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Comic Book / The American Way

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The American Way is a comic-book series created by John Ridley and Georges Jeanty and published by Wild Storm.

In the 1940's, the US Government created the Civil Defense Corps, a team of "super-heroes", ostensibly intended to protect America from "super-villains" and "aliens". In reality, the CDC are all actors, as are their supposed enemies, and the real purpose of the team is propaganda. When one of the team's core members, Old Glory, dies in battle in the 60's and the team's management elects a black man to succeed him, the facade begins to unravel.

A sequel, American Way: Those Above and Those Below, was released by Vertigo in 2017.


This series contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Human: While many of the CDC's members are just humans who have been artificially enhanced, others, like Freya and Mister Lucky, came by their powers naturally.
  • Ass Shove: While on an FDAA-mandated date with Pharos, Freya suggests that they do something involving the handle of her magic ax. Considering that Pharos responds extremely negatively to the suggestion, it doesn't take a genius to figure out where she intended to put that ax.
  • The Cape: Pharos is an expy of both Superman and Shazam!. There's also Mighty Delta, who is a straight Superman expy.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Being a comic series set in the 60's and written by a black man, the series doesn't shy away from the racism of the era, with New American having to wear a costume that covers his face and body because many of his teammates are openly and virulently racist, and the CDC being split into northern and southern divisions because the southern-born members object to being on a team with a black man.
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  • Die or Fly: Although the story doesn't really focus on where powers come from, Jason mentions in "Those Above and Those Below'' that some people manifest powers after experiencing some kind of traumatic event.
  • The Ditherer: This is Ole Miss's biggest issue, as she's not racist but goes along with the rest of the Southern Defense Corps in a halfhearted attempt to be their conscience. By the end of the miniseries she's had enough of waiting around on the sidelines, and successfully rescues Jason while leaving Southern Cross to die in the explosion.
  • Driven to Suicide: Johnny Lau kills himself after Old Glory's death, convinced that he'll be turned into a scapegoat.
  • Engineered Heroics: Zig-zagged. When telling the truth of the CDC to a friend, Robert Kennedy stresses that every time the team saved people from a natural disaster or stopped some low-level crime, it was for real. However, every "alien invasion" or "super-villain attack" was all staged to show a minimum of property damage and no civilian deaths.
    • When they have to fight a rogue member, the CDC is sloppy with their handlers noting they're so used to pre-planned fights that they don't know how to handle a real battle.
  • Evil Reactionary: Tannis Darling accuses Ole Miss of becoming this in the sequel: invoking the image of Southern Cross in her campaign despite choosing to let him die in the nuclear explosion, to save Jason.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: The entire CDC is this.
  • Genre Deconstruction: The series explores how having constant superhero battles in major cities would actually affect society.
  • Gentle Giant: Muscle Shoals is a kindhearted illiterate with the power to create and restore plant life.
  • Hate Sink: Southern Cross, an obnoxious, openly proud racist and borderline psychopath and easily the worst of the Southern Defense Corps. He's especially eager to murder Jason after Jason finally kills Hellbent, because it gives him a half-assed excuse to call killing Jason "Justice" for killing a white man even though said white man was a mass murdering cult leader and necrophiliac. Thankfully, Ole Miss leaves Cross to die when she rescues Jason from the impending explosion at the end of the series. The last shot of Cross is of him being reduced to a skeleton.
  • Historical Domain Character: Robert F. Kennedy appears in the first issue as an old friend of protagonist Wes Chatham who helps him get a job with the CDC after one of their adventures ruins his career in advertising.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Hellbent beheads Freya with her own ax.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Secret Agent has enhanced marksmanship as part of his powers.
  • The Masquerade: The Civil Defense Corps are all actors, and all of their adventures are staged for propaganda purposes.
  • Mind Control: In issue 2, Freya and Pharos' public fight is officially explained away as a product of mind control.
  • Mission Control: The Federal Disaster Assistance Administration (FDAA) calls the shots for the Civil Defense Corps.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Due to her muscular build and combat prowess, Freya constantly has to fend off rumors that she's a lesbian.
  • Noble Bigot: The Southern Defense Corps is populated by a number of openly racist heroes.
  • Only in It for the Money: X-15 is the least altruistic member of the team, only caring about the money he makes. He even has the gall to demand raises whenever one of his teammates dies.
  • The Protagonist: Wes Chatham, a former ad man for a car company, serves as the protagonist and narrator for the series, joining the FDAA after one of the CDC's adventures inadvertently destroys his career.
  • Punny Name: Muscle Shoals, the strongman of the Southern Defense Corps.
  • Restraining Bolt: New American is super-strong and nearly invulnerable, but still retains functioning pain receptors, which means that he is capable of being incapacitated or killed by pain. Wes darkly suggests that this supposed "mistake" was intended by the FDAA to keep their first black member from getting any ideas about turning on his handlers.
  • The Spock: The East Coast Intellectual is a throwback to pulp supergenius characters like Doc Savage.
  • Spotting the Thread: Tannis Darling starts to become suspicious about the CDC after noticing that the "alien invasion" in the first issue was far too small for an actual invasion.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: The WWII-era version of the CDC battled supposed Nazi supervillains with exotic technology.
  • Token Good Teammate: Ole Miss, Muscle Shoals, and the Captain are the only members of the Southern Defense Corps who aren't racist pieces of shit and are just as annoyed by their compatriots Southern Cross, Mr. Lucky, and Mighty Delta as everyone else.
  • Treachery Cover Up: At the end of the first series, the government claims the events were caused by the CDC being mind controlled. By the sequel, the public is aware that the CDC never actually fought supervillains, but still don't know the details of the original events. People think Southern Cross died a hero stopping the nukes, but in reality Ole Miss left him to die because he was a blind, raging, bigot who cared more about lynching Jason.
  • Wannabe Secret Agent: The Secret Agent, despite his name, does not actually work for any part of the US government's intelligence apparatus. He is on the team so that the public learns to associate secret agents with heroism so that they don't think too hard about what the real secret agents do.
  • Who Will Bell the Cat?: In the second issue, Wes proposes that the FDAA appoint a black man to succeed Old Glory as a concession to the civil rights movement, and Chet backs him up. Of course, neither of them relish the prospect of actually having to recruit a black man.
  • Yellow Peril: The CDC's "nemesis" in the 60's is the Red Terror, a supposed Chinese supervillain who's actually an actor named Johnny Lau, equipped with a flight pack. He ends up killing himself after Old Glory's death, convinced that the FDAA will have him killed.

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