Superman Smashes The Klan
writen by Gene Luen Yang , art by Gurihiru
$16.99 (discounted at Amazon)
First off, Superman Smashes The Klan is a terrific Superman adventure. It presents the iconic, original superhero at his best, fighting bigotry and injustice and other anti-American ideals in an engrossing and entertaining story. Secondly, the story frames this adventure in a nuanced and intricate tale that explores the immigrant experience in post-World War II America. Lastly, it makes it clear that The Klan are the bad guys, something that cannot be repeated often enough or loud enough these days when White Supremecists seemingly have allies in very high places.
Written by American Born Chinese author and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Gene Luen Yang, with art by the Japanese art duo known as Gurihiro, Superman Smashes The Klan is a very timely story, executed in a near-perfect style. While totally appropriate for younger readers, the story has enough complexity and characterization to satisfy any adult reader.
Based on a summer 1946 story arc from The Adventures of Superman radio show, this is the story of Superman coming to the aid of a Chinese-American family that has just moved to Metropolis, and finds themselves under attack by The Klan of the Fiery Cross.
That radio story was created in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League, and is credited with doing serious harm to the KKK’s recruitment efforts. The Klan even tried to organize a boycott of Kellogg’s, the radio show’s sponsor, which failed, proving that boycotts only work when they’re justifed and moral.
Yang keeps the 1946 setting, but updates and expands the story to address additional themes of the immigrant experience, and manages to very effectively tie them to Superman’s Kryptonian origins, which Clark Kent confronts for the first time in this (non-canon) story. He re-centers the story with a focus on the Lee family, and adds a daughter, Roberta (Lin-Shan) who is really the star here.
In this story Superman’s confidante on the Metropolis Police Force, Inspector Henderson, is depicted as African-American. In the regular comics he has been race-flipped before, but here it’s particular effective and greatly adds more layers of depth to the story.
This story does not only show the racism of the Klan, but also touches on the sensitive relations within the Asian community and between Asians and Blacks. It even addresses the concept of “passing,” in ways that are particularly touching. That it does so without clubbing the reader over the head with it is a testament to the talents of the storytellers.
Being that this is a stand-alone tale not set in any established continuity frees Yang from having to deal with any of the heavy baggage that 80-plus years of Superman adventures bring with them. This an old-school, liberal plea for tolerance and acceptance, the kind that bigots and demagogues despise.
A major subplot involves Superman discovering his roots for the first time, which is a new take on a story that’s been often told, and then retold before. This fresh take is really well-done.
In addition to a great script, the art by Gurihiru is perfectly suited to the story, combining the look of the Max Fleischer animated shorts with Superman: The Animated Series, and a hint of Manga, to create a slick, clean, yet detailed world that makes perfect sense.
Originally published beginning last year, this three-issue series was recently collected into one volume, and it’s a great 220-page story that can be read without any prior exposure to the Superman mythos. The end of the book contains a great essay by Yang that gives the background of the original radio story, the history of The Klan and his own experience as an Asian-American.
If you enjoy great Superhero adventures without a ton of continuity issues, but with a clear and important underlying theme, then Superman Smashes The Klan is the book for you. Available where books or comics are sold.
And before anybody starts crying about how it ruins Superman to make him political, keep in mind that doing what’s right is not political, and Superman has been fighting for what’s right all along, as you can see in this comic book ad from 1950…
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