Is the Brightburn Evil Superman Red Son or Bizarro And Other Burning Questions
The second full trailer dropped recently for James Gunn’s Dark Superman origin story, and it was everything we hoped it would be. There is telekinetic carnage, evil death stares, childhood bully comeuppance, and even glass shards in the eye. It is going to be a spectacle for DC comic and horror fans alike. Gunn appears to be leaning hard into the ridiculousness of slasher horror with his Superman, but a dick story. Sure we have seen this before. Stephen King did it best with Carrie. This poor, powerful girl never had a shot at being anything other than the monster she turned out to be. Truth be told, when you take an innocent who has been smothered by a scarily strict mom her whole life and mix in a sprinkling of garden variety bullying, violence is bound to ensue. Now if said individual has superpowers by way of flight, strength, telekinesis, and x-ray vision you have got a horror movie. As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Not everyone is pure of heart and up to the task.
Fans of the comic know this is not the first time the darker side of Superman was explored. The small three-issue prestige comic Red Son released in 2003 under the Elseworlds imprint created a more Man in the High Castle version of the Man of Steel’s origin. Author Mark Millar asked the question what if Superman landed in Ivan Drago’s USSR instead of the freedom fighters dream USA? Clark Kent crash-landed in a farm field in the middle of Stalin’s USSR instead of the wheat fields of Kansas. Instead of fighting for “truth, justice and the American way” he is “the champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.” It just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. More a thought experiment than an evil Superman story this mini-series had a whole lot of self-sacrifice, martyrdom, Lex Luther being bad but not totally, and Clark hiding in horn-rimmed glasses. There is even a Superman 2 who is a clone of Superman designed to be an anti-Superman who also ends up sacrificing himself because DC’s Superman is nothing if he isn’t altruistic. Even bred to be bad he cannot subvert his inherently good self. If you have never read Red Son, it is interesting, but definitely not Gunn’s Brightburn.
A second revisionist history attempt was made with Superman: The Darkside in 1998 which crashed baby Supes on planet Apokolips. John Francis Moore penned this thinly veiled Nazi tale where Darkseid the ruler of Apokolips raised the baby, and he grew up to wear a red and black suit with two lightning bolts that look like SS Nazi symbols. This one is probably the closest to Gunn’s evil kid, however, from all accounts, Elizabeth Banks and David Denman(The Replacements) look to be pretty doting parents, while Darkside Superman was raised by the god of evil.
So what about Bizarro? The polar opposite of Superman. He talks in mirror images to Superman and wears an emblazoned B instead of S on his chest. The character created by Otto Binder in 1958 is the villain to Superman‘s hero. That military turd General Zod created Bizarro’s plural to fight and die for his cause. This atrocity of life led to his banishment in the Phantom Zone for twenty-five years. In this iteration, there is a ton of cloning, like an entire cube planet’s worth, and social commentary on the value of all life. Again, Bizarro is not really so much evil as he is different and sort of tragic. He is nowhere near the red hood wearing, stink-eye giving, deliverer of psychic death that Gunn’s Brent Breyer, AKA Clark Kent is serving.
That begs the question, just how much bullying does one have to endure to a serial killer make? From the trailer it appears systemic abuse for about six years will do it. The baby is pampered and loved like he is one of Beverly Goldberg’s schmoopie’s yet his peers view him as a weakling and weirdo. When a pretty little blond girl defies a teacher and refuses to help him up after being shoved down on account of his freakiness, he snaps and snaps her hand, yikes but weirdly satisfying. Things just go downhill from there. At this point, things turn from the happy childhood of a future hero to a Twilight Zone episode. In fact, it seems Gunn is channeling It’s a Good Life the fantastically creepy episode about an entire town ruled by an omnipotent child monster. Essentially a cautionary tale to not tell your kids they are the most special thing ever, even if they are, because they might miss the rest of the so use your powers for good part of the lecture.
Maybe some people are just born bad? Just because you have superpowers does not mean you are a super person. The film Chronicle in 2012 brilliantly shows this. Taking a break from punching things Michael B. Jordan(Creed), Dane DeHaan(A Cure For Wellness), and Alex Russell(Believe Me) show the potentially dangerous side of power. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s too bad superpowers don’t come with ironclad mental stability. When young minds are stressed too much, and given the kinds of abilities Superman has terrible things happen. As much as our moms want to believe we are good when you start stabbing people willy-nilly, it might be time to face facts.
What is up with the weird symbols? If the whole crushing blondies hand with your own thing didn’t clue Mom in there was a problem, surely the red figure eights he draws everywhere should alert her to impending doom. The same red symbol everywhere because I guess blue or black would be passe. More evidence that red pens and pencils should not be used to grade assignments in school. Why is this homicidal kiddo drawing this over and over? Why can’t he just write his crushes name over and over with his last name attached? Using a Kryptonian translator is worthless as the symbol is not any known part of the otherworldly language. It does look suspiciously like a symbol found all over Berserk a Dark Horse Manga created by Kentaro Miura. The mark is given to those who have been chosen for sacrifice. Their lives are given over for the creation of a God’s Hand. The Brand of Sacrifice is no joke bad news. It means agonizing death, sacrificial murder of a loved one, and loss of humanity all in the name of someone else’s deity. They sacrifice to usher in the Child of Darkness. The Breyer’s baby boy looks like he could be just said, evil child.
A good origin story can reinvent a legend. Brightburn is changing the game with evil Superman, but with a familiar face. The Bad Seed trope is a safe bet because even when it’s bad it’s still better than a lot. The market is poised with the surprise hit The Prodigy to embrace a flying, red-eyed, Hobby Lobby crafting costumed killer. Just don’t fly my way buddy, this Momma don’t play that way. Watch the trailer and get hyped for the May 24th release.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.