I just finished reading the DC limited series Superman: Red Son, an alternate universe (Elseworlds in DC speak) story wherein Superman is raised in the Ukraine rather than Kansas. I've always been a big fan of alternate history Sci-Fi, as well as alternate universe comics. Because of their non-canon nature, they are almost always fairly self contained stories, which conveniently avoids the frustrating, soap opera style rolling storylines that finally turned me off of traditional comics as a pimply teen. (Damn you mid-ninties Ghost Rider and your casual abandonment of characters and story arcs!)
Red Son tells the story of a Soviet Superman upsetting the balance of the cold war in the Reds' favor. (Sort of a reverse Watchmen) In response, Lex Luthor and his delicious brains become capitalism's last hope, while Batman surfaces as a Russian domestic terrorist. Eventually Supes becomes Stalin's successor, and begins reshaping the world into a comfortable dystopia much like the settings of half of today's videogames. (The other half being uncomfortable dystopias.)
I love the way alternate universe comics drop beloved and shopworn characters into morally ambiguous situations that wouldn't fly otherwise. (Dark Knight Returns is an excellent example.) While the traditional Superman/Luthor rivalry is (almost) always a black and white good vs. evil story, their relationship in Red Son is more complicated. Superman, ruling 90% of Earth as a communist dictator, slowly becomes a Big Brother/nanny state type, converting dissidents to his cause with brain surgery. It's better than Stalin's purges, but still a far cry from "truth, justice, and the American way." Meanwhile, Luthor does the right things for all the wrong reasons. By the end of the series, he has become president of the crumbling USofA and singlehandedly fixes the economy. He eliminates unemployment and quadruples life expectancies, but only to give himself a stable, powerful nation to attack Superman with.
Moral sophistication aside, I have some quibbles with the story. As the timeline quickly diverges from mainstream DC (not to mention real life), it becomes less and less about communism and the cold war, and more a generic alternate Superman story. Details of how the characters feel about the specific ideologies they supposedly embody are few and far between. Whenever pressed, Superman cops out, claiming that politics bore him and that he is more concerned with rescuing people from earthquakes. Luckily the morally questionable Supes' conflict with Luthor is facinating, because that is all the book boils down to in the end.
Also, the hundreds of little in-jokes about various other DC and historical characters are really distracting. Sure it is nice for the fanboys to see cameos from Green Arrow and whatnot, but us (semi)outsiders are left struggling to figure out who the hell Oliver Queen is and why does he get a panel and dialog if he isn't going to have any sort of interaction with any of the main characters whatsoever. (Even indirectly.) The constant throwaway lines about Nixon being assasinated or Kennedy marrying Marilyn are also irritating. Not to mention that they stink of lazy 'world building.'
Otherwise, the artwork ranges from decent to excellent, and it has a totally sweet Batman v. Superman brawl. Though in my limited experience, Batman trying to take Supes down is always a pretty intense couple of pages.
Angels' Brigade (Greydon Clark, 1979)
6 hours ago