safe to say Bob Haney wrote some of the oddest
tales ever published by DC Comics. His stories for Brave
and the Bold, for instance, might find Batman fighting
aliens with Green Lantern one month, helping Sgt. Rock
against the Nazis the next month, and running into Earth-2
characters the month after that. All without explanation
as to how Bruce Wayne could be the same age in 1944 as
1972, or how characters kept making the inter-dimensional
jump between Earths as easily as crossing the street.
Meanwhile, Haney's work on Teen Titans achieved
near-legendary status for its quirky "hipster"
dialog and bizarre, "generation gap" themes.
the hallmarks of Haney oddness came together in his weirdest
feature of all, an ongoing saga in World's Finest Comics
that "revealed" the existence of Superman and
Batman's young adult sons, Clark Kent Jr. and Bruce
Wayne Jr. This younger version of the World's Finest
team would pop up again and again, eventually stealing
their fathers' book right out from under their brightly-colored
Hypothetical super-children were a familiar concept to
Superman fans, of course. Many a 1950s and 60s "Imaginary
Story" featured super-sons and daughters who shared
their dad's powers (or somehow failed to), tales that
explored how Superman might deal with the challenges of
parenthood. Haney's stories were different in two important
ways. First, he was concerned with how a youngster would
cope with having a super-dad, not the reverse. Secondly,
Haney insisted his tales were not "Imaginary
Stories," nor mere exercises in "what if"
musing, but in fact were legitimate, in-continuity adventures
of the "real" Superman and Batman. The splash
page of WF #215 was emphatic: "Imagination?
This issue set the tone for the series, opening in "a
modest middle-class home in Metropolis, U.S.A," where
a woman holds out a telephone to her husband, who's reading
the morning paper. "Here," she says, "Speak
to your son! Ask him why he hasn't been home to see us
for days!" The man lowers his paper and answers,
"Hmmm...all right, dear!"
We learn that the "son" on the other end of
the phone call is Clark Kent, Jr., who explains
he doesn't get home much because he's too busy working
at a community center, trying to help the city's poor.
His dad answers, "I've done some do-gooding in my
life, too! But at your age I had a job...I knew
who I was and where I was going!" The
next panel reveals the lecturing dad is none other than
Superman, sitting at the kitchen table in his cape and
we know we're in trouble, and the truth is it never gets
much better. No doubt Haney means to startle us with the
revelation that Superman has a college-age son, but much
more disturbing is the fact that the Man of Steel has
become a hen-pecked suburbanite spouting the same square
platitudes as any garden variety, fuddy-duddy dad. What's
worse, Superman has finally completed his mutation from
the activist (dare I say vigilante) do-gooder of Seigel
and Shuster days into a moribund establishment figure,
disparaging his son's efforts to help ghetto dwellers
by grumbling, essentially, "Get A Job!"
Millionaire Bruce Wayne, we learn,
is in the same fix, having sired a strong-willed son of
his own. And while the two elder heroes swap sob stories
about how difficult fatherhood is, Clark and Bruce, Jr.
bond together in a shared sense of persecution. By issue's
end, they elect to travel the country together on a motorbike
(taking a page from O'Neil and Adams' Green Lantern/Green
Arrow and Marvel's traveling adventures of Captain
America and the Falcon), going from town to town to fix
problems big and small and maybe, just maybe helping a
few square grown-ups finally dig "where it's at."
Throughout this series-within-a-series, the emphasis
is on fairly low-key adventures, perhaps reflecting the
fact that the junior heroes are, power-wise, mere shadows
of their dads. One question that's never addressed is
why two youngsters so eager to establish their own identities
would adopt the costumes of their fathers. Why not go
for new costumes and new names like "Captain Power
and Nightwing" or some such? And while we're used
to seeing youths in Superman suits (thanks to Supergirl
and Superboy), the sight of a youngster in a Batman suit
never stops being weird, weird, weird.
