As an aspiring author, it behooves me to support the publishing industry. Usually this means that I just overspent at the bookstore, and almost always this means I came home with a new comic book trade. This weekend, I picked up Superman: Red Son, and let me tell you my friends, it was totally worth the cover price. I love a book that makes me think, and Superman: Red Son delivers that in spades.


Click for Amazon pageRed Son is an alternate reality story answering the question “what if Superman had crashed in the USSR instead of Kansas?” and I think they tackle it in incredible ways. Superman is still Superman, still struggling to find a way to give the world the peace he knows it deserves, to give humanity safety, security, the basics of food and shelter, and he is still very much a sympathetic hero, communist dictatorship aside.


The really incredible thing for me, in this story, was realizing that the differences in Superman’s choices are ultimately very slight. These are choices that Superman might have just as easily made as an American–the difference is not the politics and economics of his homeland, but the cries of the people he loves. The results of those slight differences, however, are incredibly large, and in Red Son, we see Superman take the world into his hands as a political leader, as a lawmaker, as a ruler. Instead of choosing to lead by example and allowing humanity to make it’s own mistakes, he tries to keep humanity from making any mistakes and fix the systems in place that are already broken through his own personal interference. Superman decides he knows what’s best for the world, and sets it into motion.


It would have been very easy for this story to have been made into the typical pro-capitalism propaganda, and they didn’t escape those overtones entirely, but they did succeed in writing a story that at least allowed the reader to consider that capitalism and America’s Way isn’t the only way. In Red Son, there are glimpses of what communism and the Marxist revolutions were meant to be– a chance at utopia and an ideal world. 


Of course, in classical American fashion, the communist ideal can’t last even with Superman at the helm and it falls to capitalist democracy in the end (reaching for an equally impossible pinnacle of enlightenment). But it never seems to me to be a question of good and evil, so much as it is simply the question of what right Superman, as an alien, a foreigner, has to meddle in affairs of man. This is something we should be asking ourselves, as citizens of a nation which often meddles in the affairs of others, and with the current political happenings around the world, it would be very easy to draw a parallel between Superman’s imposition of communist ideals on the world and America’s imposition of democracy on other nations now.


Superman seems to be tempted by this idea frequently in the comics, but every time he tries to take matters into his own hands, it tends to turn things into an even larger mess. What it comes down to, over and over again, and the real struggle that Superman faces, over and over again, is that he can not be the savior of humanity. He can not do everything for us, even though he might have the power to accomplish it. He is a hero, an example of what we can be, built from our own ideals and our own dreams, but when it comes down to it, humanity must take responsibility for itself. Superman can show us the way, but we have to choose it for ourselves.


I could go on about Superman for days, probably. The more I read, the more convinced I am that there is no situation in which I do not love him as a hero and as a character. The fact that Superman exists in our consciousness is something that gives me a lot of hope for the world. The desire for greatness is there, the desire for social justice and the acknowledgment of social responsibility is very much a part of who we are, and Superman, the popularity of Superman, is an incredible reminder of that. Even as a communist, Superman still says something beautiful about what we aspire to become–and now more than ever, that something that we see in our heroes, that we strive toward, needs to be remembered.


If Superman helps the weak, sees it as his responsibility and duty to extend a hand to those in need, Superman who is an orphaned alien, who has no real obligation to humanity at all, why can’t we, as humans, do the same for one another?