John Ridley continues his examination of America’s struggles through the lens of superheroes in his worthy sequel to ‘The American Way.’
If issue one of The American Way: Those Above and Those Below was about catching up with the survivors of the Civil Defense Corps and the Southern Defense Corps 10 years after the events of the original American Way series, the second issue is about pushing the characters forward. Now, The New American, Ole Miss and Amber Waves are grappling with the realities of the 1970s, which are remarkably as restless as the 1960s.
Here’s the synopsis of the issue from Vertigo Comics:
The conflict with political radicals that took one man’s life sits heavy with Jason. Accusations that, by continuing to be the superhero the American, he’s become a pawn for the government have taken on a new sharpness as the Civil Rights movement of the 1970s gains an added urgency. This call to do what’s right is one that his former ally Amber Waves has already answered by taking matters into her own hands and using her powers to protest injustice-and she’s already paying the deadly cost as the police and Federal agents attack her where she lives.
In Those Above And Those Below, the heroes are left with trying to figure out how to exist in a world without a government that supports them. Jason Fisher, the former New American, has killed a black criminal and now his own community hates him even more for being cooperative. Amber is a drug-addict leading an anti-government group and Ole Miss learns that she is going to die.
Throughout this book, writer John Ridley is showing that the struggles the country faced in 1970s are still relevant today, although we didn’t need a comic book to remind us of that. It also highlights how outsiders get pushed even further to the fringes, no matter what they try to do. But at this still-early juncture of the story, there isn’t much uniting the three threads. In the original series, the group of characters were united and still a team, but Those Above and Those Below is starting off fractured. Considering Ridley has spent more time lately working in a medium that welcomes fractured storytelling, there’s no reason to panic.
As for the art, Georges Jeanty continues to be excellent and it’s fascinating to contrast his work here to the art from 10 years ago in the original American Way. Here, Jeanty’s work captures the uneasiness of the era and the horrors our characters find themselves in. The violence is brutal and shocking, and adds to the cinematic feel Ridley’s script has.
The original American Way series remains relevant today, and this new series builds on Ridley’s use of those fictional characters to comment on our times. Perhaps if you don’t want politics from your comics, you can skip this but you’ll be missing out.