Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang. Art by Gurihiru
DC, pb, £9.94
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
In 1948, Roberta and Tommy Lee move from Chinatown to Metropolis when their father starts a new job in the city. Tommy makes friends straight away while Roberta pines for her old home, keenly feeling her sense of other. But not everyone is keen to embrace a multi-cultural society and one night, Roberta and Tommy wake to find shadowy figures in white robes on their lawn, the Klan of the Fiery Kross, threatening their lives unless they leave.
Superman is still quite young and coming to terms with his powers. The news of an organisation in his town targeting minorities forces him to relive moments of his past which parallels Roberta’s current experiences. Can Superman unlock his powers to save Roberta and Tommy’s family from the Klan?
Originally aired in 1946 on the radio, Superman Smashes the Klan has stood the test of time. It explores racism at the time without shying away from the ugliness of the subject matter and forces us to recognise that these situations are uncomfortably familiar for us today. It shows both blatant racism, singling Roberta and Tommy’s family out because of their heritage, as well as the more subtle racism the family face every day with little throwaway comments about how the other characters assume they live. As a true alien, Superman is uniquely placed to be deeply affected by negative attitudes and behaviour towards people simply because of where they were born.
It also explores the theme of adapting to fit in, such as dropping your mother tongue or changing your name. Just as Roberta and Tommy’s father encourages them to speak English and to dress a certain way, Superman doesn’t remember the language of his parents and is deliberately squashing his powers so he is not too different from the people around him, expressing his desire to be a super human rather than an alien. In the end, it encourages embracing your identity and valuing a person based on their actions over the colour of a person’s skin.
This is a fantastic story. Despite the age of the protagonists, their lives are in real danger just as they would have been at the time of the original airing. As characters, Roberta and Tommy are likeable and relatable, bringing us along in their story with ease. They made me care.
Guihiru brings their recognisable manga style from Avatar: The Last Airbender to Superman to recapture the past, giving us some nostalgia for that time-period while also keeping up with the sheer energy of the story. For me, the style is perfect for expressing emotions, focusing on the people rather than the background and as well as the action scenes. It was a clever choice of style and one a younger audience will find accessible.
I loved Superman Smashes the Klan because we cannot rewrite our history, but we can teach our children, and ourselves, to recognise racism when we’re faced with it, and the ways to deal with it appropriately and for the benefit of all. Highly recommended.