by Tarique Ejaz
"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a propaganda-based-superimposition-of-patriotic-sentiments? Or is it just an alien in an alien land among less alien beings?"
Max Landis takes the age old myth and legacy of the Man of Steel and passes it through a certain layer of refreshment before he serves it to one and all in this one of a kind 7 issue series based on the one that is considered to be the most powerful entity in the entire DC Universe. Not to forget, he is the one against whom most of the other powerful fictional characters are pitted against whenever one intends to gauge their strength. Landis, with the help of a team composed of a variety of superstar artists, takes to the roots of Big Blue and presents it in a predictably unpredictable manner.
Each of the issue presents a certain aspect of his growing years and carries a tone completely distinct from the other issues yet so intricately linked to the main theme. The theme to explore more about Superman than just be awed by the stories that come up with him harnessing his majestic powers with complete elegance and righteous-based sense of honor and justice.
I. The Eccentric Child
Both Johnathan and Martha had discovered earlier on that Clark or rather the child they had discovered in an alien space ship on a farmland bearing a track of burning soil and grass was no ordinary child. They had no idea who he was, what he was or why he was there. The simplicity with which they had lived their lives overtakes them as they take the child in selflessly and with utmost love like he was born of them only.
This act of selflessness is well defined in Superman's character as he has shown over and over again. We can safely attribute it to the parents that brought him up. The story begins with a very young Clark soaring in the air, rising higher and higher, panicked and uneasy as his mother soars with him while tightly holding onto his ankle so as to not slip while the frightened father desperately tries to find a solution to help the only two people he loves the most in his life.
It takes on the concept - "Is being different and not like everyone else an affront to being regarded with naked aspersions?" The concept is further explored as a timid and obviously scared Clark tries to fit in, taking his unusual abilities at the fancy of his innocence and those of his peers. The very thing that goes in the nature of humans where we start to fear what we fail to understand takes center stage. Now add a child's childishness to it. What do you get?
A falsified hood of fear that renders the innocent mind to subvert to regressive thoughts.
The power of parenthood and the influence it carries on the child is orchestrated like a piece of art. Subtle but stunning to behold for the readers.
II. Broken Bones, Passionate Heart
A small kid from Kansas is now in his early teens as he fights on and still is engrossed in a persistent struggle to fit in. He has developed a steady friendship with the ones who matter and a love interest that continues to flicker on and off. But is it alone enough for him to feel that he is making a difference? Especially with the abilities bestowed upon him by his alien genes.
A robbery goes wrong, lives are endangered and even some are lost. The criminals responsible have taken residence in a place they had once called home and threatening the lives of those previously residing there. We see the local Sheriff bring Clark and his friends to task for not being alert enough to respond to the tragedy whereas in reality he is subtly referring to Clark for not being the one to take the task at hand and punish the people on the other side of the morally asymmetrical law system.
Would lives have been lost if Clark had responded in time?
Guilt-tripped, the young teen takes the matter into his hands and sets the record straight as he single handedly brings down the ones responsible. The beauty of this entire act is a follow-up of the principle that was strongly laid down in the previous issue. We see guilt becoming prominent and eventually transforming into unrelenting will to help and act.
Superman, The Man of Tomorrow, takes another step to realizing his destiny.
III. Mistaken Identities
Clark accidently ends up in the middle of the Pacific and is saved by a Cruise Ship owned by a notorious-reputation bearing Billionaire young man from Gotham. The frenzy, glamour and attention that the farm lad from Smallville ends up getting, goes on to overwhelm him. In fact, it overwhelms him so much that he takes up the pretense and joins in the fun.
When no one knows how the actual intended Birthday Boy (Yes, it was the birthday of the intended) looks like and couple it with the blatant “I-don’t-care” each of them carry, deception cannot actually be seen as deception anymore. Surrounded by the progeny of the rich, overloaded families, Clark feels like the wealth is being wasted as an individual makes a pass for a biscuit having real gold crumbs on top of. I mean it. Real gold crumbs.
Amidst all the pretenses and elitist jibber jabber, he comes across a fine lady who entrances him with her words and thoughts making him reveal his true identity. She doesn’t care either and the reality of the lives often led by the rich is highlighted.
All the money in the world cannot buy a person’s heart’s containment. They kick it off, end up messing around and in a drunken state Clark ends up having an alteration with Deathstroke. One of the world’s deadliest assassin sent to take out the real Birthday Boy.
Mistaken identities and wants of the heart make him realize that more is on his way to come.
IV. Night and Day
Daily Planet has an upcoming, ambitious reporter from a small town in their ranks and he is gunning for the top. First time meeting with Lois Lane follows and it is as dynamic and feisty as all of their meetings have been known to be. Mistaken from the previous adventure, Clark ends up getting an exclusive from two major players in the industrial foray – Oliver Queen of Queen Industries and Lex Luthor of Lexcorp.
