John Ridley interview

John Ridley is a novelist, screenwriter, and comic book writer. He wrote the story for the movie Three Kings, one of his novels, Stray Dogs, was turned into the film U-Turn by Oliver Stone, and he wrote the DC/WildStorm graphic novel Authority: Human on the Inside. This month, he writes The American Way for DC/WildStorm. Westfield's Roger Ash recently caught up with Ridley to learn more about this mini-series.

Westfield: What was the genesis of The American Way?

John Ridley: BEN ABERNATHY! - my editor at WildStorm. He keeps coming at me: "John, what else do you want to do? Invent a new universe for us." How many times do you get to hear that in your life? So, we talked - and Ben's really sharp about story - and the thing we landed was really bringing a fresh perspective to a "universe." This story's not just about people running really fast and lifting s*** over their heads. It's a Roman a clef - a novelization of history. It's examining something that I don't think has ever really been examined in comics: the rise of the first black hero in a world that is otherwise America, 1961. It's our government not as some evil Orwellian organization, but with the vigor of the Kennedys, trying to bring hope to our nation. The politics are not abstract. They are real. The personalities of the characters are not arbitrary. They are rooted in their perspective of America at that time. It's a great story, and Georges Jeanty's art just makes it so vibrant. It's a new group of heroes, but from the git they have the look and feel of characters years in the making.

Westfield: Who are the main characters in the story?

Ridley: Hmm, lot of characters. Let me give you a run down. I guess the main character would be Wes Chatham. He's a former automobile executive who's brought on board by Bobby Kennedy to help sell the idea that America's heroes really are heroes to the public. The other main character is Jason Fisher who will be the first black hero in the history of America in the 1960s. Not a time that was good for black Americans in general.

Among the heroes:

Pharos -

The Pharos was civilization's very first lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In essence, it guided the way for early civilization. Pharos is a version of Superman, but more like the Samaritan in look or early Captain Marvel. This guy is very much a cipher. Boyish in some ways, always good and true and honest, yet rarely will we ever see him smile. He should inspire both awe and fear.

Powers: He's got a boat load of them. Basically, he's got all the early-Superman stuff going on. Leaping tall buildings, mostly invulnerable, super strength... He's not at the modern Superman stage yet. There's something a little bit "classic" about his powers. But he does have heat vision.

Freya -

The Norse goddess of fertility and war. So, she looks good and she can kill. A blonde and ridiculously busty version of WW or Big Barda. A cross between the two of them and Thor (a female Thor). But this chick is huge in every way almost to the point of being a joke. She's slightly - slightly - mannish as well. Very, very attractive, but mannish. But hardly a man. The chick is a sex addict.

Powers: Super, super strength. And she can swing a mean battle axe - a large one which she happens to carry at all times.

Southern Cross -

Young, cocky, a good ole boy - like one of the Dukes of Hazard boys - in super-clothes. On the good side he's just a mischievous punk. On the negative, he's a racist with superpowers. Mind you, in the world he lives in, he's not a racist. Things are just the way they are. Whites should keep to themselves, so should the "niggrahs." He'd actually do decent things for coloreds, long as they stay in their part of the city or town, they ain't bad folk. They're just not white.

Powers: a human torch. He's got a costume that should vaguely resemble a Klan uniform, but without the mask. If you can think of the classic Captain Marvel uniform, but in white. Sash and all.

The Mighty Delta -

This would be the Southern version of Superman. Really, as Captain Marvel is to Superman, Delta is to Pharos. He's the Johnny-come-lately, but he's certainly got more personality than Pharos has got. Think of Howard Keel in Kiss Me Kate. A man's man, but in tights. A showboat, but he gets the job done.

Powers: Just a little less powerful, a little less iconic than Pharos. Can't quite leap tall buildings. Strong, but not invulnerable. No heat vision.

Ole Miss -

Scarlet O'Hara. Or, more rightly, Vivian Liegh as Scarlet O'Hara. A dark haired antebellum southern beauty with just a hint of a turned up nose. Now, her look is a bit dicey. She should look like a southern girl, but definitely not sporting something outlandish like a big hoop dress. Maybe something a bit more like a lady out riding. But she's very much a lady. As masculine as Freya is, Ole Miss is all woman.

Powers: Miss has the ability to control the aging of anything, animate or inanimate. She can instantly age anything at which she directs her abilities by days or years causing things to break down, and people do die if she chooses. Also, she can return decayed objects to their natural state. She cannot, however, bring living objects back from the dead. She has the scant ability to alter time within a tight radius around here. At this point, she can only do so by seconds. It's a range of her power she's still working on.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story?

Ridley: Hmmm, not too much. Very character driven. Very much about the era, America's hopes and fears. It's about heroes as people - not just dark like Batman or dysfunctional like Authority. It's about the basic values that we all have and what happens when they and our belief systems are tested. All this, of course, set against of the periods of great upheaval in this country. I know that might sound a little vague, but, honestly, that's what this is about. It's heroic to save people from a burning building, it's more heroic to stand up against a system that is unjust. That, and lots of hot chicks in skimpy outfits.

Westfield: Why did you decide to set the story in the 60s instead of modern America?

Ridley: It's about history, it's about Civil Rights, it's about a very tumultuous time in America. Most times, comics set in the present really can't deal with current events because we really don't know how those events will resolve themselves. There is something, I think, that is very cool about being able to insert characters into events and then see how those characters react to history as it is happening.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

Ridley: What Fire Cannot Burn, which is the follow up to my bestselling ScFi novel Those Who Walk in Darkness. I think readers who dig tough, SciFi, like Blade Runner, will really dig where this series is going.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Ridley: Yeah. A big thank you for your support. Thanks much.