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Comic Book / Superman Smashes the Klan

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Man of Steel vs. Fiery Kross

The year is 1946. The nefarious Atom Man is smashing the Metropolis Dam, threatening to flood the entire city. But fear not, because who else would come running in from across the telephone lines than Metropolis' most famous citizen, Superman! But after discovering the villain's mysterious power source, Superman will be forced to confront a part of himself he'd much rather forget.

At the same time, a Chinese-American family called the Lees are moving from Chinatown to downtown Metropolis after the patriarch gets a job there. The focus is primarily on young Roberta Lee and her elder brother Tommy. Away from her friends and the community she grew up in, she struggles to find her place in a town that isn't as welcoming as she might have hoped, though she does find a friend in Daily Planet reporter Jimmy Olsen, and probably develops a crush on him.

Their paths will cross as they both confront their inner demons and the threat of the nefarious Klan of the Fiery Kross.

Superman Smashes the Klan is a bi-monthly miniseries published by DC Comics between October 2019 and February 2020. Written by award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Gurihiru (who had previously worked together on the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics), it is a loose adaptation of one of the most famous episodes of The Adventures of Superman radio show: "Clan of the Fiery Cross."

Superman Smashes the Klan provides examples of:

  • The '40s: The story is set in 1946, not long after World War II. Tensions against Asian-Americans are still high, particularly against the Japanese, and the Klan of the Fiery Kross is starting to revive itself.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Quite a lot of the story is expanded upon from the original radio show to the point of almost reaching In Name Only levels. Characters only mentioned or having small roles have much bigger parts in the story along with never before had characterization.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • Roberta, Tommy and Chuck still need Superman to save them but when Matt Riggs shows up at the baseball field to kill them, they do fight back and land some hits on before he nearly shoots them.
    • Matt Riggs still doesn't have any powers, but in the original story he was a Dirty Coward. Here he is a Martyr Without a Cause who will gladly throw his life away.
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • The Grand Imperial Mogul was a villain in the original radio show who admitted the Klan only existed to help him make money. In addition to that however, this storyline writes him as a Smug Snake who feels having power makes him a god while normal people are ants in comparison.
    • Chuck's Mother is still mildly racist but her speech to her son that prompts him to help Superman is adapted out.
    • Chuck Riggs starts off as a blatant racist and in the radio show after he got home, he realized that getting hurt by Tommy was his fault. He gets better, realizing what a jerk he was being after seeing how horrible Matt is.
  • Adaptational Time Span Change: The Lees were stated to have moved into their neighbourhood a month prior in the radio show. In contrast, the miniseries depicts them moving in and the Klan activity happening the same night.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Mr. Lee shows a bit of his own racism when instead of thanking a trio of black men helping him put out a fire he tells them to leave. Then we find out he was knowingly working on a secret project to kill Superman. In the original show he was nothing but a kind man looking out for his family. He gets better though.
    • Matt Riggs himself, he's still just as racist and violent, but with a much more modern take on racism. In the old show he was a fiery and angry speaker, but in the comic he's more likely to try and convince people that he's not hateful, just trying to help make his home better.
  • Adapted Out: Perry's rhyming alien cook Poco is omitted. There is also no mention of Mr. Lee's given name of "Wan", probably because that is actually a Chinese surname rather than a given name.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Mostly averted. Aside from the most racist bigots among the people of Metropolis, the majority of the adults are brave and helpful, respecting Superman and doing their best to do good. Dr. Lee's own prejudices can make him more harmful than helpful, but never means ill.
    • Played straight when Superman reveals his origins to a packed Little League field while rescuing the kids from Matt Riggs. While most of the adults look on in fear and try to chase him away, the kids are incredulous and rightfully point out that he's saved the city too many times for him to be distrusted now. The only adults who aren't fearful are Lois and Detective Henderson.
  • Alliterative Name: Roberta's full Chinese name is Lan-Shin Lee. This fits with the Superman supporting cast's Theme Initials of L.L. (Lois Lane and Lana Lang also appear in the comic). At the end of the story, Lois reveals that she gave her a case embroidered with "LL" because she knows Roberta's Chinese name.
  • All There in the Manual: The manual being the arc of the original radio show, the Klan-aligned officer is identified as Jack Barton.
  • And the Adventure Continues: At the end, Roberta accepts Lois Lane's offer for her to become a cub reporter and does under her original name she is no longer reluctant to have, Lan-Shin Lee, and is seen in the field, presumably pursuing a story with Lane and Jimmy Olsen with Superman overhead keeping an eye on them.
  • Animals Not to Scale: In a flashback where Clark saves a circus strongman from a lion, the lion is absolutely gigantic, standing taller than Clark.
  • Animesque: The art, done by Gurihiru, has a manga-like feel given the duo's work on comics like Power Pack and Avatar: The Last Airbender. In particular, Matt Riggs' hair and facial expressions during the climax are full-on "shonen manga villain", which is Hypocritical Humor subtext given his white supremacist motivations.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Roberta realizes that Superman's "jumping" is more like "floating" after he gives her a ride a few times. She later confronts him about it and asks why he's holding back his powers after the Unity House is destroyed and the Planet is taken hostage. This gets him to realize that not using all of his powers to remain "ordinary" is hurting the people around him.
