"Superman Smashes the Klan #1" adapts the epic 1940s radio play for middle grade readers, adults too
Writer: Gene Luen Yang, Art/Colors/Cover: Gurihiru, Letters: Janice Chiang.
Flashback: 1946. Superman is wearing the uniform made famous by the Fleischer animated cartoons, and battling a villain, Atom Man, straight out of the Kirk Alyn movie serial. (We will forgive the artistic license taken of including Atom Man in this 1946 story, since he did not appear until the 1950 movie serial.) Lois Lane is present, as well as Jimmy Olsen, reminding him that Superman cannot fly, only able to leap 20-story buildings in a single bound.
Kirk Alyn as Superman with Atom Man in the "Atom Man vs Superman" movie serial
So, why a Middle Grade reader story about the Klan now, 70 years after their white-sheeted, pointy-hatted peak of infamy? Well, this story is a print adaptation of the 1940s Superman radio serial “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” The radio epic was itself inspired by real-life events of a KKK grand wizard who staged protests after WWII against veterans of color demanding equal rights, including GI benefits. The radio show's story revolved around a Chinese-American family moving to Metropolis in 1946, and the extreme prejudice they face from a KKK-type clan.
DC writer Gene Luen Yang (New Super-Man) showed a personal interest in the subject matter of the radio play, and approached DC with a comic book proposal, and here we are. With white supremacy very much in the news these days unfortunately, this story is still relevant and holds important lessons for young readers.
The art and colors are simply beautiful, by Gurihiru, a two-woman Japanese art studio, best know for their work on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Unstoppable Wasp. Their work here is accurately described as “a blend of manga and Fleischer.”
Atom Man (powered by a strange green glowing crystal) vs Superman
A boy whose uncle has recruited him into the klan has a change of heart.
Yang’s writing doesn’t talk down to the Middle Age reader, and his dialogues have a real-world, non-comic booky feel, especially teasing banter between Lois and Superman that causes a “get a room” glance from Inspector Henderson, here cast as a black man, despite that being a highly unlikely hire in 1946. Henderson is of course especially motivated to protect and defend residents against racial harassments and front yard cross-burnings.
A subplot follows up on what the U.S. Government would do with the Kryptonite-powered Atom Man, captured at the end of the movie serial.
This hefty Part One of Three weighs in at 79 pages, and is highly recommended for Middle Grade readers and adults alike.
• How a non-flying Superman gets around town without interfering with traffic
• That Kryptonite subplot (who knew Kryptonite smells?)...or is it alien B.O.?
Superman Smashes The Klan #1 from DC Comics, is on sale October 16, 2019.
Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios Superman cartoons (1941-43) (click here to see the first animated short)
Atom Man vs Superman (1950) (click here to see the first few minutes of Episode 1)