Comics & CollectiblesComics ReviewsFeaturesReviewsStellar Picks

DC Showcase: ‘Superman Smashes the Klan’ Comic Review

Share this:

Superman Smashes the Klan is a three-issue miniseries from 2019, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru. The first Superman comic from a creative team entirely of Asian descent, it is an intentionally refreshing retelling of the Superman origin story. And being outside from canon, it’s easily accessible for new readers as well. The resonant themes and lovable art make this an essential introduction to the character for young readers and an equally enjoyable experience for older fans too.

Alongside rave reviews, Superman Smashes the Klan has earned two Eisners, the Mike Wieringo Spirit Award, and the Harvey Award for Best Kids Book. This will come as no surprise, because the creative trio are modern superstars in their own right.

Gene Luen Yang is a multi-award winning comic writer, and a recipient of the 2016 MacArthur Fellows Genius Grant. He earned his superhero stripes with acclaimed hits like DC’s New Super-Man, Marvel’s Shang-Chi, and several award-winning indie books like American Born Chinese and Dragon Hoops.

Gurihiru is the Japanese duo of Chifuyu Sasaki (design, pencils, and inks) and Naoko Kawano (design and colors). Superman Smashes the Klan was their first work for the American market, but in the five years since, they have already become famous for their warm cartoony style. The team is particularly well known for illustrating Kelly Thompson’s Eisner-nominated It’s Jeff! comic, one of Marvel’s most popular and innovative digital series.

Janice Chiang is a legendary letterer. Her comics career spans  over 30 years, and she has won numerous awards of her own.  

Filled with love and reference for the character’s history, Superman Smashes the Klan portrays an early years Superman who champions old-fashioned goodness in a world filled with cynicism and fear. This is a similar pitch to James Gunn’s upcoming movie, so let’s see how Superman Smashes the Klan could inspire the first film in the DCU!

Superman and the Atom Man in Superman Smashes the Klan (DC Comics)

The story of Superman Smashes the Klan

In contrast to a more traditional origin like Superman for All Seasons, Superman Smashes the Klan examines the complexity of Superman as an immigrant child. Written with a distinct cultural point-of-view, the result is an all-new Superman story that is deeply personal and ideological, yet retains the traditional elements of the classic Superman concept.

While maintaining a kid-friendly approach through Gurihiru’s art, Gene Luen Yang explores Superman through the lens of immigration and xenophobia. Smashes the Klan is one of the first major Superman origin stories to really understand the immigrant aspect of his character, especially the struggle for (self-)acceptance that comes with being an “alien” born from another culture. The success of this novel juxtaposition makes it one of the best Superman stories in recent memory.

Yang packs the story with layers of meaning, aided by the 1940s setting. Because the Superman character was created in 1938, the time period allows Yang to examine an early years Superman in the tumultuous context he actually debuted in. The comic presents the real world dangers that Superman was created to protect. The awareness of Superman’s contemporary history results in a comic that’s rich as a story about America, about immigrants, and about Superman, all at the same time.

The book focuses on Superman as an adopted child raised in one culture, but with biology and heritage from another. Through flashbacks, we see the young Clark Kent trying to navigate those differences to figure out his identity. Yang parallels that in a new storyline about the challenges of an immigrant family moving to Metropolis in the 1940s.

The shared feeling of alienation in these two storylines makes Superman’s struggle for acceptance feel as real and relatable as possible. The literal narrative is about the young family, but the conceptual narrative is about Superman and the human experience. The family is a reflection of Superman’s humanity.

Clark Kent and Roberta Lee in Superman Smashes the Klan (DC Comics)

I absolutely loved these layers of meaning in the story. As a son of immigrants in a family who moved frequently, I found the search for connection and identity deeply relatable.

The overall story is extremely sweet and touching as well. Superman’s relationship with the local kids is the heartbeat of the book. Sometimes the more traditional Superman origin beats felt too familiar, but thankfully, most of the book is fresh and different. For new additions to the legend, I enjoyed the original stories about the townspeople reacting to Clark’s powers and how Clark was inspired to design his suit.

But while Superman Smashes the Klan has just as much small-town heart as any classic Smallville story, it has much more pain, too. Yang challenges our warm American nostalgia with emotionally charged context about intolerance, xenophobia, and white supremacy. While comicbook craziness is still in play, the villains are grounded in the real-world evils that remain relevant today. The result is an original kids story with boundless complexity.