  • Ascended Extra: Pretty much everyone gets a larger role here then what they had in the original "Klan of the Fiery Kross" radio episodes. Roberta though is an especially big case as she didn't have any lines or even a name, as she was only mentioned in passing by Dr. Lee. Here she's a central character next to Superman himself.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish:
    • When Roberta gets nervous, she reverts to this, speaking in short, broken phrases. Chuck mocks her for it until she calms herself and speaks fluently.
    • Played straight with her mom, who is far more comfortable speaking Cantonese and struggles to string together complete sentences, leaving out articles in the process.
  • Asshole Victim: No one's going to mourn Dr. Wilson, the founder of the Klan, after Matt Riggs strangles him to death.
  • Author Appeal: Like many of Gene Luen Yang's works, Superman Smashes the Klan is particularly focused on racism, the Chinese-American identity, and dealing with being a Child of Two Worlds.
  • Badass Normal: Detective Henderson doesn't any powers, but he shows more once he can KO a man with a single punch.
  • Bait the Dog: Matt Riggs is introduced as a responsible father figure to Chuck, who tells him to man up and apologize for the incident with Tommy. Then Chuck mentions Tommy is Chinese, and demonstrates that he is far more bigoted than his nephew.
  • Beware the Superman: Averted. After Tommy is kidnapped by the Klan and rescued by Superman, Tommy's father immediately suspects Superman of the original kidnapping, declaring that no one man can be trusted with that much power until Roberta and Tommy tell him off. When he realizes that Superman is in fact as good as he appears to be, Dr. Lee quits his job, as he'd been helping to develop anti-Superman weapons.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Superman's usual thing, especially when the Klan has kidnapped Perry White, Lois Lane and Inspector Henderson. When they defy their abductor, and mock the leader's $2.79 sword, the leader is about to kill them in a rage when Superman rams through the walls to rescue their hostages.
  • Blatant Lies: When The Grand Scorpion kidnaps Tommy, he takes a moment to enlighten Tommy on the Klan's "real" motivations, which he seemingly speaks with utter conviction.
    Grand Scorpion: Before we get started though, I want you to know that we don't hate your kind. Don't you believe the papers. There's not an ounce of hate in our hearts.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Roberta and Tommy get into an argument over how they're trying to fit into their new neighborhood. Roberta chastises Tommy for leaning into stereotypes and making light of the offenses against them, while Tommy complains about how Roberta's distant demeanor and inability to compromise makes her stuck up and hard to approach. Her old friends from Chinatown accuse her of the same things, showing that Tommy's complaints aren't unfounded.
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning of the comic, Jimmy marvels at how high Superman can jump, while Lois scoffs at him, saying that "it's not like [Superman] can fly." At the end of the comic, Superman indeed flies into the stadium and brings Matt Riggs up into the sky with him to harmlessly disarm the bomb strapped to his chest. Jimmy even says that he doesn't know if he'll ever get used to that.
  • Brought to You by the Letter "S": Invoked by Martha Kent. When Clark first decides to go out and use his powers in costume to help others, she sews the House of El's crest onto the front of his uniform. Although he's concerned that people will recognize the strange shield on his chest as something alien, she points out that it looks like an "S" and tells him to let the people think of it as such. It carries over when Roberta's mother makes Superman's cape that he gave to the girl into a jacket, which still has the rear yellow "S" symbol on it.
  • Buffy Speak: The Smallville bullies aren't quite sure how to explain Clark's Flight and Heat Vision to the sheriff.
    Kyle: H-He floated up in the-
    Ms. Braverman: The Bible calls it levitation-
    Kyle: He levitationed up in the air!
  • Bullying a Dragon: During Superman's above mentioned Big Damn Heroes moment, the Klan actually picks a fight with him even though he just smashed a brick wall. The results are predictable.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Clark is treated like this at the Daily Planet. On one hand, he's an excellent writer who always finds the scoop. On the other, he has a habit of vanishing at convenient times and does odd things like sniff himself for the smell of alien crystal.
  • The Cameo: The trapeze artists performing for the circus Clark and Lana visit in Issue #3 consist of a mother, father, and son wearing bright red, yellow, and green costumes with feather-shaped patterns on them. The fact that they are performing without a safety net means they are almost certainly The Flying Graysons.
  • Catchphrase: Perry White has "Great Caesar's Ghost" when he's surprised.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Dr. Wilson, who appears in the first issue to welcome the Lees to the community, is conspicuously absent when Lois visits the Health Department in the following issue. He reappears in the final part of the story as the Grand Imperial Mogul of the Klan, having used the Health Department as a cover for making anti-Superman weapons.
    • Roberta and her sensitive stomach end up being this. Her sensitivity makes her realize that Superman's In a Single Bound jumps are more like floating given how softly he lands on the ground. She confronts him about why he's holding back when he could be using these powers to help others, giving him the final epiphany to make him confront his heritage.
  • Child of Two Worlds: Clark was born on Krypton, but adopted and raised on Earth, making him culturally human despite his alien origins. His suppression of his Kryptonian heritage prevents him from unlocking the full breadth of his powers, which comes back to bite him when he fails to use his X-ray vision to locate the bombs the Klan planted in the Unity House, resulting in its destruction.
