Comic Review: Superman: American Alien

The most-discussed DC comic of last year may be American Alien, written by Max Landis and illustrated by various artists.

Landis, son of a Hollywood director, posted a very funny Youtube video on the 1990s Death and Return of Superman story arc / media event, in which he suggested (among many other things) that very little new could be done with the Man of Steel.

Several screen/teleplays and a handful of comics later, he challenges that notion, at least somewhat, with this series.

Title: Superman: American Alien

Writer: Max Landis
Artists: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joelle Jones, Jae Lee, June Chung, Francis Manapul, Jonahan Case, Jock, Ryan Sook, et al.

ISBN-10: 1401262562
ISBN-13: 978-1401262563

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Seven diverse stories show us Clark Kent at key points in his life, from early childhood to his early twenties.

High Points

The story begins well, with early-life chapters that don’t feel like retreads. “Dove” shows us an interesting side of raising a superhuman. I also like that Clark Kent’s abilities aren’t really news to a significant percentage of Smallville (though, of course, those people aren’t talking). A lot of people who grew up with Clark would know.

The book’s goofiest chapter, “Parrot”, twists certain super-tropes without entirely turning the character into a joke. Yes, Clark does look a fair bit like Bruce Wayne. And yes, despite years of stories where characters like Batman, Karate Kid, and the like outfight Superman by being clever, and Sun-Tzu’s insistence on skill over strength, it seems unlikely many people who actually try to fight a de facto god are going to come out ahead. Clark Kent’s fight with Deathstroke ends rapidly, hilariously, and not at all as Deathstroke hoped.

Low Point

Given the book’s declaration that it is “not a Superman comic,” I’m surprised Landis chose to end with the story of how Superman establishes himself for the world (again), and that the villain for that Chapter is Lobo. It really doesn’t work for me, and having the first phrase the mics pick up be “shove it up your ass” is a cheap laugh. A really cheap laugh.

Landis can write Clark Kent. If he was going to end with this story, he needed to write Superman.

The Scores

Originality: 2/6 One can only do so much that’s new with Superman, but Landis gives us a more human meta. He has been influenced by John Byrnes’s Man of Steel (Business Class Luthor, Luthor has no past connection to Kent, Superman is a disguise for Clark Kent, and not the other way around) and recent media incarnations (Lois falls for Clark, Batman starts his career first, Jimmy Olsen is African-American), but he takes some new directions of his own.

Clark’s powers and alien origin are an open secret with many, many people in Smallville, including the sheriff, the doctor, and all close friends (not just Pete Ross).

Artwork: 5/6 The stories feature impressive artwork, including Jae Lee and June Chung’s dreamlike brushes on “Owl.”

Story: 4/6 The stories range in quality, with the strongest near the start.

Characterization: 5/6

Emotional response: 5/6

Flow 5/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, American Alien receives a score of 31/42.