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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bonds of the Super-Sons

Back when I was a kid in the early 1970s, World's Finest was one of my favourite comic books. The stories - particularly those penned by the delightfully wacky Bob Haney - were often nonsensical, spat in the face of continuity, and featured bizarre faux-hip dialogue that tried, unsuccessfully, to capture the youth lingo of the day. But they were also delightfully imaginative and surreal.

In 1972 Haney came up with the idea of the Super-Sons, Clark (Superman Jr.) Kent Jr., and Bruce (Batman Jr.) Wayne Jr. The first story of the Super-Sons opened with a text blurb assuring readers that this was not an "imaginary story" or a put-on, that the Super-Sons were "real" - within the context, of course, of the larger DC Universe. Anticipating questions from befuddled readers, Haney explained that not even the myriad stories published by DC about Superman and Batman could cover every aspect of their lives, and this was a heretofore unrevealed aspect of the mythos. Of course every other DC comic steadfastly ignored the existence of the Super-Sons and their mothers - whose identities are never revealed in these stories, their faces always in shadow.

As seen above, Bruce Jr. and Clark Jr. shared a deep emotional connection thanks to their shared anxieties about living up to the legacies of their famous fathers. Viewed through that lens the scene above is understandable enough, but modern audiences will probably snicker a little at Bruce's treatment of poor Debbie and the dialogue that seems to hint the younger Super-Sons share more than mere friendship.
It's a little unfair - Bruce Jr., at least, is portrayed as aggressively heterosexual. Indeed, Haney's treatment of women in this run feels a little off-kilter. I've already mentioned that we never learn the identities of the boys' shadowy mothers, and most other women in these stories are either villainous tricksters or damsels in distress capable of capturing the boys' attention only for a brief time, never for a committed relationship. Given the era this is to be expected from any comic book aimed at children or teens, but unlike other DC books the women in these stories never even get the chance to be treated as friends or equals; there's no room for a Black Canary or a Wonder Woman here.

While other writers pretended that the Super-Sons never existed, Haney had fun writing his own stories his own way, heedless of continuity, ignoring the fact that in contemporary stories Superman and Batman were explicitly childless and that Superman had a relationship with Lois Lane. None of that mattered to Haney!

Ten or fifteen years after the last appearance of the Super-Sons, other writers took it upon themselves to "explain" this odd discontinuity in DC storytelling. It turns out that all of these stories were simply an extremely complex simulation run by Superman and Batman to...well, it's been too long since I've read the story, and frankly I don't feel like digging the comic out of the boxes in the garage. It's not that the story was bad, per se, but the revisionism seemed to me to miss Haney's point entirely: that rigid adherence to continuity could sometimes stifle good (or at least weird) stories. Seen with modern eyes, Haney's World's Finest run can appear absurd and dreamlike, but it held its own rewards for those willing to explore the weird side of comics.


Benchmark said...

Wow. I was a fairly well-read comic book nerd growing up, and Superman was my favorite, but somehow I completely missed the 'Super Sons'. I... think I'm okay having missed it.

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

DC should totally re-print these in a collected edition with a tie-dyed cover, slap an "Elseworlds" logo on it and 'poof', problem solved.