  • Clark Kenting:
    • The Trope Namer is right there on the front cover. Even though Roberta and Tommy have met Clark Kent in person several times, neither of them suspects that he might be Superman.
    • It's a Discussed Trope in Issue #3, in which Clark is the only one to notice that the ticket salesman at the circus and a strongman are the same man. When he talks to the strongman about it after saving him from an escaped lion, he actually gives Clark tips on how to carry himself that allow him to form his Superman persona and become the Trope Namer.
  • Covers Always Lie: The alternative cover of Part 1 by Kyle Baker features five kids in modern dress, one of which is in possession of a Batman lunchbox, and Krypto. The story is set in 1946, no such lunchbox appears nor does Krypto.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
  • Defiant to the End:
    • What White, Lane and Henderson are when they mock their kidnappers and their $2.79 sword, even though they are likely to be killed for that insult. Fortunately, Superman arrives to rescue them.
    • In a sick way, Matt Riggs, who — after being captured and disarmed by Superman — declares he doesn't want to live in a racially integrated world, then slashes him with a kryptonite dagger, intending to fall to his death and poison Superman in one final act of spite. It's only a glancing blow, and Clark manages to recover in time to save his life.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Since it's the 1940's, casual racism is everywhere, between the depictions of Asians as alien conquerors in film, the racism displayed against the Lees by Chuck, the Klan, and an old police officer, and Clark's own fear of being outed as an alien.
  • Dirty Cop: The old white cop flatly refuses to help Roberta, instead complaining about how Asian-Americans apparently have it easy compared to white folk. He's later revealed to be a member of the Klan and springs Matt Riggs from prison. At the story's climax, Inspector Henderson is the one to bring him to justice.
  • Distressed Dude:
    • Tommy is caught in this role when he's kidnapped by Klan members who want to tar and feather him.
    • Later on, the Klan takes Perry White and Inspector Henderson hostage along with Lois.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When Matt shows up at the baseball game, Tommy, Roberta, and even Chuck stand up to him and start hitting him. It's not enough to beat him and he nearly shoots them all, but it is enough to keep him from killing anybody until Superman shows up.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": As usual, everyone calls Perry White "Chief" despite his constant complaining about it.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Matt Riggs murders his boss when the man makes clear that he doesn't believe in the Klan's ideals and only uses it to make money and fund his war on Superman and is the Final Boss of the comic.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Mrs. Lee struggles to express herself completely in English, but in Cantonese she's far more articulate and passionate in her speech.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even the more casually racist characters are openly disgusted at just HOW violent the Klan is.
  • Entertainingly Wrong:
    • Lois asks about the origins of Superman's powers, giving a few proposed theories that are plausible enough for a Super Hero Origin, but incorrect.
    • Matt sees Henderson watching his house and assumes he got a lead because someone gave out information on the Klan in exchange for the reward Perry White put out. Henderson in fact disagreed with Perry's decision and decided to investigate the Riggs' home because of his earlier conversation with Chuck, who attempted to protect Matt but was such a Bad Liar he just confirmed Henderson's suspicions.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: In Clark's flashback, his parents talk about his extraordinary origins from a distance so he wouldn't hear them. Unbeknownst to them, Clark had already started developing his Super Senses and could hear every word, contributing to his sense of alienation.
  • Experienced Protagonist: Clark has already been Superman for years at this point and is a household name in Metropolis in both of his identities. However, his battle with the Atom Man marks his first encounter with kryptonite.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
    • Matt Riggs spends the entire comic assuming his nephew Chuck is loyally following him, utterly clueless to the fact that his villainy disgusts his nephew. Chuck only obeys him out of fear. He doesn't take a hint until Chuck openly turns on him.
    • When Superman displays his full range of powers, Matt cannot understand why a man who is "the true superior race" would keep trying to save people of lesser races. He is even more shocked when Superman says he considers everyone to be his own people, even Matt.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Matt Riggs is a leader in the local section of the Klan, and every bit the bombastic speaker you would expect from it.
  • Evil Old Folks: The cop that refuses to help Roberta is secretly a member of the Klan, turning his gun on Detective Henderson after the latter tries to get Matt Riggs to release Roberta.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: When Matt Riggs threatens Lois, Perry White and Inspector Henderson with a sword that he claims has been in use for generations, Lois cuts that boast down with an observation that a sword with such a storied past should be worth more than $2.79, which is visible on a sales tag still attached to it. As the prisoners yuck it up, Matt completely loses it in the face of such mockery.
  • Farm Boy: Clark Kent still grew up in Smallville, Kansas.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Matt Riggs puts on the air of being a polite father figure to Chuck, initially telling him how he shouldn't lose his temper and apologize for the argument he started at baseball practice. That is until he learns the argument was with a Chinese boy. The moment Chuck realizes what a monster Matt is and turns on him, Matt tries to kill him.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Referenced when a young Clark is accused of being demon-possessed after he floats into the air and shoots "the fires of hell" from his eyes. The local sheriff takes a whiff of Clark and notes that the boy doesn't smell like fire and brimstone, concluding that if he truly is possessed by a demon, then it's the lousiest demon in all of creation.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing:
    • When the founder of the Klan is revealed, his title is "Grand Imperial Mogul" rather than "Imperial Wizard" or "Grand Wizard". This is because Dr. Wilson treats the Klan as a Ponzi scheme where he gets rich off the exorbitant registration and clothing fees while stoking racism to keep the Klan's followers from figuring out they're being ripped off.
