Black History Month ’09 #16: My Country

February 16th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A few years back, John Ridley and Georges Jeanty wrote one of the most interesting comics to come out of Wildstorm since Wildcats 3.0 and Adam Warren’s Gen13. Its setting is simple. It is in a parallel version of our 1960s, except the American government has been manufacturing heroes and villains as part of a superheroic Cold War against communism. The Civil Defense Corps is run by the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. Note that I said creating heroes and villains- most of the fights are staged for the public’s benefit, and the lack of the internet basically means that the public has no idea of the truth.

The hook of the book is pretty interesting. A member of the Civil Defense Corps dies in battle. The FDAA needs a replacement, and their hotshot new PR guy has a great, if controversial, idea. Hire a colored, put him in a costume, and call him The New American. To avoid public panic, put a full mask on him. Let him work for a few weeks or months, gain the public’s trust, and then, when the time is right, reveal that he’s black. One problem: he’s revealed on his very first mission and a wave of distrust and fear sweeps across the public.

One of the government’s pet villains, an insane and murderous racist, breaks from his leash. The Southern members of the CDC don’t take the revelation of their colored comrade well and essentially secede from the organization. Civil rights protestors end up dead. Heroes are revealed as regular human beings, no matter their extra-normal powers, and that human pettiness is shown to be something very damaging. And, in the middle of it all, Jason Fisher, the New American, needs to decide whether he owes more to his people or his country, despite criticism coming from all sides.

The American Way is how you do comics. Not Issues comics, though it very definitely deals with a variety of issues. Not black comics, though it is a comic starring a black male. Not even superhero comics. It’s how you do comics. The characters have depth, plenty of thought went into how the story plays out, and Georges Jeanty’s art is excellent.

Fisher being black is a large part of the book, since if he wasn’t, there’d be no conflict. How people react to his race is the interesting part. It varies from outright hatred to fear to good old fashioned exploitation. When his brother finds out that Jason’s enhanced, his first thought is that Jason needs to hit the road and start making some noise and forcing people to wake up to civil rights. Others want him to keep his head down, because he isn’t going to do anything but cause trouble.

Overall, it was just a great book. It isn’t centered 100% on race, with Keenan Ivory Wayans dropping in for “MESSAGE!” To quote Tucker Stone again,

I guess what i’m saying is: the best thing isn’t for black characters to be in some “let’s talk about being black” comic book, it’s for black characters to show up in good fucking comic books. If they want to talk about problems getting cabs, fine, but it better need to be there for the story, and not as some garish window dressing designed to make intellectual panties wet.

The American Way isn’t that book meant to make guilty liberals stop their grinnin’ and drop their linen, though I’m sure it will. It’s a well rounded look at an alternate world, interpersonal relationships, and the measure of a hero.

It’s a good comic book.

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