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Comic Book / Superman: American Alien

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"I'm not from Krypton. I'm from Kansas."

Max Landis takes a shot at writing Superman's origins.

Superman: American Alien tells a version of the Man of Steel's upbringing. As a young Clark Kent discovers his powers, he begins to question his own identity, worrying about how he will never fit in. Eventually, he soon accepts his abnormality and embraces his powers, though continues to live among those much weaker than him much to the confusion of those who knows about his secret. Several horrific events and life-changing moments later, Clark slowly becomes The Hero that everyone will soon look up to for hope as well as the mild-mannered but competent journalist he disguises himself as.

Each issue takes place during a specific moment in Clark's life, i.e. the first issue is him as a young boy and the second him as a teenager. Of course, cameos and Mythology Gags are abound in this story.

Had a sequel in the works, named Superman: Agent of Batman, which focuses on Clark teaming with the Dark Knight to take down a rogue Justice League. When the actual comic fell through, Landis shared his outlines and concepts for it and various sequels on his YouTube channel, which form a longer storyline he calls the "Kryptonian Epic".

Provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Lex Luthor gets a laugh out of Superman threatening to shove Lobo's bike up his ass.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Barbara Minerva is a spunky, cunning reporter as opposed to an unrepentant human-animal hybrid supervillainess. Justified in that she hasn't become Cheetah just yet, although that could change in the future.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: Clark is noticeably more impolite and informal than most portrayals, and while he grows in maturity he is also Innocently Insensitive when his childhood friends come to visit him in Metropolis. He's also a little short sighted in how he acts as Superman, not seeing how he is changing the world or that he might need to befriend the other heroes that were appearing.
    Pete Ross: You're not even that nice. Hell, I've seen you be a total dick.
  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • Justified in that Clark was still developing his powers, thus his invulnerability is not as strong as it will be. That is why as a teenager he noticeably bleeds and grimaces when shot by gangsters and is unable to do more than weakly beg them to stop.
    • Also justified with Batman, who, in this story, has no idea who Clark is and what he is dealing with, so he gets curb-stomped and unmasked when he confronts Clark.
    • Also justified with Deathstroke. The otherwise-competent assassin is completely blindsided by his target not being who he thinks he is, and gets both his sword broken and Clark flicks him off the boat. To make it worse for him, the entire confrontation is Played for Laughs.
  • Alternate Continuity: Basically a modern equivalent of DC's Elseworlds titles, but not published under that label.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: In Issue 2, a criminal kills his family's dog, in order to potray that he won't back down.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Lex Luthor sarcastically calls Clark "Superman", only for the latter to accept it as his superhero alias.
  • Art Shift: Each issue has a different artstyle.
  • Ass Shove: Superman threatens to do this to Lobo with his bike, which is censored.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Downplayed. Clark attempts to fly to the moon after a heated argument with Pete Ross. However, atmospheric decompression screws with his breathing, causing him to suffocate. Even if he's invulnerable, Clark still needs to breathe like everyone else. Presumably this is before he masters super breath-holding.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • Subverted. Pete calls out Clark for being neither Clark Kent nor Superman, but a desperate alien child who is hoping that by showing off his extraterrestrial symbol around everywhere, it will somehow make its way to wherever he came from and contact others like him.
    • Played straight (or straighter, at least) in the final issue where, after learning that Krypton is gone, Superman fully embraces both his Earth roots and his identity as Superman/Clark Kent.
  • Beta Outfit: Clark's first superhero outfit consisted of an aviator hat, goggles, a bulletproof vest with his logo drawn on, cargo pants, work boots, and Batman's cape.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: One of Clark's first attempts at superheroism results in a criminal pissing himself.
  • Call-Forward:
    • Clark is told by Pete and Kenny that he should team up with Batman and other superheroes.
    • Clark being mistaken for Bruce Wayne appears to be this to the future stories where Superman and Batman successfully impersonate each other.
  • The Cameo:
    • Clark encounters Oliver Queen twice. The first was pre-Starfish Island and the second post.
    • While meeting Oliver the first time in the third issue Clark also encounters Barbara Minerva who he has a brief relationship with, Sue Dearbon, Victor Zsasz and Deathstroke who tries to kill him due to thinking he's Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile Ra's al Ghul briefly appears mentoring Bruce Wayne while Mr. Mxyzptlk also makes a brief appearance at the end.
