When most people think of Superman, they imagine the Man of Steel. They picture a pinnacle of superheroes, a figure of overwhelming power and a pure sense of justice. They picture the shining light among the Justice League. However, there is more to Superman than just that hero dressed in red and blue. There is Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet. Now, most people might not necessarily make this aspect of Superman a focal point. After all, it is his power and his ability to inspire that captures the eye and captivates the imagination. However, Clark Kent should not be neglected. After all, that is who Superman is beneath the suit. That is who grew up in Smallville, with love and support from a kindly couple who adopted him when he was young. That is who would be inspired to use his gifts to try to help make the world a better place. That is what writer Max Landis chose to explore with his comic book miniseries Superman: American Alien. In this series, he explores the steps and pieces that take Clark Kent from a Kansas farm boy to one of the most iconic heroes of the DC Universe.
Plenty may already know of Superman’s origin. They might know of how he is the last son of Krypton, fired in a rocket when he was a baby as his home planet was destroyed. They might know of Jonathan and Martha Kent, a couple that discovered the crashed ship and adopted the infant child to raise as their own. However, how does one go from being raised as a farm boy in Kansas to becoming one of the biggest heroes the world has ever known? As it turns out, it is a process of steps, of moments that impact Clark Kent in his life. As a young boy, he begins to find himself floating in the air and learns he can fly. As a teenager, an attempt to help save a local family from criminals shows him just how destructive he can be if he is reckless. As a young man first forging his identity as Superman, a battle with the monster Parasite leads him to see the importance of a symbol of hope in a cynical world. It is moments like these that help to shape and refine Clark, leading up to a battle with an alien bounty hunter named Lobo that showcases one final lesson: the impact that he has made on the world.
With this mini-series, Max Landis covers a great new take on the early years of Superman. Each entry works well in exploring the development of Clark Kent, offering interesting looks at how he comes to be Superman. Each portion has its own feel, not just in the kind of genre they present in the storytelling, but also in the art style used to go along with the mood for each story. For instance, the story of Clark as a boy finding his gift of flight is drawn with a warmth that recalls a Pixar film, while the teenage tale of him witnessing the danger of his own power is rendered in a rough art-style full of shadows. The various artwork approaches work well in conjunction to the stories that Landis offers. He does a good job letting each tale stand as their own moment, exploring their points even as they work towards their connected conclusion. He even finds ways of incorporating the DC Universe, forging connections that help to give a sense of the future, even if a few may feel a little forced. That said, strongest of all is what Landis brings to this tale of Clark Kent: humanity.
For plenty of people, Superman may seem like a boring figure. They may see him as some god-like figure, perfect in power and perfect in morality. The fact of the matter is that Clark Kent did not arrive as some full-fledged hero to our world. He is just as human as any of us, but simply granted with incredible abilities. This series high-lights that fact, exploring his feelings and emotions as he takes each formative step to his ultimate destiny. He has joy and wonder as he learns how to fly. He feels guilt and fear when he finds out how easily he can hurt another person. He questions and worries over whether using his gifts to help others as a costumed hero is even the right use of his gifts. Moments like this help to showcase the humanity in a character that the general public might see as a bland figure, while still preserving the core of what makes him Superman. It offers a new perspective that others might have neglected, seeing only his power and not his heart. It is a strong reminder of the man behind the Superman.
Even though Superman is an iconic superhero and a well-known figure in popular culture, a side of him that some may neglect is Clark Kent. Max Landis’s mini-series Superman: American Alien takes this aspect of Superman and uses it as a strong avenue to exploring the humanity in such an iconic figure.