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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Reader's Diary #2157 - Gene Luen Yang (writer), Gurihiru (artist): Superman Smashes the Klan


Though comics are often abused for propaganda, there's still a certain pleasure when the villains are pretty clearly actual villains. Captain America punching Hitler in the face was a milestone moment. I don't think we see such overt stories anymore as comic writing has largely gotten better, more complex and subtle in their societal commentary. 

Still as racism once again started raising its ugly head in the wake of Trump, it's nice to see a title called Superman Smashes the Klan even if I'd have liked to see him take a swipe at the Proud Boys as well. 

On that note, it would have been better had the book been set in the present day than 1946, considering we haven't exactly gotten rid of the Klan, let alone racism in general. Still Gene Luen Yang uses the setting not only to address racism, but also the history and evolution of Superman as well. In the endnotes he acknowledges that there was a radio program in the 40s in which Superman went after the Klan, and like Yang's update, described the Klan terrorizing a new Chinese American family that have moved into Metropolis. I found this especially interesting as most people tend to think of the Klan as an anti-Black group. In actuality, of course, they're undiscriminating in their discrimination, and hate anyone different than themselves. 

The fight against racism is a personal fight for Superman, as he, too is an immigrant. Unlike the Chinese American family in the book though, he can hide his "alien" identity. It takes the help of the young protagonist Roberta Lee to help him realize that he shouldn't. A great subplot involves another young boy who has befriended Roberta's older brother and wrestles with the fact that his uncle is a white supremacist. Yang handles the story with sensitivity and complexity, while still writing a kickass action tale. 

Gurihiru's art isn't typical of superhero comics, aiming perhaps at a younger audience than most DC Comics and resembling Archie comics with a dash of manga. It's bright and expressive and to be honest, as I've grown tired of superhero art lately, I preferred this. 

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