    • It's revealed in the last issue that the lake Clark threw the Kryptonian sound box into is named Lake Solitude. As soon as he dives in, he finds that it has grown an underwater Fortress of Solitude for him.
  • Flying Brick: Once Superman accepts himself and his heritage, he learn to fly and comes down from the skies to save the kids from Matt Riggs.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Tommy is the Foolish Sibling. He's outgoing, hot-headed, and willing to lean into stereotypes if it means fitting in. By contrast, Roberta is the Responsible Sibling. She's thoughtful, introspective, and a worrywart who worries about the big picture and what other people think of her to the point of appearing stuck-up.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Inverted. When Clark first starts getting visions of his birth parents they have green skin, red compound eyes, pointed ears, and antennae, looking like B-Movie alien villains due to his discomfort with his Kryptonian origin. When he becomes comfortable with it, they shift to the usual DC depiction of Kryptonians as Human Aliens.
  • A God Am I: Dr. Wilson declares this of himself when compared to other, lesser people like Matt Riggs.
  • Going Native: Mr. Lee constantly insists that his family speak English and act obediently to the people in downtown Metropolis after moving there from Chinatown. His insistence on being "normal" and living up to positive stereotypes gets him to try to reason with The Klan to stop them from burning his house down. His wife admonishes him for this and tells him in Cantonese, "To Hell with your English!"
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil:
    • Chuck holds onto the belief that his uncle Matt is a good person, even after learning he is the Grand Scorpion. He later admits it's because he doesn't want to believe his family is evil.
    • After Superman has Matt beat and flies into the air with him, he tells him he considers everyone on Earth to be his own people, who share the same future and the same tomorrow, even Matt when he renounces his villainy. Matt demonstrates that he would rather die than change his ways and cuts Superman with a kryptonite knife, causing Superman to drop him.
    • Superman tries to find a bomb the Klan planted in the Unity House by dragging one of the Klansmen in with him, believing the man will tell him where to find the bomb so he's not killed in the blast. As it turns out, the Klansman was happy to martyr himself.
  • Green Around the Gills: Roberta gets motion sick easily and frequently has to throw up after a bumpy ride, often turning purple or green in the process.
  • Hairstyle Inertia: Clark has worn the exact same hairstyle since he was a baby, cowlick and all.
  • Happily Adopted: Clark loves his Ma and Pa more than anything, but he struggles with the truth of what he is and tries his best to ignore his alien heritage. When he goes to finally confront the truth of what he is, he asks his parents if they'll always be family no matter what. Martha replies that this was the case since the day they found him.
    Clark: I... I need to know that no matter what happens , no matter what I find out, nothing changes between us. Promise me we'll always be family.
    Jonathan: [pulls him into a hug] Oh, son...
    Martha: We made that promise the moment we laid eyes on you.
  • Hate Sink:
  • Heroic Build: Superman, as usual, is as big, muscular, and heroic as you expect him to be.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Grand Mogul gets strangled to death by Matt Riggs, a bigot he'd exploited for his own ends.
  • Human Alien: Clark is from another planet, but outwardly looks human. He's terrified of his alien heritage and begins freaking out when he sees visions of figures who claim to be his parents but are grotesque and lizard-like. When he finally resolves himself to confront his alien heritage and accept it, they appear as they actually did on Krypton.
  • Humiliation Conga: Matt Riggs' attempts to kill Superman, even by taking his own life, fail miserably, and he is taken to prison. Since he stated he would rather die than lose, this is an unintentional Cruel Mercy. To top it all off it's Henderson, an African America, who arrests him.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Deep down, Clark just wants to fit in with everyone else. Even as Superman, he desperately hides his alien heritage despite his blatantly inhuman strength, speed, and durability.
    Clark: [between huffs of fear and exhaustion] Please... let me be ordinary... perfectly ordinary...
  • Innocent Bigot: Alexandra, one of the girls at the Unity House, is this in that she tries to be friendly but believes a lot of stereotypes about Chinese people
  • Instant Costume Change: As per classic tradition, Superman runs into a phone booth to quickly change into his uniform.
  • Internal Reveal: Pretty much everyone knows Superman's backstory by now. But he himself decides to learn about it by diving to the bottom of the lake where he threw the Kryptonian sound box, only to discover an underwater Fortress of Solitude had grown there. Once he steps inside, his biological parents, now shown as they truly were, greet him and tell him everything.
