Best Shots Reviews: POWER MAN & IRON FIST #1, SUPERMAN: AMERICAN ALIEN #4

DC Comics February 2015 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Power Man and Iron Fist #1
Written by David Walker
Art by Sanford Greene and Lee Loughridge
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

A great debut issue has to be able to engage readers on multiple levels, providing engaging artwork, good characters, and a story that does more than go through the motions. Perhaps most importantly, it has to be driven by creators with a cohesive vision of what they want the book to be. And in Power Man and Iron Fist #1 it is readily apparent that writer David Walker and Sanford Greene have a plan and a voice for the book.

Walker’s script readily sets the book up as a buddy story. The dialogue between Luke and Danny immediately tells the reader everything they need to know about their friendship, and despite their differences, one can tell why these two work together so well. Walker also makes good use of the introductory captions to highlight the contrast between the two heroes and how they currently relate to their superhero identities. The story refuses to settle for a classic action story as a hook, and Walker instead turns to the past as Danny and Luke pick up a former associate from prison. This further embeds the history between the two into the reader’s mind and makes it truly feel like old friends reuniting, even for readers that are new to the pair.

David Walker doesn’t just establish the titular leads in the debut, but sets up a network of allies and enemies. The most prominent friend is none other than Luke’s wife, Jessica Jones. While fans of the character may be upset to see her sidelined, the phone conversations between her and Luke effectively set up their family dynamics, offering some of the issue’s most humorous bits. She also adds another layer to Luke and Danny’s relationship, and one would hope that future issues would see her join the fray (perhaps a superhero double date with Misty Knight?). Tombstone serves as a good debut antagonist; both recognizable yet underappreciated, David Walker utilizes him to establish the power structure between the criminals in this part of New York City.

Sanford Greene’s artwork really makes the issue. The looser, cartoonist aspects of Greene’s work bestow a unique energy to the proceedings. The character designs help to emphasize who they are. Luke Cage and Danny Rand look like complete opposites, with Cage’s massive shoulders and Rand’s lithe form, the differences emphasize the odd-couple nature of their relationship. Greene’s style also means that the characters can be incredibly expressive without seeing out of place. This makes for a highly entertaining read as the characters can go from subtle (Luke’s unease with his own enjoyment of his time with Danny) to the outlandish (Tombstone’s rage at "living weapon" Danny Rand being in his presence). The overall effect is that the characters seem both larger-than-life and immediately relatable.

Lee Loughridge’s color palette is a perfect fit for Greene’s style. Loughridge opts for a muted palette, which allows the details in Greene’s artwork to come through. The colors are also vaguely reminiscent of '70s photography, which is perfect for these characters. Loughridge uses a nice golden yellow for Luke’s attire, which really makes him pop off the page.

With an emotionally touching story, complex characters, and stylistic artwork, Power Man and Iron Fist #1 is a fantastic debut. David Walker instantly captures the friendship between Luke and Danny and gives them a spark that makes the issue a delight to read. The artwork by Sanford Greene and Lee Loughridge makes for a truly unique read. The "All-New All-Different" initiative by Marvel has had its hits and misses, but Power Man and Iron Fist #1 stands as one of the top debuts in the lineup. Sweet Christmas, indeed.

Credit: DC Comics

Superman: American Alien #4
Written by Max Landis
Art by Jae Lee and June Chung
Letters by John Workman
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Superman: American Alien #4 wants to have its cake and eat it too in the worst way possible. Following the cameo-filled party of the previous issue, writer Max Landis presents us Clark Kent’s first day in Metropolis and promptly sidelines him in favor of yet another ludicrous amount of cameos. As Clark gets settled in his new home, he is tasked with covering the Cereberus Summit, his first real assignment as a winner of a Daily Planet contest. Of course, this assignment is much more than just an assignment, as he meets basically everyone who will ever have an impact on his life as a hero and as a man in one all-too-convenient story. Though advertised as a hip new origin for the Man of Steel, American Alien doesn’t seems concerned at all about making Clark work for anything or having him interact with characters that aren’t major players in the DCU. Though gorgeously rendered by Jae Lee and colorist June Chung, Superman: American Alien #4 is a frustrating, lazy, and self-aggrandizing read.

Even though the title has the word "Superman" in it, you would be hard pressed to think Clark was the star after reading American Alien #4. After arriving in the city, Clark makes his way to Morrison Boulevard and Quitely Street (a groan inducing attempt at an ”in-joke” especially after Landis’ harsh words against their seminal Superman work) to cover the Cerberus Summit, a meeting of the world’s youngest and most powerful captains of industry. It’s here that the issue truly goes of the rails and descends into something indistinguishable from fan-fiction. Landis uses the plot device of the summit to not only bring Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne back into the narrative, but also introduce Lex Luthor and Lois Lane into the American Alien mix. While that might sound good on paper, in execution, it's a very frustrating turn of events.

As more and more cameos pile up, Clark, as a character, is quickly made irrelevant. Landis’ Clark is, in essence, a huge stammering nerd that barely interacts with the characters around him, as they deliver heavy-handed speeches at him about social Darwinism, becoming a greater version of themselves, and how people aren’t special. Though Lois and Lex’s inclusion in the issue is tough to get through in their own right, American Alien’s most puzzling inclusion comes in the form of a young Dick Grayson, who essentially gives Clark the idea to be Superman. It's an out-of-left-field kind of scene, and one that stretches this story's believability to the breaking point.

The abundant and distracting cameos are a major hurdle to get over, but Max Landis’ greatest misstep is making Clark Kent a spectator in his own story. Ever since the opening issues, Landis hasn’t allowed Clark to work for anything, and seems almost unconcerned with him as a person as the story happens around him. Though the opening issue with Clark as a child was filled with hardship and alienation due to his powers, everything since then has been handed to Clark on a silver platter. This fourth issue is the most egregious of the series so far, as we are just expected to roll with Clark not only winning a Daily Planet contest that we knew nothing about, but also meeting every person that will inform his life as Superman, and just for good measure, him having a minor dust up with a certain Bat-like creature, all in just one day. Going for dessert first and leaving his vegetables untouched,Landis is only interested in the end result and not what it took to get there, and that’s what makes American Alien such a frustrating experience.

Though Landis’ script is an experience bordering on grating, Jae Lee’s pencils and June Chung’s colors keep this forth issue from being a complete wash. While Lee’s innovative panel construction is very much reined-in here, he still gives this issue a personality and energy that is severely missing from the script itself. For example, with a single panel of Clark celebrating after learning that his recorder captured the entirety of his interview with Luthor and Grayson, Lee and Chung give Clark a dorky charm that Landis hasn’t even begun to touch on through four issues. Lee’s goth inspired art style is also on display here with his nefariously powerful looking portrait of Lex Luthor and his final ethereal look at Dick Grayson, made even more angelic-looking thanks to June Chung’s purple, blue, and white back lighting.

Max Landis is a divisive character on his best day, but Superman: American Alien #4 isn’t going to do much to help his case with his critics. Bloated with side characters and severely lacking in its understanding of Clark Kent as a character, this fourth issue pulls this series into the realm of officially sanctioned fan-fiction. Landis once said that he wanted American Alien to be the opposite of All-Star Superman, and in a dubious manner, he’s succeeded. In All-Star Superman, Superman is the lead of the story, but American Alien #4 makes Clark a co-star in his own title, and I can’t think of a more opposite approach to take than that.

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