Review: Superman: American Alien #1-#3

aa-coverAuthor: Max Landis
Artists
: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joelle Jones

Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Science Fiction, Superhero
Rating: Teen+ 
Clark Kent is Superman — but before he became “The Man of Steel” with remarkable alien powers from his home planet Krypton, he was just a kid growing up in a corn-fed town in Kansas. From his humble upbringing by farmer parents, he eventually donned the red cape and the classic “S” insignia to fight against the sinister forces of evil. His powers are almost unmatched in the DC Superhero universe. He can fly, has super-speed, and has X-Ray and laser vision. He also uses super strength and gets regenerative healing abilities from the sun.
Max Landis lends his television and movie writing experience to this project. He is the writer of such films as American Ultra, Victor Frankenstein, and Me Him Her, which he also directed. Screenwriting is instantaneous, so his writing flows in a fast-paced modern way that ingratiates younger audiences who have only seen Superman on the screen. He is a life-long fan of the hero, and it clearly shows in this re-telling of the classic origin tale.
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Content Guide

Violence: An officer is murdered, a clerk gets killed, and there is a fiery police car all caused by the same culprits. Clark uses laser vision that leads to a grisly scene where the villains arms are burned off. There is a plane crash into the sea.
Language/Crude Humor: For a Superman title, there are more than the usual obscenities, including God D***, H**L, A**, and S**T.
Spiritual Content: N/A
Sexual Content: Clark’s friend mentions using his X-Ray vision to leer at “nekkid (naked) folks.” Lana mentions that Clark should come over when her parents aren’t there. Clark ends up on a boat with many bikini-clad women. There is a brief scene where Clark lies naked with Minerva (wrapped in a blanket — no nudity), a woman he just met, strongly implying they had premarital sex in the cabin.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Clark and his teenage buddies drink beer. There is drinking and drugs used on the boat he ends up on. Minerva mentions being under the influence of Vodka. Clark mentions being influenced by champagne.
Positive Content: As a little boy, our hero learns he was uniquely created and should embrace his gifts — a biblical value. He is surrounded by a loving and supportive family.  A murderous crime is punished by Clark, showing his struggle to preserve life from evil. He mentions that although he can see through clothes, he tells his friends that he doesn’t like to do it. There is also strong evidence that Clark wants to have a deeper, more meaningful commitment to his lover.
Negative Content: Clark contributes in lying to the police to hide his beer. It seems there are no real consequences in having sexual relations with a woman he had just met.

