It’s a simple question with far-reaching consequences: what if Superman’s spaceship had crash-landed in the Soviet Union instead of Smallville, Kansas? The answer is revealed in Warner Bros. Animation’s new animated movie, Superman: Red Son, available now for streaming and on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-Ray Combo Pack on March 17th, 2020.
The question was originally posited in the 2003 comic Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson, Walden Wong, Paul Mounts, Ken Lopez, and Dave Johnson, which takes the all-American icon created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and gives his moral compass an all-Soviet Union realignment.
Now, the scintillating story has been adapted into an animated movie, directed by Sam Liu (Reign of the Supermen, DC Showcase: Death) with a script written by J.M. DeMatteis (Batman: Bad Blood, Constantine: City of Demons).
As readers of the comic are already aware, the brave new world that is created by this alteration in Superman’s origin creates fallout all around the globe. The consequences of his moral adjustment not only force us to re-examine our perspective on DC’s most recognizable hero, it also has an effect on many other familiar DC characters, sometimes in unexpected ways. The Beat caught up with the voice cast at the world premiere of the movie to find out what viewers can expect from a story about a Soviet Superman.
“To me it’s the most interesting, provocative and personal version of Superman there’s ever been,” said Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, Star Trek: Discovery) who voices Superman. “What it isn’t, is what you would think when you first hear the concept ‘Superman’s in Russia and becomes a Soviet Superman.’ You would think that somehow that makes him a bad guy, but he’s the same person and he’s utterly committed to doing the right thing in the right ways – justice and truth and honesty, and equality and freedom. He just has a different prism through which to apply those to the world, and that sets off a whole bunch of adventures and changes in terms of consequences.”
However, seeing the familiar form of Superman in such a context can be jarring, as well, as explained by Travis Willingham (Critical Role, Batman: Bad Blood) who plays Superior Man, the United States response to the Soviet Superman.
“It was a little spooky, actually, to see Superman come out and have some very… what would you call it… I guess some very conservative-leaning talking points in the film,” said Willingham. “It was a little chilling to see the guy that you love so much come out in the red, white, and yellow and have that sort of stuff come out of his mouth.”
It isn’t just Superman who undergoes some dramatic changes in Superman: Red Son. Roger Craig Smith (Batman Ninja, Batman: Bad Blood), who voices this incarnation of Batman, discussed the differences between the more familiar interpretation of Batman and the one we are introduced to in this story… as well as some of the similarities.
“With this version of Batman, there’s still elements of the Batman we know and love,” Smith said. “But there’s also this, ‘woo, I don’t know if I like this guy. I don’t know that he’s doing the things he should be doing but he’s doing it for the reasons that he feels are right and just,’ so that’s an element of Batman that I’m familiar with.”
Smith emphasized how uncanny the experience of seeing such an interpretation of Batman can prove to be: “We’re given this brief little window when we’re exposed to this early on, where we go, ‘oh yeah, that’s Batman, he’s this guy, this is what he does.’ Then all of a sudden you put it in another world and you’re like… Yeah, but imagine you’re the other people who Batman’s doing this to, maybe you don’t like that guy as much.”
However, while the domino effect of Superman’s change in perspective is far-reaching, there are certain characters that remain more recognizable when compared to their more familiar counterparts. Wonder Woman, voiced by Vanessa Marshall (Young Justice, Star Wars Rebels), is relatively similar to other versions of Diana.
Marshall reflected on how Diana’s perspective is informed by the fact that her home on Themyscira offers her a vantage point that is removed from both the United States and the Soviet Union.
“She’s always been an independent thinker, but I think within the context of the west and the east – she’s neither American nor from the Soviet Union – she maintains her ability to be an independent thinker and to truly mete out justice or fight tyranny… whoever happens to be tyrannical,” Marshall told the Beat. “She’s in a very unique position within this narrative, and when we place her in the Soviet Union, it’s a friendly face that makes the concept of a Soviet Superman a little bit more friendly and familiar, in a strange way.”
Marshall emphasized how this iteration of Diana is not so far off from the Wonder Woman most familiar to audiences.
