‘Sup readers? It’s time for yet another round of Book BFFS, wherein I match you up with book recommendations based on something you’ve already read (and hopefully enjoyed). There’s really no rhyme or reason to this column: I’ve even matched up a book I personally loathed with a potential BFF (that I actually loved). Some are hits, some are misses, but the overarching point is to hopefully expand your mind and check out some new material.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m trash for DC Comics (and if it was, that secret is out now). Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel too, but I’m far more familiar with the fabric of DC: its stories, its characters, its triumphs and missteps. So when I read Superman: American Alien earlier this month (I know, I know, I’m way behind. But that’s the price of having a consistently-updated TBR pile: getting to stuff when you get to it, because other stuff is either shinier, newer, relevant for some kind of work-related thing, or it’s been sitting there for so long, if it’s not read soon, you’ll most likely never get to it), I was immediately reminded of another Superman origin story that had taken me on a flight of fancy once upon a time. Is it cliché to recommend two different Superman origin stories? Maybe, but with the Justice League movie set to debut in November, it feels like the perfect time for it (especially if you have a stacked TBR that will be keeping you busy for the summer, and most of the fall. It’s the little things to keep in mind).
What you should read next:
So if you liked Max Landis’s Superman: American Alien, I’m willing to bet you’ll also really enjoy Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s 1998 limited series, Superman For All Seasons. Superman For All Seasons actually served as an inspiration for the long-running WB Television series Smallville (good luck getting the theme song out of your head). Superman For All Seasons tells the story of Clark Kent’s journey from small town farm boy to Metropolis’s hero, Superman, through the eyes of four very different people throughout the four seasons of the year.
How they’re similar:
I would argue that both Superman: American Alien and Superman For All Seasons are exquisitely-crafted love letters, not just to the superhero genre and the ineludible origin stories that accompany them, but to Superman as a character. The Man Of Steel has been showcased for the public, in one form or another, since 1938. He’s been a focal point of pop culture for almost as long, with stories and merits that hold fast today. In a world that aspires to shake off the old and embrace the new like a teenager shrugging off the ideals of its forebearers, we have yet to turn our collective back on Superman and the ideals he represents. Leaving certain story arcs aside, Superman is a goodness that is incorruptible, an unwavering beacon of hope, an iconic symbol for truth, justice, and a better tomorrow. I would even argue that he’s more relevant today than he’s ever been before, but that argument would probably take up too much of this column, so let’s just leave it at that. It’s a well recognized truth that Superman is the mask, Clark Kent is the man underneath (the reverse can be applied to Batman/Bruce Wayne). Either way, he’s a hero with a strong, consistent set of values, who was raised to do the right thing, no matter what the circumstance. Superman For All Seasons and Superman: American Alien take a look at the unique moments that shaped an orphaned extraterrestrial boy into a heroic man who means so much to so many the world over. Granted, both takes are individual, the voices of the authors colouring Clark’s experiences (Landis is far more modern, balancing silly and smart, while Loeb sticks to the well-loved boy scout and beyond route) but both stories delve into who Clark is at his core. The people and situations that made him who he is, for better or worse, the hero of Metropolis. Both are wrapped up, so you can just buy the single volume and have the entire story waiting for you.
How they’re different:
Superman For All Seasons is only four parts (with bonus material in the deluxe edition), while Superman: American Alien is a seven-issue fun-fest. Other than that, and the obvious stylistic differences, the art is the big thing that sets them apart. Tim Sale did all of the art, and Bjarne Hansen was the colourist.
By contrast, Superman: American Alien was brought to life by a veritable truckload of artists: Jae Lee, Joëlle Jones, Tommy Lee Edwards, Nick Dragotta, Jock, Jonathan Case, Francis Manapul. Each issue snaps, crackles, and pops, different from the one before it. But the writing is the consistent thread that bonds everything together, keeping the story flowing at the perfect pace.
Why you should read Superman For All Seasons:
Both stories, to put it simply, are timeless additions to any Superman fan’s collection, and can be enjoyed again and again. If you’re looking for it, you can also see the basis for Smallville in Loeb’s work. Honestly, though, I would purchase the deluxe edition of Superman For All Seasons solely for the bonus material at the back, particularly Sam’s Story, which was written as a heartfelt tribute to Loeb’s deceased son, Sam. That story, more than any other one in the volume, is a stark reminder of the power Superman has: he’s not just a figment, or an idea to carry around in your back pocket. Superman, and the people who bring him to life, stand for something. They are timeless. They recognize Superman is a vehicle for hope, for change, and for giving power to the powerless, a reminder we could all use in our lives.