Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

4903545-01

Ever since the first solicits for the new seven-part mini-series Superman : American Alien started showing up several months ago, I’ve been unsure what to make of the whole enterprise — sure, the line-up of talent involved is impressive, particularly on the artistic side, but do we really need another re-telling of The Man Of Steel’s origin? And, furthermore,  is that what this book even is?

Apparently DC “suits” got in touch with screenwriter Max Landis (of Chronicle and American Ultra fame, among others) a couple of years back after being reasonably impressed by his short film The Death And Life Of Superman (which is more than a tad ironic given that one of the things Landis seems to relish doing in that movie is pointing out the various gaping plotholes contained within that legendary story arc of the same name) and offered him carte blanche to write the Superman story of his dreams — the result of which is this much-publicized project that sees the we-sure-hope-he’s-the-next-superstar author paired with a different artist each issue as they fill in some gaps in young Clark Kent’s life. Landis himself says that there’s no traditional story “arc” here per se, but that each “vignette” will go some way towards giving us a greater understanding of comics’ most iconic character.

Okay, I’ll buy that, but again, I have to ask, is it really necessary? Especially in light of current goings-on in the Superman “family” of titles?

For those who may not be aware, The Man Of Tomorrow has his feet planted firmly in the here and now in the pages of both Superman and Action Comics these days : he’s had his powers dramatically reduced, his secret identity’s been revealed to the public (by none other than Lois Lane), he’s ditched the costume and cape for a t-shirt and jeans, and he’s been sacked (again) from The Daily Planet — which means that, on top of all of his other problems, he’s also broke.

Fan reaction to these no-doubt-temporary changes has been mixed at best, and while it’s tempting to brush the more vocal criticism off as the over-wrought bleating of a reactionary minority of the books’  readership, in fairness the complaints of some of the naysayers aren’t entirely without substance, simply because the creators working on the comics themselves seem a bit befuddled about what this “new direction” means, with Gene Luen Yang and John Romita, Jr. in the midst of a flat-out mess of an ongoing storyline in the pages of Superman, while Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder are knocking the ball out of the park over in Action by stripping Superman of his nationalistic, and even cosmic, trappings and returning him to his working-class roots as a guy who’s fighting not for the survival of the country, planet, or universe, but of his neighborhood. In fact, in a welcome development that’s decidedly more in touch with Siegel and Shuster’s original vision of the character than right-wing revisionist comics historians like Chuck Dixon would have you believe,  Pak and Kuder even have Superman taking on topical menaces like abusive cops and overly-zealous social media privacy-killers in much the same way as his creators showed him combating  genuine threats to the  average working people of their time including slum landlords, corrupt local politicos, Pinkertons, and strike-breaking scabs (you can take that “replacement worker” term and shove it up your ass, thanks very much). Heck, how many people even remember that Superman fought to save a wrongly-convicted man from the electric chair in one of his very first adventures?

Taking all these recent upheavals into account then, perhaps my original question (which, fair enough, I’ve already asked twice) has even greater import if we rephrase it as “if the point of Superman : American Alien is to offer yet another revisionist take on the hero’s beginnings, is now really the best time to do it?”

Having read the first issue a couple of times now, the only honest answer I can give is that the jury’s still out.

4903546-01-variant

Certainly I can’t fault the art in this comic at all — Nick Dragotta of East Of West illustrates the sweeping plains of Smallville with grace and elegance and has a real handle on the expressions and mannerisms of pre-teen Clark Kent and his parents, Jonathan and Martha. The book looks flat-out beautiful and colorist Alex Guimares is  an absolute goddamn star on the hues. Ryan Sook’s main cover (shown at the top of this review) is suitably familiar-yet-mysterious, and Dragott’s variant (shown directly above) is enough to make you go “awwwww.” So the issue looks great — but what about the story?

superman_american_alien

Truth be told, it’s a harmless enough, if ultimately disposable, “puff piece” about how Clark learned to stop floating around in the air and actually fly. It’s fine as far as these things do, but probably would have worked better as an eight-pager in the digital-first Adventures Of Superman series (which Landis has also written for). It feels pretty stretched-out here, though,  and while it hits some nice “character beats,” they’re too few and far between to carry a full-length, single-issue story. It’s at least respectful of its “source material,” though — until we get to the double-splash image of a cluttered desktop that appends the story and learn, via discarded correspondence, postcards, prescription bottles, certificates, and the like that “Pa” Kent was a successful hippie-turned- lawyer who inherited the farm in Smallville but never really wanted to even live there, much less work the place, while “Ma” was a veterinarian who pushed them to move there when she learned that she was pregnant, only to lose the baby in a car accident that left her a prozac-and zoloft-popping emotional wreck until that fateful day when they found a spaceship crashed out in their back 40 and decided to raise the infant inside it as their own.

