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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate by Rick Bowers



A Dual Biography of Sorts

Published by National Geographic in 2012.
Note: This is a YA book aimed at 5th graders and above. This adult enjoyed the book also.

From time to time the dual biography comes back into vogue. Dual biographies are a great way to compare and contrast two people's lives and, in this case, this style is used to compare and contrast two different organizations: The Ku Klux Klan and Superman, Inc. and see how these two radically different groups interacted.

There is, of course, so such thing as Superman, Inc. - I made that up. Superman is owned by D.C. Comics, but there are people who make all sorts of decisions on how to present Superman. What will he stand for and stand against? What will the next comic be like? How about the next movie? Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan tells the story of the creation of Superman (and the two young Jewish boys from Ohio who created him) and how Superman quickly caught on once a publisher finally took him on in 1938.

By 1946 Superman was an established fixture in American culture. His comics had been sent all over the  world courtesy of American soldiers in World War II, the character was in newspapers, comic books and even had a daily radio show. The producers of the radio show decided, in the aftermath of World War II and Holocaust that Superman would take a stand against racism.

This was a risk because racism was still a very popular concept, as demonstrated by the other part of the book in which Bowers details the history of the Ku Klux Klan and describes its many manifestations over the years. The producers of the Superman  radio show decided to not have Superman take on the Klan directly. Instead, they create a new hate group called The Clan of the Fiery Cross. This fictional group is modeled on the Klan itself, helped by an double agent insider who was writing a series of articles on how the Klan is organized and makes money.

The trick in writing the radio show was not to make it too preachy. But, if you go too light on the message it may be missed altogether. Plus, this was a change in Superman's style. Everyone is against bank robbers, spies and organized criminals. Would this adventure with a message turn away young listeners?

The radio show aired sixteen 15-minute episodes in June of 1946 that were very well received, by its young audience, media sources and other groups across the country. Ratings actually increased during this storyline.  Bowers is quick to point out that this one little radio show did not end the Ku Klux Klan (although the Klan called for boycotts that just did not materialize), but it was important because it showed a superhero standing  with regular folks against a hate group and it was a financial and critical success. In a way, this was a stand that asked who was more American, Superman or the Ku Klux Klan?

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Superman Versus the Ku Klux Clan.

Reviewed on August 1, 2012.

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