By Jarrod Jones. I have to hand it to Max Landis — the guy knows how to write a Superman story.
Yes, even though American Alien has long been touted as, well… “not a Superman comic”, the core concepts of the Last Son of Krypton remain in Landis’ ludicrously entertaining 7-part mini-series. What’s more, the screenwriter’s Boy of Steel is such a patently awesome kid that you almost long to see this Kal-El soar through the skies of DC’s post-New 52 landscape. Alas, it is not to be. (But seriously. It should be.)
While Superman hurtles towards Rebirth in his Jim Lee-designed Krypto-armor, Landis takes a far more creative, and in a way, sweeter approach to our hero’s look: donning a cape he pilfered from a certain Dark Knight just one issue ago, Clark Kent’s nigh-pathological compulsion to help others is aided by a thoughtfully put-together outfit that serves two purposes — it obscures his dashing farm boy looks, and it scares the hell out of bad guys. Or, at least, it does that first thing well enough.
It’s not long into “Eagle” before Clark realizes that Batman’s hard-assed approach to crime-smashing isn’t going to fly in Metropolis. The skies are perpetually blue and optimistic (vibrant and spectacular thanks to artist Francis Manapul), folks are far too caught up in the city’s hustle (yes, even criminals) to even realize there’s a bat-winged vigilante hurtling towards them, and finally — hey, it’s just not in his character. It’s a lucky thing Clark can leap into the sky and crush weaponry in his bare hands, because his gritty approach to intimidation? Oof. What a calamity. (“Okay, guys… don’t do crimes. Don’t do crimes… or… I’ll fly down from the sky and getcha.” Oh, Clark.)
As a tale that hones its focus on the Man of Tomorrow’s formative years, Superman: American Alien isn’t burdened by canon, nor is it hampered by DC’s reliably heavy editorial hand. It’s not supposed to hearken back to Grant Morrison & Rags Morales’ origin story from 2011, and it definitely doesn’t pay lip service to the John Byrne revamp from 1986. No, Max Landis has set out to tell a Superman story that’s all his own. What makes that so remarkable is that it works so well: unlike so many stories that take the 78 year old character and attempt to infuse him with a bit of Today (I’m lookin’ at you, Superman: Earth One), American Alien makes “timeless” look effortless. Clark Kent may appear to be that dude who’d accidentally spill coffee on you on the train tomorrow morning, but his character, his selflessness, his honor? Landis reminds us that those are the stuff of legend.
Superman: American Alien #5 works so beautifully because it’s precisely the kind of Superman comic that should be on shelves each and every week — only it feels more precious than that. At its heart, this issue exemplifies the motivations, desires, and fears of Clark Kent, Lois Lane (who, by the way, hasn’t been this wonderful and brassy in ages), and Lex Luthor in such a way that if you had accidentally picked this book up at random with no prior knowledge of what it was setting out to do, you’d swear Superman had the coolest comic in the world.
And isn’t that how it should be?
Written by Max Landis.
Art by Francis Manapul.
Letters by John Workman
10 out of 10