The identities of Superman and Batman's wives are never
revealed (great pains are taken to show them only from
behind, or in close-ups of their hands or sun-hats) but
even in anonymity they exert a powerful influence over
events, as our once-mighty heroes are portrayed as totally
whipped, "yes Dear" milquetoasts. Your mother
wants me to do this, they say; your mother insists
I do that, they whine. Saving the world takes a back
seat to "checking up on the kids" and keeping
the wives happy. Though the series is focused on the younger
generation, lurking ominously in the margins is a disturbing
subtext about the perils of married life. For decades,
the romantic machinations of Lois Lane had young boys
crying "boo! hiss!" at the mere suggestion of
mush in Superman's life. This series represented
our worst nightmare come true; the unholy terror of holy
matrimony! Alas, our heroes had survived countless threats
from super-villains and mad scientists only to end up
worse than dead, emasculated by domestication.
was enough to strain anyone's credulity, but in the letter
column of issue 215, Haney lays down the gauntlet for
anyone who might question the validity of his tales.
we said, it is not imaginary, not fantasy, but the way
it happened. How
so, you say? Despite all the issues published on the
amazing careers of these two greatest of all super-heroes,
not every facet of their lives could possibly be covered.
Both have lived a hundred lives in one, are bigger than
ordinary reality, inimitable, and immortal. Thus, this
issue gives you just one other, previously undisclosed
portion of their unique stories."
Readers, of course, could be forgiven for viewing marriage
and fatherhood as the kind of events that should
have been "previously disclosed." These weren't
just minor details, but life-changing events that, according
to Haney, somehow happened between panels when we weren't
looking. It was asking a bit much for us to believe, for
example, that every month in Action Comics Clark
Kent went home to a bachelor pad at 344 Clinton Avenue
in the heart of Metropolis, while in World's Finest,
he went home to a wife and kid in the suburbs. (And if
he did live that sort of double life, was he really
a suitable role model for young readers? Worse still,
if Haney was right, the occasional romance in Action
or Superman amounted to marital infidelity!).
It's doubtful anyone other than Haney bought into the
"Super-Sons" concept. The really interesting
question is why he felt obligated to attempt it in the
first place. The answer, most likely, is that Haney viewed
Superman and Batman as dinosaurs, establishment figures
who'd outlived their appeal to youthful readers. Feeling
the heat from Marvel Comics with their legions of college-age
readers, DC tried all sorts of tactics to vie for the
same audience. The most obvious was the "relevancy"
schtick, wherein super-heroes were called on to deal with
the pressing social issues of the day (an approach which
produced the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow
series, but otherwise proved awkward at best).
approach amounted to throwing in the towel. It was as
if he said, "You know what? You're right. These
old duffer heroes could never relate to the youth of today.
But their sons might, so guess what? They've got kids
we never told you about. Surprise!" Sure Superman
still looked like the "under 30" hero
he'd been for over 40 years. But somewhere along the way
he'd done a few too many patriotic covers...George Reeves
had stood in front of the flag a few too many times while
the announcer said, "...and the American Way."
Superman, like the Lone Ranger, now represented the clear-cut
morality of an earlier age, and as such he was branded
a symbol of "the establishment." What place
was there for an old-fashioned straight-shooter in an
era where bumper stickers shouted "Question Authority"
and "Don't Trust Anyone Over 30"? A country
where "patriots" were angry old guys who said,
"America...love it or leave it!" The youth culture
had tossed aside John Wayne and ripped up their draft
cards. What use could they possibly have for Superman?
Haney seems to have been trying to win back these disenfranchised
youths with stories that reflected the topsy-turvy political
sense of the time. The ultimate irony here, of course,
is that comic books ought to be written for 7-year-olds,
who are notoriously apolitical creatures. As for the older
crowd, it's hard to imagine the average campus radical
taking a break from his rallies and flag-burnings to read
Haney's comics, saying, "Now this is one guy who
gets it right!" In his eagerness to appeal to counter-culture
audiences, Haney ironically reinforced the perception
he was trying to fight: that Superman and Batman had
become irrelevant. And with his lame attempts at "hip"
dialog ("honed" during his infamous tenure on
"Teen Titans"), he added to suspicions that
DC Comics was run by a bunch of old men completely out
of touch with the youth of America.
Off and on, the Super-Sons saga played out over three
years, which seems to indicate someone liked it.
