband sporting Superman’s chest logo. She’s showing visitors around, and we get a replica of the classic Silver Age key that opens the Fortress of Solitude as well as that cool toy, the Corgi Supermobile with the fists. Damn, I think I actually owned that. Lana is wrapping up the story about Luthor and Superman and Stalingrad, and to this day the city’s still shrunk. She goes on to show statues of the various super-villains Luthor created to fight the Stalinist of Steel, from Metallo to Parasite to Chemo and… horned helmet guy? Haven’t a clue.
A visitor is not-so-politely told to move along by a guard with an S-logo emblem embedded in the side of his skull, and I’m smelling a super lobotomy. The man complies and we get a scene of a dinosaur and Commie Krypto, and now I suddenly want this to be a twelve-issue maxi-series so I can see the story behind the dog. Lana exposits that Superman has turned almost the whole world red, with only the United States and Chile being non-commie. In Superman’s world, “Poverty, disease and ignorance have virtually been eliminated,” and one visitor doesn’t seem to be impressed. We follow the man outside and see him travel to a bar where a young soldier sits at the bar and bitches about the system, along with how this “Batman character” should blow the whole thing apart. The man tells the soldier to cool it and points out another poor bastard with a metal S-logo disk in the side of his skull as proof there are consequences if you step out of line in Superman’s super-utopia. The man whispers to the bartender that the fireworks are set, and he wants the usual alibi.
Back at the Superman Museum, there’s a broadcast: in four minutes, the building will go boom. It turns out Batman was the guy we were following around, and he sets off bombs all across the city. Hind helicopters are dispatched and the Batman is caught in their spotlights. Cannons go off in an attempt to kill the Dark Bogatyr, but Russian Batman is apparently just as bad-ass as the American.
But wait! Batman comes tumbling out of the sky; was he struck by a Hind bullet? Would Mark Millar mess with us by having Batman dispatched so easily? The body hits a police car, and a Soviet SWAT team surrounds it… but no, it’s not Batman, but a Bat-dummy. Psyche! KGB head Pyotr heads to Superman’s home to complain, where he finds the Man of Steel sculpting a garish piece of Soviet propaganda. Pyotr complains that there’s not a shred of forensic evidence at any of the bombings, and he wants to go around and crack skulls like the “good old days”. But Superman tells the KGB chief that that might have been good enough for Stalin, but he’s not going to build his legacy on a mound of bones. Pyotr takes this as an insult to his late father’s memory, but before he can say something he can’t take back, Superman hears something: a signal malfunction, 800 miles away. It seems two trains are about to collide.
On the way there, Superman deals with three other emergencies and has to admit he’s getting bored with “human conversation”. Ruh-roh. Apparently, these days the only person he can really talk to is Diana, who’s now calling herself Wonder Woman, and as a staunch adherent to communism, she’s the world’s greatest advocate of social justice. Must… resist… urge… to make… SJW joke!
Superman and Wonder Woman are having a team-up, saving sailors from a burning ship. He asks her how the United States is doing, and she says it’s pretty bad. She kind of, sort of clumsily date drops that it’s 1978, and President Kennedy’s doing a shitty job. Which Kennedy? The one that slept with Marilyn Monroe? Oh, wait, that doesn’t exactly narrow it down. The one that got away with manslaughter at Chappaquiddick? (We’ll find out later that JFK is president in ’78 in this timeline.) Superman freezes the fire with his super-breath and he’s worried people are behaving more recklessly because of his presence; people aren’t wearing seat belts, and ships don’t carry life life jackets. Wow, that’s… dumb. Not the writing, I mean; I think it’s an interesting twist in that Millar is trying to speculate what it would be like living in a world with a Superman dedicated to saving literally everyone. I think Millar is just illustrating what decades of complacency would produce, as in an entire generation living with a god looking out for them. And considering people in general seem to be really, really dumb, Millar might have a point. Superman feels his grip on the world is too tight as it is, and he worries people don’t like him, which is a nice, human sentiment despite all his godlike pretensions. Wonder Woman’s response, and the expression on her face speaks volumes regarding her feelings.
Eh, I always preferred the Batman/Wonder Woman relationship; I wish modern writers would go back to that rather than the utterly tiresome Batman/Catwoman, will they/won’t they dance.
