Set in the 1970’s in an alternate timeline where superheroes have gone underground after an incident 10 years prior, John Ridley’s (12 Years a Slave) graphic novel The American Way: Those Above and Below takes a look at American society through the lens of a superhero tale. Juggling racism, social and economic inequality, patriotism and the use of propaganda Ridley’s tale is a harsh commentary on our own times.
One of the hardest things in life is realizing that the things around you aren’t what they seem. This stark reality is faced by many of the surviving superheroes who years later recognize that they were used as pawns by the government to push its own agenda. Disillusioned, they try to make a difference in their own way but the results are messy. Jason Fisher fights crime in the inner city of Baltimore and in spite of his best intentions, runs afoul of the community he’s trying to save. Amber Eaton fights against the system by leading a radical group known as the People’s Liberation Front and Missy Deveraux, must decide whether a life in politics is the best way to make a difference after her years as Ole Miss in the Southern Defense Corps. With civil unrest threatening to boil over former allies choose sides in a bid to make things right and to make sure that what they were originally fighting for wasn’t in vain.
The American Way: Those Above and Below combines interesting and complex characters in a richly layered narrative with a few twists that keeps the reader invested in the outcome. Ridley’s tale highlights a polarized society and its mistrust of government that has echoes in modern society. The artwork compliments the story with Georges Jeanty’s pencils and storytelling skillfully reflecting the saga’s time period. Good comics provoke thought and The American Way: Those Above and Below certainly does that.