Superman: American Alien #3
Published on: 01/13/1986
Written by: Max Landis
Art by: Joelle Jones and Rico Renzi
There was a time where I would let someone have a free pass if they wanted to try something new and inventive with Clark Kent. Mostly I’m just tired of seeing DC try and make Doomsday a thing so anything else has to have some merit right? Well I may have to revise that thinking because Max Landis is here to show us how cool he can make Clark Kent in “Superman: American Alien” #3. And if the cover is any indication, it’s time for Clark to stop being a loser and finally be that party animal we all wanted him to be.
For the most part “Superman: American Alien” hasn’t been too bad as a series. Clark is a bit exaggerated but usually it helps achieve the desired narrative effect. In the first one he struggles with his powers, in the second he struggles with doing the right thing, but now we’re onto the third one where he struggles with everyone thinking he’s the coolest guy in the Caribbean! The first two issues the problems organically grow out of Clark situation in Smallville; but in this issue they loaded up the plot with as many contrivances as it could possibly hold and let her rip! Clark wins a contest to the Bahamas! The plane crashes! Right next to Bruce Wayne’s birthday yacht bash! Everyone mixes up Clark for Bruce! And now he’s in for a crazy whirlwind adventure like he’s never seen before!
Do you see how that last paragraph reads like a sitcom pitch? It’s because like a sitcom the story wasn’t organically formed, instead it was, “Clark is Bruce! How?” So instead of being emotionally invested in the turmoil Clark is going through it feels like the Benny Hill music should be playing and this should be a wacky adventure! Like if Clark stumbled into Bruce’s cabin and found a utility belt with prototype Batarangs, that would fit right in! Instead the issue is super schizophrenic alternating between sequences where Clark is trying to have this deep, emotional connection with this girl and sequences where he’s on a Seadoo with a margarita—that’s so crazy!
To focus on just one contrived plot point seems petty but I think it’s warranted considering the whole book hinges on it. Who the Hell has ever confused Clark for Bruce? I know it’s playing with the idea that they’re drawn really similar and they’re the two top characters at DC but when the plot requires that an entire yacht full of people mistakes Clark for Bruce for a full weekend I can only roll my eyes so much before they pop straight out of my head. And that wouldn’t be so bad if Clark was actually Clark but from the instant the book starts Clark is a less convincing Superman than those shots of Nick Cage with the lite up jumper. It took till halfway through the book when Clark excuses himself by saying “Sorry, I’m just a weird alien,” before I said “No you’re fucking not.” You are what Max Landis wishes he could be. He wishes he could just plop down in the DC universe, be a millionaire, and be invincible. There’s even a point in the book where Clark is drawn to look like Max Landis. Nice try Max but I’m not about to buy an entire issue of your self-insert fan fiction.
I want to take an opportunity and do something I don’t usually do: I want to compare this book to literature. See the central theme of this issue is seeing Clark unleashed, unburdened by the anxiety of hiding who he is. And supposedly if this is the case, he becomes this Van Wilder-esque man-child who gets to fulfill his dream of being a DJ—totally in the issue. I get that this is supposed to show how Clark never gets to cut loose and he’ll never get a chance like this again so he has to experience this now. But consider the book “Lamb” by Christopher Moore. In it we meet Jesus Christ’s childhood friend, Biff, who is an asshole.
Being that the book has Jesus, it shows how as a child he is told he must abstain from sin. This is a problem for Jesus because since he can’t experience it he doesn’t understand why humans are compelled to sin. This is where Biff comes in. He acts as a proxy, showing Jesus why the common man is so flawed but more than that, why they need to be saved. The same effect could have been achieved in this story. If DC contrived a reason for both Clark and Bruce to be together and Bruce had to pretend to party to keep up appearances; Clark would get to see the world he doesn’t see and the toll it has on those who dwell there. Instead we get a book where Max Landis dreams he’s an invincible millionaire with no rules on a party boat and that everyone is completely in love with him.