Today, Ryan D. and Michael are discussing Superman: American Alien 7, originally released May 18th, 2016.
Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the face.
Ryan D: Superman is known for having epic, city-leveling battles. That’s just status quo. But imagine one of these super-superpowered brawls with a Clark Kent who can bleed, one who still feels emotionally and physically vulnerable despite his abilities? Even better: while we’ve seen this Superman deal with mindless monsters and scheming billionaire magnates, imagine his first encounter with a being of deep moral apathy, with whom the Man of Steel may have more in common with than he does with the people of Earth. Max Landis and Jock tell an ambitious story in the ultimate issue of American Alien, concluding my favorite run with the character since Morrison’s All-Star Superman.
Landis and Jock drop us right into the action after a brief page of exposition told wonderfully through a text chat between Clark and Jimmy Olsen about Clark and Lois’s relationship. A quick turn of the page brings us to a beautiful two-page spread of Superman, finally decked out in his iconic “S” symbol and…are those hockey pads?…surveying the recent destruction in downtown Metropolis. DC’s favorite anti-hero, Lobo (who everyone loves but will never reach the pop-cultural status of Deadpool, much to the chagrin of the DC Studios execs) has been contracted to destroy a building in the city, and has begun the process to deadly effect. The following pages chronicle the conversation and inevitable punch-up which takes place between Supes and The Main Man.
One thing which stood out for me was Max Landis’s characterization of Lobo, who comes across as the braggadocio, crass badass we all know and love. My first taste of Lobo came back in the “Marvel VS DC” comic crossover from 1996 when he scrapped with Wolverine, and it’s good to see him back in form after his character’s controversial reboot. Lobo provides important exposition for Clark, who aches for information about Krypton and any idea of what happened to his real parents. While the banter here is heartfelt and offers Clark a very disturbing way to come to realizations about his past, my one complaint is that I sometimes did not believe in Lobo’s need to speak when it came to talking about “pissing into the skulls of Kryptonians”. By this I mean, why is he saying that right now? Unless it was part of a strategy to get into his opponent’s head, then it just didn’t seem to fit, making it seem like a cool idea and not an essential one.
Soon enough, though, the dust-up begins, and Jock comes in to really shine. I loved Jock’s work with Wytches last year, and his quick work on Batman 44 proves that he can illustrate the DC world very handily. Here, his thick, angular lineation works incredibly well for more pedestrian scenes, whereas his ability to draw irregularities and the non-symmetrical make his grotesque style perfect for when the blows really begin to connect. He also finds plenty of time to play with and break panel conventions, as you see here:
I love how Jock forsakes the traditional panel/ gutter structure here, leaving an impressive visual path to follow which leads into a kinetic, brutal conflict. Lobo’s fighting style also makes total sense; his eye-gouging and opportunistic combat standing in stark contrast to Superman’s schoolyard fistfight tactics. By the end of the fight, it looks as if Clark finally understands that not all scraps are won by just throwing hay-makers.
Lastly, I love how, in this comic, nothing happens in a proverbial vacuum. During this fight, Landis does a great job of putting the first meeting of two super-powered aliens over a major American city being captured on prime time television into context. This is a big damn deal for the universe in which Landis is playing. Superman, here, goes from a cult figure in Metropolis to a world-wide figure in one fell swoop. The global attention given to this fight reminded me of how the world came together for the first space landing, or even the first trip through time in Millar’s Chrononauts. Just as importantly, however, is the context which is lent to the aftermath:
Clark, comatose but with his cover intact, tacitly hears about the fall-out, and the audience can now knowingly smile, secure that, after seven issues of bildungsroman, Clark Kent is about ready to be the Superman who has been part of our cultural lexicon since circa 1938.
It is wonderful seeing Clark Kent in this new universe, wherein the formula is not relegated to “threat and reaction.” Here, we have genesis over mythos, with character development being the name of the game. Max Landis, as a writer, is obsessed with narrative potential, and though he has a habit of presenting things sometimes a little too neatly with a bow tied around them as far conclusions go, he certainly mines Clark for some wonderful moments and exceptional action. Michael! I know you’ve been following this series closely. How do you think the more human moments in this issue tied into the punchy scenes, and were you happy to see the idea of “alien” play such a pivotal role in Clark’s dialogue with Lobo?
Michael: Superman: American Alien 7 is a different animal than the preceding chapters – something Max Landis himself has stated. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise really, as 1-6 were specific moments throughout Clark’s journey to becoming Superman and 7 is the “conclusion” of becoming that hero that we love and revere. Once again Landis shows his personal respect and understanding for the Man of Steel by endowing him with the power of restraint – at least at first. Instead of charging at Lobo without context or understanding, he pleads for the Czarnian to explain his actions and offers to help him in an attempt to spare further loss of life. I do it too often so I won’t mention it directly, but stopping to talk is not something Superman had done on the big screen these days. It’s a fight that escalates the way it typically would when one of the people involved is level-headed: conversation, argument, THEN smash.
One of the major differences between the Superman of American Alien and many other versions (the movies in particular) is that he has gone through his life with practically no knowledge of his Kryptonian heritage. Traditionally the Fortress of Solitude is built upon awesome Kryptonian technology that not only allows Kal-El to learn about who he is and where he comes from, but it also gives him the opportunity to speak with his long-deceased father Jor-El. As cool as that is, giving an orphan the capability to talk to his dead birth father and extensively search his family tree seems like kind of a cheat. The Clark Kent of American Alien knows that he’s from another planet and only recently learned that that planet is called Krypton. Clark doesn’t discover that Krypton is long dead from a hologram of his father or from a trusted friend, but from a foul-mouthed bounty hunter like Lobo.
Ryan asked me how I thought the human moments tied into the punchy scenes, to which I’d say that despite the end fight, overall Clark’s humanity beat out his inner punchy. Superman’s battle with Lobo is entirely in defense, never attack. Again I’d like to commend Landis for not having Superman lash out violently, even in this moment of complete shock and despair. Instead Superman internalizes this information, thinks about everything he’s learned on Earth surrounded by those who have shaped him into who he is, and refutes Lobo’s claim. He is not alone.
I suppose now it’s time to move onto what you might call my criticisms of the book. Personally I’d rather categorize them as observations, because I very much enjoy this book – along with this series overall. Superman has been flying around Metropolis doing good for about three issues right? Why is his fight with Lobo the thing that gets Superman global attention? It’s as if the world at large isn’t interested in a super-powered flying man who fights crime and man-made monsters. A biker alien on the other hand? Now that gets people’s attention. Granted Lobo’s attack on the city killed around 70 people and Landis treats that with the same reverence we treat any attack on American soil – Superman was indeed the hero of this day.
I understand what Landis is going for with the Lois and Clark “coda”: it’s a combination of modern reluctance to commit in a relationship and a tease for what’s yet to come for Superman and his loved ones – it felt slightly shoehorned however. While Lois made a dynamic entrance in Superman: American Alien 5 and was referenced as a romantic partner of Clark’s last issue, she’s never felt like a main character of the story. That’s not to say that Landis should’ve relegated her to the old “Superman’s Girlfriend: Lois Lane” role, but having her pop up in the last few pages seemed a little odd. But as I said I know the intention of those last few pages: to set up the countless adventures in store for Superman and his cast of characters.
Superman: American Alien has been a killer series you guys. Max Landis and a rotating cast of artists have given us seven issues of a successful Superman story that never even mentioned the word kryptonite; Hollywood, take note. I leave you with my favorite panel of the issue, where Jock combines motion and sound effect to allow Superman to toss Lobo into the stratosphere:
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?