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.
MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB
Superman: American Alien #7 arrived last week, concluding the miniseries characterized by writer Max Landis as “the opposite of All-Star Superman.” Wrapping up his sequence of “seven stories from Clark Kent’s life” in Valkyrie, Landis delivered on his ominous promise that “the most violent, realistic fight Superman has ever been in” would be featured in the final installment. ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reviewer, T. Kyle King, bids farewell to the groundbreaking limited run.
Illustrator Jock teamed up with Landis for Valkyrie, in which a young and still somewhat naive Superman encounters as insidious a threat to his heartland values and his adopted homeworld as he has yet faced in his brief career as a superhero. Did Clark Kent rise to the challenge posed by the Czarnian mercenary Lobo, and did Max Landis prove up to the task of authoring Superman: American Alien #7?
Clark Kent’s text exchange with Jimmy Olsen about the bespectacled reporter’s relationship struggles with Lois Lane is interrupted by an explosion atop a building in downtown Metropolis. When Superman goes to investigate, he meets Lobo, who has been dispatched on an interstellar mission of destruction to send the message that “Earth ain’t safe anymore.”
Initially shocked by the callousness of his fellow alien, the Last Son of Krypton defends against Lobo’s vicious assault with the violence circumstances require. Both are bloodied, but, when the Man of Tomorrow learns of the Czarnian’s swift healing ability, the hero hurls his assailant into space. The bruising battle earns Superman worldwide acclaim and universal affection, while the injuries Clark suffers open Lois’s eyes to her love for her Daily Planet colleague.
Superman: American Alien #7 was the issue about which I was worried from the start. In my mind, the series’ only major misstep was the teenaged Clark shearing off a killer’s arms with a panicked blast of heat vision, so the foreshadowed brutality of Valkyrie caused me no small degree of concern. The Quentin Tarantino-like ferocity of Superman’s dust-up with Lobo, though, managed to be magnified melodramatically without becoming gratuitously grotesque.
The image of an alien villain disobeying Jim Croce’s dictum by taking hold of Superman’s cape and using it to sling the hero around and slam him into the surrounding city mirrored the similar sight of Zod committing the selfsame slight against Kal-El in the film Man of Steel. In the Zack Snyder blockbuster, however, the clash of airborne aliens was hallmarked by an appalling indifference to the carnage laying waste to Metropolis; this stands in stark contrast to the fight between Lobo and Superman in Valkyrie, in which the Action Ace absorbs a savage battering, and gives as good as he gets, to achieve the objective of protecting defenseless innocents. In each case, the Metropolis Marvel gets into a bad fight, but, in Superman: American Alien #7, he thereby attains a good goal.
Each installment in the series has showcased the talents of a different illustrator, and every artist has brought to bear a style that is thematically suited to the particular story. This remains the case in Valkyrie, which was drawn by Jock, who admits he is “not necessarily one of those super-clean, sharp guys.” The rough-hewn edginess and gritty fluidity of Jock’s artwork presents an aesthetic I wouldn’t ordinarily consider well suited to a Superman story, but it works effectively here.
Coupled with Lee Loughridge’s washed-out color palette, Jock’s jagged graphics look as coarse as Lobo’s conversation sounds and as harsh as the bounty hunter’s brawling feels. The artist’s close-up focus on characters’ eyes and his insightful exhibition of their points of view offer a street-level perspective on a fight that starts in the sky before literally and figuratively descending into the gutter. While Ryan Sook’s cover shows us the finished Superman who has become iconic, Jock’s interior images depict an incomplete hero, right down to the runny red rivulets dripping from the homemade “S” shield.
Although Superman: American Alien #7 contains no shortage of action, Landis wouldn’t be Landis without equally heaping helpings of talk. The words the writer chooses always ring true, no matter how novel their context; I had never before imagined how an exchange of text messages between Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen would read, but I didn’t doubt that Max Landis had captured it perfectly — even before the author put the cherry atop the sundae by having Lois Lane tell Clark he could “stop texting Jimmy to complain, he just tells me everything anyway”.
