Superman Smashes the Klan #1 – Gene Luen Yang, Writer; Gurihiru, Artist
Ray – 10/10
Ray: Superman Smashes the Klan, Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru’s passion project, was first announced as an original graphic novel for the DC Zoom/DC Kids line, but instead it’s being rolled out as a three-part prestige format miniseries.
I’m not sure why it’s being done this way, but I suspect it’s because the final project was too long for the format of the line – the first issue is seventy pages of story, which will put the final version at over two hundred pages. And it’s not just another winner for the line, it’s one of the best and most important comics DC has put out in a long time.
This isn’t just one story – it’s two, blending a Golden Age Superman story with a tale featuring a family of original characters – Chinese-Americans settling into Metropolis and battling against racist forces. It manages to grapple with some thorny issues that we’re unfortunately still dealing with today without ever becoming overly dour and maintaining a tone of hope.
It would be easy for Superman to overshadow the civilians, but you can tell Gene Luen Yang’s heart is with the Lees. A father who is assimilated but still proud of his heritage, a mother who struggles more with language and fitting in, teenage son Tommy who is all too eager to fit in, and preteen daughter Roberta, overcome with nerves.
Roberta, our POV character, is instantly compelling. Fans of Raina Telgemeier will instantly connect with her nervousness, her tendency to embarrass herself, and her core of steel when threatened. Racism comes at the family from all corners – a snide co-worker of Mr. Lee’s, a racist punk on Tommy’s new baseball team, and a violent Klan invasion trying to drive them out of town. This is a book geared towards kids, but it’s more intense than any title in the DC Kids line so far – which might also be why it was moved. It doesn’t flinch away from the brutal racism of the time period, but it also sends the message that there’s hope for the young who haven’t been fully indoctrinated yet.
The Superman story parallels the Lee’s story brilliantly, kicking off with a stunning segment where our hero fights a Nazi supervillain who hasn’t accepted that the war is over. He’s powered by Kryptonite, and when Superman is exposed to it he starts experiencing some odd side effects – hallucinating aliens and having surreal memories of his youth. This is a more human, vulnerable Superman than we usually see, and not just because he’s more limited in his powers. It’s because Yang leans into the immigrant/outsider metaphor that defines Superman and lets us see him as he sees himself – among humanity, but never quite feeling like part of it.
Gurihiru’s manga-inspired art, last seen on Unstoppable Wasp, gives the action scenes a perfectly timeless feel while the quieter scenes have an endearing look that makes you instantly identify with the characters. It’s one of the most engaging first issues that I can remember out of DC, and I expect that the final product is going to be a modern classic.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.