Thursday, 17 February 2011

Review - Superman / Batman: Saga of the Super Sons TPB


This trade paperback collects stories from World’s Finest issues 215, 216, 221, 222, 224, 228, 230, 231, 233, 238, 242 and 263, and a story from Elseworlds 80-Page Giant #1. Most of these comics were originally published between 1972 and 1976 but WF #263 came out in 1980 and the Elseworlds 80-Page Giant was published in 1999 (with most copies famously pulped before it ever reached comic shops, because of a controversial scene in another story).

The ‘Super Sons’ were Clark Kent Jr. and Bruce Wayne Jr., the sons of Superman and Batman, who together fought crime as Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. and complained about their stuffy parents a lot. Indeed, Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. spent more time complaining about ‘the generation gap’ – in language that must have seemed outdated even at the time – than they did fighting crime.

With the exception of WF #263, which was written by Denny O’Neil, these stories were all written by the great Bob Haney, who is best known – at least to me – as the writer of many Silver and Bronze Age issues of The Brave and the Bold, but he also co-created the original Teen Titans, Metamorpho and Cain from the House of Mystery. The Brave and the Bold was my very favourite DC comic back in the ‘70s – it was the only DC comic I really liked as a kid – and when I bought and read the first three Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold books last year, I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Haney famously had little time for continuity, or even logic, in his stories, and Haney’s Batman was not the same character who appeared in the other Batman books. In Haney’s Brave and the Bold, Batman’s personality (and even age) would change from issue to issue, but he was usually more of a James Bond type than the Dark Knight Detective we know today. This was a Batman who fought alongside Sgt. Rock in WWII but somehow managed to remain the same age in the 1970s as he was in the 1940s, even though Sgt. Rock did age. This was a Batman who was once declared brain dead but got better after the Atom went inside his head and kicked stuff around a bit. This was a Batman who once got possessed by the ghost of a one-legged pirate, rescued the tormented spirits of his parents from limbo, and then declared that he had finally come to terms with being orphaned as a child (thus rendering any subsequent Batman stories quite unnecessary). In short: Haney’s Batman was the best Batman ever, particularly as most of his adventures were drawn by the likes of Neal Adams and Jim Aparo (my favourite Batman artist)!

In The Saga of the Super Sons, Batman is a middle-aged square, and Haney’s wilful disregard for continuity and logic is on full display, but these stories are nowhere near as enjoyable as his Brave and the Bold comics. In fact, they are pretty bad. The book starts with our troubled teenaged heroes arguing with their parents, which leads to this fantastic exchange between Bruce Waynes Jr. and Sr.:

Bruce Wayne Sr.: ‘Well, well. At last! Where were you all night, Bruce?’

Bruce Wayne Jr.: ‘Swinging, dad! Before I knew it, rosy-fingered dawn was gilding Gotham’s skyline!’

Bruce Wayne Sr.: ‘You’re wasting your year off from college! When I was your age...’

Bruce Wayne Jr.: ‘I know, you were living like a monk and training like a demon to battle the underworld on which you’d sworn revenge! In short, an obsessed, no-fun freak!’

You have to admit, the kid had a point! Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the book for me – the only point where I laughed out loud. Everything else was fairly tedious and the stories were just ridiculous. In one story, the Super Sons stumbled upon a town in which most residents had been tricked into putting themselves into suspended animation so that they could get their hands on some alien treasure. In another story, Batman faked his own death in order to expose one of Bruce Wayne’s crooked business partners and Bruce Wayne Jr. and Robin competed to find his Eskimo ‘killer’ and become the next Batman. And in another story, the Super Sons were tricked into freeing Lex Luthor from jail by Lex’s alien daughter, Ardora, and soon found themselves on another planet seeking a cure for ‘giantism’. And all of those stories were worse than I just made them sound!

Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. were two of the lamest comic characters ever created. Bruce Wayne Jr. was just a spoilt little rich kid, who exhibited all the worst characteristics of Bruce Sr.’s public persona, while Clark Jr. was a library-loving, unconfident nerd, much like Clark Sr.’s public persona, even though he had the ability to leap a hundred miles, was invulnerable to all but atomic weapons, and could go for up to three days without air. Bizarrely, these two teen rebels decided to rebel by dressing up as their dads, calling themselves Superman Jr. and Batman Jr., and fighting crime, which – err – wasn’t actually very rebellious at all, was it?

Haney’s insistence that these were not imaginary tales, that Superman and Batman really did have wives (whose faces we never see) and sons that never got mentioned in other comics, obviously presented any writers more concerned with continuity than him – i.e. every other writer – with something of a minefield. The issue written by Denny O’Neil, then, attempts to clear this minefield by explaining the Super Sons’ existence. In this story, we find out that Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. were actually just computer simulations, created by Superman and Batman to see how their sons would cope in certain situations, if they actually had sons – which obviously made no more sense than most of Haney’s stories. The Super Sons eventually escaped from Superman’s computer, got into trouble, and Superman and Batman then had to convince their ‘sons’ that they weren’t actually real. The Super Sons then willingly jumped into a ‘disintegration pit’, and weren’t seen again until they appeared in the Elseworlds 80-Page Giant in 1999, in a Bob Haney-written story – which I believe was the last comic story he wrote before his death in 2004 – which completely ignored the fact that the Super Sons never existed. Here, Superman faked his own death to make an unconfident Clark Jr. realise that the world does need him, which only made me think that Superman and Batman would make really lousy parents. This story was given a bit of a boost by the stylish art of Kieron Dwyer, while most of the rest of the book was drawn by Dick Dillin, whose art was okay but far from amazing.

I honestly wouldn’t advise anyone to rush out and buy a copy of this book – particularly not at the full cover price of £12.99 – but if you see a copy in your local library, like I did, you might want to check it out and read one or two of the stories reprinted here, just for a bit of a giggle. Personally, if I ever see a copy of this really cheap somewhere, I will probably buy it, but only because it was written by Bob Haney and because it’s so bad it is almost worth preserving a copy as a reminder of how bad comics can be.

5 comments:

  1. Jim Aparo is probably my favourite Batman artist too and I have fond memories of The Brave & The Bold, though I don't think I paid as much attention to Haney's willful neglect of continuity as you did. That said, I can certainly see the appeal of his approach... especially if it pissed off the continuity nerds!

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  2. I didn't notice Haney's lack of attention to continuity (e.g. Batman would regularly team up with characters like Wildcat, who then lived on Earth 2, with no explanation as to how they managed to meet) or logic as a kid. I just enjoyed the stories for what they were. It wasn't until I read some stuff about his stories online and read three Showcase Presents The Brave and the Bold books in a row last year that I realised just how nuts some of his stuff was. Mostly nuts in an enjoyable way, though. Which reminds me, I must read that Showcase Presents Metamorpho book I've had sitting around unread for about three years.

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  3. Despite saying this book isn't very good, you make it sound really good, Rob.

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  4. If you just read one or two stories, I suppose it is so bad that it's almost good. However, if you attempt to read the whole 200+ page book, it quickly becomes so bad it's just bad.

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  5. Man, you are the wettest of the all-wet. ;) I'm figuring I read the second super-sons adventure as a wee nine-year old, probably spending my paperboy money on it, from an old spinner rack. Now, let me tell you, as a nine-year old, it was just fine, and even now, being forty-eight, let me just say, it's fine as well. Oh, I know what you mean. Yup, sometimes, don't let continuity get in the way of a good story. Depending, and all that. For me, the super-sons was a pretty good story, and way-less stuffy than them older folks.

    Anyways, just passing by.
    Cheers.

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