  • Interracial Adoption Struggles: Set in 1946, this version of Superman initially denies his alien heritage due to a childhood accident, often imagining his birth parents as green-skinned stereotypical aliens. As such, he lets the public believe he is simply an extraordinary human because he limits his powers to that of super strength, speed, jumps, and hearing. The Kents accept him for who he is, as Martha is the one who insists he wear the El family crest on his uniform, but their fears of him getting persecuted led them to suppress his alien identity rather than embrace it, preventing him from reaching his full potential. Roberta Lee (herself struggling with being a Chinese-American immigrant in a white neighborhood) after realizing his jumps are more like floating, points out that limiting his powers to seem "normal" could lead to others getting hurt, which is exactly what happens when he doesn't use his x-ray vision to spot a bomb. Eventually, he publicly comes out with his alien heritage as Superman, but not before having a heart-to-heart with the Kents.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Clark, Lois, Jimmy, and Perry don't display fear even as the Klan members are holding them hostage. Roberta gets in on it too, helping Jimmy snoop around and distract Klan members. By the end of the story, Lois invites Roberta to sign on as a cub reporter for the Daily Planet, and she accepts wholeheartedly.
  • It's All About Me: The Klan of the Fiery Kross is all just a conjob set up by Dr. Wilson in order to make money. Among other things he uses that money to fund a plan to kill Superman, not because he believes Superman could be a threat to the world, but because Superman could be a threat to him.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Shortly after Superman's fight with Atom Man, Jimmy gushes about, among other things, how high he can jump. Lois scoffs and reminds him Superman has limits because "It's not like he can fly." It seems to just be a Mythology Gag at first. note  But after accepting his Kryptonian heritage, he's able to fly and levitate on demand, which Jimmy lampshades when he leaves.
  • Jerk Jock: Chuck Riggs starts off at this, mocking Tommy and Roberta for being Chinese and blaming the former for getting beaned when it was entirely Chuck's fault. However he's still horrified by his uncle's villainy.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Matt Riggs is evil but initially still comes as a loving and supporting father figure to Chuck, forgiving him for a screw up when terrorizing the Lees and telling him that everyone makes mistakes. But when Chuck turns on Matt, he doesn't hesistate to try and murder him.
  • The Klan: The Klan of the Fiery Kross is a thinly disguised Ku Klux Klan-Expy who tries to tar and feather Tommy and set fire to the Lees' house. They also successfully destroy the Unity House with dynamite.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Matt Riggs. The comic starts off innocently enough, Atom Man being potrayed as a joke. Roberta has her issues fitting in with the but most of the conflict stems from Chuck being a jerk. Then Matt shows up and the story takes a much darker turn, especially with the revelations about Superman's shame of being an alien.
  • Kryptonite Factor: In this story, Superman has never encountered kryptonite before, leaving him confused and bewildered as it sickens him with its presence alone.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: When the Klan shows at the Lee's house, Tommy runs out to try and chase away the group of grown men with a baseball bat. This prompts Matt to order Chuck throw a molotov cocktail at the house.
  • Lovable Jock: Tommy is a bit muscleheaded and straightforward as well as a talented baseball player. Although he can be insensitive, he's also a nice kid who wants to make friends and fit in.
  • Motive Rant The head of the Klan gives a speech (itself an Adaptation Expansion of a similar, if shorter moment from the serial the comic is adapting) is actually a blunt but accurate summation of an often overlooked and especially insidious aspect of systemic racism. He freely admits that he's Only in It for the Money, doesn't buy into any of his own racist rhetoric, and that exploiting the racism of dumber, poorer recruits is how he and men like him maintain power and privilege, and is happy to employ the service of "lesser" races as long as they further his agenda and position.
    "You stupid fool! You think the world is divided by race, but really, it's divided by power! I have power and you do not! Our skin may be the same color, but you and I are nothing alike! You are an insect! I am a God!"
  • My Suit Is Also Super: Averted. Superman's costume and cape are sewn from Earth materials rather than Kryptonian ones. As a result, they're just as vulnerable to burning or tearing as any other fabric.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Early in Issue #3, we see a flashback to Superman visiting a circus with Lana Lang, and saving a Circus Strongman from being attacked by a lion. Impressed, the strongman suggests he adopt a flashy costume to make himself look less threatening to the people he's trying to help. The earliest iterations of Superman's costume were, in fact, based on contemporary circus strongmen outfits.
      • For that matter, the strongman's stage name is Samson, from the biblical hero who also possessed superstrength; the man himself appears to be Jewish, too, if that "Oy gevalt!" during the lion attack is any indicator. Both of Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were Jewish and modeled Superman's origin on Moses, another Bible character, so it's very fitting that an in-universe inspiration for Clark to become Superman is a Jewish man on top of the circus inspiration in- and out-of-universe.
    • Captain Desmo and Genghis Ahkim, the square-jawed hero and Yellow Peril villain in the sci-fi movie that Roberta watches and is disturbed by, are not just generic Lawyer-Friendly Cameo versions of Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless, but very obscure DC characters from Golden Age anthology comics.
    • Atom Man is based on the villain from another chapter of the Adventures of Superman radio show, but his helmet design is inspired by the title character of the 1950 film serial Atom Man vs. Superman, which turned out to be a secret identity of Lex Luthor.
  • Naturalized Name:
    • The Lees all have Anglicized names to fit in with American culture. Roberta's Chinese name is Lan-Shin. Both Tommy and Roberta seem to prefer their English names, but their mother still tends to refer to Roberta by her Chinese name. However, Tommy's and Mr. and Mrs. Lee's names are never revealed.
