Fiction, for the most part, is all about connecting with the characters at the forefront of the story. The people we, as readers, watchers or listeners are sitting down to follow for however long it takes for the story to reach its conclusion. We connect with the trials of Captain Kirk and the rest of the Crew of the Starship Enterprise, because discovery is fundamentally hard wired into the human condition and we, as viewers, are able to connect to that moment of euphoria when the crew stumbles across something truly monumental.
Peter Parker’s feelings of guilt and loss surrounding the loss of his Uncle Ben, might be a bit played out by now with how many times the story has been told in the last 16 years, but it still remains as one of the most relatable moments of loss in all of comic book history.
So, when you look at a character like Superman, it seems a little hard to make a connection between the character and the consumer of the story. The Übermensch known as Clark is a near perfect being. All powerful, all good, the Superman is a totem, an ideal for the human characters to look up to and to emulate.
But these attempts of emulation will fail, because humanity is not perfect. We are not compassion incarnate, with all of strength within our fists to maintain the ability to be that compassionate.
Its what makes Superman: American Alien such a damn good read, because it doesn’t try to connect us to the Kryptonian Guardian of Earth, but instead cuts to the core of the character and gives us instead a look at the unsure boy that is Clark, son of Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Probably the one thing that the movie, Man of Steel did correctly, was frame us up some of that sweet early life in Smallville Kansas. Of course it fucked it up something fierce, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
American Alien wakes up on a young Clark, hovering in the sky at night, Martha clung desperately to his leg, both are panicking, and Martha slips, right as Clark swings around and grabs her by the arm. Martha tells him to focus on going down, which he is but then he loses it, and they both plummet.
The next panel shows us in the Kent kitchen, a bowl of soup in front of Clark and Martha bandaging up Jonathan’s foot, prompting Clark to ask what happens. That’s the moment the emotion starts.
I’ve always been a sucker for good human emotion, and by that measure I’ve always been a sucker for Superman stories that manage to cut past the Super part of it and straight to the man.
But even regardless of how well done the characters are, regardless of how well the story has been written neither of these are my favourite parts of the book.
No, my favourite part is that through all of this, even though Clark is keeping mum in Metropolis and the wider world about his identity, Smallville itself?
Smallville is in on the secret.
Ma and Pa Kent did the best the could for Clark growing up. Instead of trying to hide Clark’s differences from the world, they embrace it. Smallville slowly learns that there is something different about that Kent boy, but no one treats him any different.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in a Superman story, where the town is in on it from the get go, and quite frankly that is pretty neat.
It gives Clark some sounding boards, and sucks away some of the stress that is, more often than not, his teenage years.
Although I love it, the Earth-One books falls into this particular pitfall as well, distancing Clark from those around him to an almost ridiculous degree.
Of course, he gets better later on. Earth One starts with Clark moved to Metropolis and the entirety of issue 1 is him getting over that particular hang up, which is good, but it definitely takes me out of the experience a little bit for the short amount of time its on the page.
American Alien doesn’t suffer from any of that, it cuts through the melodrama for a more human core, which connects us, the reader, to Superman so much more.
Also this happens and I love it.
American Alien and all 3 Volumes of Superman Earth One are all available to purchase from all good Comic Book Stores