As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:
Superman: Red Son
by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett
“In the middle of the twentieth century, the telephones started ringing all across America as rumors of my existence started circulating.”
What if Superman didn’t crash-land his Kryptonian self in the flowing fields of Kansas but in a farm commune in Soviet Russia instead? This is the central premise of “Superman: Red Son,” an impressively creative comic book that gives enough taste of the original character alongside what is a very, very alien world.
In a lot of ways, this comic book is a feat. For one, it takes that central question and extrapolates it as far as it will go. They are, after all, dealing with a bona fide superhero – the most powerful man on the planet. That man just happens to be championing Communism and Stalin’s way instead of apple pie. For two, it includes so much rich history that it rounds out the story while giving it a librarian’s depth alongside explosive action and tight dialogue.
Supes grows up with the ideals of state sharing instilled into him, but when the Soviets announce his arrival on the scene, the Americans see it as the announcement of a new weapon of mass destruction. It becomes a political split where the Americans find themselves on the losing end – but Lex Luthor, the world’s smartest man, sees no reason why he can’t top the Man of Soviet Steel.
There are familiar faces, like Batman, who was also born in the Soviet Union as a direct result of the KGB’s actions. He’s more of a Joker figure in this story – an agent of chaos fighting against Superman with ingenuity and ninja-like skills. Luthor sends an entire cadre of failed experiments (like Brainiac) to subdue Superman, and even Wonder Woman appears as a sort of societal mate.
But the beauty of the whole thing is that it takes us from the mid-1900s to around 2000 after Superman has risen to power. We get to see it from an outside perspective, but every once in a while we get a glimpse at how he’s really a lonely man trying desperately to make the world perfect. It’s an impossible task, but he either doesn’t know it or refuses to believe it.
And as a bonus, Millar manages to keep several Christ allegories in his version of Superman’s life – specifically a time where Superman helps out the Americans in order to prove that he wasn’t placed on the earth only to save the lives of one group or nationality. That’s symbolic icing on the cake for a rich, fantastically well-told story about one of the most recognizable figures in fiction history.
The only real problem I see would be a studio not having the bravery to tell this story. It’s rife for adaptation on its own.
This is my challenge to the studio system. You want a reboot of the Superman franchise? Here’s your chance to do something daring, unique and phenomenal. Instead of rehashing an origin story that we already know by heart (and only really serves to introduce us to your actors and not the characters themselves), tell us a new story. Put the power and budget of a major release behind an origin story that most haven’t heard yet.
It’s a difficult task for any writer to take something well known and change it so drastically, which is why part of me would love to suggest that Mark Millar adapt his own work. Unfortunately, even with the buzz Kick-Ass is getting, he’s never written a screenplay before. With that in mind, I turn to the one, tried and true writer who can handle both the political and the intimate, a writer who can introduce a larger-than-life figure and make them seem human: Aaron Sorkin.
In the greatest bout of wishful thinking in my life (hey, this is dreamcasting after all), I would love to see Christopher Nolan at the helm. He’s already resurrected one iconic superhero, and he’s proven he can create a fresh take on origin stories that audiences will go crazy for. This might be a different animal altogether, but I can’t imagine any other director having the credibility to draw tickets on his name the way Nolan can at this point. Plus, he’d get to work with Batman again.
Last year, James McTeigue claimed to be in talks to direct a reboot, but so did the Wachowskis. And so did McG. And Bryan Singer is still involved. Millar himself actually teamed with Matthew Vaughn to pitch a massive three-film series, but so far there’s no actual movement on nailing down a director.
There are several core roles that would make the film shine.
An Unknown as Superman: I think it’s obvious that you need an unknown to play Superman in order to recreate the character completely anew. Either that, or anyone but Brandon Routh at this point.
No offense to him as an actor, but he’s weighed down by the albatross of Superman Returns, and an audience would never buy him as a Soviet Supes. In fact, now that I think about it, you almost need someone a bit more built. A bit more, well, Soviet.
Ralph Fiennes as Lex Luthor: In the book, Luthor is still a pompous dick, but he’s also portrayed playing dozens of chess games simultaneously while solving complex societal problems because his brains works so damned fast. Several actors have gone bald lately for villain roles, but Luthor keeps most of his hair throughout “Red Son,” a good fact because the bald thing is really limiting.
Call it a cop out, but I really don’t want to dreamcast while figuring out if an actor would look silly without hair. I just want to choose a brilliant actor – like Ralph Fiennes (who, coincidentally, looks pretty frightening bald).
Nora Zehetner as Lois Lane: Lois plays a very different role in these comics. Her relationship toward Superman is…almost non-existent. It’s a smaller role, but it demands a certain type of actress to pull it off (and to age up).
If Marion Cotillard could do an American accent, I’d choose her in a heartbeat, but my friend Ryan Walters (the man who introduced me to the comic book) mentioned an inspired choice of Brick and Brothers Bloom actress Nora Zehetner.
Rade Serbedzija as Stalin: The big man’s got some serious weight to throw around in this story – and his arch is one of a powerful man who brings a creation to life that eventually (and organically) overtakes him. He is only a man, and every man must die. It’s a powerful part that’s encased in a historical figure that’s already hated.
Only an actor like Rade Serbedzija could both look and sound like Stalin while bringing a strong acting background to the table. He can be ruthless and earn compassion all at the same time.
Konstantin Khabensky as Pyotr Roslov: Roslov is Stalin’s son and the head of the KGB in the story. A pretty standard role of a scorned offspring who sees his rise to ultimate power stunted by an outsider who is hungry to rule the world. As standard as it is, it’s a significant part of the story, and Roslov is a major catalyst for the creation of Batman, as well as the true immediate foil of Superman while they spar for position in Moscow.
Viggo Mortensen as Batman: As I said before, this really isn’t the Batman that we know, love, and secretly wish we were. He is not the Bruce Wayne figure with flaunted wealth. He’s a beleaguered soul ruined by the loss of his parents, a figure of revolution and destruction, a terrorist. I’d like to throw out the name Viggo Mortensen for no other reason than it’s Viggo.
I don’t see a need to justify it beyond that. The guy is a genius. He also had a pretty solid Russian accent going for Eastern Promises.
Who Owns It:
Warners owns the rights to make the next Superman film, but to my knowledge, no one has specifically bought the rights to adapt “Red Son.” I imagine it’s because of the tangled web of legal issues surrounding the main character.
What a ridiculous movie this would make. I fully realize that it has the potential to please about 18 people and leave millions pissed off, but it also has the potential to swing the door wide for other alternative superhero films.
The genre has grown stale and restless. Reboots are coming only a few years after the final films in original series, and all we’re hearing creatively is that new directors and writers want to tell the same old origin stories over again. We’ve seen them. We’ve known them by heart. It’s time to wow us with something new and daring, and this is the starting point.
Editor’s Note: This entry could not have been completed without the help of comic book aficionado Ryan Walters who introduced the comic book to me and suggested several of the cast members.