Superman: American Alien 7

superman amer alien 7

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.

-Mike Tyson

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:

SAA7-1

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:

SAA7-2
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.

no one is 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.

now

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:

whup

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?

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11 comments on “Superman: American Alien 7

  1. To be fair, Batman v Superman never mentioned the word krytonite… despite it driving a good portion of the story.

    In all honestly, this book was the perfect conclusion to American Alien, and that isn’t entirely a good thing. I mean, this is a comic that desperately forced a reference to Hawkman, a fitting reference to the third issue’s excess of reference. Dialogue in general is an issue in this comic, actually. Not just the forced Thanagar stuff, but none of Lobo’s lines sound right. That have the right sort of characterization, but he seems to just… keep talking. Like once he starts talking, he just can’t stop himself until someone literally stops him. Even as I loved the art (Jock is one of my favourite artists, since all the way back when he did the Black Mirror with Snyder), I just wanted Lobo to shut up.

    The fight itself seems the fitting follow up to Issue 2’s big problems. The fight looks fantastic, with all the stuff that makes Jock so great. But there is a reason why Jock is known for Batman and Wytches. There is a real emphasis of violence that I don’t think is necessary for the ‘Superman is finally born’ narrative (just as Issue 2 was far too unnecessarily violent for its story). While it is important that Clark gets hurt so much, the fact that Jock puts just as much emphasis on how bloody Lobo gets is wrong (made worse by the fact that Jock’s use of smudges does an amazing job at selling impact). This is Landis’ conclusion to his grand thesis on Superman, and the book emphasizes Superman as a man who will beat the shit out of someone. Part of me wants to blame this solely on the choice of Jock as artist, but Landis is the man who wrote the line ‘probably not as shocked as they’ll be when I take that fancy bike of yours and shove it up your–‘. I don’t have a problem with Superman saying and doing this stuff, but there is a time and place. Emphasizing these sorts of elements in your grand conclusion of Superman is wrong. There was a part of me that really wanted the final issue to be the classic ‘stop a crashing plane’, and completely ignore Superman as someone who fights. But if we were going to see a Superman who fights, surely there is a way to do it that doesn’t emphasize the violence of Superman punching someone.

    Though honestly, the more I think about it, the big moment falls flat. Superman saying ‘Do what I did. Survive’ sounds utterly wrong. American Alien hasn’t been about surviving. It has been about growing up, coming of age. Finding your place. And yet, when it comes time to sum up the series’ themes, Landis looks at the completely wrong side of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    There is a lot of this issue I like. I like the use of media and globalization as part of Superman finally being born. I like the fact that in true Superman fashion, Landis combines dating drama with superheroics in the most perfect way. Jock’s art is beautiful, and perfectly captures people’s reactions to events – he is honestly fantastic at having characters ‘act’ in nuanced ways (the three panels of Jon and Martha as Superman throws Lobo into space are perfect).

    Many have called American Alien the best Superman thing in ages, and they are probably right. I’ll try some Superman with Rebirth, but I have never read a lot of Superman. But the series has been flawed, and for every amazing height, there has been lows. And this issue encapsulates it. I’ve spent a lot of time on the weaknesses, but everyone has done such a great job on the strengths.

    American Alien is good, but flawed. Brave and experimental enough to be praised. This is the sort of thing that the Big Two should be doing more of. But hopefully next time, done just a little bit better

  2. Max had tweeted a page of this series’ script that was a Superman/Wonder Woman confrontation and I was absolutely horrified at the contents. Maybe I’ll check it out but I can’t shake the feeling that I keep hearing that this is a good Superman story exclusively from people who don’t enjoy Superman stories.

    • I don’t think that’s fair. I’ve seen many people who love proper Superman stories rave about Superman American Alien (with the exception of the second issue).

      As, seemingly, one of this series’ harshest critics, this is a comic that constantly aspires to be the exact sort of Superman story that people who enjoy Superman stories like. This comic is all about a Superman who represents optimism, hope and the best of humanity. Closer to things like All Star Superman than it is to any of the Superman stories you are think of when you talk about stories that people who don’t like Superman would like.

      To me, there are moments of really bad scripting (as I made clear in my comment above), but usually the script is good. I won’t whole heartedly recommend it (again, I appear to be this book’s harshest critic) but if you like Superman stories, I would try this

      • I will probably end up peaking at the first issue on comiXology, although I swear in the script page that I read he literally had written, like, Wonder Woman punching Superman’s eyeball out of his socket, which made me cringe for both characters.

        • That is not in American Alien. Hell, I don’t even thing Wonder Woman is in American Alien.

          Instead you’ll get stories about Clark’s close relationships with his friends and family, how important they are to creating a strong moral foundation and the beauty of learning to fly. American Alien stuff is mostly that sort of stuff

        • I believe this is just him joking on twitter. I believe he was intentionally writing bad Superman stuff to troll people. The actual book is completely and utterly different

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