SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN by Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru

superman smashes the klan - gene luen yang, gurihiruThe Lee family has just made the move from Chinatown to the surrounding suburbs of Metropolis thanks to the patriarch’s new job at the cityโ€™s health department. Teenager Roberta has difficulty acclimating to their new surroundings, but her older brother, Tommy, seems to be thriving in the new home, making fast friends with the locals and even trying out for the community center’s baseball team. Tommy shines at the practice, and that gets him on the bad side of a fellow player who storms off the lot in a jealous fit. Later that night, the Lees wake up to find a wooden cross burning out in their front yard, and they realize that old prejudices have come knocking on their door. The Clan of the Fiery Cross, a white supremacist hate group, soon takes credit for the loathsome act, which not only gets intrepid reporter Lois Lane involved, but the famous Superman as well. The group’s influence turns out to run deep, however, and manages to exhibit enough resources to cause even the Superman considerable trouble, notably through the use of mysterious green rocks that seem to weaken the Metropolis Man of Tomorrow…. โ €
โ €
๐‘บ๐’–๐’‘๐’†๐’“๐’Ž๐’‚๐’ ๐‘บ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’”๐’‰๐’†๐’” ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฒ๐’๐’‚๐’, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru, is an important book. It was one already when it was first serialized a couple of years ago, highlighting as it does moments of U.S. history that are either glossed over in contemporary conversation or just plainly, actively suppressed, whitewashed into obscurity. It resonated with an audience that was growing increasingly aware of the prejudice and injustice that is so deeply rooted in Western culture and which, thanks in part to the heated, hateful rhetoric of modern politics, was gaining enough momentum and stimulation to aggressively push itself into the public eye once more. Readers saw movements like Black Lives Matter and similar social justice organizations reflected within. โ €

In a lot of ways I’m kind of sad that [Superman Smashes the Klan] hit like this. A story from 1946 shouldn’t be as relevant as it is.

โ€” Gene Luen Yangโ €

Fast forward only a year, and the recent, disturbing onrush of heinous, cowardly attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have now given the story a renewed relevance, and an alarmingly greater sense of urgency. โ €
โ €
The range of topics Yang manages to pack into this relatively slim volume is wide and impressive indeed: racism (both outer and inner); classism; identity; code-switching. These are all themes you’ll find within the pages of this book, and they are handled with prudence and proficiency (Yang is nothing if not a master storyteller). But what engaged me the most was the story’s exploration of identity, because of how well it tied to both the Lee family and to the character of Superman himself. A running motif throughout the book has to do with the characters constantly concealing facets of themselves in order to fit in and blend with the world around them. Roberta and Tommy’s father chides his wife for speaking Cantonese around their children, prefering to immerse them in an English-speaking world, an edict that extends even to their traditional names (๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข rather than ๐˜“๐˜ข๐˜ฏ-๐˜š๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ). Tommy, to his sister’s chagrin, constantly cracks jokes about their race with the locals in the hopes of being more readily accepted. Superman himself โ€” who is, lest we forget, an immigrant โ€” holds back on his own powers and represses his extraterrestrial identity, fearing the response of the public were they to find out. Not calling attention to one’s self is often an intrinsic part of the immigrant experience, something that Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, being the sons of European Jewish emigrants who also changed their names once they reached the States (from Shusterowich and Segalovich, respectively), would have understood, as they, consciously or not, imbued their creation with the same concerns in mind.โ €
โ €
Itโ€™s why so many writers over the years โ€” from contemporary ones like Yang and Grant Morrison, to those from way back in the forties who wrote the original radio play on which Smashes the Klanย was loosely based (a fact that surprised me to no end) โ€” have often depicted Superman as the ultimate defender of the disenfranchised and the oppressed: because he’s someone who can easily imagine what being powerless would feel like, and has the power to do something about it.โ €

I’m guessing that the Superman writers knew on a visceral level, three years out from WWII’s end, that pursuing a peaceful future in America requires tolerance โ€” the willingness to respect, be good neighbors to, and invest in those who do not look like us or live like us.