Logically, I suppose, these developments make sense, and while I don’t think any of what we learn here diminishes the characters in any way, does it really add any depth or resonance to them, either? I guess we have six more issues to find that out.

AmericanAlien_2

And, I have to confess, despite my lukewarm reaction to this opening installment, that I’m mostly looking forward to what those issues have in store — but, again, that’s chiefly because of the art. And who wouldn’t be stoked for that with luminaries like Francis Manapul, Jae Lee, and Jock waiting in the wings? That’s a “murderer’s row” right there if ever there was one.

Landis, for his part,  says that each story will have a specific theme — one will be heartwarming, one will be what passes for “sexy” in a DC comic, one will be scary, and one I’m really not at all stoked for will be “ultraviolent,” but all in all, my gut feeling is that this series could very well end up coming across as a pretty scattershot affair if they do a fair amount of that aforementioned gap-filling but aren’t able to successfully convey why those gaps even need to be filled.

So, Max Landis, there’s your challenge in a nutshell, I guess.

Still, against my better judgment, I’m somewhat tempted to err on the side of cautious optimism here, at least for the time being. “American Alien” is a terrific unifying concept for a series like this, provided our scribe well and truly tackles the dichotomy in his own title, which underscores the fact (even if it’s a fictional one) that Superman is both the ultimate symbol of American square-jawed values and very much a stranger to not only our nation (come to think of it, if you wanna be absolutely technical about matters, he hails from that most unjustly-reviled group of all — so-called “illegal” immigrants) , but our world. If Landis can translate that idea into his scripts and find a way to explore it effectively, even if disjointedly, there may be more hope for this book than the evidence presented so far would seem to indicate.

superman_unbound_4114

Yup, the powers that be at Warner Brothers and DC are definitely breathing easier after Man Of Steel‘s runaway box office success, and one reason — among many — is because they’d sunk a lot of pre-release promotional muscle into it, from commercial tie-ins with everything from Norton anti-virus software (“be a hero by protecting your computer from the latest threats we probably invented right here in our office to give you a reason to need our product!”) to the National Guard (“be a hero by risking your ass in a war even its one-time supporters want over with!”), to “cross-pollinated” product like the new  Superman Unchained  monthly comic and the drearily-similarly-titled Superman : Unbound DC Universe direct-to-video animated feature, most copies of which were probably destined to end up in remainder bins both physical and electronic if Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan didn’t hit paydirt with their new celluloid take on Krypton’s last son.

And honestly, that’s probably where this thing belongs, because of all the “DCU” animated product — and this flick is, well and truly, product — that’s come out in the last X-number of years, this is probably the most lifeless, by-the-numbers affair of the bunch. The basics : Superman and yet another new-ish version of Supergirl fight a re-tooled iteration of Brainiac and in the end, they win.

Really. there’s not much more you need to know here. From what i’ve been able to glean from the slim perusals I’ve made in regards to this flick online, fans of the original comic (which I’ve never read) on which it’s based, by popular artist and writer Gary Frank, are pretty disappointed by this one because it essentially bears no resemblance to what transpires on the printed page, but I’ll tell ya what — it sure bears a mighty strong resemblance to any of the literally hundreds of unmemorable, third-tier Superman/Brainiac showdowns that weighed down the various Superman monthlies in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and probably well into the aughts. Once in a great while something slightly different or interesting might come along and throw a wrinkle in things, but by and large these were all pre-determined battles with pre-determined story “beats,” pre-determined characterization, and pre-determined outcomes. I’m not saying your average Superman writer or artist didn’t try to deliver solid work in these issues, just that the whole set-up was so formulaic that it literally didn’t matter how much effort went into many of these rags. Nothing was gonna make any difference.

Brainiac-Superman-Unbound-fix

Granted, this story features a  much visually cooler version of the “Big B” than we’ve seen in the past, but by and large that’s pretty emblematic of Superman : Unbound (don’t ask me where the colon in the title comes from since it’s nowhere to be found on the packaging, but pretty much every reference to this  movie you’ll find online,  and even its official IMDB entry itself, includes it, so we’ll play along) as a whole — all style ( and angular style at that) and no substance. Shit just kinda happens until the end credits roll.

