Superman: American Alien #1 by Max Landis & Nick Dragotta Review

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<i>Superman: American Alien</i> #1 by Max Landis & Nick Dragotta Review

Writer: Max Landis
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: November 11, 2015

Spoiler Alert

The first installment of Superman: American Alien is the best X-Men story DC Comics has published this year. It might even be one of the best tales of its kind in the company’s history.

When a young Clark Kent starts soaring over Kansas cornfields and deadlifting tractor-trailers, the countless metahumans soon to roam the Earth in his wake had yet appear. There wasn’t a precedent established for the concept of a superhero. The simple, god-fearing but kindly folk of Smallville wouldn’t know what to make of a near-omnipotent, pre-adolescent attending the same public school as their own children. They’d be frightened, and who could blame them? That Kent boy could maim and murder any, or all, of his classmates and teachers on a whim, and sure he seems like a good kid most of the time, but 13-year-olds can be real assholes when the notion strikes them.

Especially if oblivious to his extraterrestrial origins, Kent would be lonely and confused by these circumstances. But his nobler instincts would compel him to protect this world that hates and fears him, and turn a curious ear to a soliciting disabled chap, with a head as smooth as a billiard ball who spoke of a beautiful dream.

Superman: American Alien #1 Interior Art by Nick Dragotta

Not that Professor X makes an appearance in Superman: American Alien #1, a.k.a. “Dove,” but the story scans like he would if he could. Humiliated after an involuntary display of flight in front of his school pals—during a screening of E.T. of all things—unofficial Superboy punches a bathroom mirror in a fit of misplaced rage. This act, of course, obliterates the mirror, and a hearty chunk of the brick wall behind it. Despite Clark’s burden of absolute specialness, who among us hasn’t punched much smaller holes in a wall or two while upset and/or very drunk? Here, writer writer Max Landis demonstrates a mundane solution to a Kryptonian problem.

Also the American Ultra screenwriter and grey matter behind the glorious Death and Return of Superman and Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling shorts, Landis has declared this seven-issue series an attempt at yinging the yang of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. Whereas Morrison studied Superman as an avatar of magic and wonder, Landis says he’s focused on Clark Kent, the regular dude, as he grows up into an older, wiser, regular dude. We’re told to expect hitherto unseen degrees of violence, and maybe even some sexy time in upcoming issues, each to be rendered by a different artist in accordance with whose expertise best fits the particular phase in Kent’s life. “Dove” is drawn by Nick Dragotta, who does a worthy impression of Norman Rockwell commissioned to draw manga.

Superman: American Alien #1 Interior Art by Nick Dragotta

Tradition is both this book’s raison d’etre and its albatross. There’s no reason for any writer to revisit the well-traveled terrain of Smallville unless they’re bringing something that isn’t already there. In that respect, Landis almost succeeds. In theory, the concept of a young Clark Kent struggling with his otherness, precarious control over seemingly limitless and blatantly dangerous power (plus how those factors relate to everyman anger issues) sounds intriguing. Unfortunately, the story winds up a casualty of its own page limit and the series’ greater ambitions. Its conflicts are all resolved via some quality bonding time with Jonathan “Pa” Kent and a quick, painless soul search—quite like how they used to cure eating disorders and racism on network sitcoms.

Superman: American Alien #1 doesn’t quite rise over the high bar of reverence, sans redundancy, that it set for itself, but it comes close enough for us to expect cooler future installments. If there’s a “Clark Kent loses his virginity” story on the way like I hope there is, that will be the issue American Alien lives or dies with. I already know how Superman got his homespun good ol’ boy values. What I don’t already know, but would like to, is how he learns to fornicate.

Superman: American Alien #1 Interior Art by Nick Dragotta