Superman: American Alien #4-#7
Issues 4-7 highlight Clark's new life as he leaves Kansas to move to Metropolis. He meets some powerful figures, good and evil, and has to deal with the next phase of his life. That is becoming Superman and fleshing out his philosophy of being a hero while his star rises among the people. How does Metropolis change the "Man of Steel?" Will he be humanities's greatest hope or will he become the monstrous alien he fears he is?
One-page comics by Max Landis at the end of each issue
Variant covers of all seven issues
Cover sketches by Ryan Sook
Layouts by Nick Dragotta
Character designs by Joelle Jones
Layouts by Jae Lee
Synopsis of all seven chapters
October 18, 2016
Author: Max Landis
Artists: Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case Jock
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Science Fiction, Superhero
This review is the second of two parts. Read the first review here.
Before Clark Kent became “The Man of Steel,” he was just a kid growing up in Kansas. From his humble upbringing, he eventually donned the red cape and the classic “S” insignia to fight against the sinister forces of evil as Superman. His powers are almost unmatched in the DC Superhero universe. He can fly, has super-speed, and has X-Ray and laser vision. He also uses super strength, and regenerative healing abilities from the sun.
Max Landis lends his television and movie writing experience to this project. He is the writer of such films as American Ultra, Victor Frankenstein, and Me Him Her, which he also directed. Screenwriting is instantaneous, so his writing flows in a fast-paced modern way that ingratiates younger audiences who have only seen Superman on the screen. He is a life-long fan of the hero and it clearly shows in this re-telling of this classic origin tale.
Violence: Kent gets his head slammed through his laptop, typical superhero action. There are explosions, people being thrown through buildings, blasts, kicks, punches, headbutts, clawing at eyes, some red blood, and Lobo leaks a profuse amount of green blood too.
Language: For a Superman title there are many obscenities like God D***, H**L, A**, and S**T. Lois says something “sucks” once, too. Lobo uses his typical replacement curse word, “Bastich.”
Spiritual Content: N/A
Sexual Content: Clark mentions on the phone that Lois did not spend the night at his apartment, implying they usually sleep together.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Clark and his teenage buddies drink beer in his apartment.
Positive Content: There is a value for human life by the hero, and not that same value of them by the villains. There is sacrifice for doing the right thing. The enemies use morsels of truth to tell huge lies to control the people.
Other Negative Content: Batman, confused with Superman’s presence, attacks him.
I’ll continue my comparison to Superman being a more flawed version of Jesus Christ as I technically review American Alien, but I also want to focus on the villains in these final four issues.
After all, one of the first acts of Christ’s ministry was to rebuke the demons in the synagogue. That powerful action made people marvel and say, “What kind of teaching is this, that even the demons obey him?” It was the Devil’s twisted survival-of-the-fittest philosophy, the organization of his vast kingdom, and his crafty tactics that Jesus exposed to draw the people to the good news, the gospel.
As Clark Kent starts to grow into a man in this series, he is drawn away from Smallville. He moves to the crowded streets of Metropolis to work as an intern for the Daily Planet. The world of reporting, this questioning process, first exposes him to the plotters of destruction such as Lex Luthor as well as other monsters there to steal, kill, and destroy. The city is also where he learns to use his flying, his laser vision, and his super strength, to be the protector for the people he loves.
How Superman handles true evil is also how he grows to recognize his place among humanity. He fleshes out his philosophy, as he told Minerva earlier on the ship deck: “Natural selection’s garbage once you introduce compassion,” he said.
Issue #4, Owl, reveals the true villain: Lex Luthor. An inexperienced Clark Kent is just a rookie trying to get a news scoop. His job leads him to interview Luthor, who blatantly shows his true ambition in a quote he provides. Few people are exceptional in his opinion. They need to be led by enlightened individuals who know what is best for the commoners. Luthor counts himself among the elite few to lead them.
“Everyone runs around like they’ve got a Big S on their chest for ‘special,’ but these gifts are rarer than a white tiger,” Luthor tells Clark.
He then smugly lets Kent out of the elevator in the nursery floor of his building. Lex’s contempt for the lower class is obvious here.
Jae Lee’s art fits well with Landis’ script. This is a story about ambition, pride, and the belief that people are a mindless herd. There are very few facial expressions, the panels are crowded together at times, and the city is drawn abstractly, open to individual interpretation.
Kent interprets the city differently than Lex. He has already met too many people in his life who are important to him. He already sees they are special.
