Back in 2006, writer John Ridley created a comic book series called The American Way that focused on a alternate timeline in America where costumed superheroes were created by the government to bring peace during a time of civil unrest in the 1960’s, especially with the trouble that came following the Kennedy assassination. Now after winning an Oscar for screenwriting 12 Years a Slave and creating the show American Crime on TV, he’s back with a follow up collection of six more issues into this series titled The American Way: Those Above and Those Below. If you enjoyed the first collection or love reading deep and interesting comic books that focus more on social injustice, strife, and other hot topics that will have you comparing this book to most of the same things happening in the world today, you’ll want to see what this way is all about.
Taking place a decade after the superhero group known as the Civil Defense Corps was found out to be a fraud created by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes, Jason Fisher who was once known as the super strong, jetpack-toting, and invulnerable black superhero named New American is still doing his best to fight crime and keep his city safe despite being labeled as an “Uncle Tom” by his fellow people for trying to stop a black extremist with the aid of white police and soldiers. Things are made even more complicated due to the social turmoil of the 1970s as civil rights for both whites and blacks are being tossed out the window as no one is safe when it comes to the government hunting down other super-powered people that aren’t working with or for them.
While Jason is busy on that side of things, the book also goes into the lives of some of the other CDC members such as Amber who was known as the hero Amber Waves that leads a group of domestic terrorists while also battling personal demons with the use of heroin, there’s also Missy who was known as the hero Ole Miss who finds out she has a terminal illness and has to decide if she wants to give up or jump into politics and become a hero in the political realm. These heroes will eventually cross paths once again as the government and social strife pushes all of them to second guess themselves and each other as they fight for what they believe in.
I haven’t read anything like this comic book series and I have to say that I enjoyed how John Ridley made the story focus more on political and social turmoil instead of crafting a typical superhero action story. Those easily offended by racial slurs will want to steer clear, as one part made me both chuckle and feel somber at the same time when Jason is fighting a black extremist guy and a white U.S. soldier rushes in with a rifle pointed at them screaming “Hands up, Nigger!” as Jason thinks to himself “I don’t know which one of us this cracker’s talking to.” while also making a split-second decision to save the racist soldier’s life when he sees the extremist about to set off some claymore mines. It’s moments like this that will make you pause and see how Ridley is making smart use of the current social and political turmoil both here in the states and abroad to make this story feel all too real.
I could go further into the story and how it really pushes a lot of boundaries most consider taboo, but The American Way: Those Above and Those Below is really something you need to experience for yourself. The artwork is great by the way, but it’s the hard-hitting story of social unrest and racism that really makes this collection stand out. If you’re not easily offended, enjoy alternate history, or just like reading good stories, this series leads the way above and beyond typical comic book fare.