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Superhero week: Friday Reads on Superman: Red Son

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong

I’m not what you would call an ardent comics fan. I came to Marvel and DC and the like as a grown-up. When I was a child it was Battle and Commando comics that kept me entertained (Achtung Spitfire!). So I don’t have a deep history of the superheroes. And for me Superman has never seemed that interesting – too invulnerable, too damn nice. I much preferred tangling with dangerous, sociopathic, vigilantes who put themselves above the law like Batman.

But browsing in Forbidden Planet one day, Superman: Red Son caught my eye and, child of the Cold War that I am, the premise was just too cool to resist (for the uninitiated it posits that Superman arrives on Earth 12 hours later and lands in the Ukraine in 1938, growing up to be THE hero of the Soviet Union). As the shoutline has it – There Is Only One Superpower Now.

Plus it was written by Mark Millar. One of the finest twisted imaginations ever to grace the comics industry. What was not to like?

How to talk about something as brief as a graphic novel without committing fatal spoilers? Tricky. Suffice it to say Millar weaves in a fantastic catalogue of real characters and surprise appearances from other comics and deploys them all in a deliriously ballsy story line. The ending has a particular audacity that makes wonderfully lunatic sense.

And speaking of lunatics, what of Lex Luthor? Millar has huge fun with Luthor and his genius. The learning gags and the ongoing chess motif are particularly fun. And was Lex all bad? You’ll find out.

Add in other DC staples including a fantastically politicised dark rebel (rather than a millionaire playboy thug) and you have a hugely intelligent gallop around a very familiar superhero theme park.

But underneath it all is a canny eye cast over the realities of the cold war, an unflinching look at political power and a mordant wit.

Stir it all up with a narrative that is prepared to take audacious temporal leaps but still manages to remain coherent and you have one of my very favourite graphic novels. And certainly my favourite Superman story. I am REALLY looking forward to Man of Steel but part of my heart will always belong to the super man from the Ukraine.