Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Superman: American Alien 4, originally released February 17th, 2016.
Michael: When people ask me why characters like Superman and Batman work so well, my answer typically boils down to: they were the first ideas of their kind and in this case they were the best. The idea of Superman is incredibly simple and yet incredibly amazing. What a lofty goal it is to dream up the most powerful hero around who is a champion for good. Superman: American Alien 4 continues that trend of big dreams and hopeful ambition from all sorts of perspectives.
Clark Kent is finally on the path to become the reporter we know he’ll be — he’s moved to Metropolis, he’s met Lois Lane, and he’s trying to score some big interviews. He gets the opportunity to interview Oliver Queen, Lex Luthor, and, eventually, Bruce Wayne’s ward Dick Grayson. Each of these interviews provides a glimpse into the minds of the heroes and villain that these men will become. Later on, Batman attacks Clark only to get tossed around and outed as Bruce Wayne quite easily. The book closes with Lois offering Clark to pool their resources and combine her Bruce Wayne interview with the ones that Clark already has.
Throughout Superman: American Alien, Max Landis has zeroed in on the unabashed earnestness that makes Clark Kent/Superman so great. This earnest approach to life can sometimes get the better of Clark, however, as he gets his car stolen within minutes of parking it in the big city. Before meeting Lois, Clark believes that his fellow journalism student will be a man by the name of Louis Lane. That’s an example of a forgivable mistake but also a potential dig at Clark’s small town mindset. A sexist Clark Kent is not, but you could fit that Louis/Lois name confusion into an antiquated farm boy archetype.
Speaking of, I love that visual introduction to Lois. Artist Jae Lee puts all of the emphasis on Lois on that page — like a classic Hollywood entrance of the leading lady who disrupts the whole party. This is the first time in this issue (but not the last) that we get some insight into a character’s head other than Clark. True to the “supplemental materials” approach that Landis has been giving us since this series’ debut, we get a sense of Lois’ character in the form of an application for the Laureate program she and Clark are now a part of.
This is the first issue of American Alien thus far to heavily rely on the events of a past issue — Clark posing as Bruce Wayne — to advance the overall plot; I’m all for it. Ostensibly, Lois is typically the better reporter of the pair, but Clark gets the exclusive interview with Oliver Queen (followed by Luthor and Grayson) all because of dumb luck. And Clark Kent is not the type to be anything but grateful for that kind of luck, as he does a touchdown dance following his whopping 1 hour 15 minutes 43 seconds of interviews.
A lot of the anticipation for Superman: American Alien 4 is the promise of yet another delectable Superman/Batman showdown. However, the meat of this issue comes from Clark’s interviews with Oliver, Lex and Dick. There is some fascinating philosophy being presented in those interviews — especially from Oliver and Lex. First off, let me just say that lumping together the young billionaires of Wayne, Queen and Luthor as a public scapegoat for the ills of modern business is just fantastic. I really like the dichotomy of Lex and Ollie’s interviews. Both of them are saying that they have big hopes for the future of their respective cities, but Ollie is coming from a place of newfound selflessness while Lex is coming from selfishness. Ollie tells Clark how confidence can be confused with arrogance, which is an opportunity for Landis to simultaneously talk about his own public perception while advancing the story.
As interesting as it is to compare/contrast Oliver and Lex’s viewpoints, they both serve as launching points for Clark’s destiny. Clearly on the Green Arrow path, post-island Ollie hands down a wealth of knowledge to Clark about an individual’s potential. Lex offers an equally inspiring speech that condemns the general atmosphere of cynicism that we live in, wondering “whatever happened to the man of tomorrow?” (I’ll admit, I chuckled) Lex Luthor and Superman both share that drive to dream big for the future, but the difference is that Luthor believes that he is the only man who can bring about change. He makes a brilliant argument that we almost buy into until he reveals that his nepotism is his undoing. Lex Luthor masks his own cynicism by projecting it onto the masses.
I am thoroughly impressed by how Landis continues to use almost every interaction Clark has as a lesson that will later inform the identity of Superman. Nearly every character that Clark speaks to in Superman: American Alien 4 lends a personal philosophy that you can tell Clark listens to in a very particular way — even Dick Grayson!
I’m going to leave the bulk of the Dick Grayson/Batman bits for Mark to talk about. But I really have to say that my favorite part of the Dick Grayson interview was how Landis/Dick are so uninterested in addressing the odd nature of Bruce taking on Dick as his ward. I am very tired of comic books trying to apologize for themselves so this hit all the right spots for me.
Mark! What kind of Bat thoughts do you have? Any particular thoughts on the Dick Grayson interview that struck you? How about the demon-clawed Batman/Clark fight? Did you notice the drastically different panel shapes Jae Lee brought forth depending on character/circumstance?
Mark: This is an issue devoted almost entirely to characters monologuing, “This is what my deal is!” It shouldn’t work, it should be boring, but it works extremely well.
Take Clark’s interview with Dick Grayson, for example. Young Grayson lays out what makes him such an appealing character in plain language: he acts as Light to Batman’s Dark. It’s why Dick made for the best Batman-replacement when he took over the cowl; he had all the cool factor of Batman without any of the — ahem — dickishness. It’s why everyone loves Dick Grayson! Yes, as far as American Alien is concerned, Grayson explaining Batman’s need for balance sparks an idea in Clark’s mind, and we’ll definitely be seeing more of The Eagle next issue, but that’s beside the point for the moment.
On the art side, I always look forward to Jae Lee’s pencils; he has such a distinct style, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Watching Batman try to disable Clark with gadgets, and Clark standing unphased was a highlight.
But my other favorite bit of art in the issue happens at the beginning. Yes, Clark’s truck gets stolen while his back is turned, but once the truck is gone it’s revealed that Clark had parked it in front of a fire hydrant.
Even if his truck hadn’t been taken, that bumpkin was in for a bit of hurting.
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