Superman: American Alien #4 review

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If nothing else, Max Landis writes a great Lois Lane.

After winning a chance to write for the Daily Planet as a student reporter, Clark attends what is dubbed the Cerberus Summit, “a meeting of the three most important young businessmen in America.”

I’ll give you four guesses as to who they are, and the first one won’t count.

It’s here, at his first big assignment and chance to enter into the world of journalism, that Clark encounters his first big rival in the industry: Louis Lane.

That was not a typo.
That was not a typo.

This issue has several moments like this: little interactions that speak volumes about the characters involved.  These moments are the strength of this issue, and Landis’ grasp of Lois herself is the strongest by far.  She’s confident without being arrogant, quick-witted and intelligent without being overly cynical.  Frankly, I wanted more Lois in this book, but what we get works with the story and as such she doesn’t overstay her welcome.

From the beginning Landis has said that this series is about Clark Kent becoming Clark Kent, not Superman, and I’ve felt that the results have been mixed.  The stories have been interesting enough, but I don’t know that they’re really adding anything new to the character.  This issue feels the tightest so far, though not the most enjoyable, and at least part of that is because it wavers between genuinely great dialogue and imagery and references that have the subtlety of a jackhammer.

Clark’s interview with Oliver Queen is pretty nice, if on the short side.  Ollie is more mature than in the previous issue, slightly more self-deprecating if not aware of what the “bad boy” persona can do to bolster his image.  One of my biggest complaints so far has been how disconnected these issues feel, with time jumps that don’t allow for a natural progression of Clark’s character.  Oliver’s recognition of Clark and their ensuing interaction has that perfect balance of referring to a past event without being overly expository, and besides Lois’ introduction earlier it’s some of Landis’ best dialogue so far.


Luthor, on the other hand, well…

I’m conflicted here.  Lex’s “interview” consists of Lex talking about himself, as it should, but it’s the worst offender regarding subtlety.  He goes over basic Luthor stuff, talking about making himself rather than being given anything, being the man who can bring humanity into the future, and some of it works:

Frankly, I'm giving him this one.
Frankly, I’m giving him this one.

And then some of it just bludgeons you with its symbolism and foreshadowing:

I know I've made this joke before, but I think I threw my back out rolling my eyes so hard.
I know I’ve made this joke before, but I think I threw my back out rolling my eyes so hard.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like there, but some of the references are so obvious that it’s a little cheeky rather than organic.  At certain points you can almost see Landis winking at you through the script.  It’s not nearly as bad as the “oh hey, here’s Sue Dibny for no reason” from last month, but it’s still pretty hamfisted.

Now, why are we covering this issue?  Why, because Clark runs into Dick Grayson.

And then gets attacked by Batman, but that comes later.

At first, this interaction felt really forced, but it actually makes sense: if Bruce was in this big, boring office building being interviewed, of course Dick would wander around trying to find something to do.  There’s some nice detective work on Dick’s part, with a charming inner monologue about wanting to prove to Bruce he can join his crusade.


I love that, genuinely and sincerely.  It’s what the “wearing an S” line from Luthor should have been: poetic and subtle, while still grasping the point of the character.  If Batman represents darkness, Robin stands for the light Bruce needs to keep from going fully over the edge.  Seeing Dick beginning his own journey is pretty clever, and works as a nice balance to Clark’s own growth.

Jae Lee’s pencils look absolutely great here, and I really wish he had contributed to other installments of the series.  I really like his jagged edges and sketchbook quality, and June Chung makes some remarkable use of color and lighting.  Plus, they give us this sequence, and I’m pretty sure I’m thankful for it:


Yes, even the most powerful man in the world dances like an awkward white boy.  I take comfort in this.

When Bruce (finally) shows up, it’s pretty much over before it starts, and it’s absolutely hilarious.


Look, like I said last month, I love Batman.  I wouldn’t be writing for this site if I didn’t.  But seeing him try three times to take out a superhuman who doesn’t even flinch?  I think Lucas Lee said it best:

Thanks Cap Chris.

This series is improving, but not necessarily because of Batman (though that doesn’t hurt).  Landis is finally giving us actual stories rather than just events that can serve as a parable for what “made” Clark, which makes the narrative tighter and more cohesive.  Seeing Clark interact with Lois especially helps establish his “mild-mannered reporter” persona, and even with chronological jumps the references to previous events means that reading earlier issues was not in vain.  This still isn’t my favorite Superman story, and as funny as it is it isn’t a great Batman story, but my appreciation of it is finally growing.

BONUS: There’s a variant cover by Lee, and for the life of me I cannot understand why it isn’t the actual cover.  I have no idea what’s going on in the “official” one.  Here’s the variant:


Recommended if:

  • You like Superman.
  • You can laugh at Batman.
  • You’ve been reading this series so far.
  • Lois Lane, MVP

Overall: Still imperfect, but an entertainment in its own right.  Clark is starting to become a character we actually recognize, and Landis’ writing is getting tighter as well.  There are still a few hamfisted lines here and there, but seeing Clark actually being a reporter and interacting realistically with different people shows a good grasp of the character.  Batman’s portrayal may be too irreverent for some, but hey, sometimes you need to be able to laugh at what you love.

SCORE: 7/10