Back in Metropolis, Perry White has been given a golden bust of himself, with his head wreathed in laurels. You know, because he always says “Great Caesar’s ghost!”? He accepts the joke gift from the staff and it turns out this is his retirement party. We have Oliver Queen on hand in a cameo as part of the staff, and Iris Allen makes mention of her husband Barry. I guess Millar wanted to show there were more than three superheroes in this world, or something? The cameos aren’t offensive, they’re just weird.
Lois Lane is now the Daily Planet’s new editor in chief, and she and Perry have a quiet heart-to-heart. The country is falling apart and the Planet is on its last legs, and White suggests to Lois that she needs a husband in her life who she can rely on when things fall apart. Lois says she already has a husband: Lex Luthor. [snort] Okay, Lois, if you say so. Speaking of Lex, Lois goes to see him on their anniversary, and she’s met at the door by two robots, or maybe two guys wearing power armor; it’s hard to tell, and it honestly doesn’t matter. Lois finds her hubbie in his lab, and he notes he’s been reading 13 fascinating books this morning and hey, she can leave the anniversary gift on the desk on her way out. The pair have been married 23 years, and I wonder what these two ever saw in each other. Lois seemed to like men she can boss around or are unattainable, and Lex? I think Lex is gay. I mean, think about it: Superman’s loves are Lori Lemaris, Lana Lang, and Lois Lane. What if Lex Luthor has more in common with them than their initials? Mark Waid explored this possibility in Irredeemable, which is based around the idea of what it would be like if Superman went crazy-pants. It’s an… interesting series.
Lois wonders who the redheaded guy she passed is, and Lex explains that he’s James Olsen, the “Pentagon anti-Superman advisor” and probably the next head of the CIA. James stopped by to give Lex intel from spies close to Superman who might be able to bring the Kryptonian down. Judging by the red lamps that Luthor’s got set up, I can guess what he’s working on. Lex says that JFK and his wife “Norma Jean” are stopping by for dinner, which upsets Lois to no end, because she wanted Lex all to herself tonight because, you know, anniversary? Lex is utterly oblivious to her emotional state. Did you know psychopaths are incapable of empathy? As Lex lights up a Soviet cigarette, he notes “Jack” tells him that Supes and Brainiac aren’t the only aliens who have visited Earth. Ooh, Martian Manhunter, maybe? One can only hope. But no, Luthor notes the alien crashed in a spacecraft and had something on his finger. So it must have been Abin Sur. Eh, that beats Space Cabbie. Oh, and Luthor checks out a chess board and casually declares it to be checkmate.
Cut to a flashback of Superman and Wonder Woman rescuing cosmonauts from a space vessel, and then talking to some budding young communists as they show off a model, and one half of it looks like the vessel they just rescued the cosmonauts from. It’s kind of reminiscent of the Soyuz/Apollo mission. Considering the era, it’s a nice touch. Supes talks about how simple things were then, where every problem had a solution, and sometimes even two. He notes how blind he was to Diana’s feelings.
Elsewhere, Pyotr is being driven and it turns out from the dialogue that the vessel was in fact a space station. It still reminds me of Apollo/Soyuz. Pyotr’s driver says they shouldn’t be spending money on a space program when there are starving Americans in the world. Heh. Pyotr tells the guy he wants more driving and less talking, and the driver’s response… is to drive the car off a bridge. The driver swims away while dragging along an unconscious Pyotr. The KGB head awakens in a chamber full of American memorabilia.
It’s Soviet Batman’s version of the Bat-cave, and I dig it. Pyotr asks Batman if he knows who he is, which is a pretty dumb question considering that Batman kidnapped him. Bats asks Pyotr why he’s been leaving word around town that he wants to talk to Bats. He assures the KGB head that it’s safe to talk here, because he’s using cutting-edge sound dampening technology, taken from Pyotr’s own bases. Hey, if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.
While the two talk, I’m digging the little details on display, like Batman having a fridge in his man-cave, and the jukebox in the background, and the Devil Pig Hamwich doll on a table. Batman’s in love with American culture, and instead of Millar saying it, Johnson and Plunkett show it. I appreciate it when creators take full advantage of the visual medium that is comics. Pyotr says he wants Batman to kill Superman, and Bats wonders why he would do that, only to get someone like Pyotr in charge. Pyotr points out that at least he’d be a human opponent. Batman has a bat-flashback of his parents’ death at the hands of Pyotr, and it’s interesting how, just like Superman, we never learn Batman’s real name. I think it’s because like Superman, there is no other identity; he’s Batman and only Batman. He agrees but warns Pyotr that once Supes is gone, he’s coming after Pyotr and nothing’s going to stop him. Pyotr says Batman is welcome to try. Um, Batman infiltrated your organization and kidnapped you; I don’t think you know the devil who you’re making a deal with, comrade.
