On its surface, “Superman: American Alien” #3 sounds remarkably simple. A plane crash leaves Clark Kent on board a luxury yacht in the middle of a massive birthday party, and he’s quickly mistaken for Bruce Wayne, its absent guest of honor. What Max Landis and Joelle Jones achieve here, though, is a charming story about the lure of fame and power.
It would be easy for a comic like this to come across as preachy or inconsequential, but it’s neither. Landis’ script finds the perfect balance between showing and telling, as Clark navigates the world of the incredibly wealthy and privileged. Landis’ story features Barbara Minerva (pre-transformation into the Cheetah), which is a surprising choice that works well; it gives Clark someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of, a guide through a world he’s unfamiliar with. At the same time, her position within the book reminds us that — on some level — talk is cheap. Her statements about the problem with the idle rich early in the book are slightly hypocritical when you remember she’s also hanging out with that same crowd, and sure enough Landis brings it full circle in the conclusion of the comic when we are reminded just how hard it is to not be seduced by that much influence and control.
Landis also brings some good humor to “Superman: American Alien” #3, something that keeps the book from ever feeling condescending. The loopy Clark making his way through the ship is hysterical, doubly so when you discover why this is happening to him and see his reaction to the nominal “bad guy” of the issue. It’s just the right moment of levity alongside a serious topic, and it’s hard to keep from giggling as Clark takes care of the threat on board the ship. Some of that humor also comes from Jones, who hits the moments of exasperation perfectly. The way Clark holds his head in his hand when dealing with Ollie is priceless, to say nothing of the slight look of disbelief when Barbara tells Clark it might be easier to subsume Bruce’s identity. The funniest part, though, is Clark’s slightly off-kilter “Cool coshtoom!” when the threat is finally revealed. It’s so wonderfully goofy you might not be able to choke back laughter.
Jones hits the serious parts of the book well, too. Clark and Barbara talking while leaning on the railing of the ship is just gorgeous looking; she’s able to draw her characters as realistic and attractive at the same time, and with a very strong sense of body language as they move and shift throughout their talk. When they move in for the kiss, there’s a level of hesitance that slowly dissolves, which looks so perfect it’s hard to keep from feeling like we’re actually seeing a movie unfold rather than a series of static images. With some radiant colors from Rico Renzi added into the mix — and it’s the little details, like the red and purple of the sunset or the blue of the water that almost drips off the page — this is one fine looking comic.
Throw in another one-page epilogue, this time with a loopy and deliberately perplexing look at Mxyzptlk from Landis, Mark Buckingham and Jose Villarrubia, and the end result is another great comic in this miniseries. “Superman: American Alien” #3 is a perfect example of everything that a relaunch should give its readers; Landis and Jones deliver a story true to the character concept of Superman, but they’re also not afraid to provide one that’s updated and modern.