Superman Smashes the Klan
- Writer: Gene Luen Yang
- Artist: Guruhiru
- Published by: DC Comics
- Pages: 79, Publish Date: October 16 2019, Price: $7.99
- Notes: The first of three books, published in a glossy thin paperback, traditionally sized for younger readers.
“The year is 1946, and the Lee family has moved from Metropolis’ Chinatown to the center of the bustling city. While Dr. Lee is greeted warmly in his new position at the Metropolis Health Department, his two kids, Roberta and Tommy, are more excited about being closer to their famous hero, Superman! While Tommy adjusts to the fast pace of the city, Roberta feels out of place, as she tries and fails to fit in with the neighborhood kids. As the Lees try to adjust to their new lives, an evil is stirring in Metropolis: the Ku Klux Klan. When the Lee family awakens one night to find a burning cross on their lawn, they consider leaving town. But the Daily Planet offers a reward for information on the KKK, and their top two reporters, Lois Lane and Clark Kent, dig into the story. When Tommy is kidnapped by the KKK, Superman leaps into action-with help from Roberta! But Superman is still new to his powers-he hasn’t even worked out how to fly yet, so he has to run across town. Will Superman and Roberta reach Tommy in time?
Inspired by the 1940s Superman radio serial “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, The Terrifics, New Super-Man) presents his personal retelling of the adventures of the Lee family as they team up with Superman to smash the Klan…”
Personal Thoughts (minor spoilers):
Superman Smashes the Klan is a superhero story challenging and exposing of real-life racism-based terrorism. The story for which it’s loosely based on the old radio play, “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” exposed the growing white supremacist group to a wider audience for its evils and inner-workings, giving it a much-needed negative exposure throughout the USA during the Golden Age of comics.
But now, we have the revision of the story, which may not make as big of an impact, but still relevant to our time as racism is still a thing, with many sinister groups out seeking to carry on the original ideals of the KKK, and other hate groups inspired by such and similar.
Which brings about the question…what does Superman have to do with any of this?
And it’s not so much on the whole concept of Superman taking on racism, but his superpowered existence whose skin color and American face of the caucasian male. He lives that privilege of being more accepted in American society of the time. But, he also chooses to be the superhero that has to combat the evils in all its forms, including those who abuse that privilege and imposes it upon others as a symbol of nationalism, and genetic pride.
So, it feels great to have him start this story combatting a cartoonish Nazi villain, perhaps reestablishing the ideal of truth, justice, and the American way. And, he enjoys doing it.
And that is the Superman I love.
Which, leads to a bigger story of where this goes, into the perspectives of the incoming Lee family, the newest immigrants to Metropolis of Chinese descent. They are like any new family moving into a big city, with two kids reacting to a new life ahead, and the father taking on a new job. Metropolis is well-known as this all-American city very similar to New York, and it’s where Superman lives. So here, sets up a dynamic of promise, that life will be exciting for the Lees.
And that’s where much of this story brings a smile to this reader, seeing Superman being more of a neighborhood hero to this large city. Eventually, we get to know the Lees through their perspectives on Superman, Golden Age Americana, and the immigrant reactions they face in Metropolis. This carries on the side story to the center, where the Lees seeks to integrate and become part of the American dream, which includes a typical suburban life and baseball. There is a fascination that what is real, and should be real.
Meanwhile, the human side of Clark Kent deals with his own self of being somewhat a stranger from birth, feeling the inner conflict of being different. His reflection on his past, where the idea of an alien in a magazine is that of a scary monster. He looks to the present, seeing a reflection of might have been. Superman has the luxury of his appearance, but what if he did look more alien? How much would he have to hide, how much would society fear him before accepting him as the premier superhero?
So, the developing story leads to the Lee family being terrorized by the Klan, though their signature cross being burned on their front lawn. Its terrible act leads to elevated threats of lynching. This real-life horror cuts through this otherwise innocent setting of Golden Age heroism backdrop, as the Lees deal with this real problem. The stakes may not be as high as an evil scientist with world-domination plans, but there is a sense of urgency that Superman responds to.
And that’s what I love about this story. It’s Superman standing up for those in need, against a real-life threat to its time, that has changed and shifted into an evil that still festers today.
I also love the art, set for younger readers to enjoy with a slight manga appeal to it, but with solid coloring and traditional sequential art transitions. The facial expressions are defined, given a mix of liveliness and heart to Superman’s world missed in the most recent cinema incarnations. The settings of night and day, suburban and city, home life and work life, add a homely, identifiable nature to Metropolis. The contrast of the Klan presence as dark and fiery shows where the danger is, waiting for Superman to eventually expose it all, hopefully in upcoming chapters.
Superman Smashes the Klan is not a traditional comic book, in both its story and its format. Readers will find in a smaller paperback form similar to a young adult read, targeted for younger readers. There is less collector value and more reading value, and that’s welcome in any format and any age. Also, there is small yet very informative retrospect by Gene Luen Yang, with more a focus on the real-life history of organized racism in the US.
Overall, I like this short read and look forward to the next issue of this three-part series.