The American Way v2 Review

By | Wednesday, December 23, 2020 Leave a Comment
The American Way: Those Above and Those Below #1
I could swear I wrote a review of John Ridley's and Georges Jeanty's The American Way at some point, but I'll be damned if I can find it. The original series came out in 2006 and looked at how the introduction of a real life Black superhero might have been received in the 1960s. (In short, not well.) I picked up as a paperback collection the following year, and quite liked it. But somehow I missed the follow-up series that came out in 2017: The American Way: Those Above and Those Below and only discovered that a couple weeks ago.

This series takes place in 1972. With the exception of Jason Fisher, all of the heroes from the first series have either died or hung up their costumes, and they've all since taken different paths in reaction to the events of the first series. Much of the story's focus bounces between Jason (who's using his powers to take down local drug dealers and the like), Amber (who now runs an underground group trying to disrupt corrupt government operations), and Missy (who has married the Governor of Mississippi, and is now being asked to run for office herself). Amber's tactics inspire newer super-powered individuals to try to assassinate Missy (whose nakedly racist platform has already caused deep social divisions) and Jason is brought in to try to help apprehend (i.e. murder) Amber.

The story follows the premise of the original pretty well. Many of the same basic social conflicts are in play here, but it's now within the context of the early 1970s. Different values, different norms, etc. Much of the veil of Kennedy-era optimism that permeated the early 1960s has given way to a pervasive malaise brought on by Vietnam, the energy crisis, and whatever else.

Interestingly, though, the book feels very current despite being very clearly set in 1972. Much of Missy's polticial rhetoric references how they're not preaching hate; they're just trying to celebrate their heritage. Jason is often called a sellout by residents because the criminals he takes down are more often Black than white, and he's not being the "right kind" of Black man. Amber talks about trying to "demonstrate the failures of the system" and "disrupt the infrastructure." I had to double-check more than once that the story hadn't jumped forward to the 21st cenutry at any point.

The message, much like I mentioned in my review of White earlier this week, is that this shit is not new. The book ends with Missy encouraging Jason to teach heroism to the next generation, as he moves his fight more direcly towards misogynists and racists. The point of the series, if you're looking for one, is that classic Superman tagline about the "never-ending struggle for truth, justice, and the American way" is only partially true -- it is indeed a never-ending struggle for truth and justice, but that's against the American way.
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