Superman Smashes the Klan Part Two Aims for the Heart

Panel from Superman Smashes the Klan Part Two by Gene Luen Yang (writer), Gurihiru (artists), and Janice Chiang (letterer) depicting Roberta Lee showing off her new jacket

Picking up where Superman Smashes the Klan: Part One left off, Part Two doesn’t quite deliver on the series title: while Superman does rough up a couple of Klansmen, he doesn’t yet smash the Klan.

Superman Smashes the Klan: Part Two

Janice Chiang (letterer), Gurihiru (interior and main cover artists), Gene Luen Yang (writer)
DC Comics
December 18th, 2019

Superman Smashes the Klan Part Two Cover by Gurihiru depicting Superman carrying Roberta Lee against a backdrop of Metropolis

Instead, the issue opens with a rescue. Like the first issue, this second opens with one page of panels before a page turn reveals a dynamic two page spread. Superman, with Roberta Lee (the series protagonist) and Chuck Riggs (nephew of the Grand Scorpion of the Klan of the Fiery Kross) tucked under his arms, jumps over the Metropolis River. He saves Roberta’s brother, Tommy, and then sees visions of his alien birth parents.

When they first appear in Part Two, Superman’s alien father and mother are dressed like Jonathan and Martha Kent, the former in overalls and the latter in a pink dress and apron. Clothes, not just costumes, are so important in this series. Their outfits are uncannily similar to the ones that Ma and Pa Kent will be wearing in the flashback that follows. Unlike Gurihiru’s usual precise black lines, the flashback panels are bordered with edges that appear rough and unfinished, albeit deliberately so. Every single part of this book is meticulously put together by the creative team. Gurihiru use angled panels in a later flashback, which highlight Clark’s anxiety over his heat vision as it begins to manifest. As this happens, Clark hears an alien language, which the reader sees as a foreign, green font.

Panels from Superman Smashes the Klan Part Two by Gene Luen Yang (writer), Gurihiru (artists), and Janice Chiang (letterer) depicting a Clark Kent flashback

This issue made me appreciate Janice Chiang’s lettering even more than the first, particularly in her use of color. When Superman speaks to his birth parents in their alien language, his words and theirs, though translated into English, are colored the same green. Likewise, when Roberta and Tommy’s mother speaks Cantonese, her speech and speech bubbles are colored red. That red is brighter and more noticeable than the Kryptonian green, almost making it more alien.

Red is an important color in Superman Smashes the Klan. It’s the color of Superman’s heat vision and the color of his alien birth parents’ eyes, stark against their mottled green skin. As a child in Smallville and as an adult in Metropolis, Clark Kent wears a red tie, and Superman wears a red cape made for him by his mother. Superman gifts a cape to Roberta from which her mother makes her a new jacket. Unlike the white lab coat gifted to her father by his boss or the baseball hat given to Tommy after he joins the Unity House’s team, Roberta’s new, red coat, with Superman’s yellow emblem on the back, doesn’t signal assimilation. Instead, it brings together the two cultures to which she belongs equally: Chinese and American.

Panel from Superman Smashes the Klan Part Two by Gene Luen Yang (writer), Gurihiru (artists), and Janice Chiang (letterer) depicting Roberta Lee showing off her new jacket

Superman has a much more difficult time reconciling the two cultures to which he belongs: American and alien. When his alien birth parents–no longer dressed as Ma and Pa Kent but wearing clothing not unlike his costume–ask, “Why only be half of who you actually are?” Clark responds, “… I love being a part of this. A part of them.” Although neither Clark nor Roberta have realized it yet, Chinese/American and alien/American are false dichotomies. What Smashes the Klan doesn’t, and maybe can’t, reconcile with is what this means for Indigenous peoples, who are notably absent from the comic and Yang’s backmatter essay, “Superman and Me” (here Part 2 of 3), which focuses on a particular vein of immigrant history.

As much as I am enjoying Superman Smashes the Klan, which is to say a lot, I really, sincerely wish it had been released as one volume, not three. While the physical dimensions of the issues are novel, the irregular release schedule, with two months between each issue, and delay of action make it clear that Part Two is not so much the middle of a trilogy as it is the middle. I don’t know if this will make Part Three more satisfying when it comes out in February or not, but I am looking forward to it, nonetheless.