Superman Smashes the Klan is a wonderful graphic novel geared for young adults, yet will appeal to all ages. Author Gene Luen Yang deftly combines the mythology of Superman with timely topics of immigration and battling prejudice.
When you hear the word Klan, you will automatically think of the hate group that seems to targets blacks the most. But instead, Yang sets the story in 1946 and centers on the Lee family who are Chinese-Americans who have recently moved to Metropolis for their father’s new job as a scientist. Brother and sister Tommy and Roberta begin to assimilate into their new community after leaving Chinatown, but Roberta struggles more than her brother who is soon befriended by boys in the neighborhood when he shows a gift for pitching.
But soon the family is targeted by the Klan of the Fiery Kross, which is obviously a stand-in for the Ku Klux Klan. The chants they use and their justification of their actions are sadly a commentary on what is going on in America right now. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen befriend the Lee’s but Roberta picks up on clues about Superman’s abilities and helps him confront his own issues regarding his own assimilation. This story is set early into Superman’s career, and he is shown as not able to fly, as he is suppressing his alien powers. This runs parallel to the Lee’s journey of embracing who they are and not being ashamed of their background. This narrative not only makes Superman more relatable to younger new readers, who might only view him as a demi-god, not a young boy who even in later years as an adult struggles with his identity.
The artwork by Gurihiru (actually a Japanese illustration team, consisting of Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) is a fun throwback to the 90s style of comic animation. The illustrations are deceptively simple and will appeal to readers of all ages. The story flowed beautifully from panel to panel, with some outstanding one and two-page spreads. The colors are bold, with the primary colors of red, blue and yellow taking center stage. That these colors are found in Superman’s costume is a natural tie-in.
I was very impressed with this story. Yang wrote a nuanced story about the struggles of fighting adversity, calling out hate, maintaining cultural traditions while balancing fitting into a new home and battling back against preconceived notions. An afterword by the author clarifies his message in which he shares how racism against any race is unacceptable and shares his story along with his personal connection to the iconic Superman. This strong story may very well inspire readers to take stands against hate and racism they run across, and should be a welcome beacon for all Superman fans.