Superman: American Alien has been doing an incredible job of showing us Clark Kent’s evolution from boy to man (of Steel). It’s surprisingly funny comic that totally nails Clark Kent as a character—but, as a moment in this week’s newest issue proves, it can be equally touching.
Spoilers ahead for Superman: American Alien #6, by Max Landis, Jonathan Case, and John Workman.
Each issue of American Alien has visited a different period in Clark Kent’s life, and the latest issue (#6) focuses on his early days in Metropolis—but a bit after he first arrives, when he’s gotten more comfortable with the big city as well as venturing out as Superman. This boldness ends up getting him into an argument with his best friend Pete, visiting from Smallville, leading to a frustrated young Clark bounding out of his apartment, and flying straight into the sky and into space in an attempt to get away from it all.
As you can see in the above panel, it doesn’t go well.
Attempting to speed through the atmosphere forces Clark to go through decompression—he can’t breathe, the speed of his flight burns up his clothes, he’s kind of a mess floating in space... until he finds some unexpected company.
American Aliens’ cameos have been pretty great so far (Batman’s been a big presence in the past couple of issues, for example, and Lex Luthor’s popped up, too), but Green Lanterns Tomar-Re and Abin Sur bumping into a naked, delirious Clark Kent might just be my favorite.
Dazed, confused, and downright petrified, at first Clark threatens the Lanterns with his heat vision, despite being completely out of it. It takes the young man a moment to realize what the hell Abin Sur and Tomar-Re are chatting about—and more importantly, that these are the first aliens, the first non-humans like him, that he’s ever come across. Clark’s never been called Kryptonian before, or even knows what Krypton is, and very suddenly the realization hits him.
There’s something really brilliant about the contrast in these two panels, the subtle shift from humor to heartbreak—Case nails the emotion on Clark’s face, and the way the lettering breaks down his quiet plea to find out where he’s from is surprisingly emotional. You go from the hilarity of Clark literally burning his own clothes off accidentally and bumping into two Green Lanterns, to this pang of sadness, a young man desperately wanting to know what the hell he actually is. It’s a vulnerability, an uncertainty within Clark that Landis has embraced throughout American Alien so far, a side of the Man of Steel that we rarely get to see, but one that allows us to understand him so much more.
Clark doesn’t get a response from Abin Sur, who’s more concerned with cleaning up the fact an Earthling tried fly up into space on his watch, so he knocks Clark out and teleports him back down to Metropolis, leaving him to go about his business none the wiser.
But Clark Kent’s first time in space leaves a pretty big impact on the young man, a formative step in his journey to becoming Superman and finding out who he really is. It’s a journey that I wasn’t entirely sure needed to be retold when this series began, but Landis’ complete understanding of what makes Superman so appealing in the first place has made it totally worth it.