It is the bald man with the power at hand and the resolution of mind that tests the basic beliefs that Clark has always carried in his heart, stature and work. It is a display of egoistically-placed arrogance against seek-the-truth-offer-the-solution approach. A contrasting to and fro of different ideals at the ends of a spectrum of the same line. Luthor’s condescension in hindsight is not misplaced. He is a man’s man, built up on power taken by the right opportunities seized. Never handed over and always earned.
The tension between the two is evident and subtly kept in check.
It’s the latter half that is of utmost interest. We are faced with the concept of night and day as two vigilantes, patrolling two sections of a rather large sphere, referred to by many as the world, come face to face for the first time. The reason for Superman’s existence in contrast to Batman is again addressed. But the take is a refreshing one. Not the one we have been used to.
For a person who believes in fear, there needs to be one who can inspire hope.
V. Altering the Ego and Vice Versa
After his encounter with the Dark Knight where Clark almost kills him, he takes his cape as a souvenir of their tangle and uses it for himself to help the people in need. It is at this juncture he is faced with the consistent question that continues to hog him like a tumor that refuses to go away. “Will the world be better if Superman wasn’t there in it?”
A monster unearths and a battle ensues which ultimately leads Superman to trace the origin of the man behind the monster trail to the man who created it. Lex Luthor. Without thinking it out, propelled by instinct he marches into the office of one of the strongest man in all of Metropolis only to be lashed out by a rationally-sound retort by the manipulative industrialist, thereby, making him question the very dilemma that has been bugging him.
We see the alter ego facing the heat as the man bearing it tries to search for ways to justify his urge to utilize his gifts to help the people.
This search leads him back to Lois Lane. She has after all always served as the beacon light to his soul and link to humanity and we exactly the reason for so. She makes him see that the world doesn’t need a Superman just like blood doesn’t need white blood cells to ensure healthy progression. She makes him understand the difference between making a difference and appeasing everyone.
It is this epiphany posed out to him that leads to Lex’s redecorated windscreen.
VI. Friends - Home and Away
Superman has finally come of age and become a decorated figure in all of Metropolis when his friends from Kansas decide to visit him. The very first panel which introduces a slightly mature Clark Kent to us, shows us the man himself standing in front of a huge and I mean it huge picture of the hero that the person is when he is defending his newly adopted home, showcases the simplicity that the man sporting the red-and-blue commands.
When one of his friend asks him as to how is he able to keep his secret identity hush-hush given the fact that the only thing protecting him from being touted as his alter ego is nothing but a pair of spectacles, Clark in a coy manner answers:
“I take my glasses off all the time and you know everyone tells me? You look just like Superman.”
Not a compelling enough reason to the never-ending debate of how is Superman able to keep his secret a secret but none the less, it addresses the point of hiding in plain sight.
Through the issue we are shown a side of the Man of Steel where he still requires to be guided even by the people who are nowhere close to how remarkable an individual he is. The perspective of his childhood friends and the urge to believe that he is doing it for the right reasons despite doubts and dilemmas lurking around makes it one of the high points of the issue.
The part where he questions his limitations and tries to reach the moon at the first go, a feat he had never attempted before, speaks volumes of the belief system that Clark harnesses and the kind of action that a moment of crisis can compel a man to indulge in.
At the end of the day, staying true to yourself is the lesson we get to take away from this entire encounter and the fact that no matter who you are or what you are, a friendly perspective is always welcomed. Is it not?
VII. Where One Belongs
The bond between Clark and Lois is only strengthening. Clark wants her to know as to how he feels for her and she keeps rebuffing the question and he ends up pouring his heart out to the only person who can relate to his situation and somewhat understand his state of being – the one and only Jimmy Olsen. But is it the only thing that is on the Big Blue’s mind? I don’t think so.
The Main Man, the last Czarnian – Lobo, a space mercenary has come downtown and killed a few hundred civilians (Because that is what mercenaries hired by megalomaniacs do. Right?) just so as to honor a contract. We end up seeing a massive alteration between the two aliens where Lobo fails to grasp the concept of a Kryptonian who owes nothing to the people he is defending still trying to protect and come to their rescue as a guardian when the situation demands.
The man everyone looks up to for hope gives it his all, his immature instincts rush forth and he manages to take down a fellow alien. This lands him up in a hospital. Unbelievable for Superman, yet it is a stark reality for a Superman still learning to harness his powers and gaining awareness of his developing meta-human abilities.
The last few panels are heartwarming as we see Lois confessing her feelings for him and ending with the one lingering question, standing out as a sore thumb amidst unaddressed concerns.
“What next from here?”
In general, American Alien is a well-rounded arc written smartly by Max Landis and brought to life by an equally super team. If you are still skeptical whether this will be any better than any of the other early-life stories of Superman, I believe I have already given you enough reason to give it a try. Hope is what he embodies and I hope you find this one as brilliant as I do.
“Up, up and away for now! But first, lunch awaits…”