In Which I Honestly Attempt To Like Red Son

     Last time I updated, I talked about my experience of Superman and my growing frustration with him. For a long time, I’ve tended to shy away from the Superman mythology, getting entangled in it only when it ambushed me in the midst of another hero’s adventure. It wasn’t until I noticed a copy of Red Sun at my university’s library that I decided it was time to give the Man of Steel one more go. He stood on the cover, powerful and cocky as ever, but something was different. The classic S typically emblazoned on his chest was missing. In its place was the soviet hammer and sickle. Ah, I thought they’ve made the American icon a Communist.
     Before I continue, I’ll just say: spoilers ahead.
     The book was not what I had expected. I wanted to see less of the U.S. and Superman’s visits there. For me, the whole point of the exercise was to put Superman (and to an extent, the reader) in a different environment and landscape than typically seen. I wanted to see Superman grow up on a commune and embody the core values of socialism as much as he had in America. Instead, they have him popping over to the US and chatting up old characters in that same, ‘whatever-this-is-simple-for-me’ way. I also felt that throughout the novel, he seemed perturbed by his government more than he should have been. There were just so many awkward moments where they approached what would have made Superman’s character interesting, but then stopped short. So a blank, flat, robot he remained.
     That’s not to say I thought the book was bad. While Superman was more or less a loss to me, I thoroughly enjoyed the reimagining of Batman into a sort of V for Vendetta resistance. Wonder Woman and her relationship to Superman was also interesting (as was the Green Lantern force), though that was probably more due to my lack of experience with her mythos than anything else. And finally, Lex Luthor – the United States’ new hero. Here was a compelling and believable hero. Lex never pretends to be anything more than self serving (okay, well maybe a little, but he’s so bad at it). In his mind, a better America/world is just a side-effect of his ultimate triumph. His fantastic ego drives him in a way that’s so fascinating to watch that I actually found myself rooting for him in the final pages.
     The ending is probably something I shouldn’t delve too deep into (I tend to get picky about time travel), but I will say that I liked the twist. The entire narrative continually emphasizes Superman’s alien status. It’s even one of Lex’s major issues with Superman. But at the end, we discover that not only is Superman an earth human from the future, but that he is also one of Lex’s descendants. I thought this was an interesting turn because you can come to all kinds of crazy conclusions about this depending on your perspective. Ignoring the whole last-laugh’s-on-you angle (I had a whole tangled paragraph dealing with this and what ‘victory’ would even mean for Lex), a more productive and useful point to consider might be how we determine what is ‘alien’.
     The novel seems to suggest that since Superman doesn’t really come from a different world, as everyone assumes, he really does belong on Earth among us. One of the most oft repeated complaints of the characters in the novel is that Superman exerts too much influence over human affairs. Implicit in this is the argument that people should be left alone by higher, outside powers to live their own lives and build their own societies, mistaken and imperfect as they may be. Superman builds a utopia, but people are upset because it is not their utopia. This is a philosophy I agree wholeheartedly with, but I disagree that Superman’s status as a human would somehow change the “rightness” of his attempt toward a utopia. After all, he may be a native to the space, but he’s still an alien of time. It would be like arguing that, if possible, we should go back in time and alter the cultures and civilizations of the past to match the ideals and values of our own in the present. Or, if that sounds acceptable to you, ask if you would submit to one of our future civilizations restructuring of our present? Mind you, you have to make your decision before you find out if the future is a paradise or a dystopia (no cheating!).
     In any case, Superman might not have been oblivious to this point. After all, while he does return to Earth, it is as a typical and unremarkable person (and presumably without the advantages of his powers). I still don’t understand how a pair of glasses suddenly makes people unable to recognize that you’re Superman, but that’s a different post.
     I still don’t know how I feel about Superman. I think Red Son was an interesting experiment, but ultimately one that left me wanting to rewrite parts. Still, it did get me thinking, and that alone is enough to convince me that maybe I shouldn’t give up on Supes just yet.