National Novel Writing Month is kicking my backside. Last week’s reviews never materialized. And this week’s are late. But, one must soldier on. As always, thanks to Rich and Cougar at Whatever Store for often very good recommendations. Possible spoilers…
Superman American Alien #1
Book of the Week
“When you break something, you’re not just breaking the thing. You’re like…hurting everyone who made it the way it was.”
It’s been said more than once that this isn’t a Superman story. But If the soul of this book lived in Superman comics, I’d probably read more of them.
There have been a lot of Superman origin stories over the years. I’ve never read any of them. Perhaps some of the themes Landis touches on here have been touched on before. I don’t have a frame of reference for comparison. This first issue sees a very young Clark Kent growing into his powers—in this instance flight—and his parents looking for ways to cope.
There are a lot of fun moments in the book, but there’s a lot of sadness, too. Clark can’t control when he starts floating up, and he’s terrified every time it happens. He can’t navigate—can’t get himself back down. If that wasn’t bad enough, later we see him watching a movie about aliens, and he momentarily faces existential questions of what he is and what people would do to him if they knew he was different. All of this leads not unsurprisingly to Clark wishing he were normal—a sentiment I’d be willing to bet most readers remember from some point in childhood.
Getting almost as much time in the spotlight as Clark are his parents. Jonathon and Martha spend a lot of the issue looking for answers that can help their son. I’d honestly never considered the idea that the Kents would have had to have told the family doctor about Clark—or that the doctor would use a Geiger counter on him. But these moments feel perfectly natural. Jonathon has the harder time with the situation—at first seeming to long for a normal child, even as he adores Clark, before finally turning into the skid and embracing how different his son is. The scenes of Jonathon trying to help Clark learn to fly might be among the most heartwarming I’ve ever read in a comic book.
So what does a kid want when he finally does learn how to fly? He wants to take his family on vacation of course. The last page is Clark spinning off scenario after scenario of where the family can visit because Clark is sure he can be strong enough and fly fast enough to get them there. It’s a great moment not because this is Clark Kent and the reader somehow expects that Clark Kent was always perfect, but because this is a ten year old boy and this is exactly what someone would expect from a ten year old boy.
Lest it feel like I’m ignoring Dragotta’s art, I have to point out his superior work on Clark. The boy who would be Superman is expressive and alive; the moments of elation and heartbreak work not just because of Landis’ story but also because Dragotta can communicate all of that emotion on Clark’s face and in his posture.
I think at this point I’ve gushed enough. This book’s charm isn’t that Landis has retconned some great origin that’s far and away better than any that came before it. The beauty is that Landis and Dragotta have captured a little piece of childhood and, inserting it into the larger Superman mythos, made a basically god-like character as human as every one of his readers.