Superman Smashes the Klan is a 3-chapter series adapting an iconic episode of “The Adventures of Superman” radio show. The episode serves as an important part of both the history of Superman and in real-world activism. With the Ku Klux Klan becoming something of an urban legend in the 40s, human rights activist Stetson Kennedy de-mystified them by infiltrating their ranks, and revealing their nature to the Superman writers. The program – and it’s new graphic novel adaptation – shows how systematic racism can be. Today with Asian people subject to racism over the Covid-19 outbreak, a character like Superman is needed more than ever.
Superman Smashes Klan Perception
Award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang has experience with Superman. Whether he’s writing the New 52 Clark Kent or Kenan Kong, Yang tries to honor the original Man of Steel’s legacy. Superman Smashes The Klan, however, hits a little close to home because in it Superman helps a Chinese American family. For Yang, this allows him to add a more personal, relatable touch to his writing.. However, just adapting the original story verbatim would waste the story for a modern audience. So Yang creates a story about Superman also struggling to accept his own alien origin.
After being exposed to Kryptonite for the first time (another element originating from the radio show), Superman experiences hallucinations. Not because of the “Der Grunstein,” but because anything that reminds Clark about how different he is scares him. Clark’s first use of his heat vision and flight to defend himself from bullies actually scares away a friend of his. Plus, his parents convince him to try and be as normal as possible. Despite this being a way to protect Clark against religious fanatics, this is still giving in to bigotry. Imagine trying to deny who you really are for your whole life (many readers won’t have to imagine, and this part of the story will resonate with them).
How To Write Racism
Superman Smashes The Klan isn’t just about Clark accepting himself; it’s also goes into authentic detail about racism. It’s easy to associate racism with a legally safe Klan pastiche, but it’s not enough to depict them as bullies. Take primary antagonist Matt Riggs; he takes care of his sister-in-law and nephew. He also has very high expectations that goes in two ways. Riggs expects his nephew to control his temper, but when he hears Chuck was replaced on the baseball team by a Chinese boy, Riggs sees this as a threat to whites’ collective identity. Chuck, however, acknowledges that getting kicked off the baseball team was his fault, but goes with his uncle out of loyalty.
Racism isn’t just an ideology; it’s a commitment that doesn’t go away very easily. Even the Lee family experiences a more casual form of racism. Just about everyone in the family has to speak English as a way of fitting in. The son Tommy also makes casual jokes at his own race’s expense despite the way it affects his sister Roberta. And Roberta isn’t even her real name (it’s Lan Shin). All of which begs the question: what’s the point of fitting in if that means giving in to bigotry?
Superman Smashes The Klan Colorfully
Japanese art team Gurihiru of Unbelievable Gwenpool fame does a spectacular job of illustrating a whimsical world in Superman Smashes The Klan. One of the most eye-catching parts of the series is how Gurihiru reminds readers this series takes place in the 40s. From characters’ clothing to the vehicles and architecture. How many people even remember Superman’s iconic phone booth scenes?
The character designs feel youthful and highly expressive, reminding readers of the colorful times of the Golden Age. However, these quirky faces can give way to the darker scenes of the series. The fact that the Klan of the Fiery Kross members wear hoods to conceal their faces feels absolutely ghastly in contrast to the typical face designs. But some of the most interesting and expressive moments come from when Superman is exposed to Kryptonite. Superman feels the effects of the green stone, revealing his true nature. His first reactions cause him to hallucinate, seeing him as an alien monster from pulp magazines. So much so that most things with a dark green hue are a sign of a threat towards Superman.
Janice Chiang The Decoder
Letterer Janice Chiang composes some steady words on every panel in Superman Smashes The Klan. The word balloons are evenly spaced out and keep inside their panels before moving to the next. A few word balloons or designs even get coloring for specific purposes. Red outline word balloons, for example, indicate that the words are being spoken in Cantonese. When something big comes up – like the Lee children’s excitement towards Superman – the words enlarge and bolden. Yet again, the Kryptonian words and lettering steal the show with their intricate designs. They look absolutely alien as much as how Superman sees them. By the time the words are translated in English, it indicates Superman starting to accept his alien heritage.
Superman Smashes The Klan Barriers
Superman Smashes The Klan will go down in history as a reminder of why Superman is the Man of Tomorrow. He represents the best of humanity and reminds us that “humanity” isn’t exclusive to people most familiar to you. No matter how different someone is to you, you are bound to the same future. To be anything like Superman, you have to realize the worst of humanity doesn’t represent the whole. Real racists genuinely believe they’re doing good and are unwilling to accept their views as wrong. You have to be true to yourself and others to see past the barriers.