Although Superman is indestructible, that doesn’t mean he’s not afraid of anything, and his greatest fear is more tragic and real than most would think.
Warning: Contains spoilers for Superman: Red and Blue # 1
It may seem absurd to think that there is something Superman He’s scared, but a new comic reveals that a classic adventure left the Man of Steel traumatized. Far from being a mad scientist or an ultra-powerful alien, Superman: Red and Blue # 1 shows that the Man of Steel’s greatest fear is something much more real and much more horrible than any villain in the comics.
In the first story of the number, Entitled By writer John Ridley and artist Clayton Henry, readers are greeted with an uncommon, flustered Clark Kent. His palms get sweaty as he flies to the former Soviet country of Lubania. Technically, he is flying there to interview a former dictator and current businessman named Koslov. However, the real reason he’s meeting with Koslov is for catharsis. A long time ago, Superman was not only not captured by Koslov, he was forced into a “re-education camp.”
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In the 1970s, Superman was flying over Lubania when he saw a train derail. He flew down to save the passengers, only to find that the air was laced with kryptonite. Realizing that he had been tricked, he went into hiding, though he was quickly found and placed in the Kelebnic Reeducation Center. Without his powers, Superman was beaten and tortured for eight months. The guards starved him to death and then used him as propaganda to show that the West was weak. Eventually, he escaped with the help of Batman, but the memory haunts him.
When he finally meets with Koslov, he is disappointed to discover that the former dictator is neither repentant nor unrepentant. If he were to regret his actions then Clark would be able to acknowledge the monster’s humanity, however if he was happy about his past crimes then Superman would be tempted to kill him. Instead, Koslov only claims that most people made mistakes during the cold war and are best left behind. Clark is shocked by the encounter, unable to find the emotional release he had hoped for. Then he hears the sound of sirens and runs off to save the day once more.
One of the benefits of half a century of comic continuity is that it allows comic book creators to recontextualize old stories. Though Entitled stands out on its own as a remarkable Superman story, it’s actually a sequel to World’s Best # 192 Y 193 1970. While those two stories are undoubtedly fun adventures and are fine in their own right, they don’t treat the concept of Superman being tortured in a reeducation camp with the seriousness it deserves. In the hands of modern writers, what was once a funny comic becomes a major source of trauma and fear for Superman, divorcing him from the iron determination and nerves of steel that defined his appearances in the Silver Age.
The result is one of the most compelling depictions of Superman. He is not an indestructible god or alien here, he is a man fighting impotence. What good would it be to write an exhibition on Koslov? What good would it do to kill him? Neither would undo what they had already done to Clark, and neither would stop the exploitative working conditions of Koslov’s current business. It’s fun to watch the Man of Steel absolutely rip villains apart, but it’s these moments of quiet vulnerability and humanity where Superman She’s in her best moment.
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