"THE SONS OF SUPERMAN AND BATMAN or DON'T CALL ME JUNIOR!"
1973 was a difficult year for me and The United States. Our armed forces
were finally leaving Vietnam even as our covert forces participated in
the military coupe that ousted Salvadore Allende and brought Augusto
Pinochet to power in Chile. I was going into fifth grade and starting
middle school. Ours was the first fifth grade to do that. Used to be you
started middle school in sixth grade, but in 1973 they took all the
fifth graders AND all the sixth graders and stuck 'em in middle school.
Do you see the injustice? Do you sense the solidarity between returning
Vietnam Vets, the people of Chile and me and my pals? My friends and I
never got to be the big kids on the playground. One year away from
recess dominance, we had to start all over again. My therapist says
that's why I masturbate in bus station men's rooms, but I think she's
1973! Helen Reddy was singin' 'bout Delta Dawn, a 'faded rose from days
gone by', Roberta Flack was 'Killing me Softly' but nowhere near quickly
enough, and ragtime genius Scott Joplin rose from the dead to have a top
ten hit with 'The Entertainer' courtesy of a little Newman Redford
vehicle called 'The Sting.'
1973! Schoolhouse Rock, Steve Austin; A Man barely Alive! Elvis
Presley's Aloha from Hawaii concert! Vice President Spiro Agnew forced
to resign for Tax evasion! The enigmatic beast that had been the Sixties
was coughing up blood, it's skull cracked open by the egg tooth of the
nascent, imbecilic Seventies; Where could a young man go for solace?
To the Sons of Superman and Batman. Only Clark Kent Jr. and Bruce Wayne
Jr., men of constant sorrow themselves, knew the trouble I'd seen.
Yeah you heard me. Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. I shit you not. Don't
believe me? You are so lucky. "The Superman Website" has "World's
Finest" #215 on-line, not just the cover, the whole friggin' issue!
If you aren't itching to read it now, you will be by the time I'm
through, and that' a promise! Today's comic readers are used to multiple
continuities. Hell the X-men alone have, what, a dozen different
continuities? There's the main marvel Universe one, the Ultimate marvel
Universe, two different cartoon continuities, the movie continuity, plus
a whole slew of characters who come into one continuity or another from
possible future or alternate reality continuities. But back in'73, when
comics had just made the outrageous leap to twenty cents a pop so you
could only get five for a dollar with NO MONEY LEFT OVER FOR CANDY,
my friend, there were Imaginary Tales (and it's subsets, dreams and
hoaxes, which brought us among other things Superman Red and Superman
Blue, and not that bullshit electric powered thing from a few years back
either) or it was real! And then along comes Bob Haney, writing shit you
KNOW is not real and insisting "Imagination? Put-on? ...No!"
Superman and Batman didn't have any kids! Wouldn't Robin know if his
foster dad had a biological kid? Wouldn't Superman Jr. be an obvious
pick for the Teen Titans? At first I figured this took place in the
future, but Clark Jr. wore Wide ass collars and Bruce Jr. had some very
serious sideburn action going on. There was other weird shit too, like
every shot of their Moms obscured their faces. Their hands got in the
way, they turned their backs, they wore humongous sun hats with the
brims tilted down! Their names were never used, NEVER! It made my eleven
year old brain spin! And yet, somehow, the saga of the Sons of Superman
and Batman was as appealing to me as the young comic readers of today
find Crack. WHAT THE FUCK WAS DC DOING TO ME!? I asked my Dad who
helpfully pointed out that no comic book story was real and the writers
could do whatever they wanted. And accidentally, this was the key. See,
Dad so didn't get it, he couldn't even know he was TOTALLY WRONG!
He was Herbert, he didn't reach, there was no way TO LEAP THE
And That's what was wrong with Superman and Batman! They were horribly,
hideously, unforgivably OLD!