    • Similarly, Clark grew up with the name given to him by the Kents, but later learns his birth name, Kal-El, from the memory projections of his parents.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Superman develops more and more of his modern day powerset as he learns and grows to accept his Kryptonian heritage. Lampshaded in the third issue after he uses his Super Breath to freeze the dynamite Matt Riggs had strapped to himself.
    Riggs: H-How did you do that?
    Superman: I'm not totally sure. I've been discovering a lot about myself lately.
  • Noble Bigot:
    • Chuck shows some racist tendencies like his uncle, who is a Grand Scorpion of the Klan of the Fiery Kross. Unlike his uncle, Chuck is horrified by what he's made to do and doesn't wish real harm on anyone. As such, he intentionally misses his molotov cocktail to keep the Lees' house from being set on fire when he could have easily thrown it into the Lees' bedroom. Alexandria (a girl at the Unity House) is also one in that she tries to be friendly but does buy into some bigoted ideas.
    • Mr. Lee shows clear distrust for three African-American men even when they're trying to put out a fire on his property, it's clear that he doesn't mean real harm and he loves his family.
  • No Name Given:
    • Tommy and Roberta's parents are only ever referred to as Mrs. and Mr./Dr. Lee. They're given neither a Chinese nor a Naturalized Name.
    • The old white cop who refuses to help Roberta when Tommy is kidnapped is not given a name either.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Roberta has to throw one of these in when talking about Unity House.
    Roberta: Turns out the Unity House is a community center started by - and this sounds like the setup for a joke but it's not - a priest, a minister, and a rabbi.
  • Only in It for the Money: To Matt Rigg's surprise, the Grand Imperial Mogul of the Klan is only in it for the money and power that comes with collecting admission fees. He goes so far as to scoff at Matt's enduring belief in "One Race, One Religion, One Color" and is thoroughly amazed at how much Matt lapped it up.
  • Parents as People: The Kents raised Clark to have a heart of gold and the desire to use his abilities for the greater good. But their fears of him getting persecuted for his origins led them to suppress his alien identity rather than embrace it, preventing him from reaching his full potential and giving him a crippling fear of being outed in the present day.
  • Playing Up the Stereotype: Tommy makes up quotes from Confucius, calls himself a wonton, and acts along other Chinese stereotypes while trying to fit in after he and his family move to downtown Metropolis. His sister Roberta calls him out on this, but he retorts that she's so stuck up about not being that everyone keeps her at arm's length.
  • Police Are Useless: Zigzagged. William Henderson is a black police detective who calmly and professionally does his job and rushes to help the Lees after the Klan tries to set their house on fire. But when Tommy is kidnapped, Roberta bangs on a police car window to get help from the old white officer inside, only for the officer to brush her off and complain about how Asian-Americans supposedly get things without having to work for them. Of course, that officer is secretly a member of the Klan, so it's no wonder he refuses to help her. Inspector Henderson brings him to justice in the end.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Klan of the Fiery Kross are violent white supremicists who want to drive out any non-white people from America, and are also antisemites. Henderson at one point saves a Klansman whose robe caught on fire, and he responds by attacking him with a torch out of anger that an African American "contaminated" him. The Grand Imperial Mogul is a different form of one, feeling one human isn't made superior to another thanks to race, but by power, and that his status makes him superior to Matt Riggs.
  • Power Incontinence: Clark first uses his Heat Vision after getting embarrassed by the sight of a freaky alien in a comic book and seeing his friend Pete Ross be bullied by two of the local kids. He struggles to turn it off, but by that point, he's scared off both the bullies and Pete.
  • Primary-Color Champion:
    • It's Superman, albeit the 40's version of the Superman Theatrical Cartoons by Fleischer Studios with a black and red "S" shield instead of the modern red and yellow. Issue #3 reveals that he got the idea for his costume from a circus strongman he helped, who said that the easiest way to shrug off fear is to wear the brightest-colored costume he could.
    • Roberta also qualifies, as her outfit is primarily red and blue, but gains some yellow, excluding her yellow headbands and the ribbon on one of her dresses, after she replaces her jacket with the cape Superman gives her. Her sense of morals and ability to question those around her spurn the plot forward almost as much as Superman's heroics.
  • Psychoactive Powers: It's implied that Superman will only obtain his full modern powerset if he completely accepts both his Earth and Kryptonian heritage. His suppression of his Kryptonian half keeps him from accessing his X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, and Flight.
  • Race Lift: Henderson, at the time of his creation for the radio show, was most likely a white man. Here, he is black.
  • Sanity Slippage: Over the course of the story, Matt slowly becomes more fanatical and violent with every setback Superman and the Lees put on the Klan. It all comes to a head when it's revealed his leader doesn't really care about their creed and says that only idiots actually lap it up. That, along with learning that Superman is an alien and murdering his former leader, throws Matt off the deep end and he ends up strutting into the ballpark in full Klan garb to hold the stadium hostage and kill Superman.
  • Save the Villain: Quite a few times thanks to the Klan being filled with wannabe martyrs, they happily try to kill themselves to accomplish their goals. Matt Riggs tries not once but twice to kill Superman in a situation where doing so would end his life as well.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Mrs. Lee tries her best to help Roberta ease into life in Metropolis, but she's nearly convinced to leave after the Klan attacks her family and home. She's only dissuaded when she realizes that this is exactly what the Klan wants.
