What is ‘Superman: American Alien’?

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Max Landis is a film maker, writer and nerd most well known for writing a shaky cam, gritty and realisitc superhero movie that isn’t as terrible as that sentence sounds, being behind the Americanisation of Douglas Adams or for pissing off feminists and lovers of Rey. A man who claims that nobody loves Superman like he does, nobody understands Superman like he does, now we’re going to see if anyone can write Superman like he can in…………………………………………..

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A seven issue mini-series, now collected together, the comic tells seven tales from the life of Kansas farm boy and very much illegal alien; Clark Kent. Each story aims for a different tone and the different artist for each book works in favour of that. From the almost Archie and Jughead of ‘Dove’ thanks to Nick Dragotta all the way to the sketchy line work of Tommy Lee Edwards in his much darker tale of a crime spree in Smallville.

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The book follows Clark from highschool through romances up to working at the daily planet and his powers go along likewise starting with Clark drifting out of bed and out the window up to the traditional red yellow and blue; underwear on the outside, look that we all know him for. Likewise the world builds likewise and this could be the first thing worth mentioning. We start in Smallville with buddy Pete Ross but before the end we have Batman and Robin running around, Green Arrow brooding on the sideline and more. Something made all the “worse”  by the short one page interludes between tales which seem to be just there, because. Doomsday adrift in space after the destruction of Krypton and Mr Mxyzptlk in one of the most fourth wall breaking appearances comic books have ever seen and with far more thought and merit than most.

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They kind of tie these two sides of the story together in one issue with Clark managing to crash Bruce Wayne’s yacht party after a holiday gone wrong in the weakest story of the bunch and you realise the further on you push past that that it was a necessary evil to set up the rest, something that seems to get worse and worse the further we go. We need Bruce it seems to get Clark his first cape, we need Ollie to get Clark his first meeting with Lex and so on. This is a far cry from the scared little kid and his folks trying to make sense of it all in issue one, a story that stands as the best of the bunch for not idolising him for his abilities but also not doing the completely moronic thing of telling him to let a school bus of kids drown to keep his secret.

Speaking of secret identity, that doesn’t really exist here. The Kents know who he is, they tell the local G.P in order to make sure he’s okay. Clark tells Pete and I’m fairly certain the local sheriff has more than a whiff of it too. It’s not the worst call in the series with some of the overt fore shadowing coming down far worse such as Lex’s speech about a guy walking round with an ‘S’ on his chest feeling particularly forced. Yet it still manages to feel a little off and perhaps explains why the parents are dropped so soon. I mean I know I grow up in a time when Clark had both folks well into adult hood so maybe I’m just trying to enforce my view of the man of tomorrow but it was definitely a choice and one that seemed to be made solely to get Kal-El to meet Abin Sur for no other reason than a better way to bring up the whole Krypton thing. See here Clark only learns of his homeworld through alien contact, be that through the Green Lantern Corp or the most bad ass bounty hunters that can be found leaving no room for Daddy El and with half a dozen people in on the whole alien from another world thing there’s is less importance to get the safe and confiding home of Ma and Pa Kent.

This means we get an answer to who is the real man Clark Kent or Superman and while I prefer Max’s answer of Clark over say Quentin Tarantino’s answer, of Superman, I still don’t really agree and it’s a shame because he comes so close. The parts where people stand back and relax because no matter how bad things are, everything will be okay because now Superman is here, is an aspect not really explored from the point of view of the unsure farm boy in the big city. We get the construction of one identity over the course of the series but not the other. See just as Batman is neither the symbol of fear he projects to scare the superstitious and cowardly villains of Gotham, nor the spoiled little rich boy he wants the world to think he is; so too is Clark neither the all knowing God he projects nor the bumbling clutz he hides behind.

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That’s not to say that the series is perfect or that Max, seems to me, to truly get what’s so great about Superman but he said he can write Superman better than anyone else and when you look Zack Snyder’s take or the wishy washy nu-52 version you have to credit him that maybe he can actually write superman better than anyone else. It’s not quite All Star Superman but what is and I think that if you’re a fan of the man of steel then this probably deserves a space on your shelf.

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