Superman Versus The Ku Klux Klan – Book Review
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Realistically, Superman Versus The Ku Klux Klan probably could have been done as an extended magazine or newspaper article. The amount of time the book actually spends on the Superman franchise’s conflict with the Klan is fairly minimal. But when you consider the book’s good intentions, and the fact that the people picking it up will either be kids (it’s written for ages 10 and up), or those who might not have a great familiarity with comic books or US history, you realize the book deserves a bit of leeway. After all, it shines a light on a portion of Superman’s history that many fans might not be familiar with.
In the 1940s, Superman was a hit not only on the printed page, but on the radio as well. The Adventures of Superman starred Bud Collyer as the title character, and ran for over a decade (in various formats and time slots) from 1940 to 1951. Broadcast live before a listening audience, kids were thrilled with adventures like ”The Curse of Dead Man’s Island,” ”The Yellow Mask and the 5 Million Dollar Jewel Robbery” and ”The 5 Million Dollar Gold Heist.” Then in 1946, the show began to develop more of a social conscience. Suddenly, the Man of Tomorrow was facing threats that actually existed in the real world, and none were more real than the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was and is a white supremacist organization, which at the time was notorious for its violent crimes against African Americans, Jews, Catholics, among others. As the show underwent its turn toward shows displaying the importance of tolerance, addressing the Klan was both a natural and important path to take. But this battle wasn’t limited to the radio waves. In the 16-episode storyline broadcast in 1946, the show’s creators used actual inside information and details on the KKK provided by moles in the organization, including journalist and human rights activist Stetson Kennedy (shown below). In the end, the Man of Steel and his radio cohorts helped to prevent a nation-wide revival of the Klan.
Before it looks at the storyline dubbed “The Clan of the Fiery Cross” (the KKK name was never actually used, but the group was clearly alluded to) the book chronicles Superman’s rise in popularity in the ’30s and ’40s, the Klan’s rise to prominence up to that point, and fills us in on the lives of key players like Stetson Kennedy and show producer Bob Maxwell. This build up actually makes up the majority of the book. Thus, if you’re looking for a 154-page book solely about the groundbreaking yet controversial radio broadcasts, you may be disappointed. But again, consider your intended audience: Kids. This book builds up both parties so that you can come in with no knowledge of either, and still come away knowing the whole story. From that standpoint, you really can’t fault Rick Bowers for the way the book is formatted.
From a journalistic standpoint, the book provides an insightful look at the creation of the “Fiery Cross” story, from it’s conception, to it’s development as a program designed to educate kids about hate, to it’s execution and aftermath. But it doesn’t get so bogged down in details that it gets boring. It has just the right amount of depth to it. It also contains a number of page-sized photographs, ranging from classic comic book covers to historical photos.
Once it gets down to business, Superman Versus The Klu Klux Klan illustrates the power that pop culture figures can have in educating children, and perhaps even reminding a few adults, about the dangers of mass hate. It’s an especially bright spot in the history of Superman which should never be forgotten.
Front page image from avclub.com. Image 1 from metal misfit.wordpress.com. Image 2 from zonafandom.com.