As tends to be the standard M.O. with these things, director James Tucker at least has a flair for competently-staged animated battle sequences, and those are kinda neat, but you really do have to give a shit about the story in general to derive much excitement or suspense from those, and that’s a pretty tall order when your script is this rote and lifeless. The members of the  voice cast acquit themselves okay — Matt Bomer is perfectly sufficient, if unspectacular, as both Superman and Clark Kent, Castle stars Molly C. Quinn and Stana Katic do what they can with poorly-written takes on Supergirl and Lois Lane, respectively (Clark and Lois are bicker-buddies in this one and that’s about it), and John Noble by and large nails it as Brainiac, but still — there’s just not much here for even the most talented performers to test out their vocal chops on.

superman_unbound_3_20130422_1194353986

I guess all parties involved can lay claim to some small measure of “success” here given that I stayed awake until the end when that had been looking like an iffy proposition at best for awhile, but I ‘d be lying through my teeth if I said I was ever actually interested in the events playing out on my screen. I just kinda put up with it and kept hoping for a turn for the better that never came.

But hey, if you want to ignore me, it’s easy enough to grab Superman : Unchained on either DVD or Blu-Ray from Warner Premier. I got the DVD from Netflix, so I can’t speak to any particular technical specs or extras as far as the Blu-Ray is concerned, but as you’d expect for a brand new release on DVD, the widescreen picture and 5.1 sound were both absolutely pristine, and,  as is the case with this line in general, there were no legit “bonus” features of any sort included apart from the usual promo stuff for already-released and forthcoming DCU titles. “Nothing special” seems to be a running theme with Superman : Unbound.

superman-unbound

I guess the best I can say for this at the end of the day is that, hey,  it is what it is — but what it is ain’t all that great. Honestly, you’ve got better things to do with your time. At least I hope you do.

Superman-Vs-The-Elite

As far as these DC Universe animated flicks go, 2012’s Superman Vs. The Elite was a bit of an aberration for me since, unlike most of the others, I had no familiarity whatsoever with the comic story on which it was based. I was seeing it with “fresh eyes,” is you will,  and therefore  actually found myself to  be in the very same position most other viewers find themselves in with this stuff.

Unfortunately, the on-screen product probably wasn’t arresting enough to get me to go out and hunt down its printed-page counterpart (sorry, I know it’s bad form to give away the “final verdict” this early in a review but oh well, too late to turn back now), so for all I know maybe the issues of the pre-“New 52” Superman monthly comic this is taken from are the greatest thing since sliced bread (not that bread — sliced or otherwise — is all that exciting, but for some reason the cliches are flowing pretty easily today, please bear with me), but ya know — I kinda doubt it.

MV5BMjk2MjA0MDAwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzYyMDYwOA@@._V1._SX640_SY360_

Which isn’t to say, I guess, that Superman Vs. The Elite is all that bad — it’s just kind of a bog-standard 21st-century superhero mash-up with cardboard characterization and very little depth. The basic run-down here is that Supes (here voiced by George Newbern, who’s okay in the role but no James Denton by any stretch) is confronted by the arrival on the scene of a new team of uber-beings calling themselves “The Elite” (hence the name), who hail from various corners of the world and not only show themselves to be more than willing to cross lines “Big Blue” won’t in terms of killing their adversaries, but are flat-out eager to openly show their outright disdain for his, in their view, antiquated set of ethics and morals. In other words, it’s fairly typical “meet the ruthless new blood out to take your place” sorta stuff. Youth — they’ve always been bad, don’tcha know?

Director Michael Chang does a decent enough job with the battle sequences, which are numerous briskly-arriving, but if you’re looking for anything much beyond that, there really isn’t a tremendous amount on offer to sink your teeth into. Lois Lane as voiced by Pauley Perrette (talk about a too-clever-by-half name that puts even Parker Posey or Imogen Poots to shame) is little more than career-woman window dressing, and Robin Atkin Downes as head bad guy Manchester Black (speaking of too clever by half) is all sneer and no substance, so don’t go look for anything too dramatically gripping on the vocal front, either.

the-elite

Still, I guess I didn’t find this to be just over an hour of my life completely wasted — that’d be too harsh, and frankly I didn’t get the sense that anyone here was actually trying hard enough to come up with an actively lousy product. After all, that still requires effort.  This whole thing just sorta starts up, chugs along, and finishes its job on schedule. Don’t waste your time peeking around corners for surprise plot twists — there aren’t any — or hoping for complex moral arguments about the relative merits of doing things the Superman way or the Manchester Black way, since all that’s presented as a given, as well. But I guess if you’re in the mood for quick-n’-easy, shut-your-brain-off stuff, this’ll do in a pinch.

superman-vs-black

Superman Vs. The Elite is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Premier. I got the DVD from Netflix (yes, some of us still have a disc rental plan with them), and as usual it’s a bare-bones affair with the only “bonus” material being promo stuff for other “DCU” releases. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound mix were both pristine and unworthy of any criticism. I’m sure the Blu-Ray offers a few more goodies for the fans, but I’m not in any hurry to scrounge up a copy. All in all, this is strictly uninspired, by-the-numbers stuff, good for a single viewing if you’ve had a long day and just want to kick your feet up, but really that’s about it.