Superman Smashes the Klan
Metropolis, 1946... after the end of the Second World War, the Lee family wants a fresh start away from Chinatown, and moves to the suburbs.
It doesn't take long before the new residents catch the attention of some nationalistic... unsavory characters...
Fortunately, amidst the domestic terror, Superman is here!
Presented at last in comic book form, “Superman vs. the Clan of the Fiery Cross” comes to life for a new generation of Superman fans as Superman Smashes the Klan. Adapted by Gene Luen Yang with art by Gurihiru, the story of an immigrant family menaced by ultra-nationalist domestic terrorists couldn’t possibly be more timely.
The story focuses around the Lee family, freshly transplanted from Chinatown into the suburbs – read: the white suburbs – and eager to start a new life. Mr. Lee has been given a promotion at work, and is eager to acclimate to the upscale lifestyle that entails. His wife is a newer immigrant, and struggling to adjust to life as an American. Despite her husband’s admonitions, her first instinct is to speak Cantonese instead of English. It’s their children, Roberta and Tommy, who are the the main focal point of the story though.
Tommy catches some attention of the wrong sort when he accidentally pegs a school bully with a rogue baseball pitch, who in turn gets kicked off the team, complains to his uncle, and is indoctrinated into – you guessed it – the Klan of the Fiery Cross. From there, events move somewhat predictably, as the Klan mounts a terror campaign against the Lees, starting with burning a cross on their lawn. This eventually escalates to kidnapping, and that’s when Superman gets involved.
To say Superman Smashes the Klan is an important comic is an understatement, but that it exists in 2019 America is a revelation, a call to moral arms, a line in the sand from DC versus the world’s agents of intolerance, boldly proclaiming: “This is who we are and what we stand for.” Without necessarily getting into a 20,000-word essay on The State of Divided America right now, know this: DC has no problem telling the racists of the world exactly where they stand.
In a lot of ways, Gene Luen Yang, author of the brilliant American Born Chinese, was the only man to adapt this story. He brings a first-generation immigrant son’s first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land. Gurihiru’s art threw me at first. It’s straight-up manga, no splitting hairs in that regard. And while not my cup of tea personally, I can’t deny it works well with the story. The artist’s sense of pacing is great; at no point in time does this 68-page comic feel like it’s dragging out. He also has a great knack for capturing the era of the 1940s – he clearly did his research, and it shows. The post-war Americana is just starting to take root, but there’s still plenty of the old ways around – just ask the neighborhood African-Americans who come to the Lees’ aid after a cross is burnt on their lawn.
Yang, though, isn’t lecturing. He paints the various members of the Clan of the Fiery Cross as bad, but in a way where they truly believe they’re in the right – not black-and-white monsters, but actual people who, while not deserving of sympathy, are at least layered and multi-faceted. And that is the insidiousness of true intolerance – those who wield it make it seem reasonable, easy, and even moral.
In the real world, we don’t have a Superman to smash these people. But watching him do it here is still mighty satisfying.
Although a bit of a slow-burn, Superman Smashes the Klan #1 does a wonderful job of world-building, paying special attention to the immigrant perspective. This is a comic everyone needs to read in 2019 America.
Superman Smashes the Klan #1 (of 3): It’s Always Okay To Smash Racists
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 7/107/10
Color - 6/106/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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