When this series began, I would pipe on and on about DC’s Superman problem. Outside a select few stories, the last few years of Superman media had left me weary. Fans were treated to a big-screen version of everyone’s favorite boy scout, but it was clear that Synder just didn’t seem to understand the character. We were left with a drain palettes and darker prospects. Thankfully, the story of Kal-El has always been on of hope and Max Landis’ Superman: American Alien has reminded us all of that. It has re-invigorated my connection DC’s Man of Steel in a way I didn’t think possible. Not since Red Son has a Superman series been so intellectually engaging or sophisticated in its story-telling mechanisms. It has the heart of Smallville with a frankness that we often don’t see in comics. The last few issues have been written from Clark’s perspective, but with issue six, we finally get to look at how the outside world reacts to Superman as two of the Man of Tomorrow’s best friend stop by.
This issue begins with Pete Ross and Kenny Braverman traveling to Metropolis for the first time since Clark became Superman. As they catch up with each other, the Smallville crew begin to discuss what Superman means for the world and what that might mean for their friendship. The last issue was the most “Superman-y” of the series thus far, featuring Clark’s first really super villain encounter and adopting that all-too-familiar identity, bu this entry slows the pace and examines Clark through the eyes of his best friends. What does it feel like to so close to a god? How do you react to someone you’ve known your whole life is becoming a symbol for others to aspire to? These are things Pete and Kenny are struggling to deal with as the Clark they know changes. There’s no fist fights, no jobs for Superman. The conflict here is how three close friends come to terms with the natural development of their relationships and the progress of their own individual journeys.
In a recent interview, Landis hypothesized that this issue would leave fans in tears and it’s easy to understand why. There’s a moment early on in the issue where Clark releases that he’s somehow managed to miss out on the fact Kenny is getting married, and he is distraught at the very notion of not having been there for his friend at the pivotal moment in his life. Clark is reaching that point in his life where one becomes so busy that things can slip by, when friends can grow apart and become isolated. This is a beautiful tale about close friends walking different paths, who unite to reminiscent, re-acquaint and fight, in the grand tradition of doing what best friends do best. It captures the bonds of friendship in a meaningful way. True friends are like a family; sometimes they can be brutally honest, not out of spite, but out of genuinely wanting to see you fulfill your potential. They push you to strive to be better and to be the best version of yourself. Life sends us away from those friends we need the most, the ones who are always there for you. You may be terrible at keeping tabs on them. You may fall out of contact, but those moments you spend together are among your most lasting memories. From the drama of two friends almost coming to blows over the lack of direction in the other’s lives to deep cuts at the expense of the “glasses as a disguise” trope, Landis is simultaneously devastatingly emotional and humorous in equal measures. He presents these characters, not in a cynical way, but rather a grounded one. This isn’t a “dark and gritty” take on Clark Kent’s journey. It’s a coming of age story, one of self-discovery that uses the Superman framework to tell tales about our common human experiences.
This issue’s artist is Jonathan Case (Batman 66′ and The Creep) and he done an amazing job. He isn’t given as much to work with in terms of action scenes, but his style is reminiscent of the relaunched Archie series. It’s the perfect fit for a character-drama and that, ultimately, is what this issue and the series has been geared toward. The use of graffiti and street art to highlight Superman’s growing influence in Metropolis is used to exquisite effect and really gives Case the chance to show off his more creative side. The cover artwork, also done by case, is also worth mentioning. This is my favorite cover of the series with “Where Wally?” motif that is quite evocative of the inspiration that Superman instills in the public consciousness. As good as the others have been, if they don’t use this as the cover for the collected edition, they’ll have missed out on an amazing opportunity.
When I compare this series to Smallville, understand that there is no higher praise I can give a Superman comic. In the wake of Rebirth, DC is going to be pushing the Superman family of books harder than we’ve seen in many years. The future is bright for the Last Son of Krypton, Superman: American Alien has given all other books in the line an ideal to aspire to. Let’s pray that one day they join it in the sun.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher.
SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #6 Five-Page Preview