‘Superman: Red Son’ is Bad Anti-Soviet Kitsch Nostalgia

It's a brilliant concept turned into a Bizarro Cold War crank film...


There’s something deeply ironic about an anti-Communist propaganda cartoon being released during the month when Cuba and China appear to be leading the worldwide community in combating Novel Coronavirus while, by contrast, the American public health infrastructure implodes thanks to the blundering of an administration that until last week was calling it all a hoax.

Not since Rocky and Bullwinkle has a major American animation studio issued a cartoon with such astonishingly corny Russian accents!

The plot of this is rather charming, an alternative DC universe where the last son of Krypton’s rocket ship lands in the Eastern rather than Western prairies, leading him to become a ward of the postwar Stalinist state.

But of course, faster than a locomotive, things go screaming off the rails in the name of an ideological project that would embarrass anyone (except maybe Ted Cruz).

After Commie Superman discovers the Gulags, he decides to kill Stalin and become ruler of the USSR and Warsaw Pact (never mind that the Eastern Bloc countries all had different leaders, those sorts of geopolitical nuances go out the window). Lex Luthor and his wife Lois Lane decide to launch a multi-year war against the Red Son that includes breeding a disposable clone, arming a dissident Batman who has an unexplained proclivity for large-scale terrorism (terribly out of character since Bruce Wayne is adverse to wanton murder), and creating a secret Green Lantern Corps within the Air Force. Along the way we also get a lesbian Wonder Woman who serves as the voice of conscience and reason for a dictator who is losing his grasp on the humanitarian ethos that compelled him to take power.

This could have been a very, very fun romp. The writers might have explored multiple dimensions of the Cold War, such as the Soviet Union’s support for decolonization and endorsement of the Civil Rights movement in America. It could have deconstructed the missile gap, the domino theory, and all the rest of it, demonstrating it was all nonsense dreamed up by the military industrial complex to sustain our Pentagon Keynesian political economy.

Instead we get a rather boring rip-off of Ayn Rand’s We the Living, a Libertarian comic book that is 35 years past its shelf life. What kind of people still find this Reagan-era scare mongering about the Red Dragon Communism remotely interesting? Is this intended for (yes, the actually-existing) the Ron Paul Home Schooling crowd?

Why are we still fighting the Cold War three decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse and even longer since Deng converted China into the American industry’s manufacturing workshop in toto? Our popular media continues to churn out bad propaganda for a conflict that ended before the proliferation of the internet. By contrast, when was the last time you saw a movie that continues to prosecute the War of the Roses or the Spanish American War? When we get films about either of the World Wars or our Civil War, they are have a contemporary political analogue inscribed into the foundation of the plot, not this sort of retreading old battle cries that by all rights should be forgotten.

Could it perhaps be that either A) the Cold War never ended (something any Cuban and North Korean can easily make an argument for) or, alternatively, because B) the ideological construct bearing that appellation was instead a vast and complex smokescreen for something far different and much more appalling?

Maybe the Cold War was just a make-believe conflict, engineered by our propaganda system to justify the perpetuation of a prolonged siege of the Global South for control of its natural resources, with ‘Communism’ being a catch-all phrase intended to tar any state government intending to maintain control of their national treasure? The Pentagon Papers said just as much regarding Ho Chi Minh and the constant labeling of Vladimir Putin as a KGB agent would seem to demonstrate the trend’s continuity, as also would seem manifest by reactivating hostilities with Beijing as a component of the Pivot to Asia. Though Marxism-Leninism was allegedly destroyed with the Berlin Wall, we continue to be inundated with a multimedia blitzkrieg against the impending march of Stalinism, a sick impersonation of Quixote’s charge upon the windmills bearing deadlier consequences.

Much more disturbing, however, is the continuous reliance on the business titan Lex Luthor by the American government, eventuating his election as president. With little serious inquisition into the reactionary nature of such policy measures, the film tacitly endorses a uniquely American brand of American corporatized government Bertram Gross warned about decades ago.

This is a discouraging development because, while the majority of live action DC Comics adaptations lately have been box office bombs, the animated home video market has been a cash cow for over two decades. Since Bruce Timm premiered Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, Warner Animation Group has released 37 different cartoons direct-to-video to great acclaim. In the days of quarantine because of Novel Coronavirus, one is forced to query whether audience numbers shall spike for this picture as a result.

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