American Alien Is The Best Superman Story In Ages

American Alien Is The Best Superman Story In Ages

Superman: American Alien is a reminder of how great the Man of Steel can be in the hands of people who care.

Spoilers follow.

American Alien Is The Best Superman Story In Ages

Despite the fact that hundreds of great stories exist about Superman, one of the worst fallacies about him is that he's a boring character who's hard to write because of how all-powerful and altruistic he is. All you need to do is look at the way that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman turned out — hormonally moody in the most annoyingly adolescent way — to see that Zack Snyder and the powers that be at Warner Bros believe that idea.

While there has been a persistent set of status quo ideas that aggregated around the meanings of Clark Kent's multiple identities, Superman has always been a character who changes with the ages. He was a social justice strongman at his inception in 1938, a sci-fi father figure in the 1950s and a trustworthy TV news reporter in the 1970s. That malleability has been one of the biggest strengths of his publishing history.

Superman changes with the now, and those changes reflect society's conception of itself and the individuals who make it up. In older Golden Age adventures, Superman was a stand-in for the voice of authority. The biggest latter-day shift in approach to the character has made him less paternalistic and all-knowing, as seen in John Byrne's pivotal 1986 Man of Steel miniseries, which made a point of shifting Clark Kent away from simply being a milquetoast cover identity. He remains an aspirational figure but has increasingly been characterised with more doubts, fears and regrets than in the past.

Now six issues deep, Superman: American Alien continues the tradition of a more humanised version of the Last Son of Krypton. What works best about the series — written by Max Landis and illustrated by a suite of top-shelf artists — is that it's a series of emotional snapshots that show you how Clark is coming to grips with his extraterrestrial origins and abilities. The series started by showing readers a younger Clark who thinks he's a freak, afraid of floating away from his parents.

American Alien concerns itself with how Clark grows up and away from the tight-knit farming community of Smallville, trying to figure out his place in a world he wasn't born on.

So far, the series has shown him awkwardly growing up — at turns, impulsive, cocky and resolute — and has also cast him as a figure meant to be feared.

American Alien Is The Best Superman Story In Ages

Landis' version of Clark leans hard on the goofy bro male archetypes of the moment but retains enough altruism and vulnerability to not come off like a douchebag. Issue #3 is the best example of this, a jokey mistaken-identity romp where he pretends to be Bruce Wayne after a crash landing puts him near the billionaire's yacht. Despite the boozy guffaws, Clark's feelings of yearning and loneliness still resonate.

American Alien Is The Best Superman Story In Ages

This week's issue #6 focuses on a visit from Clark's friends who are coming to the big city of Metropolis for the first time.

American Alien Is The Best Superman Story In Ages

Pete Ross and Kenny Braverman know he's Superman, and Landis spends the bulk of the issue examining how the tension of changing childhood relationships is heightened to a painful degree when you're friends with Superman.

American Alien Is The Best Superman Story In Ages

Landis assumes a certain amount of pre-knowledge in his audience, which lets him fold in fun references to other characters.

When American Alien started, I wondered if we needed yet another take on Superman's origin story, especially since it was just redone as part of the 2011 New 52 reboot. But the Superman we're getting here feels reinvigorated. He cares about people as always, but he also cares about what people think of him more than ever before. But, unlike the brooding Kryptonian dunderhead who's shown up on the silver screen of late, this Clark Kent feels like he can rise above the controversy surrounding his very existence. Though the methods vary from decade to decade, Superman is supposed to be his best self and inspire us to do the same. In American Alien, he's doing exactly that.


    Despite what people think of Max Landis as a script writer, he *completely* gets Superman on every single goddamn level. His videos showed this at first, and then when people said 'Put your money where your mouth is', he's goddamn well showed them.

    I'm serious when I say it, Landis should be heading up the DCEU, NOT Snyder. He's got the DC knowledge, he knows the characters and he's got Feige level passion for DC's properties. He'd do them proud.

      I enjoy Landis' for his relatively fresh, new, interesting take on existing ideas. He isn't afraid to break the status quo and while this doesn't always work out, we are often left with something entertaining.

    There is much griping about how Man of Steel (the movie) ended, but wasn't exactly this what it was about for the first half? And wasn't it good? People often forget that, but I really enjoyed it.

      And Superman Earth One practically has the same story but I don't recall constant constant constant passive aggressive commentary online and on blogs about it. We get it. Many people didn't like Man of Steel. Maybe if more people keep complaining about it, the movie will become better. Lol.

      Anyway I love the movie and I enjoyef Batman v Superman overall. And yet I love DC Comics, so does that make me the equivalent of a traitor? Seems like it if the pop culture blogosphere is anything to go by. Yet as comic fans we've read so many out-there and off the wall reinterpretations of these characters already that I can't understand why it's so difficult to see Snyders interpretation as completely valid and acceptable.

      The problem I guess is that rather than people accept this kind of reinterpretation and correctly identify it as reinterpretation rather than betrayal), like they have 1000 other times in comic form, they instead demand that the only valid interpretation that is permissible for the films must be the traditional one. The makes me wonder which interpretation is the traditional one.

      But on the other side I can see that while comics come and go, movies are rare and people therefore have a lot of eggs in one basket and a lot of hopes and dreams pinned on these films. So I can understand disappointment that the interpretation one prefers is not the one depicted. But to continue going on and on and on and on about it in every forum possible, just strikes me as stubbornness.

      People need to apologize for liking these movies and it's just pathetic. It's gotten to the point that historical revisionism is striving to erase all of Zack Snyder's prior glories. And there have been some. And his failures have been greatly magnified. Regardless, more and more it seems that to be part of a pop culture community means conforming to majority views on what is a success and what isn't and what deserves accolades and what deserves limitless derision.

    For all its faults, I actually liked Man Of Steel, especially the first half of the film. I never found that he was "hormonally moody", he was dealing with the fact that he is an alien and is lonely

    BVS was really meh though. Anyway I'll be getting this.

    Last edited 21/04/16 4:08 pm

    I can't remember who it was, but a previous Superman writer (it may have been John Byrne) said that the problem with Superman is that he can't have a political position on anything, because the moment you have Superman care about, for example, homelessness, the obvious question is why doesn't he try to fix it? If he doesn't do anything about it he seems ineffectual, and if he does do something it comes across as crass and insensitive to real world issues.

    That strikes me as relevant in something like this article, where they talk about Superman's role as a symbol. Symbol of what, not offending people? If all he is is a guy saving people from fires, floods and earthquakes how is he any more inspiring than any emergency services person?

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