Monday, March 27, 2017

The super heroic Soviet heroes

In the early 1940s the US, USSR, and the UK led the efforts to defeat Fascist countries in World War II.  Americans met Soviet counterparts at the River Elbe, in 1945.  In the next 5 years allies became enemies, during a stand off called the Cold War.  The Korean war, the Vietnam war and other conflicts became chessboards between the players of US and Nato allies, versus the Warsaw Pact and the USSR. 

The Cuban Missile crisis, between the US and USSR over the island of Cuba being nuclear armed by the Soviets, nearly led to a nuclear conflict.  Reviews of the records from the day showed how very close we came to tragedy.

There was a rivalry between the USSR and the US to reach the Moon, and explore space.  The Soviets arrived in space first, but the US landed upon the moon in 1969. 

In 1963 John F. Kennedy was killed.  Some policy makers believed it was due to Soviet KGB and proxies.  The US CIA plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro.  They failed.

When Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Warsaw Pact, many of the NATO allies were shocked that the Soviets acted with haste.  As much as anywhere else the invasion showed that there were Nato and Warsaw Pact forces that, if wrongly pushed, could lead to a greater war.

In 1979 when Afghanistan was invaded by troops of the USSR,  American President Jimmy Carter called for a boycott and for other actions to punish the country.   Along with this Iran had overthrown their Rightist leader for a Islamic revolutionary leadership.  This led to a taking of hostages at the US Embassy.

The first sign of hope for the West that the Russian bear was not as powerful as he seemed happened in Poland, when there was a Labor Union movement that resisted the Soviet form of governance.  It called itself Solidarity.  The Communists stepped back.  They didn't leave Poland, but for the first time in years some of the power and control over the people in Poland had been surrendered to a union of people.  Like the Kronstadt revolution, it wasn't an act by the Monarchists or Right wing, it was the people taking back the right to govern themselves in a true representative fashion.  They were likely still hardcore Socialist.  They weren't willing, however, to accept the Soviet Puppet Polish Communist leaders.

In 1980's Olympics the American team of amateurs defeated the Soviet Union team, of well compensated veterans of hockey.  And then the US followed that with a defeat of Finland.  America felt a small rush.  And then, when the US elected President Ronald Reagan, numerous factors caused the US to rise, and the Soviet fortunes to fall.

Eventually Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR over saw the retreat of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe, and the Berlin Wall fell, in 1991.  The Cold War seemed to be over, and the West had won.

The Soviets lost.  But who really wins when two former allies square off and arm themselves with enough weapons to repeatedly destroy the world?

Here is a list of comic books with Soviet/Russian heroes, and some with simply propaganda stories.  They are all interesting, and some better than others.

John Jackson Miller Story
Steve Ellis and Joe Coroney Art

Marvel Epic

Russian collegiate Gennady Gavrilov became the eighth Crimson Dynamo after he found the helmet of a "Beta unit" designed by Anton Vanko based on but improved over the original, with its very own recharging satellite in orbit. Believing the helmet to be a sophisticated gaming system, Gavrilov caused the dormant armor to awaken and make its way towards the helmet, inadvertently leaving a trail of destruction. He would eventually, if briefly, wear the entire armor in a standoff with the Russian military. He kept the armor afterward.   (Source Wiki)

Jim Starlin words
Jim Aparo and Dan Decarlo art

Anatoli Knyazev (Russian: Анато́лий Кня́зев, Anatoliy Knyazev), code-named "The Beast", and known to the C.I.A. as the "KGBeast" was trained as an assassin by "The Hammer," a top secret cell of the KGB. In addition to being the master of several martial arts, his strength was cybernetically enhanced, and he had also mastered the use of every deadly weapon known. At the time of his first appearance, he was rumored to have killed at least 200 people, including Anwar El Sadat.  (Source WIKI)

Superman Red Son
Mark Millar words
Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett art

The story mixes alternate versions of DC super-heroes with alternate-reality versions of real political figures such as Joseph Stalin and John F. Kennedy.  In Red Son, Superman's rocket ship lands on a Ukrainian collective farm rather than in Kansas, an implied reason being a small time difference (a handful of hours) from the original timeline, meaning Earth's rotation placed Ukraine in the ship's path instead of Kansas. Instead of fighting for "... truth, justice, and the American Way", Superman is described in Soviet radio broadcasts "... as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact." His "secret identity" (i.e. the name his adoptive parents gave him) is a state secret.  (Source WIKI)

Green Lantern Corps character Kilowog had come from a planet that had a history similar to the Soviet Union.  He didn't get along perfectly with the government, not being a politically centered hero.  But he helped the Soviets create the Rocket Reds.  While they were a Soviet team of heroes who fought evil, they were also led by Communist Party principles.

Black Widow of Marvel Comics was a Russian spy, who was both lovely and dangerous.  She was a Spy, and Soviet, but also a hero.  She crossed the tight wire of Super Power politics with some difficulty.

Colossus was a hero from the Soviet Union, being a mutant who could transform himself from Flesh to Steel.  Various themes of Soviet Iron workers and such could be pasted upon him.

Red Guardian was a Soviet version of Captain America.  He was an equal opposite, but was not always an enemy of the Captain.

When the Soviet Union fell various themes of the Communist state became less apt and useful.  But the stories of the characters in the present soon changed from serving the Soviet state to instead serving the Russian state, post Cold War collapse.

The Red Star is a comic book series that took inspiration from the Communist state art, and mixes with this an alternative history of the Soviet Union, without the eventual collapse experienced in the current reality.  It is a work that is very bright and shining, but sadly with too little coming out to support the overall franchise.

In the late 1940s throughout the 1950s American publishers used the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact as they had earlier Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.  In order to raise awareness of the Communist threat, publishers and organizations used comics to help tell their story.  There are/were many differences between Nazism and Communism, but in the real world Stalin was responsible for more deaths than Hitler.  And so, there was perhaps a valid comparison between the two.

1 comment:

kurt wilcken said...

The Reagan/Bush Era was the period where I bought the most comic books, and Soviet intrigues found their way into many of the comics I read.

You mentioned the Rocket Red Brigade, which first appeared in GREEN LANTERN CORPS. One of the Rocket Reds became a core member of JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL and then it's spin-off, JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE. Dimitri, the Rocket Red assigned to the League by the Soviet government, was a jolly, friendly fellow and a fan of "Rocky and Bullwinkle".

During his run on FIRESTORM THE NUCLEAR MAN, John Ostrander introduced a Russian super with similar powers and background who fought Firestorm when that character took it upon himself to disarm the US and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Ostrander also introduced a character named Stalnoivolk, a "super-soldier" created during WWII who had protected Mother Russia from the Nazis, but had also served as a hatchet man during Stalin's purges. After Stalin's death, Stalnoivolk was seen as an embarrassment and he was "retired" to Siberia, but later re-activated. Stalnoivolk also appeared a few times in Ostrander's SUICIDE SQUAD.

Perhaps the strangest comic from the Glasnost Era was an issue of Archie Comics' VERONICA in which Veronica accompanies her father on a business trip to the Soviet Union and gets to meet Mikhail Gorbachev.