I love comics that take on big themes, and I love comics that use super-heroes as backdrop for realistic stories. For that reason I love comics like Astro City and Gotham Central and Watchmen and Hard Time, comics that show readers the effect that super-powers have on ordinary people. It’s fascinating to imagine how the presence of heroes would have affected the nature of the Vietnam War, or how they affect the lives of ordinary people who don’t have powers.
For that reason, I’ve wanted to love American Way. John Ridley obviously has ambitions of creating something special by putting super-heroes at the forefront of America in the 1960s, but the story doesn’t quite come off with the energy and drama that Ridley is obviously striving for. The book has the feeling of ambitions that are just a bit beyond the writer’s reach, scenes that are intriguing but don’t quite have the power that Ridley seems to want them to have.
For instance, the centerpiece of this issue is the depiction of the hero called the Wanderer. Unlike all the other members of the American Way, the Wanderer has absolutely no super-powers. He’s an ordinary man who dresses like a space alien with great powers, but he has none of his own. And that stress drives him crazy, forcing the Wanderer to slaughter his wife and kids in a fit of rage. The Wanderer’s insanity is supposed to be chilling, but it’s really just weird, and the whole scene is undercut because it’s hard to understand where exactly the resulting battle takes place. Does his family live inside the Washington Monument? If so, why isn’t that fact brought out previously in the comic? And where does the rest of the team come from to fight him? The scene leaves too many open questions in the mind of the reader to allow him or her to focus on the action.
Similarly, the revelation that new team member New American is black should be a shock, a cause of great conflict within the team when it’s revealed on the last page. But the shock on the looks of his teammates just doesn’t ring true to me. Why would anyone care the color of the skin of a man with whom these heroes have risked their lives? The fact that nobody even guesses his race, or pushes New American to remove his mask, feels very odd. So, too, does the shock. It’s hard to believe that even forty years ago people would be shocked by having a black super-hero.
Georges Jeanty’s art is okay on the series, but could use more polish. In the hands of a more accomplished artist, the story’s setting would come to life more, giving the series a real period feel rather than simply drawing a few old cars and old clothes.
I give Ridley high marks for his ambitions, but the comic doesn’t quite fulfill them.