    • Doomsday appears in the back-up story of the second issue.
    • Clark encounters Dick Grayson in a LexCorp daycare in issue four.
    • An argument with Pete Ross sends Clark angrily flying into space, where he is rescued by Abin Sur and Tomar-Re in the fifth issue, who identify him as a Kryptonian.
  • Clark Kenting: Pete lampshades the fact that Clark has "Superman's haircut, Superman's height, Superman's... everything", and that everyone would see the resemblance if it weren't for the glasses. Clark remarks that the only response taking them off gets is "You look just like Superman."
  • Coming of Age Story: For Clark Kent, Max Landis says this story is about him learning "not to be an asshole".
  • Crush Filter: Clark's first scene in the second issue opens with a close-up view of a glamorous woman asking a suggestive question in French... then the view pulls back to show that this is Clark's mental picture of Lana Lang while they sit in a diner in Smallville and she attempts to help him with his French homework.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Deathstroke attempts to kill Clark, mistaking him for Bruce Wayne, but he gets rid of him with a flip of finger, while being drunk.
    • Batman vs Superman goes almost exactly how one expects a normal man going up against a near-invincible demigod to go. Unlike other stories, this is their first meeting and so Batman doesn't have his "preptime" to even the odds.
  • Deconstruction: Clark's Adaptational Personality Change actually makes him a strange deconstruction of Superman in the 70s and early 80s, who was often portrayed as yearning for Krypton and wishing he had never been sent to Earth. Here this is shown to have made him insensitive to the feelings of his friends and family, and his almost single minded focus in trying to attract the attention of other Kyptonians by being Superman and wearing his symbol means he is paying little attention to how he affects the world.
  • Epic Fail: Deathstroke's attempt to poison then skewer "Bruce Wayne" only manages to get Clark high as a kite and ruin his borrowed shirt. The mercenary himself is flustered and befuddled by his lack of result.
  • Evil Is Petty: After hearing that Clark is not a true reporter but a mere student for a journalism major, Lex blatantly insults him in his speech and dumps him in the building's daycare.
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted with Barbara Minerva, who is more observant and deductive unlike the other invited in Bruce Wayne's yacht, who immediately believe that Clark is Bruce Wayne. It's also hinted a bit of Broken Bird throw-in.
  • Friend to All Children: Clark's first meeting with a young Dick Grayson. He openly confesses he aims for an exclusive with Bruce Wayne's ward, but the kid is quite relaxed with him.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Clark. More emphasized here than most Superman stories, but still a bit downplayed since he's far from a pure Jerkass.
  • Good Parents: Just like in pretty much every other Superman story, Kent's family are this, helping Clark to learn flying.
  • Identical Stranger: Everyone in Bruce Wayne's yacht (sans Barbara Minerva) mistake Clark Kent with Bruce Wayne. Deconstructed; Clark doesn't actually look all that much like Bruce, but none of the people on the yacht have met the real Bruce and assume it's him based on the surrounding circumstances.
  • Ignored Confession: After being mistaken for Bruce Wayne, Clark admits to a hot-tub full of guests that he isn't who they think he is. They mistake it for a philosophical statement.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Lex remarks that Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne will soon fade away into obscurity while he will persevere long after their ends. Uh huh...
  • Jerkass Realization:
    • Gets discussted by Oliver Queen in #4, and how much time spent on island changed him.
    • Clark also eventually has this in regards to his relationship with his friends.
  • Love Confession: Lois admits to Clark that she loves him when he appears to be hospitalized by Lobo's attack.
  • Mind Screw: Mxyzptlk's cameo in Issue 3's epilogue points out some screwy things about the comic medium. Like how his name doesn't actually have an official pronunciation, only interpretations, he doesn't have a voice but the readers can still somehow hear him, and his form constantly shifts in an invoked case of Depending on the Artist. He also makes a big rant how he's actually more important than any person reading that page, and how he's more "real" because millions of people know about him due to reading the comic books he's appeared in.
  • Mistaken Identity: Clark is mistaken for Bruce Wayne when he is rescued by a party yacht.
  • Monster of the Week: Parasite in #5 and Lobo in #7.
  • Motive Rant: Lobo has one in the final issue of the series.
  • Mushroom Samba: Believed to be Bruce Wayne by Deathstroke, Clark is hit with a neurotoxin that gets him high as a kite and hallucinating.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Clark attempting to make a suave exit after his French tutorial with Lana.