To an increasing degree as this series has progressed, Landis’s superhero comics have resembled nothing so much as David Mamet’s plays, in which a character’s ability to speak forcefully and articulately is representative of his or her level of professional success, from Lois Lane’s dogged journalistic determination to Lex Luthor’s withering self-assurance to Lobo’s cold-blooded ruthlessness. Unlike the transplanted Kansan who is still defining his multiple identities, all of them follow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice to speak “in words as hard as cannon balls”.
In Superman: American Alien #7, Lobo talks and acts like a character in a Mamet drama, speaking strongly in support of his own self-interest and treating his antagonist’s honest openness as an admission of weakness and an opportunity to exploit. Landis expertly selects the correct avenue by which the Czarnian verbally fillets the hero, choosing the route using an insight from Mamet himself, who denigrated the Man of Steel with these words: “Far from being invulnerable, Superman is the most vulnerable of beings, because his childhood was destroyed. He can never reintegrate himself by returning to that home — it is gone. It is gone and he is living among aliens to whom he cannot even reveal his rightful name.”
So it is, then, that Kal-El innocently asks, “Are you an alien? Are you… Kryptonian?” Upon putting two and two together, Lobo uncaringly reveals to Superman the fact that his homeworld was destroyed, cruelly describing how, in his youth, he would venture “out to the debris fields and collect Kryptonian skulls.” Seeing the hero is shaken by the revelation, Lobo mocks him for “how alone you actually are” and for “actually crying!”
For the series’ first six issues, Clark Kent was an alien who lived on Earth but was not of it. He was driven by the conflicting hopes of fitting in among humans and being found by the people he never knew. As an uncertain outcast, the young man was grounded by a strong set of moral values yet not guided by a defining vision that he could either explain or enact other than haltingly. Then, immediately after learning his hope of finding others like himself has been in vain, he is told by Lobo: “Get out of my way” — and there the Last Son of Krypton finds both his purpose and his voice.
Superman says: “No. I’m not alone.” Just as Lois and Jimmy, aboard the Daily Planet’s “flying newsroom” helicopter, begin picking up the audio from the scene in the sky they are broadcasting to the ends of the Earth, the Metropolis Marvel ceases to respond timidly to Lobo’s condescending insults. The Superman the world now sees and hears is forceful in word and deed, driven by unfailing determination yet governed by an ethical sensibility: Superman does not hurl Lobo into space until learning that the Czarnian will heal from any harm the hero inflicts.
Flinging his assailant free of his adopted homeworld as Jor-El and Lara launched him from the planet of his birth, Superman does not wish Lobo ill even in the act of saving Earth from his sinister intentions. Rather, the Man of Steel bids the bounty hunter, “Do what I did. Survive.” He does, however, make a point of clearing up one of the Czarnian’s many misconceptions, explaining: “I’m not from Krypton… I’m from Kansas.” Clark Kent’s journey of self-discovery has been completed.
Crossing the finish line came with a cost, of course, but, while the injured reporter lies unconscious in a Metropolis hospital, an outpouring of gratitude greets Superman’s sacrifice. The hero, however, is focused mostly upon the woman who awaits his awakening; Clark Kent is concerned with Lois Lane, who faults him for trying to be like Superman, eliciting his honest response: “I was trying to be like you.” Their heartfelt exchange gets to the core of the relationship between the two and underscores Landis’s conviction that it ultimately is not a relationship among the three.
Ever the reporter, Lois ends Superman: American Alien #7 with a question: “Clark… what happens now?” We knew the answer to that question going in, so we know that Landis’s ending is, in fact, a beginning, but it was worth the circuitous seven-issue journey to get there. Lobo, whose temperament and vocation make him a liar, opens Valkyrie with a misstatement of fact. Seeing Superman flying, the Czarnian erroneously observes, “Humans don’t fly.” By inviting us to join him in following Clark Kent and Lois Lane on their most extraordinary adventure since All-Star Superman, Max Landis has shown us the truth.
Humans don’t fly?
These two do.
We welcome you to share your thoughts on Superman: American Alien #7 in the comments and invite you, as always, to ComiConverse with us.
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Max Landis and Jock provided a worthy conclusion to the best Superman story in a decade.