Superman: American Alien: Written by Max Landis
Oct 20, 2016 Issue #58 - The Protest Issue
In terms of popularity, Superman is a paradox among superheroes. He is the heroic archetype, iconic and eternal. But when it comes to actual stories, nothing outside of his origins really come to mind, and most fans would even admit that the overpowered nature of Superman's abilities just makes him boring.
Because of this, truly great Superman books are rare, Grant Morrison's absolutely essential All-Star Superman being chief among them, but not much else. Rather, the publishing history of Superman has turned into more of a cautionary tale for comics editors who try to pack too much gimmick onto the pages and not enough substance. Its as if the greatest quest for a 21st century Superman is the everlasting search for his own appeal.
Enter Max Landis, a sort of wunderkind of his own, whose rise to fame is rooted in a viral YouTube video where he breaks down The Death of Superman, the pinnacle of gimmicky comic book cash-grabs from the mid '90s. Landis may be constantly in the middle of a self-started Twitter firestorm, but at the very least he is a pretty good writer with a Superman obsession that would even worry Lex Luthor. American Alien is Landis' deconstruction of the Superman character in search of his humanity. The setting is updated, and the origin arc completely reconfigured, but it seeks out the heart of The Man of Steel in a way that extends beyond any contemporary landmarks.
And so what does Mr. Landis teach us about Clark Kent, the American alien? For starters, we are reminded that he is Clark first and foremost. Unlike Batman, whose Bruce Wayne persona is a burden worn out of mortal necessity, the Superman identity is a mere facade kept for security, not because Clark is worried about his loved ones as much as he is worried about protecting the man he chose to become, the man his Earthly parents raised, the good, decent, all-American man that was welcomed by exotic strangers. Landis' series is centered on a young Clark finding the values he will protect as Superman, but first he has to decide why they are worthy of fighting for. Landis introduces these concepts in complex and intriguing ways, like having an intrepid college student Clark interview Lex Luthor only to receive an obtuse Ayn Randian speech about power and privilege. Clark decides, in that moment, that Luthor is his nemesis, before he's even donned the cape, based on a difference in ideology.
American Alien excels as a Superman story because it acknowledges the qualities that made the character interesting to a 1940s audience are not necessarily the same qualities we need to see in Superman in 2016. But it also proves that The Man of Steel is more malleable than we presumed, and that a search for the Kryptonian's soul could lead to his most human story to date. (www.dccomics.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 6/10
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