Review

He is the “Man of the Steel, the last son of Krypton,” and the hero that I used to root against when he went fist to fist with Doomsday. Superman was the hero who had no personality, but got the girls because he was the star football player. He was the classic jock, who never had to try hard to gain popularity. He was so clueless to his excellence that he seemed naive to me.
That was what I thought about Superman when I was young.  I related more to the gloominess of Batman, the bad luck of Spider-Man, or even the ostracizing from society that constantly occurred in the X-Men stories. I could not relate to Clark Kent, Superman, at all. But the American Alien story-line, as well as other factors, has changed that perspective some. It is because of Superman’s immortality and awesome powers that makes his human struggles stand out all the more. It is his connection to humanity that makes him one of the greatest heroes.
aa-flyingBut writing about Superman is not an easy task. Landis takes us back and re-tells a story about the most legendary hero on Earth before he became that. In each issue, the art work and artists change, corresponding with the defining moments of Clark Kent’s life.
Issue one, Dove, shows a very young Clark Kent who tries to to fly. His parents struggle with the fact that their boy is extremely gifted and will never be fully accepted in polite society. He has friends, goes to movies, gets in trouble with the teachers, but he also floats high in the air sporadically and emanates radiation from his skin.
The colorful, multi-paneled “anime” style of Nick Dragotta’s art conforms perfectly with this issue. The young boy needs structure and big panels of magic and wonder. Dragotta provides poster sized panels, fun swooping action, and great character shots, showing a full range of emotions.
Dove is not just about the boy-hood origin of the caped hero.  It is about the all-too-human way that an alien child with mysterious “God-like” powers still needs his family. If it wasn’t for that key support, Clark may have never experienced the thrill of his abilities. He may have been ashamed of them instead of embracing them. His parents were a huge influence for why the world witnessed a Superman. For example, when Clark mourned that he wasn’t like the other kids, his dad responded, “Who needs normal? Maybe weird is better.”
In Dove, Clark has space to explore his newfound powers.aa-blast
The next issue is Hawk. Now Clark is a seventeen year old pushing the boundaries. Landis shows Clark was not always a boy scout. He sneaks beer, jokes about girls, and avoids his studies to go out with his friends.
The gritty, realistic art of Tommy Lee Edwards fits the turmoil of the times. These are vital issues that deal with morality. Clark faces true evil for the first time.
An act of supreme selfishness, a burglary followed by murder, rock the quaint town of Smallville. It challenges Clark’s worldview when people he knows are being threatened.
Clark reels from the responsibility of his powers. He feels more dissimilar to humans than ever. He even mentions his powers as being monstrous. But he cannot stand by and see evil continue to hurt those he loves. He would sacrifice his humanity, pay a high price, to save lives.
In Hawk, Clark Kent develops a desire for justice.
aa-mobFrom that experience, Landis takes us to issue 3, Parrot. It introduces a major theme in Kent’s life: there is a bigger world than Smallville. . Clark lands on a cruiser after their plane heading towards the Bahamas goes down. It is a surreal experience, as he is soon swallowed up by a sea of bronzed attractive bodies in skimpy swimwear.
They are already celebrating his arrival. They think he is someone else. He is mobbed, pulled, persuaded, and tempted in all things.
On the boat, he can be somebody else. Nobody knows him as the country bumpkin. He catches the eye of one red haired girl in particular, quickly getting lost in her green eyes and temporarily forgetting about the heartbreak he left behind in Kansas.
Joelle Jones’ colorful, comical, and often seductive art makes this feel like a dream segment in Kent’s life.aa-birthday
In this issue, Clark sees that the world is much bigger and everything is possible. Embracing a strange exotic woman, living another person’s life (ironically, a hero fundamental to the DC universe), and easily handling a bad guy with a broken sword, are all pulling him past his small-town roots.
As corrupt as the cruise ship is, he is taking giant steps to become Superman. He is being called to leave his family, friends, and his comfort zones.
In these first three issues, Clark had to learn his abilities, struggle with temptation, confront evil, choose morality, love his family, leave his home, and protect the weak. We see that despite all his powers and glory, the legendary hero deals with the same struggles we do. He knows what it is like to accept his mother’s warm hug in his most vulnerable state. He has experienced love lost. He knows what it is like to have friends influence him and his father encourage him towards greatness.
He has stared in the face of death and has seen the pomp, riches, and influence of the world, and has been tempted with the power of that world and its promises. But he doesn’t let these forces dissuade him from being the noble defender of humanity; broken, battered, sinful humanity. 
Much better than Superman, but following that same idea, Jesus Christ became our defender. As our great high priest, and an alien, he “was tempted in all points, yet without sin.” It took this biblical viewpoint, some prayer, and a creative Chaplain I had in the Army to finally understand what makes Superman so legendary and beloved to many people. Although I still favor some other heroes, Superman’s presence is a shadow of awesome and powerful things to come.aa-new
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Positives

+ Artwork matches themes + Great writing + Memorable moments + Tons of awesome features

Negatives

- Artist changes every issue - For a Superman book, pretty mature content

The Bottom Line

This is a great re-telling of the origin story. It reads like a movie, flowing from panel to panel. There is something good here for young and old alike. Younger fans will like the more contemporary style and older ones will appreciate the shaping experiences of the classic hero.

 

Story/Plot 9.8

Writing 9.5

Editing 10

Art 8.5

9.5

William Bontrager

William Bontrager fostered his imagination by tromping through the Maryland woods, fervently drawing when he should have been paying attention in school, creating comic books, writing short stories, and crafting adventure novels. Bible -length Steven King books allowed him to develop a strong vocabulary which the Lord Jesus used later in his writings. His experiences have led him down many paths and he strives to put Jesus Christ before all other things.

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