Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: J.M. DeMatteis
Starring: Jason Isaacs, Amy Acker, Diedrich Bader, Roger Craig Smith, Vanessa Marshall
Review by: Eric Joseph
Following the success of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, it was really only a matter of time before another “Elseworlds” story found itself adapted for animation. This time, it’s the beloved Superman: Red Son getting the treatment, thereby bringing the work of writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Johnson to brilliant life.
If you don’t know the basics, here’s all you really need to learn going in: instead of baby Kal-El’s ship landing in Smallville, Kansas, it touched down in Soviet Russia. As such, the Comrade of Steel (Jason Isaacs) grows up to serve the state, and we meet alternate takes on iconic characters such as Batman (Roger Craig Smith), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), Green Lantern (Sasha Roiz), Lex Luthor (Diedrich Bader) and Lois Lane-Luthor (Amy Acker) in the process. And no, you weren’t reading that wrong – Lex and Lois are married!
Much like its predecessor in Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Superman: Red Son succeeds in pretty much every respect. The plot is intriguing and the voice cast knocks it out of the park as per usual. It’d been quite a long time since I read the source material, yet I still found myself riveted by the story as it unfolded. And similar to how the adventures of a Victorian Dark Knight didn’t mirror what had been found on the printed page, neither does this. Rest assured that the DNA of Millar and Johnson’s work remains, but there’s quite a bit in the way of fresh content as well. This flick falls in the middle of “adaptation” and “inspired by”; it’s not as literal as, say, The Dark Knight Returns, but it’s not as far off as The Death of Superman, either.
What will likely enthrall viewers most is seeing that “nature versus nurture” aspect at play. Despite being brought up under a much different system of values, Supes is still a guy who wants to accomplish things for the greater good, deep down. However, power can corrupt, especially when you’re someone who can fly and shoot lasers from their eyes. Still, he’s not the tyrant his Injustice counterpart was, so expect his moral tapestry to be as grey as the costume he dons.
In my view, allowing for the story to span over the course of decades really shows how both Superman and his political opponents evolve. His rivalry with Luthor is intrinsically what you may expect, yet even that fella is more than your usual villain wearing the proverbial black hat. In fact, some of you watching this may find yourself wondering which guy to root for.
Another major positive in this package comes in the form of its bonus content and, believe me, this Blu-ray release is pretty rich in that department. The DC Showcase: Phantom Stranger short is every bit as good as the feature presentation itself, and is my favorite of the latest round that kicked off last year.
Elsewhere, there’s an excerpt from the Superman: Red Son motion comic, a featurette dubbed “Cold Red War,” and a must-see first look at Justice League Dark: Apokolips War that lets us know way more about the plot than the trailer did. And if that weren’t enough, the two-part Justice League classic that was “A Better World” is thrown in for good measure.
You know, there isn’t really much I can say about this film that’s bad, other than that maybe it dragged a little during the third act. Seriously, that’s it. This may not be something I revisit a million times as I have with Under the Red Hood or Mask of the Phantasm, but it left me quite impressed.
But if I’m to look at this very objectively, I imagine that the staunch purists will complain about how it’s not a carbon copy of the comic book – but were most of you really expecting it to be? If anything, a percentage of the audience may have a hard time digesting an interpretation of Batman who’s an outright terrorist, but just keep in mind they call it “Elseworlds” for a reason.
If Superman: Red Son is to be any indication of what’s to come, then 2020 will be a very good year for DC animation. The bar has been set, and we can only hope the next offerings are every bit as enjoyable. And like I said moments ago, the bonus content was enough to satisfy this critic, so pick up a copy as soon as you can.