Brad's Reviews > The American Way

The American Way by John Ridley
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's review
Jul 28, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: comics, historical-fiction
Recommended for: people who want social commentary with their superheroes
Read in July, 2007

The American Way is a great idea for a comic story that could’ve been an amazing book, but certain scenes hold it back from being ranked among the other good superhero books like Watchmen and Powers.
The American Way follows government-sponsored superheroes (under the decidedly unheroic but bureaucratic name the Civil Defense Corps) in the early 1960s (just as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were resuscitating the superhero genre) that has two big problems: they’re all white, and they’re all a sham. The Corps, especially its Southern Defense Corps branch, is as racist as many Americans were during the 1960s, and all the Corps big battles are government-staged theatre to placate the population fearful of the Red Scare. The book follows a former advertising executive who joins the CDC and tries to integrate the group while maintaining their secret.
When I looked at the American Way trade paperback, I quickly noticed that the first half of the pages have white edges and gutters, while the second half is black. That does reflect a darker turn in the book’s plot, as the villainous Hellbent and virulent racism rips the teams apart.
Both of the book’s twists—the racism and the fake battles—are very excellent ideas. Some of the Southern heroes (which also includes a sage, still-living Mark Twain) spew N-words and other epithets without conscience in ways that you don’t see in early Spider-Man comics, but were common in the South. And if a government were to create superheroes, why not use them as propaganda?
While the ideas are great, the execution falls flat in places. Writer John Ridley makes some crucial scenes (like the Wanderer going crazy) a bit too confusing. Throughout the book, he packs in a few too many characters, and as a result some are merely analogues of DC or Marvel characters with similar powers. Ole Miss is an intriguing character, as is the racist Human Torch-esque Southern Cross, but I barely picked up any character from X-15 or the East Coast Intellectual. Georges Jeanty does a serviceable job on the book, though none of his character designs are that iconic.
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