Tag Archives: Max Landis

A Superman: American Alien #6 Review – A Little Slice of Home

Superman: American Alien #6 (2016)TITLE: Superman: American Alien #6
AUTHOR: Max Landis
PENCILLERS: Jonathan Case. Cover by Ryan Sook.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: April 20, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Long story short? This issue gives us more of the same. Great art, good writing, and more out-of-place Batman stuff. Max Landis could be such a great Superman writer if he’d just let go of Batman…

Pete Ross and Kenny Bravermen, two of Clark’s buddies from Smallville, have come to visit him in Metropolis. Understandably, the city has one thing on its mind: Superman. It has at least that much in common with Pete and Kenny. But Clark’s friends have a different perspective on the Man of Steel than anyone in the city. So what do those who know Clark Kent think about his newfound fame?

My single biggest complaint about American Alien has been Landis’ use of Batman. In issue #4 he gratuitously used The Dark Knight, and in issue #5 he established Clark Kent wore Batman’s cape as part of a pre-Superman costume. In this issue, we get a page and a half of Clark and his buddies talking about Batman. Then on the next page, when talking about Clark flying around in a costume, Pete says: “Batman got in your head.”

Superman: American Alien #6, 2016, Jonathan CaseI understand not everyone feels the way I do. But as a fan of both Superman and Batman, I find this offensive. I won’t re-tread ground here. Read the reviews linked above if you’d like my arguments as to why this is so offensive. But sadly, what started as an annoyance has became a major flaw.

What makes it all the more frustrating is that this Batman stuff is stuck in the middle of an otherwise great issue. It gives us what you might expect from a story with two of Clark’s old friends. They look at what he’s become and have reservations, largely because they care about him. And he cares for them too. Landis shines a nice spotlight on both the human and alien qualities that make Superman who he is. What’s more, the dialogue between Clark and his friends feels very natural. That’s something Landis has excelled at from the start.

Penciller Jonathan Case shines in this issue. His style has a retro feel to it that made him a good fit for Batman ’66. But I’d love to see him take a crack at an ongoing Superman title. His art might not be what we’re used to seeing on Superman or Action Comics, but isn’t that the point?

Ryan Sook has been on the covers for this series, and this one is his best yet. What’s so hilarious is that it took me a couple of looks to see Clark Kent in the image. Therein lies the brilliance. This cover is a visual metaphor for Clark Kent’s existence, and how he’s able to stay hidden. No one is looking for Clark Kent. They’re all looking for Superman. And of course, the image is beautifully drawn as well.

Superman: American Alien #6, 2016, Jonathan CaseWe’ve got one issue left of Superman: American Alien. Based on these last three issues, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect. We’ll get some good dialogue, along with some excellent artwork (Jock is on the pencil next month). We’ll also have a sense that our writer truly cares about the Man of Steel, and understands him in a way previous few writers do.

But there’ll also be an infuriating idea in there that drags the whole thing down.

What a shame. What a crying shame.

Images from flickeringmyth.com.

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A Superman: American Alien #5 Review – The Wrong Cape!

Superman: American Alien #5, Ryan SookTITLE: Superman: American Alien #5
AUTHOR: Max Landis
PENCILLER: Francis Manapul. Cover by Ryan Sook.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: March 16, 2016

***Need a refresher? Head back to the beginning with Superman: American Alien #5.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s something about this issue that drives me absolutely nuts. We saw it on the final page of last issue, but it’s plastered all over this one. That’s a damn shame, because in almost every other respect this issue is damn good.

Now an intern at The Daily Planet, Clark Kent is still trying to find his place in the world. For six months, a mysterious “Flying Man” has been a super-powered good samaritan for Metropolis. As Clark’s fellow intern Lois Lane ponders the hero’s motivations, The Parasite makes his first appearance. Now, the Flying Man has no choice but to start communicating not only with the police, but with Lex Luthor…

I understand I may be hung up about this, but it drives me absolutely insane: Clark Kent is wearing Batman’s cape. I talked about this at length last time, but it bears repeating. To me, Superman and Batman have always represented two sides of the same coin. Light and darkness, hope and cynicism, etc. Superman drawing inspiration from Batman implies the latter has a certain wisdom and seniority the former doesn’t, which inherently positions the Dark Knight above the Man of Steel. As a fan, that offends me. Once again, we see Batman is far too central to so much in the DC Universe. It’s what I call “Over-Baturation.”

Superman: American Alien #5, title pageWhat’s more, it ruins a really charming costume. The black “S” shirt and jeans are reminiscent of Superboy’s old look. And the old school pilot headgear has a nice quirkiness to it. The outfit makes sense for a Superman who hasn’t found himself yet, and has simply thrown something together to start his mission. The dark colors also have a cool factor befitting a young adult trying to impress people.

