superman american alien 1 review comics
If there’s one person I, and a lot of geeks like me, have been decidedly hard on it’s Max Landis. I’m not really sure why other people are so hard towards the son of famed filmmaker John Landis but for me it all comes down to really hating the film Chronicle, which he wrote. However, let it never be said that one act of garbage can tarnish an entire career because Max Landis has now entered the world of comic books with a new DC mini-series called Superman ”“ American Alien and it’s amazing. Though, if we’re being fair the title is actually a bit of a misnomer. A lot of the marketing has actually touched on this, with the comic’s tagline of “This is not a Superman story” summing it up very well; this isn’t a Superman story, it’s a Superboy story.
Set during Clark’s time as a child when his powers were just starting to develop the comic might best be described an exercise in stripping away the vacuum sealed perfection that had previously defined both the Kents’ and Clark’s early years as a child. Actually, if we’re being honest this story is more of a return to form than anything else as the idea of the Kents as these marble statues of pure parenthood and American values is actually a much more modern conception than you might think. In some of the earliest Superman stories the Kents didn’t even actually raise Superman but rather found his pod after he grew up on the journey from Krypton to Earth. Eventually those elements of his origin were left by the way side and the more accepted mythos of Superman being raised by humble Midwestern farm folk to learn about the values of life became more established. However, the idea that Superman’s childhood was perfect is actually even more modern, not entering into canon till the late ”˜70s/early ”˜80s after its inclusion in the Christopher Reeves Superman movie. Prior to that, Superman actually spent his entire childhood adventuring as local hero Superboy, basically a the pre-teen version of Superman. These Superboy adventures were insanely popular in the ”˜60s and served as the template for a lot of future Superman stories as Superboy’s youth meant he was allowed to make more mistakes and be less of a paragon of righteousness than Superman. This is also where a lot of key elements of mythos like Bizarro, Krypto, and the Legion of Superheroes entered into the Superman canon. The idea of Superman developing and dealing with his powers during his Smallville time before becoming Superman didn’t pop up till the later ”˜90s, first in Superman the animated series than later fleshed out to a greater degree in Smallville. Since then, DC has slowly integrated more and more of the Superboy concept into their overall universe, most notably with Superman: Secret Origins by Geoff Johns, a mini-series that explored the beginning of Superman’s career released right on the cusp of the mega-event New Krypton. Superman: Secret Origins as well as the Superman TAS episode ”˜New Kids in Town’ have a lot of similarities to Superman ”“ American Alien but none of them have captured the pure idea of the situation quite as well as Landis does here, which is that Superman is a little kid who gets super powers.
That’s an incredibly great idea to build a comic off of and Superman ”“ American Alien take full advantage of it, developing all the shades of young Clark Kent’s relationship to his abilities. This issue revolves mainly around him developing the ability to fly and does a great job subtle going through the shock of the discovery, horror at the uncontrolled nature of young Clark’s abilities, then eventually finding true joy in mastering the ability. Origin stories are decidedly played out but this is something very different, an exploration of the people more than the events, which goes a long way in making the story more engaging and fun. It also helps that Landis keeps things decidedly grounded and believable, Clark and the Kents feel like real people undergoing real events rather than archetypes of pop culture mythology like in Superman ’78 or the soulless automatons of Man of Steel.
The Kents are in no way underrepresented here either and in fact the last page seems to promise a lot of great development to come with them. Most of all, I like the idea that not only are the Kents not perfect but they actually have some moderately unpleasant history. A character who is always happy and fine just isn’t interesting, a problem that’s long afflicted Superman’s parents so I like the idea of giving them a more fleshed out and human origin. Additionally, things aren’t slipping into farcical levels like Court of Owls where the Waynes had secret children and murder cover-ups, it’s more that the Kents just had a life before Clark and outside of Smallville and it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. That’s a smart way to go with the character especially considering their place in DC Comics mythos as the kindly parents to the world. The Kents have always existed as a sort of platonic ideal of parenthood but that ideal has always forced us, the audience, into the role of their children and like children we’ve only ever seen them as perfect, a position we’ve been all to happy to accept before now. That framing has made it incredibly easy to accept that the Kents are perfect instead of actually being people so taking a step forward and breaking down the barriers of distance between us and them is a great example of the Superman mythos actually trying to grow instead of shock. Bottom line; it’s a great first issue that’s doing something legitimately new and exciting with one of the most over told mythos of all time, highly recommended.
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