Award-winning comics writer Gene Luen Yang has some interesting, and pertinent, thoughts about the Man of Steel. Though very often held out as a paragon of American strength and fortitude, Superman really is the ultimate immigrant.
A refugee from distant shores who washed up in the American heartland and became a symbol of the United States, the character embodies many of the qualities associated with the American Dream. With issues surrounding immigration and immigrants at the forefront of many of the political and social debates of the last few years, and with anti-Asian sentiment a rising concern in the U.S., it’s not surprising that Superman’s status as an immigrant would become a hot topic.
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly about his upcoming graphic novel Superman Smashes the Klan, based on a storyline from the 40s radio series, Yang brought up some salient aspects of Superman’s immigrant identity. The author sees these as intrinsic to Superman’s, and to other immigrants’, experiences: “I began to wonder about some of the stuff that was put into Superman…there’s that dorkiness where he’s a rule follower who always does the right thing.”
Yang continued, “That kind of reminded me of my parents…there’s an added level when your parents are immigrants. My parents were rule followers. They would always try to not make waves and be good citizens.” As he grew older, Yang realized the reason for this behavior, both in his parents and in Superman: “I realized there was a little fear behind that. The reason they acted that way is because deep inside they were worried that if they weren’t perfect citizens, then people would question their citizenship.”
Though Superman was created by two young Jewish artists reacting to a world that was becoming increasing violent toward people of their creed, that same increasing violence came to affect Asian-Americans during the later days of the Second World War. Many families in the U.S. and Canada were moved to internment camps, despite being what Yang calls “perfect citizens” – their loyalty to the country was questioned without the benefit of being able to defend themselves.
Yang sees this as an aspect that’s at work in Superman as well: “We’re seeing that [fear] now with all the anti-Asian stuff that’s popping up in the news. I think that there’s that dynamic with Superman as well. He’s an immigrant too, but he comes from somewhere way farther away than Asia. Deep inside, I think he has the same fears.”
Gene Luen Yang is the creator of numerous comics and graphic novels. His American Born Chinese won numerous awards for youth literature, as well as an Eisner Award. Yang was the writer of DC’s New 52 title New Superman, featuring a Chinese Superman named Kong Kenan. Superman Smashes the Klan, with illustration by art team Gurihiru, is currently available from DC Comics.
Gene Luen Yang's new graphic novel Superman Smashes the Klan brings up interesting aspects of Superman's identity as an immigrant.