cover image The Invisible Empire: Madge Oberholtzer and the Unmasking of the Ku Klux Klan

The Invisible Empire: Madge Oberholtzer and the Unmasking of the Ku Klux Klan

Micky Neilson, Todd Warger, and Marc Bostel. Insight Comics, $24.99 (112p) ISBN 978-1-68383-447-2

While this historical graphic novel has noble ambitions, dramatizing the true story of a brutal 1920s crime that ignited a backlash against the Ku Klux Klan, the execution is cringe-inducing. Madge Oberholtzer, portrayed here as a relentlessly sunny young educator, briefly dates D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan and operator of a far-right political machine. After she leaves him, he and his cronies kidnap and rape her. Prosecutor William Remy takes on the case against Stephenson, challenging the Klan’s power. The story is clumsily scripted and drawn with cartoonishly evil, ugly racists sneering at attractive Brylcreemed heroes. The creators never surmount the inherent problem of telling a story about racism by focusing on the suffering of a white woman and the heroism of a white man. Instead, they surround the white heroes with minor black characters who inspire them (“It’s only when we use all the colors in the palette that the canvas really comes to life,” a friendly black artist tells Oberholtzer in a painfully unsubtle scene) and cheer them on. The overly photorealistic art is awkward, with photostatted backgrounds and characters who pass into the uncanny valley. This stiff, didactic, and overly sensationalistic attempt at illustrating history is one to miss. (Sept.)