Dark Gods: The Red Son in the 21st Century


This is an upcoming chapter in the forthcoming book: Adapting Superman: Essays on the Man of Steel in a Transmedia Context” in 2020/21.  The chapter combines my obsession with comic literature and my research on societally influenced behaviour and institutional control as it looks at the Dark God version of Superman that is so much more culturally relevant in 21st-century society.

Below is the abstract:

Dark Gods: Zack Snyder and the Red Son in the 21st century.

Dr Simon Harold Walker

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Within Mark Millar’s Elseworld tale, Superman lands in the USSR, not the USA.  The result of this is total indoctrination into communist ideology.  As the story develops, Superman’s desire to protect and save becomes bastardised by the increasing immorality of his methods.  As his suit becomes darker, as does his character, his shield, and his soul.  Within the story, Superman acts as a reverse Machiavellian hero, continually compounding his mistakes with further missteps.  Turning to violence rather than negotiation, abandoning reason for the purposes of the common good.  Superman Red Son is the complete antithesis of the Superman mythology.  This is the black mirror version, released in 2003, of a character warped by the subjectivity of a bias westernized lens.  This was not the Superman fan’s recognized.

Nearly two decades later, modern fictional heroes frequently blur the line between moral and just.  Writing at the end of the Game of Thrones era, it is obvious that modern entertainment can only sustain their willing suspension of disbelief if our heroes are as vulnerable and damaged as we perceive ourselves to be.   Daenerys’ unconscionable burning of King’s Landing, Iron Man’s self-destruction from PTSD, Michael Burnham’s inflexibility and continual loss in Star Trek Discovery: these are the modern heroes.  In this post-Battlestar Gallactica and Game of Thrones world, Richard Donner’s bright blue, square-jawed, white teeth wonder-man is no longer believable. We may still believe that ‘a man can fly’, but in a world where corrupt businessmen can become world leaders, where nations are torn apart by lies told for the profit of the elite, and where physical agency is increasingly removed, our ‘belief’ in bright glittering heroes is on the wane.

Snyder’s Superman is as much a reflection of our current society desperation, as Donner’s was a symbol of hope.  Throughout the Man of Steel period, Henry Cavil stoically played a hero without a place in the world.  A hero, whom like his Elseworld counterpart, increasingly rejected both humanity and the current world order.

This chapter considers the relationship between the two characters as Superman is redefined under the light of a twenty-first-century reality.  In Smallville we saw Tom Welling desperately fight his inner darkness to become a beacon of hope.  In Supergirl Tyler Hoechlin has portrayed the brightest and most likeable superman since Dean Cain in the 1990s, yet even in the alternative reality in which Supergirl is set, his character seems out of place.  The DC TV universe is growing again increasingly dark, with even the Flash and Legends of Tomorrow lacking of much of their characteristic levity.

Ultimately the question must be asked: is the current world no longer accepting of the Blue Boy Scout?  Instead, is Snyder and Millar’s version, much more recognizable and realistic as the character of superman transforms from page to screen through the warped mirror of 21st-century society?

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