Superman: American Alien #4 review

I've not been following this latest look at Superman's early years - I've read that story too many times. Reading a précis for this issue, though, I saw that it was another take on the first meeting of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Given that I've not seen a lot of Lois lately, why not give it a try?

Young Clark's essay writing skills have won him a trip to Metropolis and the chance of a job with the Daily Planet. Along with another winner, Lois Lane, he's been assigned to get a story from a summit between three of America's richest industrialists - Olive Queen, Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor. Clark doesn't look to have great potential as a journalist, he's got one basic fact wrong... 
On arrival at the Lexcorp building, he meets 'Louis' Lane. 
Then it's a reunion with Ollie Queen, whom he met during an accidental cruise on Bruce Wayne's yacht, and an encounter with Lex Luthor. Will he give Clark a quote?
Or maybe he'll just talk him to death? Happily, it turns out he was simply providing Clark with a suitably dramatic, newspaper-friendly quote - which isn't to say he doesn't believe it. Quote delivered, Alex dumps Clark in what he believes is the most appropriate place. 
Fortuitously, someone else has been dumped there. Dick Grayson is waiting for Bruce Wayne to finish his meeting. 
Clark and Dick try to get the measure of one another, Dick with his burgeoning detective skills, Clark with his X-Ray vision. In a decade or so, Dick will take on the Nightwing identity, in part due to his friendship with Superman; here, without knowing Dick's connection to Batman, Clark also reinforces the boy's notion that Batman needs a Robin. 

The final scene of the issue sees Lois call Clark with an offer, and Clark encounter Batman for the first time - both men get a big surprise.  
So, lots going on this issue. The Batman scene provides a nice injection of brief, but intense action, while the mostly tedious Lex talk ends on a high note. Ollie Queen is around purely to deliver a 'what can a man be?' inspirational speech, but the introduction to Dick is a joy - Landis elegantly sidesteps the questions raised by a single, unattached rich man having a young boy living with him, then gets right to the fun of two exceptional people connecting. 

Oh, there is another moment which surprised me. I won't show it, but I will say that if you liked Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 3, this is your lucky day. 

What does it mean to be exceptional? What are the different kinds of confidence? Landis tackles these questions a tad heavy handedly as we meet the various characters - a Luthor comment about people with an S on their chest seems terribly prescient given Superman hasn't appeared in the costume yet. Still, it's good to see a comic that's about something, and there were enough sharp, entertaining moments to justify my purchase. 

Where Landis falls down is in his lack of understanding of newspaper people. I don't know if we're meant to be impressed by the essay Lois wrote to the Planet but I do know, having been a journalist for decades, that it wouldn't win her an internship. It's insultingly amateurish, ignoring the brief in an offensively arrogant manner. And as for Clark recording his conversation with an unchaperoned child... he'd be kicked to the kerb by Perry White, right alongside Lois. And why the heck would Clark think Lois was 'Louis'? If he's heard her name over the phone, he's heard it pronounced; if he's heard about her by letter, he's seen it written down. The gag simply doesn't work. 

Jae Lee's art is as Art Deco elegant as ever, his storytelling sharp and to the point. The cityscapes are gorgeous, the body language true (that image of Lex playing the villain, complete with Nosferatu pose, is genius). It's rather jarring, though, that he's chosen to draw Lois and Clark as Asian-American. The look of the pages is finished by colourist June Chung and letterer John Workman, artists at the top of their game. Ryan Sook's cover is head-scratchingly surreal, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it. I can forgive Lois Lane as love goddess for the anointing of Clark by bat and bird. 

A silent one-pager by Landis and artist Steve Dillon shows the origin of the Parasite. It's fine - Dillon's humanistic work is always welcome - but I'd have preferred another page of Clark and Dick, I love these guys together. 

I'm glad I read this comic; it doesn't give me the Lois I was looking for - I don't see her as an idiot monster. It did, though, give me a different take on Luthor that I rather enjoyed, and that great Clark and Dick 'team-up'. Take a look. 


  1. The take on Lois is all over the place. I agree her piece is over the top but then the end call to Clark works for me. Why? Because Clark is a peer. Yes, Lois is supposed to be brash and aggressive and that phone call to Clark fit that. However, she's also not foolish. That piece she wrote was ridiculous. She might think those things and put it in a journal? But she wouldn't jeopardize her chances like that. She's too smart to lay down her cards so early in the game as it were.

    I've noticed some writers have a very difficult time capture Lois Lane's nuances. They write her as a collection of traits rather than a fully realized person. I'd strongly strongly recommend Gwenda Bond's young adult Lois Lane novel Fallout to see how to weave her traits in to something other than a caricature. The character in the book is 16, just a few years younger than this Lois.

