John Ridley, who won an Oscar for writing 12 Years a Slave and acts as executive producer of the anthology series American Crime, will revisit the graphic novel space 10 years after debuting his first original comic book series, The American Way.
Called The American Way: Those Above and Those Below, the sequel will revisit historically significant sociopolitical and racial themes that made the first series — set during the Kennedy Presidency and the Cold War — such a groundbreaking venture. The six-issue monthly miniseries is set to hit shelves in summer 2017 and will be published under DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint.
The American Way: Those Above and Those Below, which reunites Ridley with the series artist Georges Jeanty, will jump ahead in history to focus on the events of 1972, a time of Richard Nixon, Angela Davis, Watergate, the Weather Underground, and the winding down of the Vietnam War.
“The first series was set before my time,” says Ridley, 50. “Now I feel like I’m moving into territory that was very impactful to me as a young person.”
The first set of comics tracked a group of “super-heroes” created by the U.S. Government’s marketing department to fight evil aliens and communism — while also distracting the public from real issues happening in their society. Flash forward 10 years, and the costumed heroes have fallen into disgrace following the Kennedy assassination and the public’s growing cynicism toward its leadership. Yet one hero, Jason Fisher, once known as the New American, still operates openly and takes on a mission to champion the disenfranchised in inner-city Baltimore.
To Ridley, the comic is an opportunity to explore how things have changed — for the worse — in the decade since he first explored these characters.
“Part of what I want to examine are things that haven’t changed in the last decade. When we went into The American Way in 2007, it was before a brief era in American politics and American society where we aspired to be better, where we wanted to bring out the best in all of us and see our society move forward,” says Ridley. “In that 10-year space, we as a society have regressed in terms of how we frame ourselves, how we look at ourselves, how we believe in ourselves. We talk all the time about American exceptionalism. That’s great phraseology, it’s not just a birthright. We have to work towards it every day, and that’s where we left The American Way. It was an idea that we could set up a group of individuals to be exceptional for us. That didn’t work out in story and I think over the last ten years it didn’t work. Do we give into the worst of us or do we recognize that there is more inside of us that is greater, irrespective of extraordinary powers or abilities, just as people?”
After spending the last decade on film and TV sets, Ridley is looking forward to working on the page, where physical budgets will not constrain his ability to create. “That’s what excites me, the challenge of being limited only by my imagination,” he says.
Just like the original, Ridley intends to focus The American Way on the fraught race relations of the era, which are still relevant today. “I want to have conversations, and I really mean conversations, about race,” he says. “We are going to see it in the characters who pre-existed in the previous edition of The American Way and new characters who are going to be joining our stable of heroes.”
But most of all, Ridley wants to write stories for his two teenage boys to enjoy. “As wonderful as 12 Years a Slave and American Crime are, they want to know where the superheroes are,” he says. “I want to tell stories that reflect in my kids, and a lot of kids like them, heroes who look like them and who have similar backgrounds to them.”