Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley (“Twelve Years a Slave”) always knew he wanted to return to his superhero/government/conspiracy comic book series “The American Way” at some point. He intended to advance the story 10 years from its 1960s starting point.
He just never knew an actual decade would pass in real time before he’d have the chance to bring “The American Way” back.
Rildey is returning to comics for the first time since his Oscar win for a six-issue Vertigo Comics mini-series, “The American Way: Those Above and Those Below,” with artist Georges Jeanty. The original series debuted in 2006 under DC Comics’ Wildstorm imprint. The first issue (available now in print and digitally) debuted July 12.
“In some ways, it’s interesting because I’m 10 years older,” Ridley told the Post’s Comic Riffs. “My perspective has changed by 10 years. I feel like I’ve got that [decade] of wear and tear on me.”
In the new series, America’s love affair with the Civil Defense Corps, a ’60s government-funded superhero team that was intended to inspire citizens with hope and American ideals, is over. The ’70s have brought a skeptical gaze on the superheroes who remain, as Americans wonder whether they can be trusted.
“There’s regret. There is a sense of maturation among these characters, but even at that, 10 years, do people really change over time or do they simply become more of what they always were?” Ridley said. “When a decade turns you look at yourself and say, what am I doing? What am I trying to accomplish? Am I a better person, or am I just more of the same. That’s what these heroes are really looking at.”
Ridley admittedly spends most of his time working on film and television. His return to comic book writing uses the same approach he always depends on when beginning a new project in whichever medium. He looks to the works that have inspired him most. In comic books, that work is DC’s vigilante/detective series “The Question.”
“I look back on [“The Question”] from the mid ’80s, the Denny O’Neal/Denys Cowan version, and I just think it’s one of the most amazing series that was ever put together. Very grey. Very of the era. Timeless and timely,” Ridley said. “It’s not like I’m writing comic books every other week. Why would I want to go back and tell a story in this graphic novel space? Who did it in a way that really inspired me? I tend to go back to that series. It’s really incredible.”
Ridley was working simultaneously on the ABC drama “American Crime,” the Showtime limited series “Gorilla” and “Let it Fall,” a documentary on the Los Angeles riots, while scripting his new “The American Way” series.
“There was something very nice about going to my London hotel room, [where I’d] relax and then just say I’m going to do something different” he said. “And to do something that provides me a creative outlet that I’m not getting in these other spaces.”
Ridley says comic books give the writer and artist 22 pages to be as visually grand as one has the capacity for. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There’s also a demanding audience that wants consequence and complicated characters.
“You’re only limited by your imagination. But the expectations for storytelling are as high as in any other medium,” Ridley said. “I’ve done well for myself in other spaces, but the graphic novel space is as difficult and as challenging as any space that is out there for a writer to work in.”