Traditionally, The Parasite isn’t portrayed as a giant. But that’s how we see him in this issue. It suits Landis’ purposes well, and not surprisingly, Francis Manapul is really able to run with it. The explosive moments between Clark and Parasite are really well done, particularly the page when our hero simply grabs the giant by the foot and pulls him through the roof of a building. It’s a tribute to how well-rounded Manapul’s work is that he’s able to pull off both the action sequences, and the more intimate one-on-one scenes between Clark and Lois, with equal amount of finesse. And look at those colors. Wow.

Clark spends much of the issue with Lois Lane. But we also get our first meeting between Clark and Lex Luthor. Like Batman, Luthor is very much the yin to Superman’s yang, but obviously in a different way. So it’s fitting that as Clark is just starting out as a hero, he’s learning from both friends and enemies. We’re seeing portions of Superman’s philosophy and modus operandi molded before our eyes, and it’s true to the essence of the character.

Superman: American Alien #5, Francis ManapulThe exchanges between Clark and Lois are the strongest I’ve seen in awhile. Landis gives them a nice chemistry that has a certain modern vibe without coming off as obnoxious. I imagine that’s what a lot of fans are looking to Max Landis for. He’s made it clear he’s passionate about Superman, and he obviously has his share of ideas. Now he has an outlet for some of them, and at times they’ve been very refreshing.

Portions of American Alien have been extremely annoying. But I can’t deny it’s been a worthwhile read thus far. Landis’ heart is in the right place. I get the sense he understands Superman in a way that few writers do. In that sense, when you open one of these issues, the battle is already half won.

Image 1 from gamespot.com. Image 2 from author’s collection.

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A Superman: American Alien #4 Review – Playing the Batman Card

Superman: American Alien #4, 2016TITLE: Superman: American Alien #4
AUTHOR: Max Landis
PENCILLER: Jae Lee. Cover by Ryan Sook.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: February 18, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Superman: American Alien #4.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ugh. Max Landis, you were doing so well. I’d never have pegged such a good writer who cares so much about Superman to make such a textbook mistake.

You played the Batman card. Hell, you even played the Dick Grayson card! Not to mention the Oliver Queen card! What the hell, bro?

Shortly after moving to Metropolis, Clark Kent wins a student essay contest run by The Daily Planet. As such, he gets to attend the Cerberus Summit, a meeting of the three most important young businessmen in America: Oliver Queen, Lex Luthor, and Bruce Wayne. During his time at the summit, Clark gets some quality time with both Queen and Luthor. But he also gets to interview Bruce Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson. This garners the attention of a certain Dark Knight Detective.

Superman: American Alien #4, Batman capeI think I get what Landis was trying to do with Batman here. He was making a point about how Superman and Batman coexist in the same universe, and that Batman wouldn’t always have the upper hand in a fight. I appreciate that mindset. But frankly, I resent Batman’s shadow being cast over half of this issue, when this is supposed to be “an important juncture” in Clark’s development as a person.

On the last page, Clark even tries on Batman’s cape, with the caption reading “…do something big.” As a Superman fan, I find the notion that Batman helped inspire Clark to be a hero as the light to contrast his darkness to be offensive. And for the record, I love Batman as much as anybody. But it would be just as ridiculous the other way around. Picture a scene where Bruce Wayne somehow beats up a young Superman, then tries on his cape and an idea is sparked. Again, we go back to the idea of the DC Universe becoming “Over-Baturated,” with Batman being central to so many crucial events in this universe.

I’m tempted to think this might have been an editorial mandate, what with Batman v Superman coming out next month. But Landis did pitch a gratuitous Batman element in what would have been his Death of Superman story. Following Superman’s fight with Doomsday, Landis would have had Clark spend an extended period of time learning how to fight, courtesy of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. That was needless and disappointing, just like the Batman stuff here is needless and disappointing. Especially coming from Landis, who’s proven he can do so much better.

Lex Luthor, Superman: American Alien #4Less offensive are the appearances of Oliver Queen and Lex Luthor. Mind you, an early Superman/Green Arrow meeting still feels like something we’d see on Smallville. But given what happened with Batman, it’s tough to be cranky about this. Frankly, had Ollie and Lex been our only guest stars, the issue might have been just fine. Landis contrasts the perspectives of the two characters nicely, giving a young Clark something to think about. Queen sees himself as a spoiled rich kid given a chance to use his resources for good, while Lex predictably has a messiah complex. Lois Lane is also in this issue simply to foreshadow, which is something of a waste.

I stand by what I’ve said about Jae Lee being an ill-fit for Superman, his Art Deco-ish style being much more suited for Batman. Still, good art is good art. Lee draws a nice Lex Luthor here, fittingly in a dark and shadowy style typical of Lee. And while Dick Grayson is completely out of place in this story, Lee gives him a nice wisdom beyond his years. Our introduction to Lois Lane is also cool, with her figure drawn in front enlarged text.