It’s Superman’s birthday, and there’s a huge party in his honor. Supes asks a pipe-smoking dude named “Tony” if he’s seen Diana, and I have no clue who this guy is supposed to be. I was thinking Will Magnus at first, but his name doesn’t jibe. Pyotr is sharing a table with Doctor Sivanna, who as it turns out used to work for Luthor and defected from the USA. Again, this makes me wish this series was more than just three issues, because I would have loved to have seen the interactions between Lex and Sivanna. Queen Hippolyta wonders who the redhead at her table is, and we learn it’s Lana Lazarenko. Poor Lana; judging by her expression, she’d rather be anywhere than at a table with a head of state, a mad scientist, and the head of the secret police. The fireworks go off, only not in the way Sivanna planned.
I always say, if you’re gonna give Superman the middle finger, do it with style. We cut to Wonder Woman, hands bound behind her back and on her knees, with a rope around her neck like a leash, and I’m imagining how this panel caused more than a few third-wave feminists to go frothing at the mouth. But okay, maybe the rope around the neck was a bit much; it reminds me of Millar’s other excesses. Supes shows up on the scene, which looks like an abandoned gulag. Batman appears and assures Superman that only Wonder Woman’s pride is hurt, because she’s bound up with her own lasso. Superman uses his x-ray vision on Batman and finds out he’s got a bomb planted in his small intestine. So far, Superman isn’t impressed. Then Batman turns on the red lamps.
Someone please explain to me why Batman punching Superman is always so satisfying?
Batman proceeds to kick Superman’s ass, explaining that the red sun lamps are courtesy of Lex Luthor. Batman plans on sticking Superman in a cellar, thinking on the irony of putting Supes in the same sort of place where he used to lock up dissidents for Stalin. Supes fights back with a two-by-four, but it’s not enough, and Batman drops the man in his digs. Wonder Woman tells Batman he’s a monster for locking up Superman for the rest of his life, but Bats points out the alternative is killing him, and I think it’s interesting that while this isn’t the Batman we know, he’s still Batman in spirit, and Batman doesn’t kill. Superman appeals to Wonder Woman, whispering that she has to take out the generators powering the red sun lamps. So, Diana’s got super-hearing now? Whatever. Wonder Woman gets inspired by Superman’s speech.
She smacks Batman aside and destroys the generator and Superman bursts free. Batman, realizing he’s pretty much done, smiles and tells Superman that Pyotr was the man who betrayed him, right before Bats sets off the bomb in his small intestine. Wonder Woman shows up after, but she’s already suffering from the consequences of breaking her lasso, having aged decades. But Superman doesn’t notice yet, seeing how he’s covered in chunks of Batman-goo, and reeling from the shock of knowing Pyotr is the man who betrayed him.
Back in the US of A, JFK shows Lex and Lois a way-cool spaceship with a stylized Green Lantern logo on the side. Lois and JFK’s wife “Norma Jean” get catty with each other, and the former suggests Norma had previously slept with the head of the Soviet police force. What? Did Marilyn Monroe sleep with Pyotr? Or is Millar implying Monroe had an affair with a high ranking Soviet? I never heard of this conspiracy theory. Or is Millar being inspired by the Profumo scandal? Kennedy says they have no clue what the alien’s ring is for, but Luthor figures it out in a second: it’s a weapon.
In the USSR, Superman’s grip on the public grows stronger, but to paraphrase what a famous princess once said, the more you tighten your grip, the more things slip through your fingers. Batman has inspired the public and things might have gotten worse. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is recovering, and Lana shows up to discover Diana has a new nurse.
Lookin’ good there, Pyotr. Lana looks for Superman, but he’s not here; Pyotr explains how Supes has reprogrammed Brainiac’s machines to run the day-to-day stuff. Raise your hand if you can guess how that’s gonna bite Superman in the ass. Meanwhile, Superman is busy working on a new home. Perhaps a… fortress where he can indulge in… some solitude?
Next time: The dramatic conclusion!