As regular readers (I hope there are some) of this column will be aware, I rarely write about Superman.
I did last fortnight, and following that, I was inspired enough to dip into my Superman vault to see if I had missed out on any interesting Superman comics that met two criteria: One, I should have liked it; and two, readers are unlikely to have encountered them. To my surprise, I discovered two.
The first is as fine a work of alternative history as I have encountered. Kal-El’s escape from a dying Krypton is delayed by some hours (during which the Earth keeps on rotating) and so, instead of landing in the vast plains of the US, the ship carrying him crashes on to a collective farm in the Soviet Union. He becomes the ultimate weapon for the USSR; a paranoid US puts its faith in and its resources behind the brilliant Lex Luthor (who is married to Lois Lane); as Luthor struggles to come up with a way to combat the man of steel, Superman takes over as the ruler of the USSR and, indeed, most of the world; crime rates dip, economies boom, until Luthor manages to have himself elected president of the US and, in a fascinating use of economic logic, turns around the country’s economy….
I’ll stop there because I don’t want any more spoilers, but Mark Millar’s three-part miniseries Red Son, a riff on Krypton’s red sun, and an even more deviant play on what is to come at the end of the book, is a great piece of alternative comic history (it even has a Russian Batman who tries to stop Superman). And it is a particularly gripping narrative of the free will versus they-don’t-know-what-is-good-for-them argument that is central to some Superman comics and is a recurring motif in science fiction concerning aliens with powers and intelligence superior to our own.
The second is Kurt Busiek’s four-part miniseries Superman: Secret Identity which sort of defies description. It is about an ordinary family somewhere in the US, the Kents, who decide, in a fit of madness, to name their son Clark. And so, poor Clark Kent goes through school, putting up not just with his extraordinariness, but also a lot of ribbing, and not all of it good natured till, one day, he suddenly discovers that he can fly (and that he indeed has a lot of powers that his fictional counterpart does). He models his costume on Superman’s and goes around doing things Superman would do. Not that it is relevant, but the Lois in this story is Lois Chaudhari, an Indian. Secret Identity is essentially a thriller, but it has a very strong subtext about extraordinariness and ordinariness and what happens to people who suddenly find they have super-powers and how it would be to have these in the real world.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.