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 young Chinese-American girl named Roberta Lee is moving from Chinatown to downtown Metropolis after her father gets a new job. 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.
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 Guruhiru, 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.
- Adaptational 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 Wimp: Superman still has his Golden Age powerset, meaning that he doesn't fly, use his Heat Vision or his X-Ray Vision. As a result, he runs along telephone wires to get around so he doesn't bump into anyone. However, when Roberta notes that Superman is holding himself back to the detriment to the public that he has sworn to help and with reassurances from a recording of his birth parents and directly from his Muggle Foster Parents, Superman begins to embrace his nature as an immigrant from another planet and his non-human abilities, like his ability to fly.
- 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. There's also classic examples like Lois Lane.
- 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.
- Animesque: The art, done by Guruhiru, has a manga-like feel given the duo's work on comics like Power Pack and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- 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: In the original "Klan of the Fiery Kross", Roberta didn't even have any lines or even a name, she was 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.
- 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.
- 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. It's clear from Roberta's interactions with her old friends from Chinatown accuse her of the same things that Tommy's complaints aren't unfounded.
- 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 sows 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Since it's the 1940's, casual racism is everywhere, between the depictions of Asians as alien conqueror 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Farm Boy: Clark Kent still grew up in Smallville, Kansas.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: 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: Subverted. Superman's powers are at their Golden Age levels. So while he's strong and tough, he lacks most of his auxiliary powers aside from Super Hearing. Played completely straight once he accepts himself and his heritage, coming 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.
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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.
- Intrepid Reporter: Clark, Lois, Jimmy, and Perry all qualify. 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.
- 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.
- Kryptonite Factor: In this story, Superman has never encountered kryptonite before, leaving him confused and bewildered as it sickens him with its presence alone.
- 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.
- My Suit Is Also Super: Averted. Superman's costume and cape are sown from Earth materials rather than Kryptonian ones. As a result, they're just as vulnerable to burning or tearing as any other fabric.
- 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.
- 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 notes that the Unity House was founded by a priest, a minister, and a rabbi, which almost sounds like the setup for a joke.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 Matts 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.
- 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 Correct History: Deliberately averted. Racism is prevalent everywhere in the comic, between the blatant examples (i.e. the Klan of the Fiery Kross) to the more subtle microaggressions (i.e. a girl being thankful that Roberta is Chinese and not a "Jap"). Roberta's father also tries to shoo away three African-American men who stopped to help him put out the fires around the Lees' house, only to realize his error when one of them pulls out a police badge. Even Superman is afraid of his alien heritage and hides his origins from the world.
- Positive Discrimination:
- Alexandra, one of the girls at the Unity House, engages in this saying that Chinese are "Hardworking and Brave." She doesn't seem to know how to react when Roberta says they're just people.
- Dr. Lee also invokes this, reminding Roberta to use impeccable manners and constantly trying to appease his bosses and co-workers rather than speaking to them as equals. This makes him easy for Dr. Wilson to manipulate into helping him make weapons to use against Superman.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 its revealed his leader doesnt 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.
- 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 sows into a new jacket.
- Ship Tease: It occurs during issues 2 and 3 between Jimmy and Roberta. It doesn't go beyond that.
- Spell My Name with a "The": Defied. Atom Man refers to Superman as "the Superman", but Supes quips that it just sounds 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. Roberta spots this and immediately deduces him to be one of the Klan members who attacked her home.
- Suicide Attack: Matt Riggs attempts on an entire stadium full of people after Superman destroys his kryptonite cannon.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Willfully Weak: As pointed out, Superman seems to be unconsciously holding back his true potential because of his fear of acceptance. 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.
- You Remind Me of X: Roberta's feelings of alienation and loneliness remind Clark of his own struggles with fitting in.