It's 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.

All 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 boots.

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? Put-on? ...No!"

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 tights!

Already 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.

It 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.

"As 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).

Haney's 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, " 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" story 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 history.

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 (artists)
  • 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 (artists)
  • WORLD'S FINEST 230 - June 1975 - "The Girl Whom Time Forgot" by Bob Haney (writer) / Curt Swan & Tex Blaisdell (artists)
  • WORLD'S FINEST 231 - July 1975 - "Hero is a Dirty Name" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick Dillin & Tex Blaisdell (artists)
  • WORLD'S FINEST 233 - November 1975 - "World Without Men" by Bob Haney (writer) / Dick Dillin & John Calnan (artists)
  • 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 Dwyer (artist)

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.