The American Way
|The American Way|
The American Way #1, artist Georges Jeanty
|Publication date(s)||April–September 2006|
|No. of issues||8|
|Main character(s)||New American
|Creative team as of April 2006|
|Created by||John Ridley
|Written by||John Ridley|
|Colorist(s)||Mayor & Rench of WSFX|
|The American Way||ISBN 1-4012-1256-5|
The American Way is an eight-issue American comic book limited series produced under DC Comics' Wildstorm Signature imprint. The series debuted in April 2006, and was created by John Ridley and Georges Jeanty.
In an interview with National Public Radio, John Ridley stated that the inspiration for this story came from President Lyndon Johnson's wish to include an African-American in the Mercury Space Program.
The series represented a skewed parallel history of America, where the United States Government created its own super powered "heroes" and "villains". In the early 1940s, the United States government hatched a plan to create the Civil Defense Corps: a group of supposed "super-heroes" who could fight alien invasions, evil super-powered beings, and communism, all in front of an adoring public, courtesy of television. When an African-American hero named the New American is inserted into 1962's premier superteam, the turmoil begins.
The first issue introduces the Civil Defense Corps, a team of superheroes, and their handlers the FDAA (Federal Disaster Assistance Administration). The FDAA stages showdowns between "superheroes" and "supervillains", who are in reality little more than superpowered actors that front for the public. The FDAA is put on the spot when Old Glory, a hero representing the epitome of American ideals, dies of a heart attack during a staged superhero battle.
The New American is introduced in the next issue. Offered as Old Glory's replacement, the New American is secretly an African American man named Jason Fisher. Jason was selected by the FDAA to undergo gene therapy treatments that gave him superstrength and invulnerability, but with a built in weakness: Jason had the pain receptors of a normal human, so that if he was subjected to enough pain he would die even if his skin remained unbroken. The New American is outfitted in a helmet and a pseudo Astronaut's uniform, because 1962 America was depicted in the series as not ready for a minority superhero.
The New American is accidentally "unmasked" at the end of the third issue, while battling a crazed Wanderer.
In the fourth issue the FDAA unleash Hellbent, a homicidal and sociopathic supervillain, to draw attention away from the racial strife caused by the New American's unmasking. The team is split in half along racial views with the southern heroes leaving in disgust, forming the Southern Defense Corps. Most of the rest go to confront Hellbent, who has slaughtered a busload of people on their way to a civil rights rally. They fail miserably, with CDC members Freya being decapitated, Pharos wounded, and The Secret Agent losing a hand. The New American's brother was among the wounded survivors.
The fifth issue shows that Jason's brother was the sole survivor of Hellbent's slaughter but was tortured and left paralyzed. Members continue to debate recent events. The New American escapes to seek revenge on Hellbent after battling his teammates, thus defying the order not to cross the Mason-Dixon line. After this is found out by the SDU they go on to try to track him down. The New American eventually tracks down Helbent in a secluded cabin in the forest. After a heated battle, Hellbent asks New American to "join him" and kill him. To goad him further, Hellbent reveals that he had raped his brother. This leads Jason to kill him in anger.
In the following issues, the SDC—enraged over him killing "a white" (Hellbent)-hunt Jason until he becomes too exhausted to run. They then attempt to kill him in the street, but are stopped and fought by the CDC. Finally, Wesley "Wes" Chatham, a CDC handler and the main character, is convinced he must trick the CDC/SDC into stranding themselves in a remote area and killing them with nuclear missiles. This plan, however, was designed by Chet, another CDC handler, who reveals himself to be a Hellbent disciple. Since Chet "gets off on killing," he's redirected three of the missiles toward major USA cities. Wes and the East Coast Intellectual realize this in the nick of time and help thwart the plan. The heroes, brought to a truce by Jason, stop most of the missiles.
Civil Defense Corps
- Amber Waves - Can wield energy that allows her to generate forcefields and other shapes similar to Green Lantern, and fly. On-off girlfriend of Muscle Shoals from the Southern Defense Corps. Her name comes directly from the lyrics to America the Beautiful. She becomes oddly temperamental and aggressive following Freya's death.
- East Coast Intellectual - An old-school pulp character, based on the supergenius archetype embodied by characters like Doc Savage, and modern characters like Will Magnus and Reed Richards. His power is super intelligence.
- Freya - A self-proclaimed Asgardian goddess and Thor analog, who was decapitated by the villain Hellbent with her own "magic axe". Her sister Skadi, presumably also an Asgardian, shows up for her funeral in the next issue. In actual Norse mythology Skadi was married to Njord and was therefore stepmother to Freya and her brother Frey. Freya's true mother is never named.
- New American - Jason Fisher, an African-American, is given invulnerability and superstrength by the FDAA. His invulnerability comes with a catch: the project left him with the pain receptors of a normal human. According to FDAA scientists he is almost as strong as Muscle Shoals.
- Old Glory - A chain-smoking, sixgun toting patriotic hero, with a faked generational backstory similar to that of Uncle Sam. He dies of a heart attack during a faked fight with Johnny Lau the Red Terror.
