"Superman: American Alien" #2 had some big shoes to fill. The first issue of this new miniseries about Superman's youth was excellent, but could lightning strike twice? As it turns out, the answer is yes, thanks to Max Landis and Tommy Lee Edwards. However, in doing so, the series walks an incredibly fine line.
The problem with tackling a character like Superman is that there's such a large mythology around him; it's hard to deviate away from it. In the case of Superman, it's not so much literal, specific events in the character's fictional past, but rather the ideas and presumptions that people hold about the character. So, when Landis's story quickly began explore the moment Superman shifted from teenage boy to hero, I will admit I was worried. If Landis went too far to one extreme, the end result would be an overly saintly, saccharine, perfect kid who would actively repulse readers. On the flipside, the complaint could be that Superman had been darkened too much, that the character had veered away from his core values. It's a moment where you realize Landis is almost certainly damned no matter what he does.
And yet, "Superman: American Alien" #2 succeeds despite this massive trap. Landis' story of a shooting and following hostage situation manages to keep from falling onto either side of that proverbial line. Teenage Clark Kent comes across as someone who -- at his core -- is a hero, even as that portion of his personality is kept from overriding other aspects. He's hesitant even though he knows what needs to be done, and -- despite his powers still developing -- he ultimately puts himself in harm's way to try and save others. It's capped off perfectly with a conversation between Clark and Martha Kent about if what he did was the right thing, and about how Clark views himself amidst the sea of humanity. In many ways, "Superman: American Alien" justifies its subtitle in this issue alone; Landis brings home both Clark's alien nature as well as how much Jonathan and Martha Kent have raised him to be not only human but American, in the best possible way. The script is heartfelt even as it stays away from ever being trite.
It's such a joy to get a comic from Edwards, and this one is no exception. Edwards' art is gorgeous, with perfectly rendered faces that light up or crumple at just the right moments to bring home the emotional core of Landis' script. He handles body language perfectly, giving something as innocent as three kids hanging out and having a beer just the right attitude as they drape themselves over the pickup bed of a truck, to the scramble to hide the evidence when a police car appears. Smallville comes to life under Edwards' inks too, with everything from a beautiful main street drag of stores to the packed shelves of a gas station convenience store. Even Edwards' colors are spot-on, with an amazing blue sky during the drinking scene and the greens and tans of the surrounding landscape. The one-off epilogue page drawn by Evan Shaner (with a Superman villain's brief narration on its own fate) looks great, too, and brings menace to life in just a few panels.
"Superman: American Alien" #2 swings for the fences and succeeds marvelously; Landis and Edwards should be very proud of their achievement. Revisiting Superman's origin is tricky business, and so far every single potential pitfall has been neatly avoided. "Superman: American Alien" #2 will make readers wish that every Superman comic was this good.