In his latest adaptation, John Ridley explores the cultural implications of our superhero obsession.
Superhero comics were born out of a righteous era on the cusp of World War II. Basically launching in 1938 with the introduction of Superman in “Action Comics” #1, the protagonists of these stories were confident do-gooders with clearcut villains to punch. Children and GIs could crack the pages of “Action” or “WOW” and cheer alongside their favorite spandex hero catapulting Nazi scum into the heart of the sun. The good fight was black and white and stood for “truth, justice, and the American way.” Oo-rah.
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the unwindable horrors of the Vietnam war, and the embarrassment of the Nixon White House, superhero comics adapted to a new age of cynicism. The ’80s introduced readers to the compromised morals of “Watchmen.” The ’90s earned cool points with the violently titled “Deathlok” and “Youngblood.” Superman’s greatest enemy became his reputation as a childish boy scout.
Comic books have been forced to deconstruct themselves. Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is 10 years old, and the Superhero genre has taken hold of this country (with a capital ‘S’) in the same way that the Western did in the ’50s, it is time for the films to look inward. Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” adaptation came a few years too early and was certainly preoccupied with style over substance.
Deadline’s announcement that John Ridley will be adapting his comic book series “The American Way” could signify this genre’s first revisionist Superhero movie. We’re ready for dissection. Here is the fanboy equivalent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Originally published under DC Comics’ Wildstorm imprint, the short-lived series featured a recognizable parallel universe. Starting in the early ’60s, “The American Way” fashions the superhero boom around our cultural obsession with the space race. The United States government, in an effort to market its super soldiers to its citizens, manufacture a multicultural league of heroes called The Civil Defense Corps. These titans of American know-how battled alien invaders and the communist threat with equal abandon.
Internal strife occurs when an African-American hero called The New American is placed within the roster. His costume modeled after an astronaut’s uniform, The New American’s face is hidden from the public because they’re deemed unready for a black defender. When he’s unmasked in a battle with a super villain, The Civil Defense Corps splinters into an offshoot calling themselves The Southern Defense Corps. Civil War erupts spurned on by this super-powered KKK.
Ridley has signed a deal with Blumhouse to bring The American Way to the big screen. The creator of American Crime and Oscar-winning writer of 12 Years a Slave has always been interested in tackling issues of morality through his art. Ridley says he was inspired to create the comic after he learned of LBJ’s determination to add a black astronaut into the space program. America cannot operate without contemplating the political ramifications.
Using genre to address larger issues of civil unrest is nothing new, but something Blumhouse has previously achieved with The Purge films and Get Out. The superhero genre is ripe for a social science-fiction take, and The American Way could certainly pack a helluva wallop.