One of the most powerful questions a fan of comic books can ask is simply ‘What if’? The moment where your imagination as a fan goes off creating your own stories creating new worlds for the heroes we love to read or watch on the big screen is a truly magical thing. Thankfully DC Comics also loves to ask this question with their “Elseworlds” series of stories and now my own personal favourite one has become the latest animated feature from WB Animation.
‘What If’ are two very powerful words and when used with comic books they can truly create some incredible stories and Superman: Red Son is perhaps the greatest example of this. Just imagine if Superman did not crash as a baby in Smallville Kansas and was raised by the loving adopted parents Martha and Johnathon Kent, and then imagine if Superman had not been brought up to value truth, justice and the American way. What would such a being with that much power become if raised differently?
Superman: Red Son tells the story of the last remaining son of Krypton crash landing on Earth but instead of small town America, his ship crashes in the communist country of Stalin’s Russia. As a 12 year old boy, he shows his abilities to a friend to explain why he runs away from the bullies instead of fighting back who promptly says that he should give his powers to the state and thus the Russian Superman is created but not with the iconic S for hope as the emblem on his chest but the Sickle and Hammer of Communism which visually is striking to see on screen.
The story has an array of powerful and thought-provoking themes which go far beyond the traditional good versus evil approach to an animated story. There are just so many grey areas to all the characters as both political and ethical beliefs collide. We see a Superman raised to believe in Communism and doing whatever it takes to better the state whilst at the same time we see an America without its greatest hero who instead under Lex Luthor, sees this godlike being as a serious threat that must be eliminated for the safety of the world. Lex himself is not really the villain of the piece either, he genuinely believes that Superman is a threat to America and the world but this time he has the full support of the American Government due to the propaganda footage Russia is sending out to the world featuring their greatest weapon Superman, to which America has no real answer to.
You also have a Superman who believes he is helping the state and the people but thanks to a chance meeting with Lois Lane-Luthor, yes she married Lex, is shown the truth of Stalin’s Gulag prisons where the vulnerable people seen as nothing more than cheap work labour to Stalin, and when he tracks a site down and finds the childhood friend who convinced him to reveal his powers, his anger leads him to decide that he alone is capable of bringing peach to the people of the planet. What begins with good intentions slowly over time sees him take a more Dictatorial rule to bring his vision to life, aided by the entity Brainiac to create his world still heavily based on Communist theology.
As the Cold War era envelopes both the capitalist America and the Communist Russia collide not just on their ideologies but as nations with Superman pushing his will and methods of rule across Europe as America struggles to compete. The story is told over a number of years with a pace that enables the audience to see all the changes as Lex continues to find a way to defeat Superman and in Russia, a terrorist movement is rising with another surprising ‘What if’ as Batman is created from a survivor of Stalin’s Gulags who watched his parents die and blamed Superman for not protecting them. This Batman is not the Dark Knight of Gotham refusing to kill but instead someone who is happy to use Guerrilla Warfare tactics to achieve his goal of killing Superman. Meanwhile we also see a Superman whose vision to protect everyone has started to become more like Stalin’s own vision as he and Brainiac start converting criminals and the vulnerable into cyborg slaves, removing their will and using them as nothing but slaves and all the betterment of the state. Even Wonder Woman, who came from Themyscira to pledge her people’s support to his original vision of bringing peace to the world of man but soon begins to question Superman’s methods and viewing the world as being nothing more than one where Man will go to far and cause suffering no matter what help they offer. When Batman finally manages to corner Superman with some technological help from Lex Luthor, it’s a battle that is not for the faint hearted as we see Batman being able to physically beating Superman down but then the very scary sight of a Superman who is prepared to use his powers to kill to secure his own vision.
I love the very grown up and dark take on a lot of Iconic DC Superheroes, with a superb script by J.M. DeMatteis and directed brilliantly by Sam Liu, this has quickly become my favourite of the WB Animated DC Universe films to date, it remains faithful to the original graphic novel and is so effortlessly adapted for the small screen. The voice cast is superb with Jason Issacs voicing Superman amazingly well by bringing the very different tone of this version of the character to life in every scene. This is an absolute must have for any fans of the DC Animated universe and a brilliant answer to the “What if” fan question!
Not only is the animated feature fantastic but I have to say that the Blu-Ray version is just filled to the brim with incredible bonus features as well started with the bonus animated short “Phantom Stranger” as well as look at the making of Superman: Red Son. You will also get two episodes of the Superman: Red Son Motion comics which is a very nice touch but for me it is the two cartoon episodes from the DC Vault, parts 1 and 2 of the Justice League Animated Series titled “A Better World” which sees an alternative universe Justice League known as “Justice Lords” who see ruling by absolute force as the only way to have a peaceful Earth decide to invade the universe of the real Justice League in order to replace them and take over their world as well, one of the finest stories told in the Justice League Animated series.
Finally, we have a sneak peak at the next DC Animated Universe film ‘Justice League: Apokolips War’ which going by the preview, is going to be the biggest story and film yet in the continuity of this DC Animated Universe. Combine all the special features of this Blu-Ray with the best animated film WB Animation has released yet and you have the perfect evening of viewing for a DC Fan.
Superman: Red Son is available to watch digitally right now with Blu-Ray and DVD editions to release on March 16th 2020.