IN 1946, SUPERMAN CHANGED THE WORLD. ALMOST 75 YEARS LATER, THE MAN OF STEEL MIGHT DO IT AGAIN.
In Superman Smashes the Klan, DC’s first superhero rescues a Chinese-American boy when he’s kidnapped by hooded white supremacists. Although the comic from Gene Luen Yang is new, the story is almost as old as Big Blue himself.
“Superheroes, in general, have had a social justice bent,” Yang tells Inverse. “Those early Superman comics, he’s basically a golem. It comes out of Jewish tradition, the golem righting wrongs and beating up corrupt politicians, always fighting for the common man. You can’t escape that.”
The origins of Superman Smashes the Klan lie in “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part episode from the 1940s radio serial Adventures of Superman. From June to July 1946, Superman exposed Ku Klux Klan codewords, rituals, and its bigotry — all based on intel collected by activist Stetson Kennedy — before a national audience. The show damaged the group’s reputation and led to a steep decline in membership from which the KKK never recovered.
Yang, a 2016 MacArthur Genius recipient, is a Chinese-American comic book writer whose DC credits include Superman and The Terrifics. He learned about Superman’s part in fighting racism from the 2005 best-seller Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. “They bring it up because it had a real-world effect,” Yang says. “For fanboys like me who are criticized for having our heads in other universes, this was a great example of a guy in a cape that had a real, positive effect on the world.”