While it is always fun to witness a comic book adaptation that ties into various other properties in a creatively fulfilling way, sometimes you just want to experience a crazy standalone story that puts a new spin on things. Thankfully for DC fans, we have the Elseworlds imprint around to deliver engaging stories that exist as their own thing. One of the latest examples of this in DC Animation is the recent adaptation of Superman: Red Son. This installment is based upon the 2003 miniseries of the same name from Mark Millar (Kick Ass) in which our favorite hero known for being the standard for “truth, justice and the American way” goes in a bit of a different direction. Instead, we get a wild “what if?” scenario positing what may have happened if Superman had landed in the Soviet Union instead of Smallville. This is a fascinating scenario that opens up the eternal question of nature vs. nurture. The good people over at DC Animation have been doing a great job of being versatile and choosing to adapt the right source material. Now, we must take a closer look to see if this film lived up to its potential.
We open up in the Soviet Union in the year 1946 as a young boy is chased down by a group of bullies looking to antagonize the weakling. The bullies are chased away by a young girl named Svetlana, who encourages the boy to develop a stronger disposition. As he reveals to her, he was not afraid of getting hurt; he was scared that he would hurt them. Yes, this is our young Superman coming into his powers in the USSR. As any good Russian does, he thinks about the good of his nation and how the power could help the homeland. A decade later, the “Soviet Superman” is the key piece of propaganda under Stalin’s regime. In pretty much any reality, Lex Luthor is going to be developing a way in which to take down Superman, and things are no different here. Such unchecked power can simply not be tolerated by the United States. In this reality, Lex is married to Lois Lane, who scores an interview with Superman following a satellite fiasco. It is at this fateful meeting where Superman first becomes aware that he may not be on the right side of history. Superman is someone who does not like being used, and he is going to use his powers to spread good if you like it or not.
The ways in which this film tackles Superman’s fundamental traits is a compelling look at nature vs. nurture. Superman essentially wants good to be spread around the world, but his upbringing in communism creates the possibility of subjugation that is a valid fear for those under his reign. Brainiac plays a sizable role in the film as a villain turned trusted advisor to Superman who swiftly puts any dissidents out of commission. At what point does the ends no longer justify the means? Superman’s beliefs and values are put to the test with other famous DC heroes that likewise present as a bit different from their Earth Prime versions. Batman is a terrorist who has a real vendetta against our Russian god, which leads to some really dark places. Wonder Woman is still a source of a good in the world, but she can barely contain her contempt for the shenanigans of men. Who can blame her, though? Men are clearly incapable of handling their business in this universe, which leaves her in the role of having to clean up their mess. There is even a thrilling inclusion of the Green Lantern Corp facing off against Superman that makes you long for even more content with them.
As you can tell, this film is jam-packed in its sub-90-minute runtime, and it occasionally fails to service each plot point with the attention it needs. The film breezes through the years and pivotal events without much of a pause to reflect on the ramifications of the actions. It does not ruin the film, but it does keep it from being among the best entries in the DCAU. The film is technically a marvel, perhaps a poor choice in a DC review. The animation is simply stunning with strong character designs and smooth flowing action that is a blast to experience. Jason Isaacs capably handles the Russian accent of this Superman without verging into cartoonish territory. Diedrich Bader brings something new to Lex Luthor, as this version is less one-note mustache-twirling than some depictions of the character. And finally, Amy Acker really gets to the heart of Lois Lane despite having a fairly minuscule role. Acker makes the most of the time that she has. Superman: Red Son could have used another fifteen or so minutes to flesh out the narrative a bit more, but it still remains a perfectly enjoyable what-if tale that showcases the bold storytelling that comics can bring to life.
Superman: Red Son comes to 4K UHD Blu-Ray with a 2160p transfer that is incredibly bold with an amazing amount of depth. This disc provides some noticeable improvements over the Blu-Ray in certain areas including more vivid, natural colors and the elimination of any digital artifacting. The use of HDR yields some very pleasing enhancements to the dynamic colors on display, and the disc provides much deeper black levels for a cleaner viewing experience free of black crush. Whenever Superman is using his heat vision, you practically feel like the red is jumping off the screen thanks to the HDR. The dreary governmental occupation blends over somewhat stylistically to create a universe less vibrant than other DCAU films, but the way in which this presentation handles the subtle gradients is just excellent. This disc provides excellent line detail and more distinct shading, which gives the characters greater definition. The Blu-Ray disc looks great, but those with a proper display will likely find the 4K UHD Blu-Ray a more enjoyable experience.
This release boasts a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that really digs deep and impresses during this occasionally grandiose film. There is an immense amount of activity in the low-end which will cause your subwoofer to get a thorough workout throughout this presentation. Dialogue is often accompanied by a soaring score from Frederik Wiedmann or all manner of sound effects, but all of the information comes through clearly without getting muddied. The track engages all of the channels with panning effects and sounds of destruction that really transports you to the middle of the action. There are no obvious sync issues or other anomalies present. Warner Bros. has delivered an incredibly strong track that showcases the impressive sound design of their DCAU films.
- The Phantom Stranger: A fifteen-minute animated short focusing on the character of The Phantom Stranger. This short feels quite a bit different from the others, as the beginning almost makes you feel like you are in an episode of Scooby-Doo, but by the end you feel like you are in Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood. Peter Serafinowicz does an excellent job voicing our hero with his very distinctive voice. You have to love cults getting taken down.
- Cold Red War: A seventeen-minute featurette that examines the original story from the comics as well as the real-world history that inspired it. This delves way more into history than I expected it to, which is a pleasant surprise for history buffs. The costumes of the famous superheroes in the film are explored in depth. A few key crew members and other notables are interviewed including artist Dave Johnson, history professors Miriam Neirick, Ph.D. and Michaela Crawford Reaves, Ph.D., director Sam Liu, and DC Animation creative director Mike Carlin.
- Superman – Red Son Motion Comics: A six-minute taste of the motion comic is presented here, which mostly makes you want to go seek out the actual book.
- Sneak Peek: Justice League Dark – Apokolips War: A ten-minute look at Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which we reviewed back in June here. I often wish they would include these interviews on the actual disc of the films they are covering once they are released, as you get some fun appearances from the cast and crew.
- A Preview of The Death of Superman: A seven-minute promotion of the 2018 DCAU movie The Death of Superman.
- A Preview of Batman – Gotham By Gaslight: A eight-minute promotion of the 2018 DCAU movie Batman: Gotham By Gaslight.
- From the DC Comics Vault: You can find the two-part “A Better World” from the Justice League animated series. These episodes are fun and look great in high definition.
- Trailers: Batman: Hush and The Death and Return of Superman are provided with trailers here.
Superman: Red Son is an incredibly fun Elseworlds narrative that sees the character facing some unique dilemmas. The film does present some pacing issues that may have been remedied by an extended runtime, but that is a minor issue in an otherwise compelling adaptation. It is always appreciated when DC has some fun with their story choices. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided a truly stellar A/V presentation with this dazzling 4K UHD Blu-Ray along with some worthwhile special features. Fans of DC Animation should buy with confidence. Highly Recommended
Superman: Red Son is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.