For the past two to three months, the entire world has been in a state of paralysis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a space of time that has flamed anew furiously racist actions, including a resurgence of attacks on innocent demographics of people, including the African American and Asian communities. In such a controversial period in human history, media and entertainment play a crucial role in educating and raising awareness and understanding among the younger generations of our society in an accessible manner. A recent graphic novel release from publisher DC Comics illustrates this, specifically Gene Luen Yang’s and Gurihiru’s Superman Smashes the Klan. The graphic novel expertly uses Superman, a familiar and well-loved “American classic”, as a tool to explore concepts of identity, racism, and belonging, and begins in media res with a familiar showdown between Superman and a villain Atom Man, who is also powered by Nazi technology. However, a twist is introduced when Atom Man’s power is revealed to be derived from Kryptonite, Superman’s one weakness, and Superman’s resulting weakness leads to a deeply rooted sense of discomfort and fear about the threat that his background and history poses to his current life and future potential.
The goal that the creators envisioned for Superman Smash the Klan was to show how fear envelops minorities, and how racism perpetuates generations on end. The task of explaining the Ku Klux Klan and the terrifying damage they have accomplished against the world is anything but easy, but Yang’s writing daringly attempts the feat, portraying how the childlike aversions and observations are exploited and magnified over time into violence and destruction. Press releases insist the release does not neglect the microaggressions and outwardly destructive acts of racism that still instill a culture of xenophobia and racism on an internalized level, visualized in the teasing and bullying that the Lee children face and the pressures their parents face to conceal and abandon their Chinese culture to fit in Metropolis. These issues and concerns are extremely real and artfully communicated in a manner that fails to sugarcoat reality while also ensuring children can comprehend them. In this regard alone, the medium of graphic novels and the interplay of Gene Luen Yang’s writing and Gurihiru’s art style achieve an accessible understanding of these real-world social injustices with flying colors.
Superman Smashes the Klan should prove to be effective reading for younger DC Comics fans who have become supporters of the Young Adult division of the publisher. Yang’s and Gurihiru’s combination of social discussion and bright, rich shading will connect with readers and hopefully urge them to challenge their perspectives at their own communities. Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru have envisioned something special for readers, and it is available for fans across the world right now at your favorite online retail marketplace or bookstore.