โ€” Gene Luen Yang

Itโ€™s important to remember that Superman is, and always has been, a warrior for social justice.โ €
โ €
โ€”โ €
โ €
As it often happens with stories that reflect the trying times of the real world, one wishes things were different: that the events depicted in the pages of these books are just things of the past, human failures that we outgrew and overcame and which bear no resemblance to the reality of today. Sadly, we live in no such world. Which is why we still need these types of books: to reflect our current condition, yes, but also to distort and transform it, to allow us to see what could be. These stories are hope, distilled. โ €
โ €
๐‘บ๐’–๐’‘๐’†๐’“๐’Ž๐’‚๐’ ๐‘บ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’”๐’‰๐’†๐’” ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฒ๐’๐’‚๐’ is then ultimately a book full of hope. As well it should be. It’s a Superman book, after all.โ €
โ €
This also means that, despite the weighty subjects this story touches upon, this isn’t a heavy-handed book at all. Again, this is a Superman book, and it contains all the colorful, flashy fun that this implies. Yang has a wonderful take on the character, writing an earnest Boy Scout figure of endless charm in such a way that somehow never veers into schmaltzy overbearing territory. The rest of the cast are distinguished as well, in particular Roberta, who acts as our daring protagonist. Her role in the radio play was relegated to a single line in a single episode that didnโ€™t even bother to give her a name โ€” here, she gets a spectacular stand-out scene where she gets to call out Superman for endangering those around him by inhibiting his own abilities. Itโ€™s one of the crucial, central acts of the book, and one that also happens to fit so well with the overall Man of Steel mythos (which is yet another thing Yang handles wonderfully well here).โ €
โ €
In terms of art, I love the work that Gurihiru, the Japanese design team consisting of penciller Chifuyu Sasaki and colorist Naoko Kawano, did here. They brought an anime aesthetic that’s not usually found in the world of Western superhero comics, but that lends itself wonderfully to a Superman story. They have produced a beautiful, beautiful physical object.โ €
โ €
The book ends with “Superman and Me”, an essay by Yang that connects various threads of history: that of Superman and the original โ€œClan of the Fiery Crossโ€ radio play; of anti-Asian racism in the United States; of the author’s own experience with prejudice. The result is a deeply compelling read that not only enriches and puts into greater context the fictional story that precedes it, but it’s also strong enough to stand as its own invaluable history lesson. Yang ends the personal piece with the following appeal:โ €

Superman is one of our nation’s โ€” and the world’s โ€” most enduring icons. He seems to have always been there, and he’s not going away anytime soon. Ever since defending a Chinese American family in 1946, he’s stood for tolerance, justice, and hope.โ €
โ €
Even today, the immigrant from Krypton challenges us to follow his example more fully and more perfectly.โ €
โ €
We have to meet this challenge.โ €
โ €
After all, though our yesterdays may be different, we all share the same tomorrow.

โ€”โ €
โ €
In the spirit of a tomorrow full of tolerance, justice, and hope, Iโ€™ve compiled a small list of relevant resources that I encourage you all to check out.โ €

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin

06 the storied life of aj fikry๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘บ๐’•๐’๐’“๐’Š๐’†๐’… ๐‘ณ๐’Š๐’‡๐’† ๐’๐’‡ ๐‘จ.๐‘ฑ. ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’Œ๐’“๐’š by Gabrielle Zevin is a maudlin, overly sentimental affair with a contrived, predictable plot riddled with clichรฉs and tropes that it embraces rather than trying to subvert. At times it is so full of melodrama that it reads like the bookish equivalent of a film that is trying its very best to bait an Oscar.โ €
โ €
And good grief did I buy into it hook, line, and sentimental sinker like a sucker. Did I love every single page of it all.โ €
โ €
Every description of this book makes it sound insufferable, but Zevin โ€” much like she does to her characters โ€” pulls the rug out from under us by positively filling it up to the brim with a charming, endearing and painfully human cast that you fall in love with almost immediately. I loved the experience of reading this story, and can easily see myself revisiting over the years.

RAINA TELGEMEIER: AN APPRECIATION

04 raina booksSo it’s been a minute! I’ve been mostly MIA lately, dealing with tedious adulthood type stuff. The sort that requires entirely too much of my energy and attention. And although thankfully none of that has really stopped me from reading, it’s been definitely draining any desire to sit down and write anything of note. Tragic, I know.โ €
โ €
It’s also caused me quite a fair bit of stress! Which is probably why I’ve resorted to picking up a bunch of middle grade books these past few weeks. They’ve long been a comfort read for me, so of course they’ve helped with winding down and staving off concerns.โ €
โ €
It’s sort of funny, then, that the first few books I went to were Raina Telgemeier’s graphic memoirs, which are all about the peculiar anxieties of childhood. โ €
โ €
I started reading Telgemeier’s work only a couple of years ago, but she quickly turned into one of my favorite authors. She writes the types of books I wish my younger self would have been able to read, which is something I say about every excellent modern middle grade book I read these days but it happens to be particularly true in the case of these graphic novels: they may me about incredibly specific events that happened to a white girl growing up in the West Coast during the late eighties and early nineties, but I still manage to see my life reflected in these pages. Still see the same childhood concerns and the adolescent angst that I went through as an anxious brown kid growing up in the Caribbean in the nineties. They make me feel seen in a way, and that brings me comfort. โ €
โ €
Stories, you guys โ€” the way they work never fails to amaze and astound me.โ €
โ €
Anyway.โ €
โ €
I got my copy of ๐˜Ž๐˜ถ๐˜ต๐˜ด right when it was released so of course there’s no Eisner Award sticker on the cover. Telgemier is an unstoppable talent, though, so if you purchase the book today it will be there.

