Published by DC Comics on October 12th 2016
Genres: American, Comics & Graphic Novels
Screenwriter and Eisner Award nominee Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN) presents the seven-issue miniseries that chronicles Clark Kent’s development into the archetypal hero he will eventually become. With the tone of each issue ranging from heartwarming and simple, to frighteningly gritty and violent, to sexy, sun-kissed and funny, SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN is unlike anything you’ve seen before. This new hardcover includes special bonus features.
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Superman has had a bad rap lately – no one has managed to really nail the character. Depicted as a characterless void in the recent movies, and side-lined by DC’s over-reliance on stable-mate Batman, the most complex character in DC’s roster has fallen by the wayside. Enter Max Landis. With his eye for the absurdly human within the ‘superhuman’, trademark humour, and a clear love not only for Kal-El himself, but the whole DC franchise, it looks like old Supes could finally be getting the 21st Century boost he’s been waiting for.
Superman: American Alien is a seven issue mini series chronicling Clark Kent’s early years as a child, teen, and young adult, in Smallville, before he travels to Metropolis. Once there, we see him grow even further into the Clark/Superman combo we know and love. Interspersed between the seven Clark-centric tales are one-page shorts based around those who have either impacted on Clark’s life already, or who will do in the future. Much like the main stories, these contain cameos aplenty, and much of the joy of ‘American Alien’ is coming across these with fresh eyes, so I won’t be giving the game way here.
Beginning with ‘Dove‘ (all the issues have titles linked to winged creatures by the way) we’re thrown back right to the beginning as young Clark has discovered he can fly. But, it isn’t just a case of
putting his arm ahead of him and off he zooms! Oh no! Clark has absolutely no control over his new ability, and not only that, but he’s scaring his adoptive parents Martha and Jon, as well as risking their lives. With an ability that can materialise out of nowhere, Clark has to be careful, and not let his emotions get the better of him. That’s easier said than done when you’re at Junior High, and soon, his strength comes into play, leading to this amazing conversation between himself and Jon:
As Clark grows, his sense of responsibility begins to weigh on him, none more so than in ‘Hawk‘ when an Smallville outcast returns to wreak havoc on the family that sent him away. Dark yellows, and scratchy line work really up the atmosphere in possibly the darkest and most brutal issue of the seven.
The issue of American Alien that has garnered the most publicity is ‘Parrot‘ where after a plane crash into the sea, Clark is mistaken for ‘Billionaire Playboy’ Bruce Wayne. Coming aboard a yacht filled with bright young hangers-on, Clark initially baulks at the idea of carrying on the façade, but after some very deep and meaningful conversations with Barbara Minerva (DC’s Cheetah) he realises that it’s time to live a little an leave Smallville. This issue is a stand-out for several reasons, and not just the brilliant cameos; art is vibrant and loud during the party scenes where Clark lets loose, but then toned down beautifully during his introspective moments. It’s also the funniest of the issues as Landis is as free as Clark to play with the characters and have some fun before the darker monets of the collection really take hold.
Talking of dark, Superman’s age-old nemesis makes his first appearance in ‘Owl‘ as Clark moves to Metropolis and ends up covering the ‘coming together’ of the giants of big business – Lex Luthor, Oliver Green, and Bruce Wayne. He also stumbles across a young Dick Grayson, eager to prove himself as more than just ‘Wayne’s ward’. Unfortunately, Clark’s ‘investigating’ of Grayson brings him to the attention of Batman, leading to an intense and atmospheric first meeting, while also providing an essential first bit of kit for Clark’s new look:
I love, love, LOVE this look and will be first in line for any statuette that depicts it. This issue is probably my favourite of the collection, especially as Clark’s pomposity is yet to rear it’s ugly head.
Which is exactly what happens in issue 6 ‘Angel‘ as his Smallville buddies Pete and Kenny travel to Metropolis to visit Clark, just as the ‘Superman’ phenomena is beginning to take hold over the city. The brilliant Kenny, aware of Clark’s abilities, urges him to live up to his responsibilities and to stop revelling in the spotlight. After a heated argument, Clark basically strops off the only way a flying super-being can do – upwards. Naked (the atmosphere destroying his man-made clothing) alone and moody he’s discover by…no – you know what? I’m gonna keep that bit to myself, as it produced geekish squees of such monumental proportions that I scared my dog. I kid you not. Trust me – it’s a doozy. Again, the art is impeccable with Jonathan Case’s art really adding to the narrative.
American Alien ends with an appearance by a character that divides many – Comic Marmite if you will – the gobby mercenary Lobo. Up until this final issue ‘Valkyrie‘, I’d only ever liked the character in the WB animated series where they played on the humour more: outside of that, I struggled to find him anything but ‘meh’. Here though, Landis gives him more purpose than just a ‘thug for hire’ delivering more than a beating to Superman and Metropolis – the truth about Clark’s home planet. ‘Valkyrie’ concludes the collection wonderfully as it leaves us with a damaged, but determined and focused Clark, a Lois who’s in love with him, a love/hate relationship with Batman, deep suspicions of Lex Luthor, and knowledge of the wider world of the universe’s other heroes and villains.
I ended American Alien with one thought: “Max Landis needs to write everything for DC!!”. Now, while that’s clearly impossible, in light of all the issues WB and DC have with continuity and trying to tie a universe together across comics, tv and movies, it’s a pipe dream that no comic fan would disagree with. Landis clearly loves his source material, with a passion I’ve not seen since Whedon wrote X-Men, and his ability to write with such depth about not just his major character, but several within that universe, is one to be garnered at the earliest opportunity.
While American Alien has been available as individual issues for some time, I urge collectors and fans to grab this collection as not only are you treated to some pretty wonderful extra art, but this deserves to be read continuously. Click the link below, and then come back and thank me later.
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