Review: Superman: American Alien #2

December 18th, 2015 | by Kyle King
Review: Superman: American Alien #2
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On December 18, 2015
Last modified:December 18, 2015

Summary:

Though marred by one major flaw, Max Landis's second Superman installment was expertly crafted.

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. ComiConverse’s 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 Clark’s reaction to a grisly crime spree that shocks the citizens of Smallville, Landis follows up on the first issue’s Dove with a very different sort of story in Hawk.

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Synopsis:

Clark’s 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 man’s careless use of his superpowers.

Credit: DC Comics

Credit: DC Comics

Analysis:

Landis offered assurances from the outset that Superman: American Alien would showcase vignettes from Clark Kent’s 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 issue’s 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 installment’s sometimes borderline-cartoonish imagery, Edwards’s Smallville is filled with rough edges, deep shadows, and broad swaths of purpled sky.

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That the artist’s adolescent Clark owes much of his look to Tom Welling’s 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, Edwards’s 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 it’s 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 Sook’s riveting cover depiction of a bloodied Clark Kent scowling in his monochromatic mug shot.

Credit: DC Comics

Credit: DC Comics

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.

Landis’s 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 Ross’s 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, “Am I a coward?” His words drift up from the back seat of his nephew’s 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 Owen’s voice emerges from inside, inquiring: “Who’s got the power now?”

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 Clark’s 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 aren’t home, and the parallel closing sequence showing the now more worldly Clark being comforted by Martha Kent while awaiting his angry father’s arrival.

After Martha inadvertently insults her son by asking incredulously why it’s unfair of her to expect him to act “like a human teenager”, 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 Clark’s actions by admitting that she “can’t stop thinking about what would have happened to that family if you hadn’t been there.”

Credit: DC Comics

Credit: DC Comics

Because Hawk is so expertly crafted, I am willing to accept a lot that would not be of my choosing. I’m 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 — “like a human teenager”. 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 Owen’s family, is in a life-or-death situation.

I’ll go along with Clark’s inner turmoil over how to handle multiple murders in his heartland hometown after his buddies have been mocking him for being “such a ‘good person’”. I’m good with him walking up to the house, unarmed, hands raised, and beginning calmly, “Listen, I–” before socking Owen harder than he intends after being shot in the face. Where Landis loses me, though, is in the fate of Owen’s bearded running mate.

After Clark sends Owen flying across the room, the bad seed’s cohort in crime blasts Clark with a shotgun, pumps the slide, aims again, and announces, “You’re dead!” 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, “You made me do that!” It’s too much, and it goes too far, and the ensuing insensitivity of Sheriff Parker’s and Martha Kent’s concern, focusing only on the fear that their ability to protect Clark has been compromised, compounds the error. I understand that he’s a frightened 17-year-old facing a stone-cold murderer for the first time in his life, but Superman doesn’t use his powers to shear off people’s 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 Antone’s innovative sensibility temperamentally fits Landis’s 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 DC’s Superman shop, the choice to put this limited series in Antone’s and Holzherr’s capable hands was commendable for its wisdom; here’s hoping they both draw additional assignments in the more mainstream books featuring the Metropolis Marvel.

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What was your reaction to Hawk?

What are you looking forward to in next month’s Parrot?

Feel free to ComiConverse with us in the comments below!

 

T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.

Superman: American Alien #2
  • 4

Riveting

Though marred by one major flaw, Max Landis's second Superman installment was expertly crafted.

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  • Zoraida Merlo

    Fair review!
    I am enjoying this series very much, this book as much as the Superman: Lois & Clark came to fans just in time when all hopes to see a Real Superman again were almost dead. I don´t have a problem with a YOUNG Clark having trouble leading with his new powers, every issue of American Alien is a new discover for him and I have to say I am enjoying Max Landis perspective about how Clark leads with his “alienation” and finding his place in this world that so far has accepted him starting with his home town. To be fair this issue was brutal, Clark using for first time his Red Vision in a moment where everything was tense confronting the criminals, but make no mistake those people were there to hurt and kill, that was their purpose and if Clark hasn’t his kryptonian powers he would have been murdered along with the rest of the family. I can handle at this point Clark discovering what he is capable of, he is still a teenager and let’s not forget that this Clark has his PARENTS, the guidance of The Kents and the support of his friends.Pete Ross, was used magnificently in this issue, he reminded Clark of responsibility, he was not trying to use Clark for exclusively fun, he reacted to a situation where innocent people where hurt and ask Clark to interfere and HELP but he didn’t leave him alone, he was there to help his best friend. I liked that their friendship is still present in this universe, Pete reminding Clark that his powers can help others and Clark acting on his friend’s advice instead of choosing a night of fun with Lana, reminded me of the selfless Clark that one day will become Superman, the biggest hero of all times. I also loved the scenes with Martha! Those panels brought motherly tears to my eyes, Clark will get an earful from his parents, who seem to ground him and remind him that it’s good to help others but at the same time making him aware of what it’s at risk here and that he needs to be more careful and consult them of what he wants to do. The Kents are the core of who Clark Kent is and what he will become.
    In comparison with this version and the the superb Superman in Lois and Clark by Jurgens, the New52 version is a pathetic shadow of a hero, as I’ve said at the beginning of my comment, I can accept a young Clark trying to figure out his place and path in this world because his core: The Kents, Smallville is still there, is intact, contrary to what main continuity has presented to us: an antihero without moral compass, without kindness, who embraces darkness and enjoys hurting people just because it feels nice, a man without friends, man who pushes everyone away and lie and hurt the people who cares the most about him and ultimately a hero without fans. That can’t be my or anyone else Superman.
    Thanks for the review!

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