  • Security Blanket: Roberta has a favorite jacket she's worn every day for the past few years. Without it, she's all nerves. Unfortunately, she throws up all over it during the car ride to her new home and it's ratty and antiquated enough for her father to throw it out rather than wash it. It gets replaced when Superman gives her his cape, which her mom sews into a new jacket.
  • Ship Tease: Issues 2 and 3 give off the implication that Roberta and Jimmy might have developed feelings for each other. It doesn't go beyond that.
  • Shooting Superman: The Trope Namer appears. When Superman shows up to save Inspector Henderson, Perry White and Lois from the Klan, the Klan, who don't even have guns, are actually dumb (or psychotic) enough to attack him. One of them even punches him, with predictable results.
  • Showy Invincible Hero: Superman is fighting against criminals who don't have any powers. But since he's fighting against a bunch of racist scumbags, you most likely won't care that the villains don't pose a threat. The tension in the story is built from them putting the people around him (mostly the Lee family) in danger instead.
  • Shrouded in Myth: What exactly makes Superman "super" isn't public knowledge, leaving many people speculating how he's able to do such incredible things, the most popular being that he got Training from Hell with some foreign warrior monks. When he admits to a crowd at the climax of Issue #3 that he's an alien, the crowd doesn't take it well at first.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • The miniseries begins with Superman fighting Atom Man, a Starter Villain who, despite putting up a decent fight, is felled within only a few pages. However, he gives Superman his first exposure to Kryptonite, which is observed by Dr. Wilson, who uses it to make Anti-Superman weapons that Matt uses against Supes in the climax. Likewise, the Kryptonite poisoning trigger's Clark's character arc when he starts questioning his origins, identity, and self-image.
    • Issue #3 has a flashback with Clark meeting a circus strongman who also works as a ticket salesman. His ability to pass himself off as two separate people, and his suggestions for how Clark should carry himself, help Clark come up with his Superman persona and costume.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Jonathan and Martha Kent are still alive in this comic, while the original radio show had them die before Clark became Superman and did not appear at all in the original "Clan of the Fiery Cross" serial.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Defied. Atom Man refers to Superman as "the Superman", but Supes continuously quips that it just sounds incredibly pretentious.
  • Spotting the Thread: Although Chuck's face and body are completely concealed by the Klan cloak his uncle gives him, he doesn't have the sense to take off the same bright red boots he wore to practice. In turn, Roberta notices this and immediately deduces him to be one of the Klan members who attacked her home.
  • Starfish Language: The Kryptonian soundbox that the Kents found with Clark seems to speak garbled gibberish that doesn't remotely resemble any kind of language on Earth. After Clark visits what would eventually become the Fortress of Solitude to confront his heritage, the projections of his parents explain that it was a blessing that prayed for him to find truth, hope, and love in his new home and that he live to see a tomorrow intertwined with the people of Earth, which gives him the drive to reveal his true nature to the people of Metropolis.
  • Stupid Evil: Matt Riggs' slow Sanity Slippage causes him to make increasingly bad decisions. In response to Mr. White offering a reward for information on Klan members, Matt tries to kill him, Inspector Henderson and Lois. Even though this brought Superman's attention, he still refuses to quit. After realizing the Superman is an alien, he goes to kill him any cost.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: The Atom Man is a Nazi Super Soldier given powers by harnessing kryptonite.
  • Stronger Than They Look: While Tommy is the one most enthusiastic about being a baseball pitcher, it turns out that the small, dainty-looking Roberta has a mean throwing arm herself when she tosses a lead ball to Superman to help him destroy the kryptonite cannon. Jimmy has her pitch in a game of baseball after the battle.
  • Suicide Attack: Matt Riggs attempts one on an entire stadium full of people after Superman destroys his kryptonite cannon. He tries another one immediately after that one fails when he slashes at Superman with a Kryptonite-bladed knife while they're both several hundred feet in the air, but Superman recovers at the last second and saves them both anyway.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Superman mentions his costume isn't indestructible like he is, so among other things, he has spare capes.
    • Chuck sees that Matt wants to blow up the Unity House and gets the kids out. As Roberta points later, he was so hasty that he forgot about the adults.
  • Suspicion Aesop: Superman is widely popular among the majority of Metropolis' citizens. But Mr. Lee is terrified of Superman's superhuman abilities, believing that no one man should have that much power and that Metropolis should fear him if he ever turns on them. His new job involves experimenting on the kryptonite retrieved from the Atom Man to develop weaponry capable of harming or even killing Superman. But he changes his tune after Superman saves Tommy from otherwise certain death. This feeling of suspicion later applies to all of Metropolis after Superman descends from the sky and reveals his alien origins, horrifying all of the adults except for Lois and Henderson. The kids then call out their parents for doubting Superman on the basis of xenophobia after he's saved the city and risked his life for them time and time again.
  • Talking to Themself: Superman's thought projections of his parents are invisible and inaudible to others, making it look like he's having a conversation with himself when others catch him in the act.
