Synopsis: “To start things off, Academy Award-winning writer of DC Future Stat: The Next Batman, John Ridley, joins artist Clayon Henry (Batman/Superman) to tell a story of Clark Kent as he confronts a villain who still haunts him, in a story that shows what Superman can mean to a whole country.”
No one would have thought that someone as powerful as Superman would be captured in a country controlled by a dictatorship and locked up in a reeducation prison. But “Untitled,” the first story of “Superman: Red and Blue no.1,”’ Clark Kent remembers exactly that ordeal and is on a mission to get closure.
In the comic we see the mild-mannered reporter traveling on an airplane enroute to Lubania, a former Soviet Union-controlled country in which he, as Superman, spent eight months in captivity during the Cold War. The reason for Clark’s capture was that he was lured to fly into Lubania and save lives only to be stripped of his powers and used as a propaganda pawn to make the West look weak. During his imprisonment, Clark was subjected to endless torture and hard labor at the hands of a ruthless colonel, Nikolai Koslov.
What amazed me about this story was how grounded John Ridley made it. Ridley took the story of Clark’s ordeal from the pages of “World’s Finest Comics” no.192 and 193 and made them into a post traumatic memory for the man who is Superman. ”Untitled” is told from the perspective of Clark Kent, the journalist. He is the center of his own story in which he tells people is a typical journalistic interview. However, this “dispassionate interview,” as Clark calls it, with Koslov, now a wealthy entrepreneur, is a form of “therapy” for Clark.
As I read this story, it reminded me of the experiences of former American Olympian and World War II hero Louis Zamperini who was captured by the Japanese. Zamperini’s story is told in the movie “Unbroken,” in which he suffered a cruel ordeal under a Japanese prison guard Matsuhiro Watanabe nicknamed “The Bird.” Like Koslov torturing Clark, Watanabe would brutally torture Zamperini who would bravely endure the abuse. After the war’s end, Zamperini returned to the United States and got married but had to fight his demons.
It wasn’t until after attending Billy Graham’s church with his wife, Zamperini forgave Watanabe and the other prison guards who tormented him. Zameperini tried to meet Watanabe in-person but the war criminal never met him. The hero even wrote him a letter telling him that he forgave him but Watanabe never responded. However, Zamperini dedicated the rest of his life to forgiveness and evangelism. I wondered if Ridley intended to make this comic Clark’s “Unbroken” moment, Was this interview also a means to forgive the man that made him feel what it was like to be “helpless in a way Luthor or Brainiac never made him feel humiliated? Shamed?”
Another amazing quality of this story was the use of the colors of Superman’s uniform: red and blue. The red used in the panels which showed the emotionally tense or ominous scenes. Notable examples of the “red” scenes include Soviet-Era Lubania, Clark’s ordeal at the prison, and Clark’s “secret desire” in which he imagines himself using his heat vision to kill the man who made his life hell for eight months. I’ve also noticed that Koslov was colored red to signify that he was still very much the same antagonistic man who bullied the then powerless Clark.
The color blue was used in the more calmer, solitary and pensive scenes. The post-Soviet and prosperous Lubania is colored blue. In addition, the dilapidated prison is also colored blue; a shell of its Soviet-era glory, and Clark;s sweaty palms are colored blue as he reflects on his experiences in Lubania.
Clark’s interview ends with Koslov responding to Clark’s question if the former Colonel cared about the lives he took during the Cold War. The entrepreneur avoids the question by telling the reporter that everyone made mistakes and that the West won. He also concluded that the best thing anyone could “was move on.” This brings the comic to full circle when Clark narrates that it is “easy to move on when you’re the victimizer and not the victim.”
The Man of Steel reflects that even with his powers, he let go of Koslov. He also reflects that he could have written a damaging expose about him involving how he treated his employees while building his wealth but the city Koslov lived in counted on that weath. The story ends with Clark declaring that he will always care to stand against Koslov when others could not.
Superman: Red and Blue no. 1 is available at your local comic book shop or wherever comic books are sold. You can also listen to my commentary on “Untitled” on the Earth-16 Comics Wire Podcast.