Writer: Max Landis
Artist: Jae Lee
Publisher: DC Comics
As a critic with an obligation to produce a thoughtful review of American Alien: Owl, I find this fourth installment in Clark Kent’s journey toward self-actualization faulty. It drags the focus away from Kent and onto potentially superfluous supporting cast members. Max Landis’ writing defaults to telling at the expense of showing; the book hinges on newly introduced characters explaining their motivations and perspectives to Kent, who mostly serves as a proxy for the reader. Those seeking to dismiss American Alien as a hollow testament to the entitlement and self-indulgence of a millennial screenwriter can point to Owl and say, “Hey, see, I was right!”
But it’s also a totally fun read, so as a Superman fan obligated to seek out Superman-related enjoyment, I find Owl worthy of a hearty thumbs up.
Newly relocated to Metropolis, Kent interviews the eventual Green Arrow and his old buddy from the cruise ship fiasco in issue #3 on his first semi-official Daily Planet assignment. The Planet sends hopeful young journos selected into its Charlton Memorial Laureate Program to cover the Cerberus Summit—purportedly a meeting of the three most powerful young businessmen in America, or a big puffy publicity stunt orchestrated on behalf of Queen Consolidated, Lexcorp and Wayne Industries, depending on whom you ask.
Via his pre-established rapport with Ollie, Kent falls assbackwards into not one, but ultimately three, big-get interviews. In a series advertised as a close-read of what makes Clark Kent Clark Kent, all we learn about him from Owl is that he’s an extremely lucky and sort of crappy reporter. I almost would’ve rather read a story about Lois Lane jumping through whatever hoops she had to jump through to get the enigmatic and reclusive Bruce Wayne talking—unless Wayne hoped to segue the conversation into her pants, which would’ve been disheartening.
Kent’s Cerberus Summit interviews—though eloquent and insightful—would be worthless if they didn’t lead to a rattler of a twist ending. Within the non-canonical continuity of American Alien, Owl marks Supes’ first encounter with four individuals set to play significant roles in his future. When the last one makes their entrance, it’s a genuine “Whoa, Dude!”-inducer, despite how easily Superman meeting This Character could, considering the present-day world in which we reside, register as a “meh” on the kicker-scale. It’s a clever swerve, dammit!
Under normal circumstances, the guy who drew the deep fantasy Dark Tower comics might not pop to mind as the first artist to call for a comic that’s 90 percent business-casual-attired folks talking to one another. But the mundanity of most panels just winds up better emphasizing the otherworldly scenes. Especially on the final page, Jae Lee’s pedigree in the fantastic does “Owl” much service.