Superman: American Alien #4 is a surprising letdown, considering what’s come before has been mostly good. I maintain that Max Landis is a great writer. He went on record saying this issue was supposed to make us think. Sadly, I wasn’t exactly thinking good things…

Image 1 from author’s collection. Image 2 from dangermart.blogspot.com.

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A Superman: American Alien #1 Review – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is!

Superman: American Alien #1 (2015)TITLE: Superman: American Alien #1
AUTHOR: Max Landis
PENCILLERS: Nick Dragotta, Matthew Clark. Cover by Ryan Sook.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: November 11, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Superman: American Alien is a unique opportunity for Max Landis. He’s a renowned Superman critic who gets to put his money where his mouth is.

Granted, Landis isn’t just a Superman critic. He’s also an accomplished writer in the movie industry. He co-wrote and did the screenplay for Chronicle, and also wrote the upcoming films Victor Frankenstein and Mr. Right. He also directed the music video for Ariana Grande’s “One Last Time.”

But to comic book fans, Landis is perhaps best known as the man behind the short film The Death and Return of Superman, as well as a number of extended YouTube editorials (Regarding Clark, Death and Return of Superman Pitch By Max Landis, etc). While I haven’t agreed with everything he’s said, it’s tough to deny how knowledgeable he is about the art of storytelling. To their credit, DC saw that, and they started talking with him about doing a Superman story of his own. And to his credit, Landis eventually took them up on the offer, essentially agreeing to put his money where his mouth is.

Superman: American Alien #1, Max Landis, Nick DragottaAmerican Alien consists of seven short stories from the life of Clark Kent. This issue shows us an eight-year-old Clark and his parents coming to grips with his power of flight. In a brief Q&A that can be seen in the back of this issue, Landis said he was going for “heartwarming” with this first installment.

Again, to his credit, he accomplished his goal. At the end of the issue, you’re smiling. At one point things get a little too silly for my taste, and at others Clark seems a little too wise for an eight-year-old. But by and large, the issue feels like something Pixar or Dreamworks might put out. That’s high praise, considering DC continues to struggle with making readers sympathetic to a character so powerful. They’re beating him down pretty hard right now, having exposed his identity and powered him down quite bit. But the right now the Superman books are largely lacking the emotional core you’d hope to find when Clark faces such dire circumstances.

In contrast, there’s a lot of emotion in American Alien #1. Granted, it’s not all as complex in terms of Clark himself, as he’s just a child. But in just one issue we see the terror, frustration, shame, and ultimately excitement that this new ability brings him. Things are a bit more subdued in terms of the Kents. But we can definitely see them questioning their decisions as they struggle to raise this very unique child.

Superman: American Alien #1, alien mirror, Nick DragottaHowever, there is one moment that nearly takes you out of the story. Clark has just had what we’ll call an “angry outburst,” and he’s driving home with his father. As they’re talking, Clark flat out says: “Dad…I’m so unhappy.” I question the notion of an eight-year-old being that conscious of his own overall happiness, much less being able to vocalize it so concisely. Even if the child in question is Superman. That’s not to say it’s impossible. I just found it odd coming from a child.

On the plus-size, Nick Dragotta and colorist Alex Guimaraes very much deliver an aura akin to Clark’s idealized Kansas childhood. That opening shot of Ma Kent hanging off her young son’s leg (shown above) makes for an awesome hook. There’s also an excellent shot of young Clark looking in a mirror, and then suddenly seeing himself as a Yoda-like space alien (also above). Dragotta’s art very much makes this feel like an eight-year-old’s story, much as I’m sure Tommy Lee Edwards will give next issue’s fight story a certain hormone-enduced rough-and-tumble feel.

At the end of the issue, we get a two-page spread that’s separate from the rest of the story. Drawn by Matthew Clark and titled “Castaways,” it’s simply a workbench covered in artifacts that belonged to the Kents. We see old photos, notes, newspaper clippings, etc. It sets the period well. If I’m not mistaken, we also see a clipped newspaper article about the car accident that killed them both. Certainly an ominous bit of foreshadowing.

Superman: American Alien #1, page 3, Nick DragottaMax Landis and his cohorts may very well be bringing us a much-needed fresh perspective on Superman with American Alien. But I would argue it’s easier to do that with Clark Kent before he puts the cape on. Perhaps if Landis ever gets the chance to write Clark Kent as the Man of Steel, we’ll see just how good he really is. And as far as Superman stories are concerned, I think he has the potential (Key word: Potential.) to be very, very good.

For more Superman, check out Lois and Clark #1, Superman #45, and Superman: The Men of Tomorrow.

Image 1 from newsarama.com. Image 2 from kotaku.com. Image 3 from pastemagazine.com.

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