Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang

This latest iteration of the Superman legend by Gene Luen Yang includes familiar faces, social commentary, and historical context–also one big misstep.

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, artwork by Gurihiru. DC Comics, 2020, 239 pages including author note.

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-14

In postwar America, the Lees are moving from Chinatown to Metropolis proper, where Mr. Lee has taken a job as chief bacteriologist of the Metropolis Health Department. In spite of the prestige and pay raise, the Lees are seen as foreigners by many of their neighbors. But Tommy Lee, who has a great pitching arm, wins a place on the little league team by special invitation from Jimmy Olsen. That Jimmy Olsen: part-time photographer for the Daily Planet and colleague of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Also on a first name basis with Superman! Roberta (Lan-Shin) Lee, Tommy’s little sister, is star struck—might they get to meet the Man of Steel? The opportunity comes sooner than expected when the Lees receive a midnight visit from the Klan of the Fiery Kross (“One race! One color! One religion!”).

In Dragon Hoops, a graphic memoir, Gene Luen Yang recalls his last year as a computer-science teacher, corresponding with a championship basketball season at his Catholic high school. Part of Yang’s dilemma that year was whether to keep teaching or accept a publisher’s offer to go into full-time writing. Specifically, writing comic book, which he had loved from childhood. He decided for comics, and this is his first offering. It’s inspired by his own family history, an early obsession with Superman, and a 1942 radio drama, “Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross” (an obvious takedown of the KKK). In the first volume of a presumed series the plot also involves Superman’s discovery of his origins. This makes the plot rather crowded and at times detracts from the central story of the Lees.

But that main plot is well balanced. Prejudice exists in every society—Superman himself experienced it while growing up as Clark Kent in Smallville. But every society also contains people of good will, and others who can be delivered from their biases. As Superman assures Roberta, “We are bound together by the future [not chained by the past]. We share the same tomorrow.” The art is a bit jarring at times, picturing Lois as a teenager, Jimmy as a 12-year-old, and Clark Kent as sometimes more dumpy than hunky. That iconic Superman brow curl seems to have a mind of its own, too. But the story builds to a smashing conclusion with enough oofs!, blasts, and flop sweats to satisfy any comics fan. One big caveat, explained below.

Overall Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 3.5

Considerations

  • A few instances of mild cursing, all from unsavory characters.
  • The calling card of the KFK is a burning cross. One panel pictures this cross, with the fire extinguished, as the police chief shakes his head. “Our most recognizable symbol of hate . . . right here in Metropolis.” An uninformed reader would immediately assume that the cross itself is a symbol of hate, instead of something directly opposite. I doubt this is deliberate, as Yang is a professing Christian. In a later panel, a flashback picturing Clark’s mother consoling him about hateful neighbors, she quotes Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call good evil, and evil good.” Yang did not create the artwork, but he would have had some power of veto over it. That particular panel is both glaring and puzzling, and detracts from a higher rating.

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Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang

Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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