Like most elseworlds tales involving Superman and most DC superheroes, “Red Son” examines what the world would look like with a small alteration in mythology. And it’s also a look in to what would happen if Superman was on a different side of history. It’s a history in the controversial albeit acclaimed graphic novel where America loses the Cold War, Russia is the dominant force and Superman is a being whose own personal hell was paved with good intentions. The problem is that with “Red Son,” we’ve basically seen it all before.
Orphan Kal-El’s pod lands not in Kansas, America, but on a Ukrainian farm in 1938. Instead of fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way, Superman becomes the most powerful symbol of the Soviet Union, one that completely alters the course of world history. In this world, Lex Luthor is the US government’s last, best hope of stopping the spread of communism led by Superman, Wonder Woman is a Themysciran ambassador enamored with the Man of Steel’s vision of a better world and Batman is a terrorist hell bent on tearing down everything Superman has built in his regime.
“Red Son” takes a sterner more dramatic approach to Superman from another world, where he’s definitely a megalomaniac who is convinced that he’s the hero of the story. Most of “Red Son” involves Superman inventing his own ideology and figuring out how to best rationalize the heinous decisions he makes in human cruelty. As well as justifying acts of cruelty that he inflicts on everyone that opposes him. “Red Son” is sadly a slog to sit through as much of the drama is absolutely tedious, as well as the general tone of the narrative. Rather than feeling of sense of dread, “Red Son” is mostly tedious and even kind of dull (Jason Isaacs’ monotone performance of Superman tends to be distracting).
It doesn’t help that the writers have to squeeze in a ton of story in an eighty minute movie, so there’s fodder about terrorism, a terrorist Batman, Superman confronting an alternate version of Brainiac, Lex Luthor’s attempts to build an American version of Superman, et al. It’s all so scattered and rushed that it never picks up steam and build an exciting momentum. The DCAU has tackled this kind of alternate Superman tale in the past, but they had so much more to offer, including the “Justice League” two parter episode involving the “Justice Lords.” I wish I could have gotten behind “Red Son” but it’s so dull, vicious, and bereft of excitement that it becomes the chore to finish.
Red Son arrives on 4K, and Blu-ray in a standard keep case with a Digital Copy redemption slip included. The on-disc bonus features includes DC Showcase: Phantom Stranger, an all-new fifteen minutes short serves up a bit of psychedelic dark mystery that mixes in some considerable violence and adult tones, along with the classic bizarre world we know Phantom Stranger by. Cold Red War is a seventeen minutes behind-the-scenes featurette, covering both the original comic’s translation to animation and real-life events that inspired its story. There’s a good amount of vintage art and historical footage that helps establish a lot of context without resorting to major spoilers.
Crew members and other notables are are interviewed including artist Dave Johnson, history professors Miriam Neirick, Ph.D. and Michaela Crawford Reaves, Ph.D., director Sam Liu, and DC Animation creative director Mike Carlin. There are the Superman: Red Son Motion Comics which is great if you enjoy the format. I don’t. Laws, no. There’s a fun ten minutes Sneak Peek at Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, including unfinished footage, vintage comic art, and commentary from screenwriter Ernie Altbacker, co-director Matt Peters, voice actors Jerry O’Connell and Taissa Farmiga, executive producer James Tucker, and more.
Finally From the DC Comics Vault, there’s the two part “Justice League” episode “A Better World” where Batman is forced to confront an alternate version of the League called the “Justice Lords,” all of whom are planning to cross dimensions and conquer other realities.