I'd always suspected Superman was an establishment square. Never liked
him. Super fucking everything. When I was a kid, in addition to all the
Super shit he can do today, he had SUPER VENTRILOQUISM, and
nobody even knows what that is! Superman? More like 'The Man' as in 'The
Man is keeping me down with that super ventriloquism and shit.' He was
everything you were supposed to grow up to be if you ate your vegetables
and you never would because everybody, especially your teachers and
parents, knew that if you attempted to fly, even metaphorically, you
were going to drop like a stone.
And Batman? Look, he wasn't the way they write him today. The Batman you
know is a bi-product of Frank Millers's "Dark Knight Returns". Denny O'neil
and Neal Adams had given Bats a big shove in the right direction in the
early seventies, but it didn't take. When I was a kid, Batman was not
hanging creeps upside down off buildings threatening to spill their guts
if they didn't spill they're guts. He was more of a Superfriend, he
called Robin 'Chum' and Superman 'Old Friend', had playdates with 'The
Batmen of Many Nations' or tried on one of the dozens and dozens of
specialized variations of his costume. If today's Batman met the Batman
I grew up with, he would be unable to stop vomiting.
And you know what? Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. knew their dads didn't get
it. Superman and Batman senior were henpecked, suburban phonies! Sure
they loved them, Sure they admired them, hell, they called themselves
Superman and Batman JUNIOR, everybody knows true love is best
demonstrated through humiliation! Why else would they go on and on about
how they longed to step out of their dad's shadows while wearing their
costumes? But at the same time, they knew their dads would never be hip
to the scene. That juxtaposition of love with youthful chaffing at
authority didn't just speak to me, it SANG, baby! What could account for
it but GENIUS?!
Well, really bad writing, as it turns out. See, a vigorous commitment to
verisimilitude can account for any number of paradoxes when translating
human behavior to text, but a tin ear and eighth grade writing skills
can account for even more.
Don't get me wrong. I love Bob Haney. He wasn't bad; he was GENIUS
bad, William Shatner bad, Savant Bad. The only place I've ever heard
dialogue like Haney's was Dragnet, in fact I think Haney must have been
moonlighting for Jack Webb.
Dig: In our very first issue, we find Clark Kent Jr, working at a
'storefront community center' whatever the hell that is. Kind of reminds
me of the place Elvis worked in Change of Habit with Mary Tyler Moore as
a NUN and that's the BEST MOVIE EVER.
But I digress. He's on the phone having an oedipal argument with Dad
(Who's in the breakfast nook at home, inexplicably dressed as Superman)
when a motorcycle gang bursts in, just to be bad! "Have Fear-- Satan's
Sockers are here! And we're really gonna sock it to ya!"
the leader shouts! What could inspire more fear than a tag line from
"Rowan and Martin's Laugh in"? Scarier still, it turns out the gang
Leader's name is Big Alice! What's more terrifying than a hood with a
chick's name? He must be so badass he doesn't even care!
It's hard to pick my favorite exchange, but I think it might be this
You can pick your own. Everything Haney ever wrote is chock full of
Gold, if by Gold you mean words that no one would ever actually speak
under any circumstances.
How did Haney get away with it? Simple. DC had to do something. Marvel
was being read by COLLEGE KIDS; there were blacklight posters of
Thor and Dr. Strange in DORM ROOMS! DC had to try to appeal to
that market, and their total misunderstanding of what that market was
made them ideal for kids like me who wanted to be teenagers, but had no
idea what the hell they were on about. I could not yet parse whatever
the hell code Bob Dylan was speaking, but Superman and Batman Jr. let me
know for sure the times, they were a-changin'.
And it's their failure that makes them so charming today. Look back at
an early Spiderman or Fantastic four and you think "Yes, it's dated, but
it's still easy to see the groundbreaking nature of Stan Lee's writing."
Look back at the Sons of Superman and Batman and your brain explodes
with delight over the sheer tonnage of its awfulness.
Now maybe, MAYBE thirty years from now some smartass, bitter
oldster will be writing about how sucktastic some of today's comics are.
But I challenge that future bastard to find anything even remotely as
beautiful as this:
[click to enlarge]
Hey, baby. Solid.
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