Superman Smashes the Klan is one of the most anticipated releases from DC Comics’ burgeoning line of superhero stories targeted at young readers. Teaming acclaimed writer Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) with the dynamic Japanese illustration team known as Gurihiru, this three-issue series updates one of Superman’s earliest and most memorable adventures for the 21st century. Superman Smashes the Klan #1 introduces readers to the same premise that originally debuted on radio in the serial “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a story that exposed secrets of the real Ku Klux Klan as Superman combatted a facsimile to protect a family of Chinese Americans. It bears the aesthetic of a period piece, but Yang and Gurihiru tap into powerful themes of immigration, bigotry, and positive justice to transform this classic tale into a timeless one.
The narrative fits into Yang’s wheelhouse so naturally that it would be easy to believe he crafted this narrative without any historical influence. Addressing Chinese culture, the immigrant experience, and cultural barriers is something the writer has done as well as anyone else working in comics in 2019. That experience shines through as the story addresses difficult subject matter with nuance and frames it in a manner that is accessible to all ages. Superman Smashes the Klan is well suited to young readers, but it does not simplify issues or pull any punches. Derogatory language, Klan outfits, and burning crosses are all plainly addressed on the page. In the hands of a lesser writer this could go disastrously awry, but in Yang’s it provides a thoroughly considered foundation for adults and children alike to consider America’s history with hate and modern tensions.
This issue provides a delicate approach to characters and subject matter. Racism is not presented as an easily understood issue defined by moustache-twirling villains. There are degrees presented in both children and adults. Casual, unintentional racist comments are made by a young girl at one point, making it clear that these issues are far more pervasive than what is represented by a well-organized hate group. The diversity of perspectives and conflicts make Superman Smashes the Klan an excellent tool for teaching. While the script avoids the harshest racial slurs, it still presents enough language and imagery to make readers uncomfortable. A kidnapping feels far more frightening than any nefarious plot involving doomsday devices that Superman might otherwise encounter.
This nuanced framing is balanced by Gurihiru’s confident linework. There’s nothing delicate about the visual presentation of this story. Characters are assuredly themselves and every action beat is boldly delivered. Their style has been primarily tied to comics for young readers, but there is a maturity in their storytelling. Every page is well composed and character reactions are delivered with incredible efficiency only using a few lines to convey complex emotions. This confidence is what allows Superman Smashes the Klan to be fun, even as it delivers some genuinely frightening turns in the story. Superman resonates as a beacon of hope and children are raised up as cooperating heroes rather than being objects in need of rescue. There is an optimism projected here that assures readers this is an optimistic story, even when confronting the worst facets of humanity.
Superman Smashes the Klan #1 rises to the great challenge of all ages comics as it provides a story that is genuinely engaging for all ages. Even as it makes difficult subject matter approachable for younger readers, it presents those ideas with a level of maturity that encourages adults to grapple with subtle commentary, as well. It is a story tied to the past, but very much about the presented -- updated to focus on divisions in communities and the perpetuation of hateful ideologies that resonate between 1946 and 2019. These challenges are harrowing, but Gurihiru’s presentation allows the story to remain an adventure albeit a serious one. Whether readers are discovering Superman for the first time or steeped in the character’s history already, Superman Smashes the Klan #1 presents a thrilling update on a classic adventure, one that seems bound to be read for years to come.
Published by DC Comics
On October 16, 2019
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Gurihiru
Letters by Janice Chiang
Cover by Gurihiru