Ricky Church chats with Superman: Red Son director Sam Liu…
Sam Liu has been working on DC animated films and series for well over a decade and his latest in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line is one fans have been clamouring for for a long time now. Superman: Red Son, written by Mark Millar in the 2003 mini-series, sees an alternate history for the Man of Steel as his rocket lands not in Kansas, but in the heart of the Soviet Union in 1938. Raised among the Russians and trained by the state, this Superman fights for the advancement of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, but still retains some of the qualities of the regular Superman, making him a complicated, if misguided, hero.
With Superman: Red Son available on digital today and its upcoming home media release, we got the chance to sit down with Liu and discuss the appeal of adapting this graphic novel, the differences between our Superman and Soviet Superman as well as the different versions of other characters and its all-star cast, which includes Jason Isaacs (Star Trek: Discovery) as Superman, Diedrich Bader (Batman: The Brave and The Bold) as Lex Luthor, Amy Acker (Person of Interest) as Lois Lane, Roger Craig Smith (Batman: Arkham Origins) as Batman and Vanessa Marshall (Star Wars Rebels) as Wonder Woman.
Check out our interview below…
Ricky Church: Superman: Red Son has been a Superman adaptation that a lot of fans have asked for over the years. What’s the appeal for you in adapting and directing Red Son?
Sam Liu: I think just the concepts and the whole thing of like the propaganda sort of poster elements of it just visually.
I’m an anything 90s comic fan and so this had just came out afterwards and so I hadn’t actually read the books, but I do remember seeing the books and that type of art history. That era of using that type of art forms of propaganda posters. It’s always just graphically been really interesting to me and the concept of, obviously, what if Superman had crash landed in Russia versus Kansas. That was always sort of like a ‘wow’ kind of a thing. Like ‘what does that mean and what is that? What would that lead to?’
RC: Like you said Superman lands in Russia instead of Kansas so it’s obviously quite a different take on Superman. What do you find the big differences between communist Superman versus regular Superman are for you and directing this movie?
SL: I did have discussions with Bruce [Timm, executive producer) about this is like ‘he’s not evil, right?’ And he’s like ‘No, no, no, he’s still Superman. It’s just that he’s on a different team now, you know?’ That was the backbone and basically what we were trying to build on this whole time. It’s very different because in America it’s about freedom of thought, it’s about sort of individuality. Communism was about as a group, you know, everybody should be provided for. You shouldn’t necessarily be, in theory, above another. Everybody should have the same things and it’s kind of utopian in way, right? And then how do you get that? So he has definitely more of a global agenda, or at least for his country than say the US Superman. I think that’s probably the biggest difference. He’s trying to uplift this country or push this country or the people towards this ideal.
RC: One interesting element to Red Son is how it flips the characters where Lex Luther is sort of placed in the hero role. This is basically his worst nightmare come true: a Superman who rules a country and has global aspirations. So what can you tell us about the Lex Luther in Red Son?
SL: Lex Luthor hasn’t been like the traditional Lex Luthor, but he’s just been sort of pushed into this villain thing. I think this Lex Luther is still conniving, ambitious and a little ruthless – maybe a lot ruthless – but he’s just doing it now for his country. It seems like he’s just one of the power people in politics instead of being sort of a jilted person that focuses on Superman and becomes the villain. He is sort of this political power with the ear of the president and I think that in the end they would be okay with him just doing these things because they have to fight the common enemy which is Superman with Russia.
He’s not necessarily the hero, but he’s just fighting for our cause. He does seem less evil because he’s trying to defend our country. I think it’s interesting the way both characters sort of evolve by the end of it. Lex with the help of Lois, you see a soft side of him. He’s known for being too ambitious and too focused on his task which he needs to achieve, use questionable decisions and it’s always Lois that sort of brings him back or smacks him when he needs it. I like these type of stories because there’s a lot of development and evolution that happens within characters. There’s the thing that they think, there’s the thing that they are pushing towards and then there’s the thing that they become. I always like stories like that. I think it’s so interesting.
RC: Now Red Son is chalk full of cameos and Easter eggs of other DC characters. What was it like adapting these new takes on Green Lantern and Wonder Woman into the story? Which was your favourite to see?
SL: Wonder Woman is cool and interesting and I feel like Green Lantern’s a little bit a piece on the board, basically, a piece on the chess board to move the plot forward. Maybe Batman, I think. I like the idea that Superman’s actions created Batman and Batman is like this horrible, horrible terrorist, you know? He’s kind of like a cancer. He’s trying to fight depending on what’s good, what’s bad, but he is the byproduct of what Stalin did. He thinks ‘you’re propelling supposedly the whole society, but things are getting lost in the cracks,’ and he’s the internal defilement of their society. I think that’s really interesting. There’s the villain that you know you’re supposed to fight, but then there’s this villain that’s been created from the struggle within your own society.
RC: You’ve assembled quite a cast for this movie. You’ve got Jason Isaacs, Amy Acker, Diedrich Bader, Vanessa Marshall. What was your thought process in casting them as the Red Son characters?
SL: Often when we do this we have a wishlist of the characters that have the most lines. That’s just kind of it. Some were our first choices and some of them were people we looked a little further down the list and the other ones were busy. But we were really happy with the people who did decide they could be available to play these parts. A lot of times, again, I think it’s when you hear the voices you get a better sense of ‘is this movie gonna work or it’s not going to work.’ Once you hear it, you kind of get a better sense of how these relationships, direction and these people are working. You can see the movie better, clearer. I think the voice acting is so important in anything what we do. It heightens basically everything. It makes relationships believable. You understand the character’s pain. Thankfully we’ve had these really good actors selling the emotion. Yeah, it is a great cast.
RC: An older Superman movie you directed was All-Star Superman, which is almost like the polar opposite Superman movie to Red Son. How did you tackle such a vastly different interpretations of the character?
SL: I don’t know. In a weird way, it’s almost like you need to treat them like a different person, but they’re related. Like it’s his brother or something, but you understand what his family values are, at the core, but they’re just different personalities, if that makes sense. The Superman that we know is sort of the good the boy the family is proud of and the Red Son Superman is still a good boy, but his ideas are different. Superman in Red Son is still Superman. He just has a different ideology. He’s still trying to do what he thinks is the right thing and he earnestly believes it’s for the good of the people that this happened. They’re very different, but they’re kind of similar. They just have a different goal.
RC: Now going on some of your previous work, you’ve adapted the works of Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens, Marv Wolfman, Frank Miller, and now Mark Miller. Do you feel any intimidation adapting classic stories that these writers have worked on?
SL: I do if I think about it too long. It helps, obviously, when I am working with Bruce or people that have done this for a long time. Once you sort of dig into the story, there are things that really ring true to you or I think it could be smoother or I never bought into the motivations of it. I think having not actually to see them every day or interact with them and get their input about how much you screw up their characters or whatever helps. I’m following what I feel like makes it better and with what he’s honest about the story and obviously it helps having somebody like Bruce or James [Krieg, co-producer] that’s basically telling me like “No, I see it like this” or “I think that” and I’ve been entirely wrong.
I think we just try to make the best product product that we can. And so yes, if you think about like ‘Oh, I’m going to be working on something Frank Miller did that I read as a fan and now I have to visualize this a little bit or fill in gaps’ and things like that or maybe sometimes change things a little bit. I try not to think about it because it can be a daunting sometimes.
Thank you to Sam Liu for speaking with us about Superman: Red Son!
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