Many of the best Superman comics (including Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman: Birthright, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Superman For All Seasons and John Byrne’s original Superman: Man of Steel storyline) are devoted to exploring the hero’s origin and formative years. At this point it’s enough to wonder if there’s anything left to be said on the subject. Luckily, Max Landis seems to have found another novel approach. Rather than try to cover the entire saga of Superman from his fateful rocket flight to his early days in Metropolis, each issue of Superman: American Alien focuses on a different moment in Clark Kent’s early life. This first issue doesn’t attempt to cover too much ground, instead focusing on the shock, fear and excitement that arises when Clark flies for the very first time.
The result is an issue that’s fairly light on plot but big on characterization. Landis really nails the Kent family dynamic and the confusion that comes from trying to raise a child who’s more than a little out of the ordinary. The script strikes a balance between honing in on the fear of the situation – the fear of being discovered by the outside world, the fear of losing control, etc. – while also embracing the joy of having access to a power many would give anything to possess. Landis is also great about making the Kents feel like believable people without diminishing their wholesome, All-American charm. The story acknowledges that raising a super-powered child is a little more difficult than simply loading him up with folksy wisdom. The short backup page offers some intriguing insight into the loving but sometimes rocky history between Jonathan and Martha.
Given his work with writer Jonathan Hickman on the Fantastic Four franchise, artist Nick Dragotta was a logical choice for this issue. Dragotta is already well-versed in stories that revolve around young heroes embracing the exciting but overwhelming future before them. His graceful figure perfectly captures Clark’s early attempts at flying and the raw emotion at play as Jonathan and Martha struggle to keep their son safe and deal with his unusual condition. Dragotta delivers some great shots in this issue, particularly during the tense climax as Jonathan attempts an aerial rescue.
The end result of Landis’ script and Dragotta’s visuals is that this book reads like a contemporary Superman story while still retaining much of the franchise’s timeless appeal. This first issue bodes well for the rest of the series.
If this first issue is any indication, Superman: American Alien will have plenty to add to the now-familiar tale of Superman’s origin. This issue doesn’t try to cover too much ground, instead offering an engrossing look at a young Clark Kent’s early brushes with flight. Between the compelling characterization and the gorgeous art, the series is off to a great start.