22 Jul 2010

From The Vaults: THE AMERICAN WAY #1-8

While we spend a great deal of time engrossed in the current crop of comic books, let us not forget those fantastic tales from the past that still sit in amongst our collections but are always worth revisiting...

Writer: John Ridley
Art: Georges Jeanty & Karl Story

By Matt T


Novelist, screenwriter and one-time Authority author John Ridley launched the miniseries The American Way with artist Georges Jeanty in tow back in 2006 with a simple theme: what if the greatest superheroes in the world were frauds? Or, more accurately, what if they were actors simply playing a role to dupe the country into thinking they were safe?

Through the eyes of a PR rep we get to see the lies that formed the foundation of early-Sixties superhero team the Civil Defence Corps, with villains also on the payroll and most battles little more than choreographed pantomime. Tasked with adding some new ideas to the fa├žade, things quickly unravel as a new hero is unveiled that both the public, and the rest of the team, aren't ready to embrace.

Setting his book during the early‘60s allows Ridley to use both the Cuban missile crisis and the rising racial tensions as a backdrop, and the latter theme is especially effective when the newest edition to the CDC is revealed to be black in the third issue. The New American rubs the Southern members of the team the wrong way, prompting a split that forces the two sides to progress towards a huge punch up. What gives this miniseries a different spin is the concentration on the human side of the heroes, and the manner in which they’re feared as much as worshipped. The team’s 'handlers' are utterly unaware of how powerful Superman facsimile Pharos is, but are reliant on him to maintain the act. When a real threat is released by the government to reassure the public, the CDC fail miserably at being actual heroes, forcing them to become the icons they've always pretended to be.

There are a number of sub-plots running alongside the main story, including one that sees the New American torn between making a difference by saving lives and working for the people he sees as his oppressors. The reaction to his unwitting unveiling ranges from passive disbelief to outright aggression, but is well written enough not to seem overtly extreme or unbelievable.

The 'eyes of the reader' belong to PR man Wes Chatham who attempts to not only keep his job, but massage superheroic egos while continuing to lie convincingly to his wife. Things go horribly wrong quickly for Wes when the symbol of America's faith, Old Glory, is killed during a supposedly routine ass-whuppin' on his first day. This prompts Wes to bring in the space-themed New American, who unwittingly screws things up even further. To reassure the public the team is still on top of things after one of their own turns on them, a supervillain - supposedly under orders to commit a little mayhem then be captured - does his job a little too well, murdering a bus full of people including the New American's brother. Hellbent, the supervillain in question, then proceeds to tear the remainder of the team apart, and is then subsequently dealt with in terminal fashion by the rage-fuelled New American.

Needless to say, the Southern side of the CDC don't take this too well, and 'heroes' evolve into heroes, and others just plain evolve. Although the setting and themes of the book aren't as thoroughly explored as they could be, with the racial tension being used as little more than an excuse to progress the team to self destruct, Ridley keeps The American Way hurtling along at a fair old pace. On only a few occasions do the heroes seem like ripoffs of more recognisable characters, and most get at least a few panels to establish a personality. There are a few too many faces and names at times, with a couple appearing to be little more than a method to keeping the South and East Coast factions equally balanced, but anchoring the book around ad man Chatham is a masterstroke. Not being an overly moral or preachy character makes the mini a far stronger proposition allowing us to see the shades of grey that colour the faux-heroes. The concept probably wouldn’t work with an overly honest central figure so instead we see a man torn apart by the lie he's enforcing, especially when his superiors seem willing to cause murder and chaos just to keep the fantasy in place.

The American Way cracking series that keeps the twists and turns coming, and retains its freshness thanks to the lack of diluting sequels.

1 comment:

Matt Clark said...

Surely Georges Jeanty is worth a little more than a cursory mention, since his pencils (along with the reliable assistance of Karl Story on inks)provide just enough of a retro sensibility to the otherwise thoroughly modern visuals to evoke the era effectively.