Superman: American Alien #6
Written by Max Landis
Art by Jonathan Case
Lettering by John Workman
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
As one of the longest-running superheroes on the planet, Superman’s origin story has been retold and remixed so many times that it is practically a common language. A number of those origins have concentrated on the importance of Martha and Jonathan Kent in forming the man that Clark Kent became, while more modern interpretations have explored the role of Superman as the ultimate outsider, sometimes going so far as to draw the messianic comparisons of the god/man dichotomy. What’s been fascinating about writer Max Landis’ story so far is that they have viewed the world through the eyes of Clark Kent as an alien, but always reminding us of those touchstones that are composite parts of the hero.
Which is why Superman: American Alien #6 gets to the heart of the Superman mythos more than any other chapter in this series to date. A visit from Clark’s childhood friends from Smallville, a town that Landis casts as fully aware of the specialness they have in their midst, is at its heart a simple story about reconnecting with the people you left behind from your hometown. Initially they are wowed by the big city lights of Metropolis, and the comparison is one of a friend that has achieved some measure of celebrity. Yet his best friend’s major complaint is that Clark doesn’t know what he is potentially unleashing on the Earth, and the helplessness his friends feel at not being able to help Clark face that.
The "alien" aspects of the title come to the fore in this issue, with Landis exploring Clark moving away from his Smallville upbringing while simultaneously having firsthand knowledge of how big the universe can be. In J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth One, the writer emphasized how difficult it was for Clark to grow up as the ultimate outsider. Learning a key piece of the Superman mythology by the end of this issue, Clark definitely feels the pains of this disconnection from his Earth family and a growing connection to one that he has never met. Landis’ most touching addition to the saga is that Clark perhaps wears the "S" as a way of signalling to his forgotten family that he’s doing ok. Yet Landis also reminds us of something trite but true: it takes a village to raise a (super)man, and Clark’s values aren’t as simple as being raised by a wholesome old couple of farmers, but because he had the same socialization, and highs and lows of adolescence, that his peers shared.
The retro stylings of Jonathan Case are the perfect accompaniment to this nostalgic issue, adding the same kind of charm that Darwyn Cooke or Mike Allred would to such a throwback. It’s rare to see Clark Kent just portrayed as a handsome young man in the city, his impossible bulk in recent years leaning towards the jock end of the spectrum. Case has an easy way about his art with the friends of Clark, goofily having them lay about chatting about their lives over a few drinks, or breaking down into arguments. In an emotion-filled handful of pages, Case worldlessly has Clark fly into space, changing up the color palette to an unnatural series of reds and greens, emphasizing the alien aspects even more.
In the earliest days of Superman, his muscular feats and strongman costume were designed to represent the peak of what humans could achieve. Despite the ridiculous powers that the subsequent versions have given us, the stories that are most fascinating remain the ones that remember the "man" comes before the "super." Some of this is recognized in the cover to this issue of Superman: American Alien: a sea of average faces that are each opening their shirts to reveal the "S" symbol, indicating that we each have that potential. Superman is a reflection of the best humanity has to offer, with our faults and all. With one issue remaining in the series, Landis’ journey through Superman’s formative years aren’t just a love letter to a hero, but to the people who read him as well.