Issue #5, Eagle, is aptly named. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent wants to be an optimistic hero, providing humanity hope. He dons Batman’s old cape and some pilot goggles. Like the symbolic bird of our freedom, he proudly flies over the city during the day. He works as an intern, but on his many breaks he fights bad guys, swooping down on them and peacefully breaking up crime. In one panel, he is oblivious of the evil rising, happily munching on Chinese takeout on the top of a sky scraper. In this chapter of his life, he is content to do a good deed once a day.
Francis Manapul’s art and colors are beautiful in this issue. He gives us big action shots and memorable heroic scenes. Superman shows his true strength by catching a falling firetruck. Then he teams with a SWAT force to fight his biggest ugliest monster to date. The expressions and postures Manapul gives on all of his characters bring the action to life.
In this issue, Clark Kent also discovers his hero name. He sees why he is vastly different from Lex. It happens when he looks into the eyes of Lois Lane. She wants a hero the world can trust.
“I want someone who believes in something, and stands for it, even against a monster. Even against Lex Luthor,” Lois tells Clark.
Next, in Angel, we are thrown further into the future as an “urbanized, hipster” Clark Kent greets his old chums from Kansas.
The story here is all about relationships, so it is important that we see lots of realistic and lovable expressions. Jonathan Case draws Kent and his friends with the flair of an Archie comic. He shows great consistency and excellent crisp line work. The Superman team continue to accurately match the art with the theme.
In the story, Clark recognizes he has friends who love and believe in him. He’s going to need that for the next issue when he faces a true monster from the far corners of outer space.
Valkrie is a rebellious name for issue seven, but it is fitting. Superman has his red and blue costume now. He looks over an explosion that killed countless civilians. There is a building burning, with black smoke curling in the sky. The “Man of Steel” can only watch, powerless. He was too slow. Suddenly, Lobo, a grizzled bounty hunter from space with super strength and a Wolverine-type healing factor, rides up on his space-bike. Until now, Superman has not had to face someone like Lobo. Until now, he could handle everything thrown at him. But this killer is different.
With his classic cigar pressed between his lips, he starts accusing Clark. He pries into Superman’s head, trying to win the battle before it begins. Lobo says that Kent should not be pretending to be like them (the herd of humans) and tells him his home planet of Krypton is gone. Superman is alone, Lobo growls while tears of anguish course down Clark’s cheeks.
There is only one morsel of truth in Lobo’s accusations. The planet Krypton is gone, but Kent is not alone. That is a lie. His parents are there with him. He has a friend in Jimmy Olsen. He just made up with his old buddies in Kansas. And now there is Lois Lane, whom he is beginning to fall in love with. In other words, he has the people of Earth to support him.
“I’m not from Krypton. I’m from Kansas,” Superman tells Lobo before an epic superhero battle ensues.
In my opinion, the art is not great here, though it suits the story. The artist, Jock, gives us a vulnerable, realistic Superman, devoid of the big muscles against a foe who appears stronger. But there are great close-ups that give you chills in certain scenes, especially when Superman realizes he is a survivor, the “Last son of Krypton.” That sets him apart and makes him fight even harder.
Like Lobo and Luthor, Superman develops a philosophy of humanity which fuels his fight. He sees people as wonderfully and beautifully made. Luthor does not. He brazenly tells Kent they are nothing to him but animals to be controlled. He calls himself a “god” using “I am” in a sentence. Luthor longs to be worshiped.
Likwise, Lobo sees earthlings as nothing more than an inferior race. He has no qualms about killing them for profit. He sees it as the height of foolishness to protect and defend them. He is a destroyer with no conscience, drunk on the bloodshed of his actions. He is a monster, a neighbor to Superman’s home planet, who uses his great power to wreak havoc.
But Superman sees humans as friends, as family, and as intimates. Although he could domineer the human race with his abilities, he chooses to protect it instead. He chooses to make himself a human and live a beautiful flawed life among flawed people who have the freedom to love and hate each other. He chooses to fight against the monsters.
He stoops down to humanity and becomes human to save the people in the DC universe.
That is why my old Army chaplain loved Superman. I see his point. American Alien is not just a great series so far, it can also preach.
To end this Superman segment, I believe this verse is appropriate:
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
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+ Great story, good progression
+ The writer ties in the past with the present
+ Art fits well with the story
+ Epic scope with full, non-static characters
- I wasn't excited about the art in "Valkrie"