Red Scare: Our Favorite Comic Book Communists
This week sees the release of a deluxe hardcover edition of Mark Millar's"Superman: Red Son," an alternate-universe story that explores what happens when the rocket containing baby Kal-El of Krypton lands on a farm collective in Soviet Russia instead of in the heart of Kansas, and the world's greatest super-hero is raised as a dirty commie!
It's a great read, but it does have a slightly flawed premise, in that it assumes that Soviet super-heroes are a rarity, which is just not the case!
From the TItanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo to newer creations like China's Great Ten, there are plenty of socialist super-heroes and villains! And that's why we've recruited Comrade Chris Sims to rank our favorite comic book communists!
One of the earliest examples of a positive Russian character, Black Widow started out as a Soviet superspy who antagonized Iron Man, then defected to the United States and promptly gained one of Marvel's more complicated backstories: Originally a ballerina, Natalia Romanova (originally Natasha Romanoff) was taken in by the KGB's "Red Room" facility, trained as a spy, and chemically treated to give her an extended life-span. Oh, and she might also be the heir to the overthrown Czar.
She also has the distinction of often being romantically involved with other super-heroes -- including Daredevil, the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, the Red Guardian, and so on -- because if there's two things comics writers love, it's redheads and girls with accents.
When the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men debuted in 1975, there was a concerted effort to give the team a more international flavor, and with the inclusion of characters like Storm, Banshee, and a little known Canadian mutant named The Wolverine (whatever happened to him?), it only makes sense that they'd go for the guy that would become probably the most famous Russian in comics, Colossus.
Like most characters that were given the gift of Chris Claremont's accent-heavy dialogue, Colossus is almost egregiously stereotypical -- his actual name includes "Rasputin," for cryin' out loud! -- but never so much as when he was briefly brainwashed by Arcade into becoming The Proletarian, whose outfit managed to combine red overalls, a hammer and sickle, and a portrait of Vladimir Lenin.
The Red Ghost and his Super-Apes
Like a lot of the early Marvel creations, the Fantastic Four had their roots in Stan Lee's pervasive anti-Communist propaganda -- Reed Richards originally launching his untested spaceship into a stream of cosmic rays in an effort to beat the Russians to the moon -- so it was no small leap for him to throw in a team of evil opposites from the Soviet space program.
And clearly, they had to be apes.
On first glance, it's not really clear why exactly he chose to make these opposites a cosmonaut and his three super-powered gorilla test subjects, but the more we think about it, the more we wonder why there are comic books that aren't about super-heroes battling super-apes from space.
We're not sure if Deadshot is actually a communist -- his political beliefs tend to take a back seat to shooting people, growing an awesome mustache, and having a healthy fear of the Batman -- but in an early issue of John Ostrander's "Suicide Squad" -- the book that turned Floyd Lawton from a villain-of-the-month to the character we know today -- it's revealed that he joined the Party and learned to speak Russian for the sole purpose of pissing off his father, a wealthy industrialist.
Like most "International" super-heroes, Communist characters tend to have powers that are based around their national identity, and nowhere is this done more strangely than in the five Tao-Yu brothers, known, uh, collectively as The Collective Man.
As you might expect, the five brothers have the mutant ability to merge together, forming one man with the strength of five, but with the additional--and hilariously bizarre--bonus of being able to further gain the strength of the entire People's Republic of China, becoming the living embodiment of Communism itself.
Like the Collective Man, the Soviet Super Soldiers were created by long-time Marvel writer Bill Mantlo, and like the Collective man, they were built to embody various aspects of the USSR. Our favorite? Ursa Major, not just because he's a gigantic bear who occasionally gets into scuffles with the (also Mantlo-penned) ROM: Spaceknight, but because he is literally a bear who holds the rank of Major in the Red Army.
Let it never be said that we are completely immune to puns.
As you might be able to tell from his ponytail, headband, shoulder-pads, grimace, and the fact that he's appearing here on a Marvel Masterpiece trading card, Omega Red is a product of the '90s, and as such, he's actually one of the few Soviet characters to be created after the 1989 collapse of the USSR.
In any case, O-Red here was a leftover product of KGB genetic engineering that was put on ice for however long it takes for a person to grow a side-mullet, then thawed out to pit his tentacles in battle the X-Men in a comic that was apparently terrifying to small children.
After the Justice League's original Rocket Red (#7) turned out to be a Manhunter, one of the Intergalactic robots created by the Guardians of the Universe that went undercover and waited a thousand years to betray the heroes for reasons of -- you know what? It's a long story. Suffice to say that he was forcibly removed from the league and replaced with the happy-go-lucky Dimitri Pushkin, a family man who was fond of quoting "Rocky & Bullwinkle."
Clearly, he was the exact sort of character that always gets killed during crossovers, but he amazingly managed to "Infinite Crisis," which was about when DC dropped the hammer on the rest of his old teammates.
Anatole, Bebeck, and Cassiopeia were three -- stop us if you've heard this one -- three Russian super-agents who were experimented on and granted super-powers. In this case, it was super-speed, which brought them into conflict with the Flash. What sets them apart, however, is that they defected almost immediately, going into business as a metahuman delivery service called Kapitalist Kourier and embracing America as their new home.
Comics in the '80s weren't exactly subtle, were they?
But with all these super-Soviets, you may be asking yourself which one we here at ComicsAlliance like the best. And the answer to that is simple:
We have mentioned our undying love of the KGBeast pretty often, but for those of you unfamiliar with the Russian super-assassin who rolled into Gotham City in a luchador mask and bondage harness and started cold killing dudes left and right, allow us to explain the most awesome thing he ever did: In order to put a stop to his plan to kill the President in "Ten Nights of the Beast," Batman managed to lasso the Beast's arm with a cable, cinching it tight enough that escape is impossible. Unfortunately, the Beast had a fire-axe, and when given the perfect chance to sever the cable and send Batman plummeting to his death, the Beast chose instead to cut off his own arm to show how bad he was.
Say what you want about how this probably affected his chances in future encounters, but that is some Ivan Drago level intimidation.
These are our favorite Communists in comics, but there are plenty more out there! Are you a fan of the Red Guardian? Upset that we left out Pozhar, the Russian Firestorm? Let us know in the comments!
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