Kenny: Man, if I had x-ray vision, all I'd be doing is looking through clothes at nekkid folks. I'd be the worst alien ever.
Pete: Clark's already the worst alien ever.
Clark: Thanks guys.
Pete: So do you...?
Clark: Do I...?
Kenny: ...Use the x-ray vision?
Clark: Okay, yes, Kenny, I have., but I don't anymore.
Pete: 'Cause you're such a "good person"?
Clark: No, because they look weird. People's bodies are all smushed by their clothes and they look--
Pete: Your face is so red. Oh my god.
Clark: Stop laughing.
The most-discussed superhero comic of 2016 may be American Alien, written by Max Landis and illustrated by various artists. Landis, son of Hollywood director John Landis, once posted a very funny Youtube video on the 1990s Death and Return of Superman story arc / media event, in which he suggested (among many other things) that very little new could be done with the Man of Steel. Several screen/teleplays and a handful of comics later, he challenges that notion, at least somewhat, with this series. Its seven diverse stories show us Clark Kent at key points in his life, from early childhood to his early twenties. We see very little of Superman, but we get some interesting takes, all tonally quite different, on the person who becomes him.
The story begins well, with early-life chapters that don't feel like reruns of Smallville. "Dove" shows us an interesting side of raising a superhuman, as the Kents discover their adopted son can fly. I like that Clark's abilities aren't really news to a significant percentage of Smallville. Pretty much all of Clark's friends and everyone close to the Kents has figured it out. The local sheriff occasionally asks for his help. Fortunately, this being a mythic American small town, those who know don't talk.
The book's goofiest chapter, "Parrot", blends DC Comics with teen comedy, twisting along the way certain superhero tropes without entirely turning the character into a joke. Nineteen-year-old Clark Kent finds himself on a yacht owned by Bruce Wayne, a person whose wealthy fake friends have not seen in years. Several people mistake him for Bruce-- their physical similarity having long been an industry joke. Unfortunately, one of those people is Deathstroke, sent to kill the nascent Batman. Despite years of stories where characters like Batman, Karate Kid, and the like outfight Superman by being clever, and Sun Tzu's insistence on skill over strength, it seems unlikely most people who try to fight a de facto god are going to come out ahead. Deathstroke's assassination attempt ends quickly and hilariously, and not at all how he imagined it would.
The second half is weaker, although it does give us a look at Lex Luthor, Ollie Queen, and a very young Dick Grayson. Given the collection's declaration that it is "not a Superman comic," I'm surprised Landis chose to conclude with the story of how Superman establishes himself for the world (again), and that the villain for that event is Lobo. Their encounter really doesn't work for me, and having the first phrase the mics pick up be "shove it up your ass" is a cheap laugh. A really cheap laugh.
Landis can write Clark Kent. If he was going to end with this story, he needed to write Superman.
Throughout, the stories feature impressive artwork, including Jae Lee and June Chung's dreamlike brushes on "Owl." The different artists complement the tone of each story, which ranges from whimsical to gritty to comic-book conventional.
In the end, Max Landis's old Youtube video proves partially correct. One can only do so much that's new with Superman. His depiction, unfettered from official continuity, has been influenced by John Byrnes's Man of Steel (Business Class Luthor, Luthor has no past connection to Kent, Superman is a disguise for Clark Kent, and not the other way around) and recent media incarnations (Lois falls for Clark, Batman starts his career first, Jimmy Olsen is African-American), but he takes some new directions of his own. Despite some shortcomings, this may be the most interesting and fun take on Superman in a few years.
Title: Superman: American Alien
Writer: Max Landis
Artists: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joelle Jones, Jae Lee, June Chung, Francis Manapul, Jonahan Case, Jock, Ryan Sook, et al.