THE FIRE NEVER GOES OUT by Noelle Stevenson

03 the fire never goes outReading Noelle Stevenson’s ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘ต๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“ ๐‘ฎ๐’๐’†๐’” ๐‘ถ๐’–๐’• was a cathartic affair. I picked it up during a particularly demanding week, emotionally speaking, in my life, and found a lot of the emotions I was experiencing at the time (good, bad, unseemly) echoed in this book. It helped give many of these messy feeling some semblance of shape and form, which in turn made me feel less like a vulnerable blob just floating in the void.โ €
โ €
It was also a slightly surreal experience in the sense that this book is essentially a candid glance behind the curtains of a career and life of someone whose work has provided you with a great deal of amusement and delight over many years and, despite knowing that compassionate and lively art can come from grief and hardship, seeing it depicted in such a frank and vulnerable manner can still be somewhat of a shock to the system. The raw, intimate vignettes collected in this volume are as surprising and startling as they are engaging and illuminating.โ €
โ €
๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘ต๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“ ๐‘ฎ๐’๐’†๐’” ๐‘ถ๐’–๐’• is a portrait, and a work in progress at that, in the truest sense of the term. It’s honestly been a privilege to watch Stevenson’s work grow all these years, and hope I get to see it evolve even further.โ €
โ €
โ €
๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ด๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ป๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด๐˜€: ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—น๐—ณ-๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—บ, ๐—ฏ๐—ผ๐—ฑ๐˜† ๐—ถ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ด๐—ฒ ๐—ถ๐˜€๐˜€๐˜‚๐—ฒ๐˜€, ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—น๐˜๐—ต ๐—ฑ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฐ๐˜‚๐˜€๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜€, ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ฝ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ฏ๐—ถ๐—ฎ, ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ถ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜€ ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜, ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐˜€๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ผ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป

THE VISION by Tom King, Gabriel Hernรกndez Walta, Jordie Bellaire

02 the vision

Well this seems like the perfect time to revisit this most surreal superhero comic.โ €
โ €
Along with seemingly the rest of the world, I caught the first two episodes of ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ over the weekend. And I thought they were fine! A little clunky, perhaps, although I suppose it’s to be expected given that the show is the MCU’s opening stride into uncharted territory. But I love the concept of the thing, which is weird enough and new enough for me to not support the endeavor.โ €
โ €
It helped that the series definitely seems like it’s inspired by the 2015 run of ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’ by Tom King, Gabriel Hernรกndez Walta and Jordie Bellaire, which still stands as one of my favorite comics in the last few years. Like ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ, it views our titular character through a domestic lens, although the effect in the book feels more immediately uncanny and sinister: Vision has created a family in his own image, part of his continuing efforts to become more human (more “normal” as he frequently puts it), a venture that is destined to end in catastrophe as the ominous opening captions in the very first issue candidly, wickedly declare.โ €
โ €
The comic has been hailed as “๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ถ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ with rฬทoฬทbฬทoฬทtฬทsฬท synthezoids,” which also means that it’s not exactly what you might call a happy book. Much like that story and those it inspired (like ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฅ ๐˜”๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ), ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’ is a dark, cerebral, meticulous tale of melancholy, anxiety, and the sheer harrowing grace of human nature โ€” viewed through the eyes of an artificial superpowered being who may just be exactly like us.โ €
โ €
It’s also a book that perfectly illustrates the notion that you can tell literally any and every type of story with superhero comics. If ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ explores even a modicum of the terrain laid out in this comic book, then we are in for a curious, wild treat indeed.

LIGHT OF THE JEDI by Charles Soule

01 light of the jedi

One of my reading resolutions for this year was to read more non-fiction books, and my intentions were to start off 2021 by doing exactly that. But then this dropped on my device, and I opened it meaning to read just a handful of pages in order to get the lay of the land, as it were. But a couple of pages quickly turned into a couple of chapters, and before I knew it I was halfway through the book with absolutely no plans to stop.โ €
โ €
Then again, I began last year with a Star Wars book. Just as well I started ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด year with yet another one. It’s like poetry, sort of. It rhymes.โ €
โ €
And ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต a first book to start things off, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜บ.โ €
โ €
I have been excited for this new era of Star Wars ever since details started to come out. I love the Skywalker gang of melodramatic misfits dearly, but the saga sorely needs to step away from them to feel fresh again. It needs to gain some more space to breathe. Hundred of years before their story sounds like distance enough.โ €
โ €
๐‘ณ๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰๐’• ๐’๐’‡ ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฑ๐’†๐’…๐’Š met and exceeded each and every one of those expectations. Charles Soule managed to write a Star Wars story that felt both familiar and new; that feels relevant to our current climate while still also adhering to themes that are intrinsic to Star Wars; that feels intense and austere while also being just an incredibly fun thrill ride. In short, Soule has written one of my favorite entries in the entire saga. Can’t wait to see what more he brings to this universe. And I definitely can’t wait to see where this era is headed. The future (the past?) looks bright.