  • Tar and Feathers: The Klan likes to inflict this on its victims, and unlike other instances of this trope the comic makes it clear that it's very dangerous, Matt Riggs stated some victims die from it. Tommy is kidnapped by the Klan, who plans to dump boiling tar and feathers all over him as an example to the rest of the Asian-American community in Metropolis. The Lees are horrified when he goes missing, and in his struggle to escape he breaks his arm and nearly drowns. If not for the timely arrival of Superman, Tommy would have been killed, directly or indirectly, by a hate group.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The Atom Man is a Nazi officer powered by kryptonite that turns his skin green. He's strong enough to make Superman feel his blows and nearly destroyed the Metropolis Dam, only to wither away into Nothing but Skin and Bones when the kryptonite is removed. It's also revealed that the Grand Imperial Mogul of the Klan had contacts with the Nazis and was using his resources as the head of the Metropolis Health Department to sap the kryptonite from Atom Man's body to create a weapon against Superman.
  • Translation Convention: Whenever the characters are speaking a language other than English, the font is tinted to match. Chinese is written in red, while Kryptonian is written in a garish and scrabbled green to emphasize how alien it is.
  • Ungrateful Bastard:
    • When a group of black men help put out the fire the Klan set on the Lees' lawn, Dr. Lee shouts nobody asked them to be there and tells them to Get Out!, which Roberta calls him out on.
    • When the black Inspector Henderson puts out a fire on a Klansman, the latter venomously spits that he's been "contaminated" and tries to kill Henderson.
    • When Superman reveals his Kryptonian heritage at the baseball game, the adults in the crowd react with horror and disgust, even begging Matt Riggs to save them from the "alien". The kids call them out for this, citing the many times Superman has saved Metropolis.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Perry White is outraged when he learns that the Klan is attacking Metropolis citizens, putting a $1,000 bounty for anyone who can catch them red-handed in the paper. Unfortunately, this spooks the Klan enough to make them resort to drastic measures, resulting in them blowing up the Unity House with dynamite and taking everyone at the Planet hostage.
  • Villain Has a Point: The Grand Imperial Mogul (Dr. Wilson) calls Matt Riggs a fool for thinking more about racist ideals than money, and rightly points out that he has been keeping his cut of the profits for his own use. Later when the Mogul tries to kill Matt, he flat out calls him a fool for buying into the racist rhetoric the Klan sells. As he admits he's only out to make money, and Matt is one of the suckers who helped him get rich.
  • Villainous Underdog: The Klan don't have any powers. Superman's opening fight saw him tangle with a villain who punched cracks in a hydro electric dam. Even when Matt Riggs gets his hands on Kryptonite weapons, he only poses a threat until Superman breaks his gun.
  • Villainous Valor: Deconstructed. Hard. Matt Riggs is a brave man, that is true, but his bravery is not presented as an admirable trait. He and the Klan constantly pick fights with Superman even though it's quite clear they have no chance of winning, and their eagerness to die and martyr themselves for their cause is a clear sign of arrogance, not bravery. When Superman says even though he has powers, he sees everyone as his people, even Matt, and wants to move towards a better tomorrow together, the bigot cuts him with a kryptonite knife saying he's rather die than face that kind of tomorrow.
  • What The Hell, Townspeople?: The kids call out the adults for fearing Superman after he flies down to save the them from being blasted to smithereens by Matt Rigg's cannon. They're even more incredulous when the adults beg the Grand Scorpion to help them.
  • Whole Costume Reference: A Mythology Gag one. Word of God is that Superman's costume intentionally mirrors the costume from Fleischer Studios's Superman Theatrical Cartoons to drive the Period Piece–feel home.
  • Willfully Weak: As pointed out, Superman seems to be unconsciously holding back his true potential because of his fear of rejection. It takes Roberta pointing this out for him and a projection of his parents detailing his heritage to break through those mental barriers and explore his full power set.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Matt Riggs is willing to turn his kryptonite cannon on his own nephew, Chuck, as well as Tommy, Roberta, and Jimmy for going against him.
  • Wounded Hero, Weaker Helper: Roberta plays the role of the helper to Superman after he's gravely weakened by the kryptonite cannon Matt Riggs is using against him. She manages to toss him a ball of lead to deflect the kryptonite beam and eventually jam the cannon to destroy it, allowing Superman to fight back.
  • Yellow Peril: A movie in the theatre called "Captain Desmo Vs Ghengis Ahkim The Intergalactic Conqueror" uses this trope with its villain, who has facial hair of the archetype and yellow skin.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Dr. Wilson tries to pull this on Matt after he brings the weight of the police, press, and Superman down on The Klan. Matt, feeling betrayed by Wilson admitting he was Only in It for the Money, feels the same way about Wilson and kills him, taking his place as Klan leader.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: After detaining Matt, who gloats about the Klan will never be defeated and that Superman is one of them, something he denies. Matt rhetorically asks how Superman became so strong and boasts whatever it was, it couldn't have been attained by someone of "inferior blood" and that he is an example of the superiority of the white man. Superman is furious.
  • You Remind Me of X: Roberta's feelings of alienation and loneliness remind Clark of his own struggles with fitting in when he was younger.