“She’s definitely on the side of peace, love, and justice,” said Marshall. “There’s nothing in here that’s out of character, per se, I think there are more intimate pieces of information about her in this one though.”
There are many other familiar DC characters that make appearances in the story as well, including members of the Green Lantern Corps. Phil LaMarr (Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, Futurama), who voices John Stewart, explained that the Green Lanterns are there for a very specific mission.
“John Stewart and all the Green Lanterns are there for a purpose: to fight Superman,” LaMarr said. “Which is… not a great mission to be on. But,” LaMarr switched to Stewart’s voice, “that’s our job.”
LaMarr told the Beat how excited he was to learn they would be making a Superman: Red Son animated movie: “I’m a big-time comic book guy. I remember when this story first came out, and it blew my mind. So when I heard Bruce was helming it, I was just like, ‘oh my god’… and then, I heard that I got to be in it! Heaven.”
LaMarr also had some interesting insight into the process of adapting a story from the comic book page to the screen.
“Obviously, they’ve changed things, which actually made me feel good because I feel like any time you’re trying to just shove things from one medium into another, that’s a bad idea,” said LaMarr. “You always have to adapt because something that works on a comic book page where the reader is determining the pace and the reader is determining how they feel things, that’s completely different from animation. Animation you have music, you’re setting tone, so the story has to change.”
LaMarr noted that this deft adaption is especially exciting for those who have never read the comic book. “People who experience this for the first time as an animated thing are going to have the same kind of immense reaction that those of us who read it for the first time as a comic are going to have, cause that’s the job: not just to film a comic book page and put it up there, it’s to adapt the story so that people enjoy it in this new medium in the same way they enjoyed it in the old one.”
However, some of the voice actors were less familiar with the source material and found themselves shocked the first time they read the script. Amy Acker (Angel, Person of Interest), who plays Lois Lane, was surprised to learn the circumstances under which the intrepid reporter is living when we are introduced to her in this story.
“There’s a lot of the core qualities of the Lois Lane that you love,” Acker said. “She’s not afraid to ask the hard questions and fight for what she believes in and stand up for what she thinks is wrong, but… she’s also married to Lex Luthor, so that’s a little different.”
Acker continued, “When they asked me to do it, I was given the script for the movie before I got a chance to read the comic, and I was very confused at first, because I was like… wait, what? Why? And then was immediately really intrigued by it all, and wanted to read all the comics and figure out how this happened.”
Executive producer Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series) noted that the relationship between Lois and Lex was one aspect of the story they took extra time to examine during the development of the adaption.
“This last time I read it, I just remember thinking, ‘wow, I’m just kind of disappointed in Lois,’” Timm explained. “Because I think of her as a really strong character, and [Luthor] treats her horribly throughout the whole comic, and I’m like… ‘I want her to do something so that that wasn’t such a downer.’ So we massaged all their scenes a little bit so they at least have chemistry together, and he’s not quite as horrible in this as he is in the comics.”
Luthor himself, who is played here by Diedrich Bader (Office Space, Veep, The Drew Carey Show), is a different sort of character than one might expect from many of the previous interpretations of Superman’s arch-nemesis.
Willingham, who plays the Luthor-engineered answer to the Soviet Superman in Superman: Red Son, mentioned Bader’s performance specifically. “I love what Deidrich Bader did with Lex Luthor,” Willingham said. “I have a sort of idea in my mind of what Lex sounds like and the way that he played him I thought was really interesting, and the way they progressed his character from a physical standpoint, I loved that.”
While the story of Superman: Red Son is already exceptionally compelling, Sasha Roiz (Grimm), who plays Hal Jordan, had a personal connection to the story that he shared during a panel following the premiere of the film.
“My father was born in 1946 in the Soviet Union,” said Roiz. “I was raised in the shadow of all this, my parents fled that part of the world, and subsequently taught me some of the horrors of it. Watching it, it’s a perspective – it depends who is telling the history, who is telling the story. That’ll obviously always dictate who the hero is.”
Superman: Red Son is available now for streaming, and will be released on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-Ray Combo Pack on March 17th, 2020.