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Review: The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1

Ten short (from where I’m sitting, anyway) years ago John Ridley was far from a household name in the entertainment industry, yet alone an Oscar winner. That was well before 12 Years A Slave and American Crime, though, and now it’s a different story. A different world. Or is it?

Certainly Ridley returning to the only-slightly-fictionalized world of The American Way a decade after he and artist Georges Jeanty first created it is both a pleasant surprise as well as something of a coup for DC Comics‘ perpetually-struggling Vertigo label, but 10 years (or thereabouts) have passed in the four-color world, as well, and the opening salvo in the new six-part The American Way: Those Above And Those Below shows that they haven’t necessarily been kind to protagonist Jason Fisher, a.k.a. The New American, or his surviving former Civil Defense Corps teammates. As 1972 dawns, Fisher is cleaning up the Baltimore ghettos by means both direct and decidedly brutal, while Amber (Waves) Eaton has become a Weather Underground/SLA-style revolutionary, and Missy (Ole Miss) Devereaux, now married to the governor of Mississippi, is being maneuvered into political office in the same way George Wallace’s wife was when that miserable old racist bastard was term-limited out of office. We know the paths of these one-time “allies” in an officially-sanctioned US government PR sham operation are bound to converge, but how and why remains to be seen yet. This issue guarantees one thing, though — it will invariably be fascinating to see the chess pieces moved (or fall?) into place.

Tight, intricate plotting is a hallmark of all Ridley’s work, and if you haven’t read the first American Way series, rest easy: the basics of what happened in it are introduced into this one in a naturalistic, almost non-expository way that doesn’t hamper the forward momentum of the plot here in the least (and Vertigo has recently re-issued it in trade, as well, if you find yourself sufficiently motivated to see how it all began). The racial, economic, and social divisions explored with such candor last time out have clearly not improved and are certain to form this series’ thematic background, which should surprise no one, and while it can certainly be argued that Ridley is less than subtle in his proselytizing, it’s nevertheless effective and he at least uses his characters’ life circumstances to illustrate his points rather than taking the lazy and uninspired way out and simply utilizing them as authorial mouthpieces. The one potential “strike” against the relatively large ensemble cast on offer here is that Jason’s paralyzed Panther brother comes off as being more interesting and fully-rounded than does our titular hero himself, but hey — it’s part one, so we’ll see how all that goes.

Jeanty, for his part, absolutely nails it on the art in this book. Action scenes have a crisp and dynamic flow to them, lower-key “talky” segments remain visually interesting and employ inventive-without-being-ostentatious “camera” angles, subtleties of expression and body language are right on the money, and the period setting is evoked smoothly and authentically. Danny Miki‘s inks are faithful to the pencils in the best way, accentuating and enhancing detail without burying them under an extra layer of faux “style,” and Nick Filardi finishes everything off with expertly-chosen and highly atmospheric colors. “Cinematic” is not too shabby a shorthand description for this comic’s overall look, but it probably sells the effort by these firing-on-all-cylinders creators a bit short, truth be told. Maybe we should call it “Oscar-level cinematic” or something?

Still, it’s not a completely flawless effort : the decision (whether called for in the script or “ad-libbed” by the art team I have no idea) to slip a John Constantine doppleganger into the works for a panel threatens to take readers out of the book for a moment, it’s true, but what the hell — it’s high time he migrated back over to Vertigo by any means necessary, and if that’s the only gripe I’ve got, it’s a pretty small one. Almost seems petty to even bring it up. Still, in a comic that’s all about big (and, sadly, eternal) questions about race and class, a cheap (if admittedly fun) little aside like that stands out like a sore thumb and really does disrupt the rhythm of the storytelling, if only briefly.

Apart from that and the drug-pusher villain that Jason is out to take down being a bit too broad of a caricature (he’s also a cold-blooded killer who flat-out enjoys the taking of human life rather than viewing it as unfortunate reality of his chosen “profession”), though, there is very nearly flawless comic-booking going on in the pages of The American Way: Those Above And Those Below #1. Topical and provocative without being preachy, accessible to new readers without resorting to “info-dump” condescension, and smart without feeling the need to call attention to its own intelligence, this is supremely effective, thought-provoking, resonant stuff. I’m down for the whole ride — and I respectfully suggest that you should be, as well.