    I also thought this issue was overly self aware. It's not telling a story. Rather the reader is asked to come to the story with ideas who these people are. Luthor's speech relies on the reader knowing the future of the characters. Instead of organically introducing us to these people and giving us a sense of who they were as they grow in to the proverbial iconic roles.

    I wasn't impressed.

    1. I definitely approve of the phone call at the end; sure, it jars with the traditional image of Lois as 'step over everyone to get a scoop' but I'm all for a smarter Lois, one who knows they can both win - let the rivalry begin later!

      And I second your Gwenda Bond recommendation!

  2. I was onboard until Batman showed up. Since John Byrne's "The Man of Steel", Batman is a fundamental part of Superman's origin, and I just need it to stop. Max Landis takes part in the worship for Batman is just too much for me, that even here, in Max Landis effort at Superman/Clark Kent, he can't go further than two issues without involving The Batman/Bruce Wayne for the next three.

    And I really was liking this issue.

    1. I'm not sure I'd characterise his appearance here as an example of 'Batman-worship' given he didn't come off best. But I see your point about Batman getting squeezed in all the time, post-Crisis

    2. Perhaps if it was reciprocal, then I'd have different thoughts on it, but Batman "begins@ just fine without Superman. Superman? For some reason, Batman has become a seminal part of his foundation i.e. writers think Batman adds a component to Superman that the Man of Tomorrow is lacking: coolness.

  3. Good point, Li Hei Bao: generally speaking it seems that DC is being true to its acronym and it's turning into a Batman-centric universe. It's surely happening in the upcoming DCCU, where they are slowly moving from "Man of Steel sequel with Bats" to "Justice League prequel" to "Batman movie with huge Superman cameo likely to start new trilogy", according to the internal screenings reports.
    This is a bit sad, but, on the other hand, if we accept that Supes and Bats live in the same universe and become somewhat friends, they HAVE to be strongly mutually influenced since the very beginning.
    What's annoying is that as Bruce keeps on popping up in every focal point of Superman evolution, the opposite is not happening. The Man of Steel story you quote is actually a Batman story (it starts from his PoV, not Superman's) but since it would have been totally out of tune in Batman's comics of those times, it was allowed into a Superman mini-series. Still, it is completely untied to the rest of the mini: try to read the other 5 books alone, and you wouldn't notice.
    Superman in a Batman's story is a distraction or a lame deus-ex-machina, Batman in a Superman's story it's... Hey! It's just cool! I'm afraid we have to accept this.

    This said, besides all its limitations, I might give a chance to this mini when it's over, maybe in digital. The characters seem strongly inspired to TV's "Smallville" (look at Oliver!!), but the background seem a bit more solid: I would have appreciated a similar approach in the final seasons. And there's Batman! Cool! :-)

    1. That's a great point about Batman's role in the Man of Steel mini. I thought it a good idea to give him one of the six issues given that Batman had long been Superman's best friend (as opposed to pal!). But yes, he certainly had the talking stick.

  4. "What does it mean to be exceptional? What are the different kinds of confidence? Landis tackles these questions a tad heavy handedly as we meet the various characters - a Luthor comment about people with an S on their chest seems terribly prescient given Superman hasn't appeared in the costume yet. Still, it's good to see a comic that's about something, and there were enough sharp, entertaining moments to justify my purchase."

    That's the most honest a summary of Landis' writing style I've seen so far, Martin. So far, comics wise, he strikes me as a Bendis or Dan Slot kinda figure: weather you like his writing or not hinges on how his ideas appeal to the reader and what they're prepared to let slide. And also that those ideas are better suited to small doses, like the kind you get in the mini-series format, rather than an ongoing.

    I'll second the sentiment that it's nice to get a Supes story actually about something, and also that so far I've enjoyed Landis' sense of humour when it comes to bad asses like Batman and Deathstroke. Batman may escape Clark but not with much dignity or at the expense of Clark's, and the issue before this Clark casually flicked Deathstroke off a cruise liner with his little finger. And while Batman and the other DCU cameos didn't NEED to happen I thought he made excellent use of Dick and Ollie. Ollie specifically. A guy who's had to remake himself completely is a nice, natural counterpoint to a guy who's already figured out what he wants to do in life and is just starting out. (and, y'know, also trying to figure out what to do with the suite of strange powers beyond those of mortal men)

  5. And that's a superb observation about Ollie in relations to Clark. Good grief, I should be giving out prizes...

    I'm also interested in your comments about how Landis is like; I have to admit, I've missed the various controversies, and only read two comics by him. I do have an opinion on his latest haircut...


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