FORMAT: PAPERBACK (REVIEWED), DIGITAL | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
This is the latest release in DC Comics’ line of graphic novels aimed at the Young Adult market. As strong as this line-up has been, Superman Smashes the Klan is by far the outstanding title in the series to date. As can safely be assumed from the title, this is DC's take on the ugly spectres of racism, bigotry and hatred, and stars the ultimate immigrant / refugee, the Last Son of Krypton, in a tale that makes for some uncomfortable reading at times – and rightly so. It hits a disturbing real-world problem head on.
Author Gene Luen Yang takes his inspiration from a storyline that was featured in The Adventures of Superman radio show in June 1946. The Lee family move to suburban Metropolis from the Chinatown area and are met with casual verbal racism thinly disguised as banter from their neighbours. This quickly escalates to having the white-robed Knights of the Fiery Kross (who bear an uncanny resemblance to a real-world hate group we won’t mention here) plant a burning cross on their lawn and throw a petrol bomb through their window. As in the radio show, the story is set in post-war America, during the Golden Age era of superheroes - a time when Superman didn’t fly, he leaped and ran on telephone cables to get where he was needed. In a satisfying element of the story, it’s the family’s young daughter who reasons that he could fly if he wanted to – he’s subconsciously pulling himself back to fit in better with the public. Essentially, Superman’s not achieving his full potential to downplay his powers. Of course, when he does embrace his full range of powers, the Klan waste no time in denouncing him as an alien (foreign) threat. And people begin to listen as hate and fear spread faster than any virus.
This is a skilfully-told story, illustrated by Manga artist Gurihiru, that blends the all too real cancer of intolerance with a fictional comic book superhero. It offers no quick solutions, but offers some wisdom and philosophy that will hopefully take root among the readership. Forget the Young Adult blurb on the cover, this story is for everybody.