To drive home the deeper relevance of the material, each issue comes with a prose afterword. The extra commentary fills in the real-world context of the story with anecdotes from the life of Yang’s grandparents. Intertwining American history, comics history, and family history, the afterword underscores the autobiographical intimacy which makes Superman Smashes the Klan such a profoundly personal portrayal of the Superman story.

Young Clark Kent and a local kid in Superman Smashes the Klan (DC Comics)

The visual style of Superman Smashes the Klan

Beyond the reviews, I was drawn to this book because I love Gurihiru’s work in It’s Jeff! They are excellent at portraying cute innocence, and Superman Smashes the Klan is a more mature look at their adorable cartoony style. This comic challenges Gurihiru to balance their trademark pure goodness with pure evil, and the book thrives in the confusion of the characters who are lost somewhere in between.

Gurihiru’s excellence lies in their bold colors and expressive lines, for both action and emotion. The result is a unique style that blends Disney and manga. This is especially prevalent in the character designs, which are the visual highlight of the book. The incredible new Superman suit is reminiscent of the Max Fleischer cartoons, and his physique builds on Tim Sale’s “big friendly giant” style in Superman For All Seasons. Even the kids are portrayed as small but powerful, representing a major message of the book.

One detail that reflects the maturity of the work is that the “bad guys” aren’t easily identified as “bad guys”. By appearing as real and fallible as regular humans, the artists blur the lines of cartoon villainy with the messy complexity of real humanity.

Lastly, I loved Janice Chiang’s playful lettering, especially with the adorable “BLARF!”s. Her established expertise and versatile nature infuse the words on the page with a dynamic sense of emotion. The lettering changes to convey joy, action, humor, fear, and reflection, perfectly complementing the cartoony style of the book.

Tommy Lee and the Klan of the Fiery Cross in Superman Smashes the Klan (DC Comics)

Connections to other DC comics stories

Superman Smashes the Klan is a totally standalone story and super easy entry point for readers of all ages. It’s kid-friendly with more than enough complexity for adults to enjoy too. It’s the perfect level of accessibility for any new reader.

If you’re interested in further material, the comic takes heavy inspiration from the earliest Superman stories, particularly the 1940s Max Fleischer cartoons and Adventures of Superman radio show. The afterword also includes a reference list for the real-world events that inspired the story.

For more of Gurihiru’s iconic art, I highly recommend the It’s Jeff! series from Marvel comics. Gurihiru also teamed up with Gene Luen Yang again for the “The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes” short story in DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration (2021).

Superman and the Lee family in Superman Smashes the Klan (DC Comics)

In the few years since it came out, Superman Smashes the Klan has been influential across media as well. The comic’s iconic opening battle inspired a major scene in 2021’s Superman & Lois episode, “A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events”. Several aspects from the comic can also be felt in 2023’s My Adventures with Superman animated series, which adapts a very similar vibe of Superman for the modern world.

For the James Gunn’s Superman movie in 2025, Superman Smashes the Klan could inspire a back-to-basics hero who truly stands up as a protector of the people, even without total mastery of all his incredible abilities. Clark’s search for identity is likely to come into play as well. I can’t wait to see where the story goes!

My verdict on Superman Smashes the Klan

Overall, Superman Smashes the Klan is a smash-hit. It’s a fantastic starting point for new readers, it’s a new angle for experienced fans, and it has enough real-world commentary for adult readers who aren’t comics fans. Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru have crafted one of the most thought-provoking and easily approachable superhero comics I’ve ever read. This should be an essential part of any library, bookshelf, and classroom.

If you’ve ever wanted a Superman comic that proves why Superman matters, this is the book for you.

Have you read any Superman comics before? Are you excited about the new Superman movie? Let me know on Twitter @vinwriteswords and remember to follow the site @MyCosmicCircus for more comics coverage coming soon!

Check out the trailer for Superman Smashes the Klan on the official DC Comics website here!

Check out our full list of DC Showcases here, including our reviews of All-Star Superman and My Adventures with Superman!

DC Showcase: All-Star Superman Comic Review


Review: ‘My Adventures with Superman’ Is Warm, Wacky, and Wonderful


Share this:


Reviews, reading guides, and crazy theories. Obsessed with the Midnight Sons. Find me on Twitter @vinwriteswords!

Vin has 143 posts and counting. See all posts by Vin