Superman Smashes The Klan: Part One Review - Superman takes on White Supremacy
Updated: May 11, 2020
• Gene Luen Yang (Writer) • Gurihiru (Pencils-Cover)
• Kyle Baker (Variant Cover) • DC Comics (Publisher)
I saw the name Superman: Smashes the Klan and was intrigued enough to add it to the pull list immediately. The title alone was enough to justify an immediate purchase.
I picked it up last week and was surprised about just about everything going on in it. The book is 7.99 and is nearly 80 pages. The art and cover by Gurihiru are heavily Manga influenced. Although the subject matter for the story is heavy, the art style is very lighthearted and never slips into the level of morose that you'd expect when dealing with the Klu Klux Klan.
The story is set in the 1940s. We follow a Cantonese-American family as they move from Chinatown to the more well-to-do section of Metropolis. I wasn't comfortable with the internalized self-hatred exuding from the father, Mr. Lee. I found the rest of the family to be very real and charming. Tommy is a natural at making friends, is easy-going and is a helluva baseball player. His sister Roberta, has a hard time adjusting to the move and struggles with fitting in and assimilating. She feels like an alien in the new setting. Their mother is a first-generation immigrant that moved to America a few months prior to being married. The siblings give each other crap but it's obvious that they love each other. We learn that the father, Dr. Lee works for the Metropolis Health Department and receives a promotion early on in the book to Chief Bacteriologist.
It's during this promotion scene that we see the first evidence of casual and overt racism. There's a scene that shocked me in which one of the Doctor's, Jennings gives the Lee family a pie. Mrs. Lee tells Jenning that the pie smells good, but with her broken English it doesn't come outright. Jennings, being a dick tells her that he's sorry to disappoint her that the "good smell" isn't a dog.
This scene is followed by another scene of Tommy joining a local baseball team managed by Jimmy Olsen. Tommy immediately makes an impression with the team and becomes the lead pitcher. He also gets the attention of one of the girls in the crowd who develops a crush on him.
Tommy's promotion immediately puts him at odds with Chuck Riggs, the pitcher before Tommy showed up. After Tommy upstages Chuck they get into a fight and it's at this point we get our first introduction to the Clan as they make plans to terrorize the Lee family.
Superman factors into the story but his story is the least interesting aspect of the book. Early on in the book Superman defeats Metallo. This incarnation of Metallo is a Nazi and takes the moniker of Atom Man. Upon taking down this villain Superman has his first encounter with Kryptonite. The exposure to Kryptonite lingers with Superman and causes him to see himself as less human and more extraterrestrial. This also leads to Superman lamenting his insecurities about being an alien. It's in these scenes that a connection between Clark and Roberta is established.
Superman Smashes the Klan is a great read and despite the price point being $7.99 the book is totally worth it. I'm not sure how successful this book will be considering the subject matter but its definitely worth reading.
This story could be told without Superman and would still be a good comic. In fact, I think the book would have worked better without the fantastical elements. Would the graphic novel have sold as well, probably not?
I also believe that using a family of immigrants that aren't Black to tell this story is somewhat inspired. The angle of One of the things that I found myself doing upon reading this book was investigating KKK activities involving non-whites. It's ignorant of me but I thought that the Klu Klux Klan was an exclusively Black Hate Group. Sort of like Joker being almost exclusively a Batman villain.
Overall I don't have much to complain about. I think that the art style is a bit too bright for the subject matter. It's not a big enough issue to mark the book down but some of the subject matter seems weird to pair with this art style.
I also learned while writing this review that the comic is an adaptation of a 1940 radio serial that covered the same material. This blew my mind and evidently the show was so damning for the Klan that membership actually dropped after the show aired.
That anecdotal information made this reading experience even better for me. I'm not sure if this book will find an audience considering the hyper-political landscape of the entertainment industry. The book having a basis in the real world is a plus. The Klu Klux Klan is a real hate group and although they aren't as relevant as they were in the '40s, I think it's important that they aren't forgotten. I don't get the sense that the situation is being exploited by DC for political gain and I appreciate the publisher taking a risk in getting this material out there. I'm not a fan of heavy politics in my comics but Superman Smashes the Klan is a time-capsule that is worth looking into. I can't wait for the second volume.
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