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: American Alien #6, the penultimate issue of writer Max Landis’s boldly original take on “a guy named Clark Kent from Kansas, who is an alien”, came out last Wednesday. Each installment pairs Landis with a different graphic artist to tell a separate vignette from the iconic hero’s early years. ComiConverse’s resident Man of Steel enthusiast, T. Kyle King, brings you his review of Angel.
Illustrator Jonathan Case teams up with Landis for the story of 24-year-old Clark Kent hosting visiting friends from Smallville. Will welcoming his childhood pals to Metropolis serve to strengthen his sense of humanity or leave the stranded spaceman looking to the stars for answers? (Spoilers follow!)
Kenny Braverman and Pete Ross arrive in the big city to spend some time with Clark. After attending Jimmy Olsen’s gallery opening (and taking advantage of the open bar), Pete questions his old friend’s motivation for becoming Superman. An argument ensues, then Clark angrily departs, intent on flying to the moon.
Clark, unprepared for the sudden change in pressure when exiting Earth’s atmosphere, fails to reach his destination, but he encounters Green Lanterns Abin Sur and Tomar-Re in space. Dizzy from decompression, Clark cannot comprehend everything they are saying. Despite his pleas for answers, the Lanterns reveal little, and he returns to Earth to mend fences with Pete. From his experience in space, Clark remembers only the name of his homeworld: Krypton.
Throughout its run, Superman: American Alien has combined authenticity with originality, offered invaluable insights through incisive dialogue, and provided for each episodic increment an exact thematic match between the script for the theatrics and the appearance of the graphics. The series’ first two strengths remained unwavering in Angel, but the third suffered somewhat in this installment.
The artwork got off to a solid start with Ryan Sook’s distinctive and clever cover, which depicted a nondescript Clark Kent shushing the reader from the center of a sea of open-shirted Supermen staring off toward the horizon. Inside the issue, Case’s images have a similar simplicity to Nick Dragotta’s pictures in the series’ initial story, Dove.
Dragotta’s illustrations in the opening issue, however, used imaginative panel arrangements to dictate pacing and made good use of cartoonish exaggerations that suited a tale from Clark’s youth. Case’s artwork in Superman: American Alien #6, on the other hand, is less effective at setting tempo or conveying all but the most outsized movements, such as Clark soaring up toward space. The characters too frequently look wooden and static rather than dynamic and lifelike; witness Kenny’s immobilized pull from a beer — albeit while holding the bottle in opposite hands — over two panels on the first page following their return from the gallery opening.
This is not to disparage Case’s illustrations categorically, though. Some of Clark’s facial expressions convey sincere emotions with remarkably few lines, and such panels as the one depicting the friends’ laughing reaction to Pete’s friendly ribbing through impromptu singing are expertly crafted. Case’s more contemporary Jimmy and the Smallville tourists’ deadpan reactions to the photography exhibition also were among the many aspects of the artwork that were spot-on, but, after five consecutive issues of extraordinary visuals, Superman: American Alien #6 was the first in which the imagery was anything short of superb.
Fortunately, the other familiar aspects Landis has brought to the series are fully present in Angel. The verbal exchanges between the lifelong buddies, from their easy banter to their impassioned arguments, carry the writer’s trademark verisimilitude. Ancillary snippets add to the mix, as well — from Olsen’s hyperactive rambling about how his portraits humanize supervillians to passersby in the park sounding the Man of Steel’s traditional refrain with the twist ending that “it’s just a plane!” — but the crux of the discussion is between Clark, Kenny, and Pete.
Superhero comic books demand a significant suspension of disbelief, so what Glen Weldon characterized as “Vivisecting the Unicorn” — the desire to rationalize the fanciful, which gave rise to such stories as Superman #330’s “The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis!” — ultimately is a self-defeating enterprise. Nevertheless, in Landis’s hands, these essential story conceits (even including the glasses) become plausible in amusing ways that do not cross the line into heavy-handed over-analysis.
When his friends mock his cape, Clark explains that it aids his navigation while “pulling a 90-degree turn at 70 miles an hour between buildings.” Kenny jokingly asks whether he can fly to the moon, and Clark begins talking through the calculations involving the maximum speed at which he can fly and the longest duration for which he can hold his breath. Pete wants to know why Clark chose to wear the symbol from the side of his ship, and his bespectacled friend timidly responds that, if a broadcast image of him with the S-shield on his chest made it out into space, it might be seen by his people.
Landis seldom spares an opportunity to illuminate what makes Clark tick, and Kenny’s kidding about a moon flight shows both the reporter’s awkwardness in the moment and the intensity of the hero’s isolation when he foolhardily attempts the trip. The resulting plot twist brings familiar Green Lanterns from the pre-Hal Jordan era into the mix and gives the Last Son of Krypton his first insight into his lost world.
Superman: American Alien #6 follows the pattern of previous installments by taking a look at a slice of Clark Kent’s life we have never seen before, bringing on-stage scenes readers might not even have thought existed, but which Landis reveals to be essential elements of the hero’s development. In Angel, the author yet again fills in the blanks on what previously had not been understood to be missing pages. This series continually is connecting unsuspected links in the legend, and Superman: American Alien #6 furthers that worthy cause.
The fifth issue moved me to declare Max Landis’s handiwork the best Superman comic since Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. Nothing in Superman: American Alien #6 persuades me to revise that judgment.
Were you similarly impressed by Angel?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Out of This World
Though the artwork fell short of the series’ usual standard, Max Landis authored another winning issue.