The year is 1946. Teenagers Roberta and Tommy Lee just moved with their parents from Chinatown to the center of Metropolis, home to the famous hero, Superman. Tommy makes friends quickly, while Roberta pines for home. Then one night, the family awakens to find their house surrounded by the Klan of the Fiery Kross! Superman leaps into action, but his exposure to a mysterious green rock has left him weak. Can Roberta and Tommy help him smash the Klan? Inspired by the 1940s Superman radio serial "Clan of the Fiery Cross," New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, The Terrifics, New Super-Man) and artist Gurihiru (Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Unstoppable Wasp) bring us a personal retelling of two different immigrants finding ways to belong.
Superman Smashes the KlanFeatured
Roberta (Lan-shin) is a young girl who is not sure about this move. She always feels a bit awkward around others, and being new in town is tough. She and her brother find a group of children playing baseball and begin to make new friends. However, a lot of them say things that are really racist. Roberta really hates it, but her brother seems to be able to brush it off. One of the boys who said some really horrible things goes home to his uncle, who begins to induct him into the KKK, targeting the Lees, who he felt took his job at the Health Department and his nephew's place on the baseball team.
Superman and Inspector William Henderson, who also faces the hate from the KKK as he is black, are there to help. However, the Lees seem to have an unshakable target on their backs, and the KKK begins to really escalate their attacks.
At the same time, Superman is confronting his own feeling of being "other" due to his origins. The book includes flashbacks to his childhood and his rejection of his past to better fit in. As he speaks with Roberta and helps the Lees, he begins to accept his own origins and abilities.
What I loved: This is really a well fleshed out comic- we have backstory for Superman and a great main character in Lan-shin (Roberta). The racism here is pervasive and presented in a way that makes it clear how awful and threatening it is. Even the scenes where it seems less violent, such as the things the other children say to group all Chinese Americans into one group, come across as clearly wrong, and I really appreciated that these microaggressions are shown alongside the more violent racist events to give the full spectrum.
The illustrations here are really fantastic and suit the story perfectly, with the right amount of speech and narrative text to keep the comic on-track and easy to understand/follow. I also really enjoyed the glimpses into Superman's own past that really make this story three-dimensional, and I appreciated the focus on Roberta as a main character- through her eyes, we can see a lot.
The end of the book also contains some great explanations about the making of the story, historical context, and the author's own past that is really fascinating, and I am so glad it was added to the book. It really adds so much to the story and informs readers who may not be aware of the full context and it also brings up how far we still have to go when facing intolerance in the present day.
Final verdict: A thought-provoking and fantastically composed graphic novel, SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN is a great look at racism and the need for social activism.