Depressingly, The American Way: Those Above and Below shows just how little we’ve come since the 1970s. While we exceed in scientific or technological fields, humans are still pricks to one and other. Why? Because of different genders and skin colour? Some 45 years after the book takes place, the subject matter feels alarmingly familiar. These problems should be confined to history and that’s what annoys me.
John Ridley nails what comic books are all about. He shows that superheroes aren’t all powers and saving the day. They have conflict. They question authority, and when it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got powers or not. It’s the people who are inspired that delivers change.
What’s it about?
The American Way: Those Above and Below is a story of 4 semi-retired superheroes caught up in the middle of America’s equality issues in the early 1970s. Protests in the streets at injustices within minority sections, police brutality, and friends on opposite sides of the argument are thrust into 140+ pages.
You have people who believe in equality and are willing to take violent action to be heard. On the other side, you have someone who wants to reintroduce slavery. Then there’s the man in the middle who is trying to do his best to keep both sides from killing each other.
This is where The American Way comes alive. Rather than pushing one agenda, John Ridley balances all sides of the argument, showing that while each side has valid points, it’s the people in the middle that pay the price. Georges Jeanty and the art team do a bang-up job of illustrating how payments are made. The comic is brutal. No punches were pulled. When you have a story that revolves around violence, it needs to be shown. It’s not over the top, or gratuitous for the sake of it. It was a fact of life at the time.
Parallels between The American Way and Watchmen can easily be made. Both books tell the story of a world on the brink of collapse and not even the people with powers can make a change. That fact still doesn’t harm either book. Pointing out our flaws as a race of people is significant in attempting to make changes. It’s a story that needs to be told until there’s no need for it any more.