Story: John Ridley  Art: Georges Jeanty and Danny Miki
Story: 8.0  Art: 9.0  Overall: 8.5  Recommendation: Buy

Review: The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1

It’s been a decade since the Civil Defense Corps was exposed as a fraud created by the U.S. Government for propaganda purposes. While most of the heroes who survived the catastrophe have retired or disappeared, the New American still carries on, trying to keep communities safe amid the social turmoil of the 1970s. But with the nation split in two over civil rights and the changing political landscape, this isn’t easy. Some of the American’s former colleagues are on opposite sides of the law: Amber Waves joined a group of domestic terrorists, while Missy, a.k.a. Ole Miss, has thrown her hat into the political ring. As the ground shifts beneath his feet and new threats arise, which side will the American choose?

Unfortunately for me, I never read the original American Way series (though will be rectifying that soon). Even without that under my belt The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1 is a perfect introduction to the world dreamed up by writer John Ridley and artist Georges Jeanty.

Ridley is one of my favorite creators delivering thought provoking entertainment and some of the most layered and relevant television in recent years with American Crime. So, since the announcement of this series I’ve been awaiting its release to see what Ridley might deliver and much like that groundbreaking television work, the first issue lays the groundwork for what feels like what will be a comic series that will challenge the reader to not just be entertained but also think.

The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1 moves the original story forward in history, factoring in how real-life events might be affected by the presence of superheroes, and how those events change the heroes in turn. Taking place in 1972 the time in American history is just as important as the characters. History is a character here and understanding where the United States was at the time helps. Weaving entertainment with real history and socio-political issues is something that Ridley excels at and this first issue is no exception.

As I said, I never read the original series, but this first issue is a perfect primer to catch up and learn about this world that I want to see more of. The characters are quickly and interestingly introduced enough that you can figure out personalities, backgrounds, and issues, and even the major events of the previous volume are touched upon enough that you feel like you have enough to work with. Those that have read the previous volume will of course have more to work with than newcomers but being new to this world doesn’t put you at a disadvantage.

Artist Georges Jeanty along with inker Danny Miki and colorist Nick Filardi delivers the art that matches Ridley’s fantsastic story. The trio are able to deliver a world where superheroes fit in, our world, just with people with powers. There’s a grittiness to it all and the use of coloring helps set the mood and action for each scene. Letterer Travis Lanham also helps set the mood with slight changes to the lettering that helps bring out the personality of each character.

An amazing beginning that has me excited to see what Ridley will deliver in the subsequent issues and a set up that feels like we’ll get the depth he’s delivered elsewhere in comic form. Absolutely amazing on every level and it matches my anticipation in every way.

Story: John Ridley Art: Georges Jeanty
Ink: Danny Miki Color: Nick Filardi Letters: Travis Lanham

Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

John Ridley Returns to Comics with The American Way Sequel from Vertigo

Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley returns to comic books with The American Way: Those Above and Those Below, uniting with his series artist Georges Jeanty. The six-issue monthly miniseries hits shelves in summer 2017 and will be published under DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint. Staying true to The American Way, this sequel will explore historically significant sociopolitical and racial themes still relevant today. The story picks up in 1972, the year of Richard Nixon, Angela Davis, Watergate and the Weather Underground, when social and political tensions in America were at an all-time high.

The American Way: Those Above and Those Below tracks an alternate timeline in which costumed superheroes—once paragons of the Establishment—fall into disgrace during the turmoil of the 1960s following the Kennedy assassination, the Kent State shootings and the public’s growing cynicism over the lies of its leaders. Enter Jason Fisher, once known as the New American—one of the few “heroes” who still operates openly after the disbanding of the Civil Defense Corps (CDC), the former governmental agency that oversaw America’s greatest propaganda tool: its costumed heroes. Jason takes on a quixotic mission, championing the disenfranchised in inner-city Baltimore.  Jason, however, finds both resistance and outright hostility from the very people he is trying to help, who see him not as a savior, but as a tool of the heavy handed police force that targets America’s young, black men through racial profiling.  Jason’s dilemma: to uphold the law, or to serve the people.  In 1972, you couldn’t always do both.

A new edition of The American Way will be released to coincide with the debut of The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1.