Written by: Max Landis
Art by: Nick Dragotta
Publisher: DC Comics
Superman: American Alien is one of the DC You titles I’ve been most excited to get my hands on. Being a huge Superman fan, I actually find Clark Kent to be one of the more interesting aspects of the character, often overlooked by people who just see the “big blue boy scout” without looking at the beautifully optimistic, charming and impossible to hate man behind the legend. Therefore a series looking more in depth at Clark coming from screenwriter Max Landis, who has already shown his understanding of the character, was definitely something I was buzzed about. The first issue offers a great deal of promise for the series and adds some cool new ideas to the mythos, however retreads a lot of familiar ground.
American Alien may seem like a hard sell to certain people, with such classic origin stories already available, including Geoff Johns Secret Origin as well as the beloved For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb seeming to cover the same material, where does this fit in? Well really, this should be called Clark Kent: American Alien as it chooses to focus much more strongly on Clark as a person rather than the hero he’ll become. This first issue shows some early development of Clark’s powers as he comes to terms with the fact he’s different from other kids. Clark feels very vulnerable in this debut issue, more so than I’ve ever seen him. The opening scene with him freaking out when he can’t stop flying, calling for his mom to get him down instantly sets the tone for this. I never thought about how scary it’d be for a child to realise they can fly, it definitely makes Clark feel (ironically) very human, as opposed to other retellings that focus mostly on foreshadowing his destiny with winks and nods to iconic hero imagery with a child at the center (there is a little of that in here, but it does work).
Desite this humanizing of Clark however, they really push his alien qualities a lot too. It’s usually used as a metaphor for feeling like an outsider, however Landis presents it with a more literal take. Clark getting uncomfortable at a sci-fi movie and seeing himself as an alien monster was another quite powerful scene once again showing how vulnerable and emotional he was as a boy. It seems that ironically the best thing Landis does to show the strength of Clark as a character is by exposing his weaknesses. That may cause alarm for certain fans, but trust me it works. Landis doesn’t turn him into some troubled, angsty thug (it’s not another Earth One, trust me) he just shows what it’d be like for a young boy to discover he’s different. There’s an element of his emotional fragility that makes him such a compelling hero, Landis really feels like he understands what makes Clark interesting as a character and begins to explore that here, to great success.
So far it may sound like this would make the issue quite dour and upsetting, but really it’s very uplifting. A lot of this comes through the style Nick Dragotta brings to the comic. He’s an artist who can go for a number of different tones (check out The Dying and the Dead after this if you want proof) and this time definitely goes for a more charming, cartoony style. He almost makes the issue look like something from Archie Comics, which is very fitting. While there is a lot of fear and sadness in Clark about his powers, Smallville should always have a charming and timeless feel to it, in order to show why he grew up to be the hero he is despite his doubts. By the end of the issue, we definitely see him as a more confident and optimistic individual, and the adorably excited dialogue of an awestruck child, coupled with the lush beauty of Dragotta’s innocent pencils leave you with a very heartwarming comic.
As stated however, for the most part this debut issue covers a lot of material that’s been done in other Superman origin comics. While all the character work is great and the whole package looks gorgeous, for any newcomer to the Superman mythos there are other comics to choose from if you want a Superman origin story, or even a comic about a young Clark (again, for those who haven’t read it For All Season is pretty outstanding). Future issues will really be what decides whether or not this goes down as one of the great examinations of Superman and Clark Kent, as it really does look like it’ll go in its own direction. As a hardcore Superman fan though, I’d definitely recommend it. That may sound like a contradictory statement, but this feels like it’s written by someone who really gets the character, so dedicated fans will definitely get a kick out of some of the subtle things Landis does here and enjoy his grasp of the material. Superman: American Alien may cover a lot of familiar ground, but it’s clear there’s a new voice waiting to emerge from between the pages. Right now, it’s simply another gorgeous retelling of the greatest hero of all time, but the potential is there for it to become something truly special for Superman fans.