The latest DC Universe animated movie takes on a fan-favorite comic book series–Superman: Red Son. The 2003 three-issue prestige format series was published under DC Comics’ Elseworlds line, written by Mark Millar with art by Dave Johnson. The story looked at the idea of what would happen if Superman was raised in the Soviet Union?
The animated movie explores this question and changes the way you look at Superman and the rest of the DC Universe. The movie was released digitally on February 25, with the 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-ray Combo Pack on sale March 17. This is a review for an advanced copy of the physical version.
DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have been doing a great job with the animated movies. That being said, it’s not really a surprise that most of the movies have focused on Superman, Batman, and sometimes the Justice League. These are the characters the general public knows and wants.
Before any jaded viewer begins to dismiss this as just another Superman animated movie, the premise of the story allows a 180 take on the characters. This isn’t necessarily the same as seeing opposite versions like in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths or Justice League: Gods and Monsters. The characters still feel like who they’re supposed to be, but they are completely different at the same time.
If you’re unfamiliar with the comic, the story basically shows what happens if baby Kal-El’s ship landed on a farm in the Ukraine instead of in Kansas. The film begins in 1946, when Superman is a kid just discovering he has powers. When he shows his friend, Svetlana, she tells him he has to give his power to the state. Soon Superman serves under Stalin and the world learns of him through Soviet propaganda films.
Other differences in characters include Lex Luthor working for President Dwight Eisenhower. Luthor is also married to Lois Lane, who is still a reporter. (Some things never change). When a Russian satellite is crashing towards Metropolis, Superman saves the city, which leads him to an interview with Lois. She shows him a file, given to her by Lex of course. In the file, Superman discovers things in his home country aren’t quite as he was lead to believe.
The information takes him to a gulag where Svetlana and many others have been forced to work. Superman’s reunion with his childhood friend is cut short when she dies due to the horrible living conditions. Superman confronts Stalin and forcibly removes him from office. Superman is now the leader of the Soviet Union.
We also get to see altered versions of other characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan, and more. As with the comic, it’s a great premise that works really well. The characters are different but still retain their core essence. It’s a fun to see these different versions rather than have this simply be another Justice League movie (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).
I planned on re-reading the comic before watching but decided against it at the last minute. Seeing the movie without complete recollection of the comic showed that the movie does really stand on its own. This really shouldn’t be a surprise since the screenplay was brilliantly written by J.M. DeMatteis (based on Mark Millar’s story), and the movie was directed by Sam Liu. Liu has directed so many great DC animated movies, he could probably direct them in his sleep.
We also have a stellar voice cast. Jason Isaacs brings life to this version of Superman. Diedrich Bader does a remarkable job as Lex. Roger Craig Smith gets to do a different kind of Batman. Amy Acker is a convincing Lois Lane. And having Vanessa Marshall as Wonder Woman again makes a lot of sense. All this combined with the slick animation, it’s a fantastic movie all around.
If that wasn’t enough, the latest DC Showcase features a Phantom Stranger short (with Peter Serafinowicz and Michael Rosenbaum providing voices). This short is a literal trip. Bruce Timm directs the feature which is written by Ernie Altbacker. The story is set in the early 70s and we get some nice psychedelic vibes throughout. The story begins with a young woman being driven to a house party in an old VW bus. It’s evident early on that things are about to take a severely dark turn when she finally gets to meet the mysterious Seth.
Other special features include a seventeen-minute look at the Cold War and how a character like Superman fits in. The Superman we see in the main feature may be a different version but he still simply wants to make the world a better place. Some motion comics for Superman: Red Son are also included along with a couple episodes of Justice League from the DC Comics Vault (“A Better World” parts 1 and 2). A ten-minute sneak peek at Justice League: Apokolips War is also included. That movie looks pretty insane.
Superman: Red Son is another success for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. As mentioned above, it is currently available digitally. I always feel the physical version is the better deal with the special features plus the fact you also get a digital copy if you want to watch while on the go.
As much as I enjoyed the original comic, it was never one I felt compelled to read over and over. (I am definitely going re-read it now). Because of the high production, I feel this is a movie I could easily re-watch again very soon. Seeing the changes is the characters is like watching a fascinating lab experiment underway. Having the story mainly take place during the 50s through the 80s almost makes it feel like you’re watching a bizarre moment in history unfold. The voice action and visuals makes it easy to get sucked into the story. It’s a movie you should definitely watch if you’re a fan of the comic or DC characters in general.