Ten years after The American Way, writer John Ridley and artist Georges Jeanty return to their politically-charged universe with The American Way: Those Above And Those Below. The first issue, “Living In The Age of Me,” is about catching up with the main characters of the original series and seeing how they have adjusted to the 1970s.
The original series was published by DC Comics’ Wildstorm Signature imprint in 2006, but the new series is published under the Vertigo banner. Ridley, who has since gone on to win an Oscar for writing 12 Years A Slave and created ABC’s American Crime, created an alternate universe where the U.S. government created superheroes, and the villains to fight them, in the 1940s. In 1962, the government added the first African American superhero, New American. This was all for propaganda purposes, with the true intent of the “Civil Defense Corp” and the “Southern Defense Corps” revealed as frauds.
Those Above And Those Below picks up 10 years after that, finding the characters in the 1970s, a world that has largely rejected the idea of heroes. Ridley has crafted a group of characters who might be fictional, but fit perfectly in the real-world landscape of America at the time. But the characters aren’t just commenting on the 1970s–they are also a reflection of the struggles America faces today, from the relationship between police officers and the African American community to the debate over the removal of Confederate monuments.
Jason Fisher is the only character in the first issue still trying to be a hero, but he’s really seen as a villain in his own community because he’s helping police officers. Missy Deveraux, a.k.a. Ole Miss, is being recruited by a political boss to be a puppet so her husband can remain governor. Amber Eaton is left to use her powers to protest the government, while dealing with her drug addiction demons.
Jeanty’s art is filled with action and feels authentic for the time period. Each character lives in his or her own world so far, and the difference between Jason’s grimy city and Ole Miss’ bright Mississippi life is striking.
Ridley hasn’t introduced a plot point that’s going to bring these characters back together in Those Above And Those Below yet, but he doesn’t have to. It’s interesting to see these characters try to fit into a world that’s rejected them. They try to do what they feel is right. But it’s hard to do that, even with superpowers. If you’ve ever wanted to know how superheroes would fit in the real world, Ridley’s The American Way shows you.