Certainly I can't deny the appeal of the basic concept
kept reeling me in, especially with cover artist Nick
Cardy milking it for all its dramatic worth, but the
stories themselves never failed to creep me out for sheer
weirdness. There were some good concepts, like a tale
that explored how Dick Grayson handled being replaced
by Bruce Wayne Jr in his mentor's affections. Of course
a better question might be how is it we saw Dick grow
up in the mansion all those years without ever once glimpsing
his "brother," but c'est la vie.
In 1980, DC pulled the plug on the Super-Sons, literally,
with issue 263 of World's Finest. Denny O'Neil
became the only writer other than Haney to handle the
characters, stepping in just long enough to reveal that
the whole saga was merely a complex and involved computer
program, and the boys merely random bytes in a virtual
world. When the program ended, so did their "lives."
Haney was asked to write one last "Super-Sons"
for an Elseworlds 80-Page Giant in 1999. Ironically,
controversy dogged the Super-Sons again, as the completed
book was pulled from circulation by DC's editor-in-chief
(because of an unrelated story in the same book). Only
1500 copies of this comic are known to exist. Though virtually
impossible to find, it's fitting that the last Super-Sons
story appeared in "Elseworlds," a title invented
to explore alternate realities, since this saga was perhaps
the longest-running alternate reality in the publisher's
To the best of my knowledge, what follows is a complete
listing of the Super-Sons stories:
- WORLD'S FINEST 215 - January 1973 - "Saga
of the Super Sons" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick
Dillin & Henry Scarpelli (artists)
- WORLD'S FINEST 216 - February 1973 - " Little
Town With a Big Secret" by Bob Haney (writer)
/ Dick Dillin & Murphy Anderson (artists)
- WORLD'S FINEST 221 - January-February 1974 - "Cry
Not For My Forsaken Son" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick
Dillin & Murphy Anderson (artists)
- WORLD'S FINEST 222 - March-April 1974 - "Evil in Paradise"
by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick Dillin & Vince Colletta
- WORLD'S FINEST 224 - July-August 1974 - "The Shocking
Switch of the Super-Sons" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick
Dillin & Vince Colletta (artists)
- WORLD'S FINEST 228 - March 1975 - "Crown for a New
Batman" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick Dillin & Tex Blaisdell
- WORLD'S FINEST 230 - June 1975 - "The Girl Whom Time
Forgot" by Bob Haney (writer) / Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell
- WORLD'S FINEST 231 - July 1975 - "Hero is a Dirty
Name" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick Dillin & Tex Blaisdell
- WORLD'S FINEST 233 - November 1975 - "World Without
Men" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick Dillin & John Calnan
- WORLD'S FINEST 238 - June 1976 - "The
Angel With a Dirty Name" by Bob Haney (writer)
/ Dick Dillin & John Calnan (artists)
- WORLD'S FINEST 242 - December 1976 - "Town of the
Timeless Heroes" by Bob Haney (writer) / Ernie Chua
& John Calnan (artists)
- WORLD'S FINEST 263 - June-July 1980 - "The Final Secret
of the Super-Sons" by Dennis O'Neil (writer) / Rich
Buckler & Dick Giordano (artists)
- ELSEWORLDS 80-PAGE GIANT - August 1999 - "Superman
Jr Is No More" by Bob Haney (writer) / Kieron
A couple of years after the "Elseworlds" tale,
DC Comics published a mini-series that suggested every
reality is "canon" depending on how you
look at it. According to this new theory of "Hypertime,"
any story ever published by DC is as "valid"
or "real" as any other one, whether they contradict
each other or not. In other words, all the mistakes in
continuity that DC has ever made, or ever will
make, have been given a blanket excuse in one fell swoop.
Thus it's entirely possible that Clark Jr and Bruce Jr
are still alive out there somewhere, traveling the back
roads of America and complaining about how hard it is
to have a famous dad and to have inherited his special
abilities. Meanwhile, Bob Haney is enjoying the last laugh
on all the fans who used to criticize his zany, illogical
stories. Thirty years ago, his cheerful disregard for
continuity made him one of the most controversial writers
of his day. Now, in an era where no comics creator is
particularly concerned about contradicting history (or
even himself) on a regular basis, Haney stands revealed
as a man of vision, a man ahead of his time. Bob Haney...Patron
Saint of the Modern DC Universe.