Set in 1946, Superman Smashes the Klan is based on a radio program from the 40s where the Superman brand was used to fight against the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Lee family moves into a nice neighborhood of Metropolis from the city’s Chinatown. The son, Tommy, quickly joins the neighborhood baseball team. The presence of the Lee family and Tommy’s participation in the baseball team sparks retaliation from a local chapter of the Klan of the Fiery Cross.
The Klan first demonstrates on the lawn of their home, then proceeds to target the Lee children; Tommy and Roberta (their Americanized names). Superman ends up saving the the children several times over. Roberta first notices that Superman may be holding back, and has other powers he’s not using. Superman has to come to terms with himself as an immigrant and embrace some of the abilities he has suppressed his whole life in fear of social ostracism.
The story is well-executed, especially the way Superman’s journey mirrors that of the Lee family. This title deals with racism in a faithful way that still is appropriate for younger kids. The art is simple and clean, and very reminiscent of 90s DC cartoon shows.
There is also a three-pronged afterword: Yang provides a background on the his family; including the different experiences he and his father had with racism growing up; there is a narrative about the radio program as it was originally conceived; and, there is a detailed historical perspective on how Chinese immigrants have been treated in American from the 1800s through their involvement in World War II. This backmatter provides some needed context for a story that may draw some criticism for the topic of this Superman adventure.
This is a great stand alone, but younger readers might need a reminder of how early in Superman’s timeline this story takes place.
DC’s age rating for this title is for grades 7 and up, and it is a great middle grade read. The only reason it doesn’t work as an all ages title is that elementary students might not have enough historical context for the Klan or World War II.
Superman Smashes the Klan
By Gene Luen Yang
Art by Gurihiru Smith
DC Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 7+
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Chinese American
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator
Related to…: Retelling