In Soviet Russia, Robots Fix You!

Or at least Brainiac does.  As he says, “A steady hand and some pioneering neurosurgery and even the most persistent troublemakers can become productive workers, Comrade Superman.”

Superman is in charge of Soviet Russia.  Did I mention that?

I had a hard time deciding what to write about this week, not least because I missed writing a review last week.  I’m beginning to fear that I may break off blogs entirely, despite my last blog getting a simply phenomal amount of views (I think the title may have gotten some people worried about me).  But more to the point, I couldn’t decide what to review, because I’ve found a LOT to review over the past four weeks.

First of all, just this week I finished playing Half Life 2, a wonderfully immersive game with superb graphics.  I finally got to see something of what my new computer can do, and I’m very impressed with the graphics and physics of Valve’s groundbreaking game.  I don’t play a lot of First-Person-Shooters–don’t ask me why, I just don’t–so it was quite an experience for me.  The storyline wasn’t the deepest thing in the world, but it was interesting enough, and the world was VERY imaginative.  I’m currently trying to hold myself back from installing and playing the following two episodes of the game.  Perhaps I’ll write a fuller review once I have.

Second of all, a few weeks back I read the original version of Bambi (stop laughing), which is NOTHING like the Disney movie.  Bambi’s mother dying is only ONE of several tragedies throughout the story, and Bambi himself turns into something of a cold-hearted survivalist.  I was contemplating writing about a trend in Disney movies to take depressing stories and make them happy (The Little Mermaid doesn’t really end happily either), but that seems a little petty, so I won’t.

Third of all, I’ve begun reading the literary classic Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, partly because there’s a movie of it coming out.  I haven’t finished the thing yet, but it reads like a capitalistic overachiever’s rant at the world.  Amazing stuff, to read an author who actually likes the idea of businesses caring only about money.  VERY refreshing.  But as I’ve said, I haven’t finished it yet, so writing a review of it seems kinda stupid.

Fourth of all, I’ve just been accepted to the Master’s program at Baylor University, which is so many different levels of awesome that I just want to scream out a whole blog about it, but bragging like that gets old.  So I’ll just give a short synopsis.  I’m on a probationary program where they let me into the MA program for one year, see how I do, and then decide if they’ll keep me on.  In that time, I get a full tuition remission and a tutoring position at their Athletic Tutoring Department, which pays 200$ a week–enough to cover living expenses in Texas.  So it’s just about like having a job, except I get education on top of that.  It’s the sort of thing I’ve been aiming for since freshman year of college and it’s AWESOME.

Ahem.  That aside.  So, instead of writing about any of these classic games/books, I’ve instead decided to focus on–of course–a comic book.  The compelling DC Elseworld’s comic, Red Son by Mark Millar.

The premise of the book is really fairly simple–Superman’s shuttle pod lands in Ukraine instead of Kansas, and he grows up as a Soviet comrade instead of an American citizen.  Needless to say, while Superman might still stand for truth and justice, “The American Way” is no longer among his ideals.  Instead, the Man of Steel grows up totally committed to making the Soviet ideal of utopian communism work.  And because he’s Superman, he almost does it.  (He succeeds Stalin, by the way, which is hilarious because “Stalin” actually DOES mean “Man of Steel.”

Opposing the Soviet Superman is Lex Luthor, the most ingenious American scientist; and Batman, the anarchist terorrist opposed to Superman’s benevolent reign.  What’s amazing about the story is that it manages to keep all the iconic DC figures more or less in character–Luthor is still a cold-hearted jerk with no respect for human life, Superman is still a shining symbol of selfless heroism, and Batman is still the suspicious mortal looking to keep things in check.  Well, okay in Red Son, Batman is also a criminal who has no qualms about killing comrades, but you get the idea.

What really, REALLY makes this comic book, though, is its theme.  Superman almost makes his communist utopia work with a minimum of force, but at the end of the day, it’s still wrong because he’s not ALLOWING the natural process of trial and error to take place.  He’s shielding the people from any kind of danger, mishap, or discomfort, and eventually that makes them unable to cope with it.  The famous bottled city of Kandor is adapted as a metaphor for this very situation–he’s creating a bubble world, where, though there are no dangers, there are also no real aspirations.  Man can’t rise higher than the bubble, after all.

This theme is fascinating, because not only is that a crucial flaw in the utopian impulse, but also a hidden problem with the whole “superhero” idea in general.  If there actually WAS a grouping of superbeings to handle every danger or problem that arose, would people bother trying to solve them themselves?  Or even avoid them?  At one point in Red Son, Superman muses that the inhabitants of Russia are deliberately putting themselves in danger, just to see him save them.  Likewise communism.  If there is a safety net to prevent people from becoming poor, then people stop trying to become rich.  Which, naturally, results in general economic failure and poor living standards all round.

So in one short comic book, Mark Millar has created a compelling vision of a communist Superman, while still demonstrating (albeit obliquely) why communism, and more generally utopiansim, is wrong and/or impractical.  And for added measure he has provided a hidden critique of the whole superhero genre.  In a superhero comic, no less.

Now, to be fair, Red Son ends with the formation of a new utopian society, this one forged by Lex Luthor.  It is, however, portrayed as one that arises from struggle, trial, and error.  There is no safety net, people learn to do things themselves.  This IS dangerously close to humanism, and in some ways is, as Luthor puts all this down to “the triumph of the human spirit,” but it’s averted by a surprise twist at the ending, showing that even Luthor’s utopia eventually fails.

Red Son is a good, short read.  If you’re not into superheroes, that’s okay, but if you are, check out this book.

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