Red Son Misses the Mark… And the Point

What happens when Superman is raised in Russia?

The DC Animated movies can be really hit or miss. They’ve done some really great adaptations of DC Comics stories – the DEATH and RETURN of Superman films were a lot of fun – but every now and then, there’s a release that just feels like the creative team wasn’t on the right page. The latest film, an adaptation of a classic 2003 ELSEWORLDS story from Mark Millar, unfortunately feels like it fits into the latter category.

Three years ago, I wrote a piece where RED SON was one of the DC Comics stories that I thought should be turned into an animated movie. In that piece, I said the story’s epilogue wouldn’t be necessary to deliver a compelling adaptation. Now that I’ve seen an adaptation that didn’t include the comic’s epilogue, well, it’s clear that I was wrong.

For the uninitiated, Superman: Red Son was an ELSEWORLDS story where Superman was sent to Earth, but instead of landing in Kansas so he could be discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent, the rocket landed on a collective farm in the Ukraine. Once his powers developed, he was taken in by Josef Stalin, who used Superman to expand the power base of the Soviet Union. The United States, on the other hand isn’t faring so well. Millar’s three-issue miniseries becomes a political chess match between Soviet premiere Superman and American industrialist and president Lex Luthor, with some superpowered battles mixed in.

But what I think makes the original Red Son so memorable is the ending. After Superman foils Brainiac’s plans to take over the world – after serving decades as an aide-de-camp to Superman, just lying in wait – he disappears, leaving the world to Luthor. Through his scientific achievements, Luthor unifies the world, cures all diseases and expands the reach of the human race beyond the stars. Billions of years later, Luthor’s descendent Jor-L, in an attempt to save his only son from the death of the universe, sends baby Kal-L back in time, where he lands on a farm in the Ukraine. It’s exactly the kind of “holy crap” ending you would expect from Millar, and it cemented Red Son in the comic book consciousness as a modern classic.

But that ending is nowhere to be found here. I feel like it could have helped.

With a less complicated ending, the DC Animated version of Superman: Red Son is more standard fare. The animation never attempts to match the artwork of Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett. Instead, the movie sticks to the usual animation style. Again, it’s a more palatable choice for wider audiences, but if the studio is no longer adjusting art styles to meet the look of the work it’s adapting – like it did with New Frontier and All-Star Superman – it all feels a little disappointing.