Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Red Son

Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett & some other guys
Superman: Red Son (2003)

...and this is what I love about Mark Millar: just when you think you've had it with the guy and those stories in which he's basically waggling his dong at the local vicar, picking up Red Son for the first time is enough to wash away even the most unpleasant lingering stench - even the athlete's foot strength fetor of The Ultimates.

Red Son rewrites Superman for a world in which the well-worn origin story of escape capsules conveying infants from doomed planets occurs in the Soviet Union rather than the United States, roughly inverting the entire history of the cold war. Whilst Millar's understanding of the Communist USSR as described here probably isn't significantly deeper than it was in his wilfully ludicrous Red Razors strip of years gone by, neither is it precisely the crowing refutation of Socialism one might expect of an American publisher. This politically soft focus works quite nicely in maintaining the fidelity of all the grey areas necessary for the story to work, so we are forever caught between no-one quite being the bad guy, or anything objectively heroic.

With Superman in his corner, Stalin facilitates the spread of Communism across the globe, not so much through force as by means of natural economic and political evolution. That America in its isolation remains the supposed voice of freedom seems irrelevant as it is reduced to a state paralleling that of the former Soviet Union at the point of collapse, as it was in the real world. Without a single slogan fired or any of the gratuitously nasty crap for which Millar has become unfortunately famed, Red Son holds a mirror up to contemporary America and shows us - us seeing as I've been here for nearly five years now - and shows us what the last century felt like for everyone else, or at least for those on the receiving end of our foreign policy.

Millar seems to specialise in narrative details which anyone in their right mind would reject as unworkable - the big, the brassy, and the incredibly stupid; and his talent is to be found in holding everything together in such a way as to conceal just how ridiculous or overambitious it really is. When he gets it right, as he does here, it's a wonder to experience - a perfectly oiled machine taking all sorts of unexpected turns with poetic grace, seemingly the end result of a process of winnowing down all the details to just those which achieve perfection. Red Son falls a little way short of carrying the weight and intense atmosphere of Miller's Dark Knight, but really only a little way.

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