Superman Smashes the Klan is a young adult graphic novel based on the “Clan of the Fiery Cross” story arc from 1940s radio show Adventures of Superman. Like the radio show, this novel does not shy away from how reprehensible the Ku Klux Klan is. It may be one of the most meaningful and important graphic novels I have read.
I was provided with an eARC of Superman Smashes the Klan from DC Entertainment. All opinions are my own.
I must admit that I had no idea what to expect from Superman Smashes the Klan. All I knew before reading the book was that it was based on a radio show. What I discovered was a gut-wrenching story that pulled at my heartstrings. There were also many heartwarming moments and character growth, especially with Superman.
I was surprised to see that even though this novel is for young readers (ages 13+), the writing treated the complex topic of racism very seriously. It was serious to the point where it was uncomfortable to read, but also very necessary. As a white person, I think this subject matter is important to feel uncomfortable about. We should feel this way.
The Adventures of Superman radio show focused on a young boy from a Chinese American family, Tommy Lee, and what he went through because of the Clan of the Fiery Cross. The graphic novel focuses more on his (unnamed in the radio series) sister, Roberta. She is a bright and brave little girl, despite her weak constitution. She and her older brother are best friends.
Superman Smashes the Klan takes place in 1946 (just like the radio arc) and starts out with Superman fighting a villain named Atom Man who claims he is an “Avenger of the Master Race” while wearing a swastika on his arm. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are also on the scene to report on the event. Superman discovers a green substance that smells strange to him and makes him feel weak when he attempts to turn off the device that gave Atom Man his power.
Next, the Lee family is introduced. They are moving to Metropolis from Chinatown because of a new job Doctor Lee got at the Health Department. There are some cute moments between the Lee siblings, including Tommy throwing a note to Roberta apologizing for calling her a “pooper” and asking if they can still be friends, yes or no. Jimmy Olsen comes by and welcomes the Lee siblings to the neighborhood and introduces them to the Unity House where kids are playing baseball.
Tommy joins the baseball game and proves to be an amazing pitcher. A lot of the children that Roberta and Tommy interact with unfortunately tend to be inadvertently or purposefully racist toward the siblings. The regular starting pitcher, Chuck Riggs, is jealous of Tommy and calls him racist names while purposely getting hit by a pitch. Roberta stood up for her brother which made Tommy feel humiliated.
We find out later that Riggs is the nephew of the leader of the Klan of the Fiery Cross. The group learns of the Lee family mostly through Chuck. They target the Lee family and Tommy especially because of this. While this is going on, there is another plot that focuses specifically on Superman and how he tries to hide the more alien parts of himself so he can be accepted as just a somewhat more powerful man.
Over the course of the novel, Roberta, Tommy, and Superman support each other and work together to take a stand against the Klan and the other racists they come into contact with. Superman becomes more comfortable with who he is and begins to fully embrace all aspects of himself, not just what makes him fit in better.
Author Gene Luen Yang effectively tackles a difficult subject matter in a realistic way in this graphic novel. Some readers may feel that it was heavy-handed or over-the-top, but I do not think that this is the case at all, nor do I think it was meant to be that way. The script is written in such a way that it would make racism an easier subject for children to understand.
Yang is Chinese-American and while he has never had a run-in with the Klu Klux Klan, he has still faced racism in his life. It’s obvious from his writing that this novel comes from a place of great understanding. I especially appreciated the section at the end of the book, “Superman and Me”, which briefly goes through the history of racism in the United States, the history of Superman, and some of Yang’s family’s and his own experiences.
The artwork done by artist team Gurihiru (Chifuyu Sasaki, pencils and inks, and Naoko Kawano, colors) is striking and beautiful with a full pallet of colors involved. I think this is my favorite art style of all the DC Comics young adult novels I have read so far. Each character is portrayed with such personality on the page and the settings and backgrounds are authentic to the 1940s.
Overall, I really enjoyed Superman Smashes the Klan. I think it is such an important book for young readers today. It is a story that illustrates not only strength, courage, and acceptance, but it shows the importance of representation in comics as well. Comics should have characters in them that everyone can relate to, who look like they do, and go through similar struggles.
I do suggest that parents of younger teens either read this story with their children or be available for any questions that they may have while reading the story. This novel is a great teachable moment for teenagers in a way that they can really relate to. They look up to Superman and can learn from him.
I highly recommend Superman Smashes the Klan to all readers ages 13 and up. The story is thought-provoking and inspirational with beautiful artwork. After reading the graphic novel, I would recommend listening to the episodes of the Adventures of Superman radio show that this book is based on as well. This is definitely a story worth hearing more than once!
Author: Jessica Rae
Jessica has a BA in music with an emphasis in voice and spends her day typesetting, editing, writing, and moderating webinars. Jessica primarily reviews anime and comic book series. She also offers insights on various movies, books, games, and other geeky topics.
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