Written by Max Landis
Drawn by Nick Dragotta
Published by DC Comics
Superman’s origin is a story that’s been told and retold multiple times, with different degrees of success, by multiple writers, and that’s just counting the ones during my lifetime. This latest attempt is written by screenwriter and film director (and son of John Landis) Max Landis.
A common discussion among both creators and fans of Superman over the years has been been about the divide better the “super” and the “man.” He is an alien, but he was raised on Earth, but humans, so which side of him does he self-identity with? How does he think of himself? Is he an alien, or a human? I’ve read (and participated in) many such arguments over the years, where people compare Superman to someone who was adopted, or to an immigrant raised in a foreign country, and make the case that he should naturally think of himself as human, because of his upbringing. John Byrne, in particular, really stressed the idea that Superman mostly dismissed his Kryptonian heritage, in his own retelling of Superman’s origin. While others have made the case that his powers and abilities would naturally set Superman apart from humanity, including his own adoptive parents, the Kents.
As the title, American Alien, suggests, Max Landis appears to be wanting to tackle this issue head-on. Showing us, through young Superman’s own eyes, how he deals with this question, what he feels as he comes of age, and it becomes clear that he’s not like everyone else. In this first issue, Clark Kent is a young boy (his age is unspecified, but he appears to be around 12 years old, at most), and he is just beginning to display his power of flight. Of course he has no control over it a this point, he just randomly shoots up into the sky and floats, without any control. This is not only terrifying for him, but also for his parents, who try their best to keep him calm and help him adapt to these changes. Once Clark actually gets stuck in the air, and Jonathan Kent must borrow a friend’s plane to fly up and try to bring him down.
There are brief appearances of Superman mainstays Lana Lang (once again, Clark’s apparent childhood love interest) and Pete Ross (Clark’s best friend, now sporting a blonde mullet). It’s hinted that Lana might know something about Clark’s abilities, but Pete appears to be clueless. But it is also intimated that Clark already has a bit of reputation in town for being “odd.” Landis does a very effective job here of showing us Clark’s feeling of alienation (no pun intended) both sometimes subtly (as when Clark sheds a tear when he realizes that his father slightly hurt himself when trying to protect him) and in more obvious ways (as when Clark looks in a mirror and imagines seeing his reflection as a green-skinned “alien”). But this story is equally about Jon and Martha Kent, and what they’re going through, trying raise this child whom they feel like is their own son, but nevertheless don’t understand what’s happening to him.
Nick Dragotta’s artwork nicely compliments this story, giving it an appropriately timeless feel. I hear that each issue of this 7-issue miniseries, while had a different artist. Well, the next six artists will have a tough act to follow. Story-wise, I’m very interested in seeing where Landis goes next.