Superman: Red Son

One of my favorite comic book story lines of all time is Superman: Red Son. The premise is simple, what if Superman never landed in the USA, and instead, landed in Soviet Russia. Superman is always presented as the All-American superhero, literally fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. But what if he wasn’t raised by a rural couple from Kansas? Is Superman only a “superhero” because WE see him as good? Do we only see him as “good” because he serves our needs, and not the world’s needs?

This comic has always been a great look into the psychological concept of Nature vs. Nurture.

Nature vs. Nurture

First, let’s set the terms of what this phrase really means. Nature vs. Nurture is the debate and study of what is most relevant to a person’s behaviors, their genetics or their environment. The following are a few examples of the research done in the name of determining which is a stronger predictor of future behaviors – nature or nurture.

John B. Watson & Little Albert

Behaviorist John B Watson was a leading researcher in this field. He is most famous for the Little Albert experiment, conducted in 1920 through John Hopkins University, in which he taught (conditioned) a baby to fear a white rat. His goal was create a fear of white rats in a “typically functioning” baby, which had no initial fear of white rats. Albert was observed in the presence of a white rat prior to beginning the experiment, to demonstrate that no fear existed. He achieved this fear/phobia creation by pairing white rats with loud aversive noises (e.g., hammers banging against metal bars). Meaning, whenever the child was introduced to a white rat, a loud “scary” noise sounded, until he learned that “white rats = loud noises”. This generalized to having fear of objects that shared physical features of white rats (e.g., white objects, fur coats, furry objects). When presented with this now aversive stimuli, Albert would tremble and cry. Sadly, Little Albert was not unconditioned following the experiment. Little Albert was a fake name used for the experiment. His real name was unknown by anyone other than Watson, who burned his paper prior to his death.


A variety of research has been conducted for decades studying twins, typically identical twins that were raised apart from each other. Each study has different findings, but they all basically have 1 of 2 results.

Some twins, although having never met, share many personality traits and characteristics that would normally be thought to be learned by their environments. Since they were raised in completely different environments, these similarities are used to establish a strong link between genetics having the highest probability for these occurrences.

Other twins are found to be completely different in personality, primarily establishing a high probability of their environment being the cause for these differences, as they are genetically identical.

Back to Superman!

Now that we’ve established the science behind Nature vs. Nurture … “Superman: Red Son” is an illustration of how a completely different environment makes Superman a completely different person. As a comic fan, I must mention that this story also shows us how Superman’s change affects other’s in the DC Universe – specifically, Lex Luthor, Batman, and Wonder Woman. It’s a whole “Butterfly Effect” story line.

Superman now being born in Soviet Russia was raised by a Communist family, and he was identified early in life as a special person. Similar to how child athletes are recruited today. He was brought up as the jewel of Russia, and rose to power as the country’s eventual ruler. Since he was raised from childhood to believe in Communism, he now represents the world standard of their political system, and establishes Russia as a world power that is equal to or greater than the United States. However, he is still Superman, meaning he is still a stubborn individual that does not like his believes questioned. He tolerates other world governments as they bow down to Russia and recognize him as someone they don’t want as an enemy, except for the United States, which is run by President Lex Luthor. Superman is still weary of his enemies, but much quicker to purposefully use excessive force to deal with them. He is still arrogant to having weaknesses, which is exploited by this world’s version of Batman. This is a Superman that does not have to hide his identify, as he can fully be himself.

There is no Clark Kent, no hiding his powers, and no guilt from having a rural American upbringing. He now has a new belief in what it means to keep the people of his country and the world safe, he has a different ethical standard for his life, and he has had different life experiences that affect how he sees people, their motives, and their actions. Ironically, whenever Superman allows himself to be open about being Superman and embraces his full power potential, he will often become very similar to this version of Superman. A perfect example is the Injustice Superman, who also allows himself to rule with an iron fist.


United States

  • Love Interest – Lois Lane
  • Main Enemy – Lex Luthor and American Capitalist Greed
  • Identity – Clark Kent primarily, Superman when necessary
  • Upbringing – raised by a working class rural family
  • Politics – generally avoids, but trusts the system to work for the people

Soviet Union

  • Love Interest – Wonder Woman
  • Main Enemy – Russian Batman and Anti-Communist Movement
  • Identity – Superman 24/7
  • Upbringing – taken from a working class rural family and raised by the government
  • Politics – embraces the nation’s need for him to be a strong influence on the country’s political system and how it affects the people


  • Belief he is doing what is right as a loyal citizen of his country.
  • Battling Capitalist greed
  • Believes the country can and will take care of it’s people
  • Stubborn in core beliefs, to the point that it affects his judgement
  • Will choose his beliefs over friendships
  • Arrogant to the concept of others being able to deal with his powers

Back to Nature vs. Nurture!

Nature vs. Nurture. Who is the real Superman?
Image by ArtOfJustAMan

At the end of the day, Soviet Superman’s overt behaviors are different. He reacts differently in his everyday life to situations and people, versus the way US Superman would react. But a deeper dive into these actions really show that Clark Kent doesn’t exist, but US Superman and Soviet Superman have the same genetic personality. Thoughts and emotions are treated as behaviors in the world of Behavior Analysis. But there is also acknowledgement that some behaviors are so ingrained that they are too old to identify what created the behavior, or they are considered to be genetically inherited. The Superman we think of is really just Clark Kent, with Superman essentially being an alternative personality that he can functionally live with. If you have seen the movie Split, it’s kind of similar to that, in regards to both personalities knowing of each other, and the main personality believing they have control of the others. Clark Kent has hid US Superman so long, that he suppresses those thoughts and emotions, and forces US Superman to accept Clark’s behaviors. However, anytime US Superman is allowed the full use of the body they share, he exhibits a very similar personality to Soviet Superman. He displays a self-righteous, stubborn attitude that makes everything his way or no way. Clark Kent and the political leader aspect of Soviet Superman is what nurturing produced, and nature/genetics produced the quick tempered, arrogant, stubborn, and over-powered aspects of “Superman”.


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