It is the month of May, also celebrated as the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, in America, for recognizing the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. DC took the opportunity to release a new comic book, to celebrate the Asian Heritage Month with all the favorite Asian DC characters, old and new! In the introduction to this awesome book, writer Jeff Yang says:
I could dream myself into these heroes because their origins, as fantastic as they were, were so oddly familiar. Isn’t this an Asian American story? An undocumented refugee from the destruction of a distant, exotic land is transracially adopted by a white, Midwestern family. He discovers the truth of his heritage as an adult , but chooses to hide it behind a set of thick glasses and a meek facade, because he knows that the strangers around him would never understand where he’s from-where he’s really from.
And this reminded me of a yet another popular story from 2019, which you are already aware of from the title: Superman Smashes The Klan. A retelling of a very popular story that first appeared in The Adventures of Superman (radio series) in 1940s.
The story begins with one Nazi Atom Man, a self proclaimed “avenger of the Master Race,” trying to destroy the Metropolis Dam, only to exact revenge on Americans who humiliated his “master race.” His plan, quite expectedly, is foiled by Metropolis’ Most Famous Citizen, Superman himself. All this while Lois Lane accompanied by a young cub reporter, Jimmy Olsen, is covering the event for The Daily Planet. Superman leaves the scene after having a cute conversation with Lois, while the Atom Man is escorted by the police.
Elsewhere we meet Roberta, a protagonist of the story, as the Lee family shifts from Chinatown to main Metropolis. We get to know that her mother came to America a few months before marrying his father. She’s been trying to get comfortable with English ever since. We also find that Roberta’s real name is Lan-Shin, but the family has adopted English names. In the neighborhood, Roberta and her brother, Tommy, meet Jimmy who invites them over to The Unity House’s Baseball practice, where he introduces them to other kids. Tommy instantly blends in with the crowd, but Roberta finds herself secluded from the other kids. However there’s this one kid, Chuck Riggs who feels jealous of Tommy because the team decides to replace him with Tommy as their starting pitcher for their upcoming match. The two start off on the wrong foot and end up having a quarrel.
Later in the evening, Chuck’s uncle Matt takes him to one of his cult meetings where he pitches The Klan of The Fiery Kross and it’s belief of “One Race! One Color! One Religion!” Chuck is hesitantly joins them as they decide to threaten the Lee family to move out of town. The people burn a cross in their garden, a tradition of theirs. They, however flee when Inspector William, a man of color, and some of his friends arrive at the scene. Together they put the fire out. The next morning Clark Kent and Lois Lane, arrive at the Lee’s home to cover the incident. While the family discusses moving back to Chinatown, a brave Roberta declares that she wants to stay.
The Klan, however, is not done with the Lees yet, as on one occasion they kidnap Tommy and throw him into the river, and again chuck’s Uncle Matt puts bombs in the Unity House building to kill the Lee kids along with those who made them a part of their community. The Klan also does not hesitate from kidnapping Daily Planet Chief Perry White, Reporter Lois Lane and Inspector William. Their plans, nevertheless, are foiled by Roberta’s quick deductive skills and a little help from Superman. Matt Riggs, The Grand Scorpion of the Klan is arrested, but he is able to flee as one of the officers, is one of the Klansmen.
Matt then goes to the The Great Imperial, who is revealed to be Dr. Williams from Metropolis Health Department. The Klan turns out to be a hoax, for him to gather resources for his research. He aims to develop a weapon against the real threat, Superman. Matt, completely delusional by the Klan principle, attacks Williams and flees taking a kryptonite gun. The following day, at the baseball match, Riggs marches into the field, taking Roberta hostage. The kids run into the field to save her. Matt is enraged when Chuck sides with the others who believe he is wrong. He attempts to kill his own nephew, but Superman arrives at the scene just in time and uses his laser beams to destroy the gun, thereby revealing that he is not a human.
The crowd seems terrified at this discovery, all but Lois who truly knows Superman for the man he is. Superman reveals of his origin to the crowd, that his birthname is Kal-El and he comes from a distant, now destroyed planet Krypton. Matt attempts to kill him, but his quickly defeated by the Man of Metropolis, who tries to convince him of why his principles are obsolete, he says:
“We are bound together. the Lees and I… Our friends at The Daily Planet and The Unity House and the police department. Everyone down there, really… We are bound together by the Future. We all share the same tomorrow.”
In the end, Matt Riggs is arrested again and the Lee family decides to continue staying in Metropolis. Roberta joins The Daily Planet as their new cub reporter, and she has finally made Metropolis her home, as has Kal-El aka Superman, citizen of Metropolis.
A Superman Coming Out Story
Parallel to the Lee’s storyline, runs another, one quite rare, I believe, in the DC Canon: Superman struggling to accept his true nature. Through various flashbacks we see a young Clark Kent, terrified when one Mrs. Braverman comes at the Kent’s doorstep after her boys saw him flying calling Clark a “Veritable Demon.” A trauma that perhaps, he carries into his adulthood and into his life as Superman.
First observed by Roberta, when she pointed out that she thinks Superman’s hiding something, she understands that he is more than he lets people onto. Superman doesn’t answer Roberta’s question, but a later conversation between him and his birth parents reveals that in fact Roberta was right. Clark had been limiting his powers all this time, so as to fit in with the rest of the people. When his parents ask him as to why he is “only half” of who he actually is, Clark says:
“I’ve finally created a life for myself where no one looks at me in fear… Please don’t ruin this for me. I want my life more. Goodbye.”
But when the need arises Superman does not hesitate from using his powers, thus revealing his true identity. And we see his fears come true, when we see everyone look at him with dread calling him a “monster,” a “demon.” All but, Lois and the kids, who instantly defend him, reminding the crowd of the countless times Superman has risked his own life to save theirs. The people do realize their mistake and understand that as different as his origin maybe, he is, and will always be a citizen of Metropolis, one of their own.
A Few Final Words
You see, what makes this story so special in the Superman lore, is that it isn’t just a story about The Superman, or about The Lee family, it’s much more. It is a story about everyone who struggled to adapt to a new land and make it home, about everyone who struggled to accept his true identity. It is an Asian- American story, but it is also about everyone else. And I can think of no better way to end the article other than in the words of the author Gene Luen Yang, an Asian-American himself:
Superman is one of our nation’s- and the world’s- 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. Even today, the immigrant from Krypton challenges us to follow his example more fully and more perfectly. We have to meet his challenge. After all, though our yesterdays may be different, we all share the same tomorrow.