SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN review

Superman Smashes The Klan (DC Comics)

Superman Smashes The Klan is available in stores now and on digital from DC Comics.

Synopsis

The year is 1946, and the Lee family has moved from Chinatown to Downtown Metropolis. While Dr. Lee is eager to begin his new position at the Metropolis Health Department, his two kids, Roberta and Tommy, are more excited about being closer to the famous superhero Superman!
Tommy adjusts quickly to the fast pace of their new neighborhood, befriending Jimmy Olsen and joining the baseball team, while his younger sister Roberta feels out of place when she fails to fit in with the neighborhood kids. She’s awkward, quiet, and self-conscious of how she looks different from the kids around her, so she sticks to watching people instead of talking to them. While the Lees try to adjust to their new lives, an evil is stirring in Metropolis: the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan targets the Lee family, beginning a string of terrorist attacks. They kidnap Tommy, attack the Daily Planet, and even threaten the local YMCA. But with the help of Roberta’s keen skills of observation, Superman is able to fight the Klan’s terror, while exposing those in power who support them-and Roberta and Superman learn to embrace their own unique features that set them apart.

Multi-award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang and artist Gurihiru tell a bold new story based on a classic Superman radio serial!

Review

Back in 1946 the character of Superman was used in a brilliant radio series to challenge racial tensions by taking on a group known as The Clan of The Firey Cross. The white supremacist group was a stand-in for the Ku Klux Klan but the message remained clear. Superman was a sign of hope amongst the darkness and oppression would not be tolerated.

Jump ahead to 2020 and author Gene Luen Yang (Born Chinese) and illustrator Gurihiru have turned those radio plays in to a brilliant graphic novel which not only charts Kal-El’s difficulties in adjusting to life as Superman but also challenges the racist subculture which still exists in contemporary society.

This book collects the three issues of Superman Smashes The Klan which were originally released as separate volumes. Clocking in at over 220 pages this is one of the longest YA books in the DC Comics line but cleverly it remains broken down in to its three original chapters. Keeping that structure works in the books favour as this isn’t necessarily the kind of story that you will want to read in one sitting.

Much like the upcoming Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed (reviewed here), this book chooses to present some difficult subject matter in a way which ensures that it’s entirely accessible to a younger audience. In Tempest Tossed this was accomplished through its representation of the strength of Diana’s character, here we see the world through the eyes of two young Chinese-American children, Tommy and Roberta Lee, living in Metropolis.

The outsider aspect of the Lee family’s story, with the Klan trying to force them from their home is brilliantly paralleled by Superman’s story. Yang presents Superman at an early stage of his career and though he has made a name for himself in Metropolis he doesn’t yet have all of the powers the audience will have come to associate with him.

De-powering the Man of Steel allows the story to become a little more complex for our hero. It gives him his own journey alongside the teenage characters but also ensure that he can’t simply take down the Klan in a single beat.

Superman Smashes the Klan also offers up an interesting origin story for Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. In this story Olsen is already working at the Daily Planet but is also a neighbour to the Lee family. His pure heart and open mind works as a bridge between the more accepting side of society and the Lee’s.

Despite a number of a large speaking roles, Yang is able to balance the many voices without the narrative becoming muddled. There are a number of different perspectives put forward throughout the story which offer insights in to motivations on all sides of the conflict. As such, Superman Smashes The Klan serves as a cautionary tale which should sadly really ring true with many readers today.

Gurihiru’s outworks is nothing short of outstanding. It feels like, like the Fleischer Superman series in graphic novel form. Each page is filled with striking imagery and honestly, the character has never looked better.

There’s a cartoonish quality that ensures the heavy subject matter of the story is still palatable. But at the same time the artwork doesn’t trivialise the subject matter by becoming too colourful or too safe. There’s a strong connection to the emotional core of the story in the artwork which makes the book feel unique and a hugely rewarding read.

Verdict

Part Superman origin, part action-adventure, part commentary, Superman Smashes the Klan is a timeless classic which has never felt more relevant.

7/10

Superman Smashes The Klan is written by Gene Luen Yany with illustration by Gurihiru.


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By Neil Vagg

Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & TV and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG