When it comes to comic books, there are many that still have an archaic view on the genre. The old view is comics are full of brightly clad heroes slugging it out with dark and brooding villains. The truth is, comic book stories often have many layers and can take on heavy topics. That is exactly what The American Way: Those Above and Those Below does.
The story by John Ridley is set in an alternate timeline in the early 70s. Those Above and Those Below takes place ten years after the original volume. A team of superheroes had been created by the government, but it turned out to be a scam and conspiracy. The truth, along with the tension in the nation following Kennedy’s assassination brought even more turmoil to the country.
In 1972, the scene is a powder keg. The American people are on edge because of the government’s lies. Riots have broken out in communities and the fight for civil rights are at the center. The surviving super-powered teammates are now fighting different battles on separate fronts.
Jason Fisher, formerly known as the New American, continues his fight in inner-city Baltimore but is finding resistance among the community he’s trying to protect. Missy Deveraux, once known as Ole Miss, continues fighting for the South by entering the political arena. Amber Waves has become a leader in a domestic terrorist cell and has turned to drugs to deal with the loss she’s suffered. These characters will soon find themselves reunited with drastic results.
The racial divide and tension seen throughout the story may be depicting the period in the past, but it also strongly reflects many of today’s problems. We usually turn to comics as an “escape” from reality, but seeing the events unfold was a captivating experience. With heavy topics, at no time does ever come across as forced or preachy. Reading in the trade format allows you to binge through the entire volume.
With art by Georges Jeanty (who also provided the art in the original series) and colors by Nick Filardi are a perfect fit for the story. Jeanty is able to capture a superhero vibe required for moments in the story but also keeps the characters and scenes grounded in reality. The characters each have a distinct feel to them, and each scene fleshes out the world, giving it a large and diverse playing field.
Here’s a confession–I never read the original 8-issue story. Somehow I missed out on it and forgot it existed. Reading through this story, it was easy to jump into the new world and get to know the characters as they were presented. I was fascinated by the glimpses into their backstory and felt there should have been a story dealing with their pasts. That’s when I realized that story was told back in 2006. This goes to show that this volume is easily accessible regardless if you read the original volume or not.
The American Way: Those Above and Those Below is a comic with an important message and a strong story. Comic book readers sometimes tend to stick with reading the same familiar characters for various reasons. Whether you’ve read the original story or not, there is a lot to enjoy here.
If that wasn’t enough of a reason to read the trade, it was recently announced that Ridley is partnering with Jason Blum (and his Blumhouse productions) to adapt the story and comic universe. Ridley, no stranger to the world of film, will write and direct as Blumhouse fast-tracks the movie based on this second volume.
The American Way: Those Above and Those Below is now on sale and comic shops and bookstores.