Superman Smashes the Klan #1
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Gurihiru
Lettering by Janice Chiang
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang brings a bit of Golden Age Superman back to the funnybooks with Superman Smashes the Klan, a retelling of a 1946 radio serial. And it’s a welcome reminder of the Man of Steel’s roots. Superman wasn’t always fighting aliens or superpowered beings, sometimes he was there to right the everyday injustices in the world. Yang tackles racism head-on in this issue and while some of the dialogue is a little clunky at times (likely due to the all-ages nature of the book more than anything else), the writer gets to the heart of who Superman is - a being of great empathy and understanding. Gurihiru joins Yang on art, and their practically animated art calls to mind the economy of the Max Fleischer cartoons that ran shortly before this serial’s initial airdate.
I think what I like most about Yang’s approach here is that he doesn’t shy away from the subject matter of the story. It’s right there in the title and we always get a sense of what the plot is moving toward but Yang is able to be more nuanced than one might think at the outset. There are Nazis, and white supremacists who harass the Lee family when they first move to town. Roberta and Tommy Lee experience racism first hand from their peers in a new town.
But even more so, Yang explores the subtle and insidious ways that prejudice shows up in our everyday life. Roberta’s father repeatedly corrects her mother when she opts to speak Cantonese rather than English. Later, after the Klan attacks their house, Roberta’s father tells a group of African American men who were offering to help to “get out of here” and that they “don’t want any trouble.” Yang is showing us that no one is immune to being guilty of prejudice. But Roberta is a great character to observe everything that’s happening. She’s tough when she needs to be even if she’s also feeling very isolated. As a character who is around the target age of the audience, she’s a great surrogate.
Gurihiru’s work is especially inviting. Their work is expressive and bright, perfect for a book that really focuses on the grounded human drama that’s present in this issue. Given the serious subject matter, they might seem like an odd choice but considering that book’s main protagonists are children, their work is a great fit. They don’t get a ton of traditionally superhero stuff to draw, but they’re able to give energy and weight to the smaller scenes and that makes the times we do get to see Superman that much more impactful. The line work is exceptionally clean. Their coloring is wonderfully understated. Gurihiru are the complete package here.
Superman Smashes the Klan says just about everything you need to know right in the title, but Yang and Gurihiru make it so much more than that. This is about growing up knowing you’re different than everyone else and learning to deal with it. This is about learning to stand up for yourself in the face of bullies and hate. This is about learning that hatred and prejudice can come in many different forms and no one is immune to their effects. This is a story about good versus evil but not just because Superman is there to save the day. It’s about learning that we have it in ourselves to stand up to bigotry whenever it rears its ugly head.