    Clark: Well, you know what they say... Je suis une pamplemousse, je mange la fenêtre.
    Footnote: I am a grapefruit. I eat the window.
  • No-Sell:
    • Batman tries to use all of his gadgets on Clark when he has him pinned against a wall. They don't work.
    • Surprisingly averted with a teenage Clark. He gets shot and, while he survives, is injured and clearly bleeding.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • This is criminal's reaftion afrer loosing both of his arms due to Clark's heat vision.
    • Lobo gets few of these, due to how he underestimated Clark's power. He has the biggest one when Superman has enough and decides to throw him into space.
  • Papa Wolf: It's strongly hinted that Bruce was freaked by his former impersonator (who has faked records, too) talking to his ward, since one of his questions when he assaults Clark later is asking what his intentions towards Dick Grayson were.
  • Power Incontinence: The first issue revolves around Clark's flying power beginning to manifest, which it does at first in the form of uncontrollable levitation occurring at random moments.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Subverted with Clark's X-ray vision. As a teen, he admits to using it on people at first but he found that human bodies don't look very sexy when wearing clothes, being all "weird" and "smushed".
  • Race Lift:
    • Jimmy Olsen is black in this story, similar to the The CW's Supergirl (2015) show.
    • Lois Lane is Asian, or at least of Asian heritage, according to Max Landis.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Pete gives it to Clark two times in #6.
  • Secret-Keeper:
    • Pete Ross and another childhood friend named Kenny knew about Clark's powers since at least high school.
    • Barbara Minerva is the only one in #3 that realizes Clark is not Bruce Wayne in the yacht of the latter, but she keeps this as secret and even encourages Clark to supplant Bruce Wayne in the party.
    • Pretty much everyone in Smallville, or at least those closest to the Kents, are also aware he has powers as one of Jonathan's friends helps when Clark's ability to fly leaves him stuck in the air while the town sheriff asked Clark if he spotted anything useful at a crime scene.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: It's implied that Barbara Minerva becomes aware about Clark's powers, even if she doesn't say anything about it.
  • Sherlock Scan: Dick Grayson tries this out on Clark.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A young Clark watches E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, resulting in some soul-searching about the similarities and differences of his situation.
    • A scene in Metropolis takes place at the intersection of Morrison Boulevard and Quitely Street, referring to the writer and artist of All-Star Superman.
    • There are more than few to other DC characters in the story.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Landis has described American Alien as the "anti" All-Star Superman. In some ways, you can see some direct contrasts. Rather than a perfect, infallible Ideal Hero as All-Star portrays, Landis's take on Superman is one of an Anti-Hero still finding his footing, prone to lashing out and even some immature comebacks. While All-Star is Superman at his best, American Alien shows Superman at his most human and imperfect. Furthermore, All-Star is Superman at the end of his life while American Alien shows a version of Superman's origins. This description was not lost on Grant Morrison, who responded to Landis's claims by basing the Villain Protagonist of their series Annihilator on Landis.
  • Take That!:
    • Pete Ross's chewing out Clark appears to be one towards Superman writers who tend to focus more on his alien heritage than his human upbringing.
    • Also to Batman fans who insist that with enough prep Batman can beat Superman. While it can be argued that Bruce didn't know what he was dealing with when he attacked Clark, it also shows a flaw in many of the Batman could beat Superman arguments in which it's assumed that Batman would have forewarning of the attack. Here, Clark isn't Bruce's friend (yet) and attacks him without hesitation giving Batman no time to react or do anything but desperately pull gadgets until he can blind Clark to get away. The message is essentially that while yes, in theory, Batman could find a way to beat Superman but 9 times out of 10, he'd probably get beaten. Badly.
    • The fact that Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne often are drawn with the same physical aspect, as nearly everyone mistakes Clark for Bruce in #3.
    • A journalist in #4 brings up how Lex Luthor has Ayn Rand's views, which is more of less a jab at a certain Superman movie director, who is sometimes blamed for holding these views too.
  • They Would Cut You Up: Discussed as a possibility by Clark and his parents.
  • Training Montage: Once both have accepted that Clark will never be normal, a montage of Jonathan Kent trying to help his son learn to fly starts.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Pete Ross gives one to Clark for focusing more on his alien heritage rather than his human upbringing.
    • In a back-up story, Jimmy Olsen gives one to Perry White for wanting to help suppress the revelation that the thought-dead Harvey Dent is actually the "Two-Faced Killer".