Loving The Alien?
♦Tripwire gave its Senior Editor ANDREW COLMAN the task of reviewing Superman: American Alien in hardcover now from DC, by Max Landis and various artists…
Superman: American Alien hardcover
Writer: Max Landis
Artists: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joelle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock
Superman: American Alien is a beautifully produced soufflé, a high quality bit of fluff that briefly engages despite the deadwood tropes. A trade version of a seven part deluxe series, the remit of the book is to explore Clark Kent’s pre-Superman years, focussing on the various rites of passage he undertakes prior to being the established avatar of truth, justice and the other one. There are elements of series past, echoing the playful yet anodyne T.V. adventures, that occasionally segue into intense violence and destruction. Despite the inherent unwieldiness it still plays, the art, by a host of more than serviceable artists, providing the cosy mise en scene.
Series writer Max Landis’s cinematic pretensions are to the fore here, as witnessed in the pitch breakdown at the back end of the book, with each segment detailed by tone and “interstitial” cutaways. Which is all very nice, as it does add that academic sheen to proceedings. However each chapter relies on weighty if not excessive familiarity, with varying degrees of success – the first entry (“Dove”) details Clark’s first experiences with his super-powers and is wholesome enough fare, while the second instalment (“Hawk”) is a more chiaroscuro episode (or “realistic and gritty”, according to the pitch) with Clark and his family drably pontificating about the nature of his powers. As if being a teenager wasn’t an angsty enough experience.
From this somewhat overmined scenario we embark on a far more light-hearted piece (Owl, tone: “sexy, funny”) about Clark somehow crash- landing a light aircraft near Bruce Wayne’s yacht, which just happens to be hosting his birthday. For contrivance’s sake Brucie is conveniently not on board (as he never attends such parties) so Clark ends up being Bruce (as no-one at all on board knows what he looks like). Much hilarity ensues, with wholesome Clark getting mildly debauched and encountering salty assassin Deathstroke, who is summarily dispatched. There’s still time for some moralizing and life lessons for young Supes, but it’s not quite enough to ruin what was the most amusing part of the book.
From there it’s onwards and upwards to Metropolis, with Clark coming to grips with Batman, the Parasite and a very supercilious and snooty Lex Luthor (Eagle, tone: Michael Bay, Disaster movie), who witheringly puts him down after he breaks into his office. Again, young Clark is left pondering the nature of the universe and his place in it. Did no one mention to him that with great power comes great responsibility?
In part 6 (Angel, tone: “Emotional comedy, The Big Chill”) we’re back to the angst when Clark’s old Smallville buddies pay him a visit and remind him that he’s human, and yet he isn’t, and that he is godlike, and should associate with other superbeings, while remembering that he owes his hometown a great deal. Thankfully Clark puts us out of our misery by jumping out of the window and then flies to the moon naked, forgetting that he is no longer the Weisinger-era Superman (who can do absolutely anything he likes) and promptly asphyxiates before being rescued by the Green Lantern corps. Part 7 (Valkyrie, tone: epic, violent, “Superhero”) is indeed epic and violent, with a particularly graphic punch-up with that naughty little elf (and one-note irritant who outstayed his welcome long ago) Lobo. As with Luthor earlier, Supes gets a heavy dose of belittlement, courtesy of whatsisname, before throwing him off the planet.
It’s all meretricious stuff, with the drama seemingly shoehorned in, yet each of the vignettes, however throwaway (and weren’t comics meant to be disposable fun?), do capture the essence of the Man Of Steel’s formative canon. Granted, Max Landis isn’t Grant (Morrison) who excels at such projects, but it’s a worthwhile stab. The uniformly excellent art (Manapul, Lee and Edwards especially turn in some well-crafted pages) obviously doesn’t hurt, regardless of the necessary variance in style and by the numbers characterization.
I sense there’ll be a great deal more in the pipeline from Landis Jr.