By Robin Jones
I had to get in on it eventually, even if it is two months late… Hello again, it’s back, my almost annual column of rubbish, twaddle and occasional news!
In a throwback to how I initially started this column, I’ve decided to switch up how I write Papercuts and Inkstains. It’s been a long time since I last wrote one, and that’s unfortunately down to working more, wedding planning and actually writing my own comics. So, in old school Papercuts style, I’ve been asking you guys to pick which book I should read over on my twitter! Since the first story you all picked for me was the fantastic All Star Superman from Morrison and Quietly. This time around, I’ve done my usual lazy ass thing and decided I’ve wanted you to pick between Mark Millar, Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett’s Red Son and Geoff Johns’, Richard Donner’s and Adam Kubert’s Last Son. Therefore I took to twitter with #RedSonvsLastSon and you voted!
Just like Highlander, there can be only one, and it was clear that the winner of the quickening here was Millar et all’s modern classic Red Son! A wonderful twist on the classic origins and mythology of Superman, Millar presents to us a world where the infant Kal-El landed not in Kansas with Ma and Pa Kent, but in the Ukraine on a collective farm in the heart of Soviet led Russia. Within this world, Superman is brought up with farm workers whose values of truth, justice and world view is wholly different to the American as apple-pie upbringing he had in his traditional origins. How does the arrival of a superhuman being become utilised by the Soviets and how would a communist Superman differ to our “normal” Superman, brought up with the values and beliefs of the beating heart of capitalism? What effects would this have on the Cold War and just how would America, devoid of a Superpowered being of her, act in defense and retaliation at the news? These are just some of the questions Millar decided to raise and answer within Red Son.
Millar’s writing is, more often than not, highly provocative, and the themes he explores within Red Son are equally so. Within this 3 part inverted geopolitical tale we see an America divided, an economy crushed, an ideology shattered and a monstrous alternative to truth, justice and the American way! The fate of the capitalist west is left in the hands of the brilliant yet morally skewed Lex Luthor, whose own private ambitions and drive to defeat Superman at any cost threaten the world at large. The status quo is also shaken up by having Lois be the estranged wife of Luthor, hiding an obsession with the Man of Steel but never acting upon it. Luthor, with his brutal cunning, must stop the expansionism of the Soviet Union, under guidance of both Stalin and Superman himself, and save the West from an almost inevitable twilight. What Millar does is present us with a character study, albeit a skewed one. By reversing and restructuring the political background and warping the familiar origin tale, we get a piece that examines the concept of nature vs nurture, gone are the comforting and reassuring constants of Kal-El’s past, what we have is an alien…alien.
Millar also sharply brings into question, the geo-political and religious structures of our world. Moving within the zeitgeist, Millar takes a concept which is widely questioned, the argument of theoretical assumptions of ideology vs their implementation and practice, and helps show the discrepancies on both sides. Capitalism isn’t the be all and end all, it’s a social and ideological construct which can be heavily flawed, as is the socialism and communism. Millar also highlights the fact that even the best intentions, whether political or otherwise, can have unexpected, almost devastating consequences. These subtle arguments within his writing parallels the political situation today, with countries acting with the best intentions, but ultimately causing more harm than good. It’s a clever way to mix up things within the medium and enhances the impact of Red Son greatly. There’s also the argument surrounding THAT ending, a controversy which sees many claim it ruins the story. I disagree. I felt that the ending was a suitably Alan Moore-esque way of neatly tying things together. It’s an Ouroboros situation, a never ending cycle with a gnostic influence, perhaps Millar is playing on the Godless ideals of a communist society, where Superman must continue this cycle, learning through his own self reflection that he can do more good for the world by letting it flourish on its own two feet, with the memory of his work being the catalyst?
It would be criminal of me not to mention the artwork within Red Son, from the 50s influenced style, the sci-fi beauty of the later pages, right through to Bamankopf and his fantastic Russian fur hat. The whole artwork from Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett compliments Millar’s writing wonderfully. The way the art evolves over time, moving from the golden age style in part one through to a grittier, more modern style for book three helps to show the passage of time and Superman’s loss of innocence. By evoking Soviet-era propaganda posters, it helps plant the story in world which seems very real, and conjures up the fear and uncertainty of the Cold War era.
I implore you all to read this story.
Now, in another returning theme, I am asking you all related questions to the stories you all pick for me! This time around, I wanted to ask you all what Superman meant to you, with Red Son twitsting the Man of Steel’s ideals and emotions, I felt it only pertinent to see what you all felt about the big blue boy scout?
So readers… Here what you all felt #SupermanMeans to you
#SupermanMeans to me: Hope. If an Alien can love earth more than its inhabitants, it gives us something to look up to!
What #SupermanMeans to me? Based on what I’ve read in the New 52 nothing but confusing stuff lol!
#SupermanMeans Well the thing is, Superman is really a US Farmboy. Hes the ultimate immigration story, especially since the 80s as they’ve moved away from Super Science Superman.
#SupermanMeans Though at times admirable, [He] has the mental capacity of a gnat. I prefer Batman, hardened by life’s cruelties. Superman just seems oblivious to them
#SupermanMeans Though I don’t really have a personal connection with Superman,he’s the ideal, not just for heroes but for people. He’ll make the effort to improve things for people. With powers or without he’ll stand up for what he believes in & he’s usually nice while doing it.He’s for everyone. When u need it; an inspiration, protector & friendly face.
#SupermanMeans: he’s an idea, a sign that we can all be better and do better.
#SupermanMeans Superman is the story of who we should be. Not who we are. He says no matter how different you are you’re still capable of doing great things, even in the face of something seemingly impossible. That’s Superman.
#SupermanMeans Superman represents the golden age of comics… That time is over.
He represents, honour and respect. He is the type of person we should all strive to be like.#Supermanmeans
#SupermanMeans wearing tight red pants on top of a blue gimp suit.
#SupermanMeans Superman is everything I’d hope to be. A timeless icon.
#SupermanMeans moral heroism aligned with a chiseled conscious. Epitome of a comic book archetype.
#SupermanMeans seeing as I’ve just written a thesis about aspects of the character, he has become the bane of my life
Superman means a happy childhood spent watching Lois & Clark and fancying the shit out of Teri Hatcher!
#SupermanMeans Do the right thing as much as you possibly can
Superman means an icon that stands for the things we as humans are incapable of doing. That level of truth, justice, honour, and respect etc….it takes an alien to lead us He also shows how power can corrupt, might take a little kryptonite but it happens.
#SupermanMeans He is my idol, the one person I always look up to. I love his morals and personality. They’re inspiring.
#SupermanMeans that trying to make the world a better place starts with just one person. (Please have a read of Jeff’s blog about why he wears the S right here, he puts forward a compelling argument for how we should all view the world)
#SupermanMeans he is the constant benchmark for all superheroes , in my opinion
Keep your eyes peeled to twitter guys and girls, as I’ll be asking you to choose my next book soon!
Until next time….
Rob Jones is an honourary Yorkie, but for the life of him, he can’t understand why. He writes articles, is attempting to write comics and his life ambition is to own a solid gold Donkey… For more comic news, reviews and the odd bit of sense, follow Robin on twitter @Hulksmash1985