Truth, Justice, and Superman on Radio

Screenshot of the cover of the graphic novel “Superman Smashes the Klan” found at Polygon.com

I know I’ve been booted out as a follower of Mike Glyer’s fanzine File 770, but he can’t block my internet access, so occasionally I pop over to see what’s up. Most of the time it’s “not much,” but I did happen upon Pixel Scroll 10/23/19 The Little Green Man Was Very Sad, One Pixel Was All He Had.

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Cover art for a World War 2 era “Superman” comic book

Item 11 is titled SUPE’S AN IMMIGRANT, TOO. It links to an article where a 1946 version of Superman fights Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and befriends a Chinese immigrant family. I was all prepared for yet another reinvention of Superman who behaves like a 2019 progressive over 70 years in the past. That is to say, out of character and historically anachronistic.

And yet the Polygon article The Superman story that set the Ku Klux Klan back years is now a comic was a pleasant surprise.

A few days ago, I wrote Truth, Justice, and the American Way to illustrate how classic superheroes such as Superman and Captain America represented, not necessarily the United States as it is or historically has been, but as we want to be as a country and a people, a united people.

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A public service announcement published in a DC comic book in the early 1960s

What I found refreshing about the newly minted three-part graphic novel “Superman Smashes the Klan” is that it’s not simply the latest incarnation of progressive thought in comic books, but rather, it was:

inspired by the 1946 Superman story “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” That story wasn’t a comic, but rather an arc of the immensely popular Adventures of Superman radio serial. In the audio adventure, Superman battled the racist machinations of the Ku Klux Klan. Excoriated and embarrassed by one of the country’s most popular radio shows, the white supremacist group actually saw a drop in membership.

The comic novel was created by cartooning team of Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru, but the source material really comes from that era, a time before television, where families sat around their radios in the evening to listen to broadcast dramas about heroes such as “The Shadow,” “The Lone Ranger,” and yes, “Superman.”

On the radio, Clark Kent/Superman was voiced by the legendary Bud Collyer, who, decades later in the 1960s, would also voice him in cartoons. As a kid, I loved how he’d change his voice, deepening it when he did the shirt rip and said, “This is a job for Superman.”

Oh, he was charitable and a Christian.

The artwork in the aforementioned graphic novel is “cartoonized,” so everybody looks kind of “cute.” Even the Chinese family I referenced before seems almost like “manga Asian,” which is to say, not obviously Asian. Kind of the Sailor Moon effect.

That aside, I’m glad the past got a chance to meet the present. It’s an illustration that the history of America contains some good, and some justice, which after all, is, or should be, the American way.

Even back in the day, Superman fought Nazis and other injustices, in the pages of comic books and yes, even on popular radio. I’m glad to see him doing it yet again.

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