- Pharos - A mixture of Superman and Captain Marvel due to his powers, costume, and relationship with a female reporter. He is incredibly powerful but plagued by doubt and indecision. The CDC's FDAA handlers have no idea how powerful he really is, or where he got his powers. He has demonstrated flight, invulnerability, heat vision, and a weakness to magic (the wound from Freya's magic axe won't heal). As evidenced by the symbol on his costume, the name Pharos comes from the Lighthouse of Alexandria. His powers are stated to grow everyday, leading to his discovering new ones occasionally. It is implied that he's not human, and may have been both a sixth grader named Nicky Palmer and a Circus Strongman before joining the CDC.
- Secret Agent - Another old-school pulp analog in the vein of G-8 and Operator No. 5, with superhuman reflexes and heightened deductive capabilities. He has also demonstrated an uncanny shooting skill that allows him to predict the path of his ricochets and plan for them. In issue #3 he calls himself a "genetically juiced-up super shooter".
- The Wanderer - An actor named Paul Simms. Simms played The Wanderer from Dimension 8, an alien ally similar to the Martian Manhunter, and wore a special costume and flight pack. He was also used as a test subject for FDAA's inventions, which gave him powers that varied from mission to mission. He later gained telekinetic powers and killed his entire family, before being stopped by the Civil Defense Corps. In the ensuing battle, the New American's faceplate was smashed, and nearby reporters captured it on film.
- X-15 - A loudmouthed racist with a cruel streak, X-15 is a super speedster in the vein of the Flash. He is only interested in his salary, and asks for a pay raise whenever one of his teammates dies. Named after the USAF/USN North American X-15 from the X-plane series of 1960's experimental aircraft.
Southern Defense Corps
- The Captain - A hero with precognition who looks and acts like Mark Twain. He constantly quotes words of wisdom originally written by Twain, demonstrating a moderate non-racist outlook. Also wears a white suit and always has a smoking pipe. He has no problem with the New American being on the team. His name might be based on a Mark Twain story titled Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. Or "Captain" a term of respect that originated in the regional vocabulary of Southern Louisiana. It is loosely implied by the Captain that he is actually the real Mark Twain.
- Mighty Delta - A racist Superman analog, with super strength, flight and energy vision. Mighty Delta rarely has an opinion of his own, but is led by the strongest personality around him, which in this case is Southern Cross. His name is a reference to the Mississippi Delta.
- Mister Lucky - Luck powers and the ability to charge playing cards with an unknown energy similar to Gambit. Both in design and costume he resembles Clark Gable from Gone with the Wind. Unlike Southern Cross he is a moderate racist.
- Muscle Shoals - An illiterate, kind hearted invulnerable hero with the ability to create and restore plant life. He is the strongest member of the Southern Defense Corps, and possibly the strongest member of the formerly united CDC. Also Amber Waves' on-off boyfriend. He has no problem with the New American being on the team, but is confused by the constant racist rhetoric of those around him. Named after the city of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
- Ole Miss - Has the power to turn back local time in order to save the lives of her teammates, but every time she does so, she loses a little over three months from her own life. She has brought Southern Cross back from the dead so many times, that he's cost her a year and a half of her life. She can also permanently age her enemies to dust if she wishes. This use of her powers does not affect her in a detrimental way. She has no problem with the New American being on the team.
- Southern Cross - A powerful southern pyrokinetic and hotheaded racist. He can cover his body in flames and fly. His costume is similar to that of the Human Torch, but is white and black with a Ku Klux Klan cross on it.
- Wesley "Wes" Chatham - The protagonist and primary narrator. A former ad man for a car company, he lost his job at the start of the series. He is then hired by his friend Bobby to work with the handlers/managers of the CDC, a secret subdivision of the FDAA. His new job poses ethical dilemmas for him from day one, not the least of which being all the secrecy and lies it entails. At the end of the series, he is appointed head of the CDC.
- Tannis Darling - A female newspaper reporter in the vein of Lois Lane. She has a relationship with Pharos. At several points, she comes close to learning (and revealing) all the secrets of the CDC, though she's never shown going through with it.
- Hellbent - A super-intelligent serial killer, hired assassin and cult leader formerly in the employ of the US government. He goes rogue after killing a bus full of African-American activists, a rogue group of heroes from the CDC (the Secret Agent, Pharos and Freya), track him down with the intent of ending his threat permanently. During the fight he decapitates Freya with her own magic axe, wounds Pharos' face and chest with the axe, and lops off one of the Agent's hands. He was later tracked down and beaten to death by the New American.
- Red Terror - A Chinese-American actor named Johnny Lau. Lau was employed by the FDAA to play the Red Terror while wearing a special flight pack. After Old Glory's death while fighting him in a mock battle, Lau's paranoid fear that the FDAA was going to kill him and his delusion that he had actual superpowers led him to jump from a rooftop to his untimely death.
- Chet - A CDC handler/manager and implied former head of the organization. He works closely with Wes throughout the series. At some point, he joined forces with Hellbent and began sabotaging the CDC covertly. He is found out at the series conclusion.
The series has been collected into a trade paperback:
- The American Way (192 pages, February 2007, ISBN 1-4012-1256-5)
- A review in The Washington Post described it as a "sly, pointed allegory for U.S. politics in the 1960s".
- The American Way at the Comic Book DB