T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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Superman Writer and filmmaker Max Landis is teaming up with a variety of graphic artists to author a seven-issue limited series telling the story of Clark Kent as he tries to be normal in spite of his tremendous powers. ComiConverseâs Man of Steel correspondent, T. Kyle King, is here to review the second issue of Superman: American Alien, which was released this week.
Teaming up with illustrator Tommy Lee Edwards to relate the tale of 17-year-old Clarkâs reaction to a grisly crime spree that shocks the citizens of Smallville, Landis follows up on the first issueâs Dove with a very different sort of story in Hawk.
Clarkâs common high school existence of study sessions with Lana Lang and joyrides to the outskirts of town with Pete Ross is interrupted when Sheriff Parker brings him in to assist with an unprecedented occurrence. Two separate shootings have claimed multiple lives, including those of a local officer and a young student. When Sheriff Parker asks him to use his abilities to help catch the killers, Clark falsely claims he has not spotted any clues.
Criticized by Pete for his inaction, Clark tracks down Owen, a violent outcast who has returned home with a pair of criminal cohorts and is holding his parents and his minor sibling at gunpoint. When the young Kent attempts to intervene, the bloodthirsty felons open fire on him. Clark uses his powers to fight back, saving the family, landing the villains in intensive care, and leaving Sheriff Parker and the Kents displeased by the young manâs careless use of his superpowers.
Landis offered assurances from the outset that Superman: American Alien would showcase vignettes from Clark Kentâs life that differed greatly in look and in tone, and this issue puts an exclamation point at the end of that promise. Following the lighthearted and uplifting Dove, the somber Hawk is keyed exclusively in minor chords, and it plays out like an episode of Smallville scripted by Elmore Leonard and directed by David Lynch.
The artwork once again is suited to the issueâs mood. The credits do not distinguish between a penciller, an inker, and a colourist, indicating only Edwards as illustrator, but all three aspects of the visual presentation of Hawk are strong. In sharp contrast to the prior installmentâs sometimes borderline-cartoonish imagery, Edwardsâs Smallville is filled with rough edges, deep shadows, and broad swaths of purpled sky.
That the artistâs adolescent Clark owes much of his look to Tom Wellingâs television portrayal of the youthful Man of Steel aids in adding a genuine sweetness to his awkward interactions with Lana while cramming for their French final. Due in part to this simple scene, Edwardsâs presentation appears deceptively effortless, causing the reader initially to get lost amid the muted colors and the tight shots of spit curls and lopsided smiles.
The spare imagery in the foreground, though, conveys considerable nuance in just a few brushstrokes, and a wealth of detail lurks in the background, going unnoticed on the first pass through the issue. Originally, Hawk looks like itâs all widescreen establishing shots, focused close-ups, and silhouettes, but the meticulous panel arrangement convincingly creates a cinematic flow on the static page. The powerful graphics inside Superman: American Alien #2 are augmented by Ryan Sookâs riveting cover depiction of a bloodied Clark Kent scowling in his monochromatic mug shot.
This issue features both a lot more talk and a lot more action than the first one, but the conversations between the characters and the pacing of the story remain equally strong in this installment. Hawk is populated with credible individuals who speak sincerely with distinctive voices. There is genuine humor despite the heavy ambience, as when Clark botches his French phrasing and attempts to explain the perils of using X-ray vision to strip his classmates with his eyes.
Landisâs most effective writing technique, though, is his contrast of the verbal with the visual when voices from off-screen unwittingly offer commentary on what the audience sees. Pete Rossâs uncle, who survived the gas station massacre that claimed the life of youngster Brit Holloway by hiding from the killers while the victims were being slain, asks, âAm I a coward?â His words drift up from the back seat of his nephewâs car while we see Pete shoot an accusatory glare at his embarrassed best friend. Clark later stands in the twilight outside the house where the hostages are held as Owenâs voice emerges from inside, inquiring: âWhoâs got the power now?â
Superman: American Alien plausibly portrays what it might have been like for Clark Kent to grow up in rural Kansas, attempting to make sense of who he is as a Kryptonian immigrant in search of himself. The arc of Clarkâs journey is traced between his innocence in the opening scene, in which Lana invites him to join her at the Lang house while her parents arenât home, and the parallel closing sequence showing the now more worldly Clark being comforted by Martha Kent while awaiting his angry fatherâs arrival.
After Martha inadvertently insults her son by asking incredulously why itâs unfair of her to expect him to act âlike a human teenagerâ, her soothing words of reassurance encapsulate the essence of the adolescent on the cusp of his Manhood of Steel. In the end, Ma Kent justifies Clarkâs actions by admitting that she âcanât stop thinking about what would have happened to that family if you hadnât been there.â
Because Hawk is so expertly crafted, I am willing to accept a lot that would not be of my choosing. Iâm not fond of seeing a teenaged Clark Kent drinking beer and cursing, but I understand why, in his effort to fit in, he probably would have behaved much like his friends did — âlike a human teenagerâ. I will suspend my disbelief and buy the incongruity of Clark lacking invulnerability, in order to impress upon the audience the fact that he, and not just Owenâs family, is in a life-or-death situation.
Iâll go along with Clarkâs inner turmoil over how to handle multiple murders in his heartland hometown after his buddies have been mocking him for being âsuch a âgood personââ. Iâm good with him walking up to the house, unarmed, hands raised, and beginning calmly, âListen, I–â before socking Owen harder than he intends after being shot in the face. Where Landis loses me, though, is in the fate of Owenâs bearded running mate.
After Clark sends Owen flying across the room, the bad seedâs cohort in crime blasts Clark with a shotgun, pumps the slide, aims again, and announces, âYouâre dead!â not once, but twice. All right, we get it; the situation is serious, and Clark is hurt and scared. What happens, next, though, involves a grotesquely excessive outburst of heat vision that leaves his assailant dismembered while Clark cries, âYou made me do that!â Itâs too much, and it goes too far, and the ensuing insensitivity of Sheriff Parkerâs and Martha Kentâs concern, focusing only on the fear that their ability to protect Clark has been compromised, compounds the error. I understand that heâs a frightened 17-year-old facing a stone-cold murderer for the first time in his life, but Superman doesnât use his powers to shear off peopleâs arms, period. It is the only fundamental flaw of an issue that does a good job of walking a fine line, but that lone misstep is a really big one.
A word about the editing also is warranted: Alex Antone, whose editorial chores at DC Comics have varied from Batman: Arkham Knight to Teen Titans Go!, worked with the Man of Steel in the tremendously inventive Adventures of Superman, and Antoneâs innovative sensibility temperamentally fits Landisâs American Alien experiment. Likewise, assistant editor Brittany Holzherr was heavily involved in Convergence, including the Dan Jurgens/Lee Weeks collaboration that ultimately gave birth to Superman: Lois and Clark. At a time of sometimes dubious editorial decision-making in DCâs Superman shop, the choice to put this limited series in Antoneâs and Holzherrâs capable hands was commendable for its wisdom; hereâs hoping they both draw additional assignments in the more mainstream books featuring the Metropolis Marvel.
What was your reaction to Hawk?
What are you looking forward to in next monthâs Parrot?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Though marred by one major flaw, Max Landis’s second Superman installment was expertly crafted.