Review: Superman Smashes the Klan
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru
DC Comics, May 2020 $16.99/pbk
Grades 4 and Up
In 2012 I read a nonfiction title Superman Versus the Klan, the true story of how the Superman radio shows attempted to combat racism. The stories were groundbreaking, as it was the first time children’s entertainment tried to raise social consciousness in a young audience.
So when I saw that DC comics was releasing a similarly titled publication, I was curious, but I only just had the opportunity to sit down and read it.
With Superman Smashes the Klan, Yang and Gurihiru have created a comic with a look and feel of the golden age of comics. The artwork had this perfect balance of 1940s comics with a modern twist so that 21st century readers wouldn’t feel like the story and art were too vintage.
Tommie and Roberta Lee’s family move from Chinatown to Metropolis. But the Chinese American family isn’t welcomed by all Metropolis residents, and the Klan of the Fiery Cross (meant to be a fictional account of the KKK) targets them, first with a burning cross on their lawn, then escalating their attacks as the family stands their ground.
Superman is determined to help the Lees, but he is facing his own turmoil: He is seeing green figures, who claim to be his Kryptonian parents and push him to “let go.” For her part, Roberta Lee has always had a hard time fitting in, Metropolis is no easier than the place she grew up. It’s her difficulty fitting in that makes her more attuned to Superman and his withholding of his powers. Her keen observations allow Superman to let go and stop pretending he is human.
The story was originally released in three parts, but the full graphic novel ends in a personal narrative of Yang’s own experiences with racism and hate. He also gives a very comprehensive overview of Rick Bower’s book and of the Klan itself. The backmatter on its own could be a teaching tool in classrooms.
In an age of diverse reading, this title evokes an iconic classic and presents a timely topic that dates back 60+ years, but sadly, is still relevant today.
Hand Superman Smashes the Klan to a reader who loves superheroes or bring it into the classroom for discussion. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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