Early in my comics-buying career, I was aware of a title called World’s Finest. I’m not sure how I was aware, but I was. I guess I’d seen it on the spinner rack, and maybe I’d seen ads for its 1960s issues in the pages of my brother’s war comics. Was it called World’s Finest Comics on the cover when I bought my first issue? Or just World’s Finest? If you look closely, it was called “WORLD’S FINEST!” but with a little whisper of ‘comics’ under it.
Either way, I knew it was a book co-starring Superman and Batman. It had been since its first publication in 1941, although, in the early days, co-starring meant there was a Superman story and a Batman story in each issue, not that the two teamed up. Their first team-up story came in 1954, 71 issues into the title.
The whole point was to give a kid the ability to buy one comic with two of their favorites in it, for less than the cost of two comics. World’s Finest cost 15 cents, a nickel more than most comics. (It was also World’s Best for one issue. A lawsuit by the publisher of a similarly named comic forced the change to the more elegant title.) By the time I was buying World’s Finest, it had downsized from 96 pages to 32, and cost two dimes, plus sales tax. Buying comics was how I learned about sales tax.
The dual-billing gave World’s Finest an edge, back in the day, over anthology books that contained only stories about one character, or only one story about the cover character, and then a bunch of other stories about other characters that the fan of, say, Superman, might or might not care about.
WF had lost its edge over the years, since titles like Justice League of America, All-Star Comics, All-Winners and (sometimes) The Avengers offered multiple best-selling characters in a single comic book. Still, World’s Finest continued, largely headlined by Superman and Batman, until 1986. Enough readers must have still liked the team-up of these two dissimilar characters enough to keep the book going.
Believe it or not, a book starring these two wasn’t a big attraction for me. I had watched Adam West as Batman on television before I had ever started reading comics. I was a big fan. Superman I was less attached to—ironic, as I’m now a pretty big Superman fan, and rarely read a Batman comic. But I think it was because he didn’t have a TV show in the 1960s. The classic George Reeves series wasn’t run as often as Batman was, since most of it was in black and white. I grew up in the days when color TV was still relatively new, and local stations showing reruns damn well wanted all their programming in color so they didn’t look behind the times.
But Batman comics didn’t grab me, because they largely no longer featured Robin in 1974. There was no young person for me to identify with, and no Batgirl to catch my eye. (Man, did I have a crush on Yvonne Craig!) Superman comics would later turn out to interest me more, with the whole Kryptonian culture and backstory; but I wasn’t there yet.
It wasn’t until I saw a giant-sized issue of World’s Finest, with a new, 17-page story and another 30+ pages of reprints, that I was pulled in. It was Aquaman on the cover that grabbed me. I had started watching the Filmation Superman / Batman / Aquaman cartoons sometime in 1974. So this issue with all three characters seemed right up my alley. I liked the Aquaman story okay—a reprint from the early 1950s. But the first-run story in the front made me go “huh.” It featured someone named Superman, Jr., and his best friend Batman, Jr. As advertised, they were the sons of Superman and Batman. How this could be was not explained in the story. I didn’t know much about comics yet, but I knew that Superman only had a girlfriend, Lois Lane, and that Batman didn’t even have that. Neither one of them was married, and neither one of them was old enough to have teenaged sons.
The story didn’t seem to care. It just blazed forward to tell how Clark Kent, Jr. and Bruce Wayne, Jr. went on an expedition and found survivors of a lost Mayan civilization. The story was actually pretty catchy, even if I didn’t know how in the hell these two young heroes were supposed to be. I mean, Clark, Jr. looked like Superboy, but they didn’t call him that. It was confusing.
What I did not know then was that I was reading the work of one Bob Haney. It’s not surprising that I enjoyed the story—Bob had also been a writer for Filmation’s Aquaman. He dominated the Batman teamups over in the pages of The Brave and the Bold, and he wasn’t one to be very concerned about continuity. Read, he didn’t give a flying figalily about continuity. He just wrote exciting stories.
In 1973, Haney had created, with little fanfare, sons for Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. In “The Saga of the Super Sons!” he had related a tale set in an unspecified future, when the elder Kent and Wayne had both married and each produced exactly a single male child. The mothers’ identities were never revealed, although both mothers appeared in that first story, their faces always hidden, their hair, in both cases, long and black. It’s obvious that Clark Jr. was the son of Lois Lane. Bruce Jr.’s parentage was less certain. His mom could have been Kathy Kane, the Batwoman. I always preferred the idea that she was Selina Kyle, a reformed Catwoman. The boys clashed with their fathers, who wanted them to avoid the dangerous life of being super-heroes.
Although their initial adventure ends with them telling their dads, “You two can have the hero bag back for now! It’s too grim!” they were back in the next issue of World Finest, and would appear ten more times over the next three years,
before finally being explained away as having been a computer simulation in a heart-rending story in 1980.
The Super Sons traveled the Country (and sometimes beyond) on a motorcycle, having adventures in strange little towns and out-of-the-way places, a bit like the Scooby gang. Haney had also been the regular writer of The Teen Titans, so he knew how to write hip dialogue that made the cats want to rock ‘n roll and go-go-Go! (Yeah… it was that embarrassing.) As you’d expect, with two teen boys travelling together, not a girl in sight, and rarely noticing girls, the homoerotic undertones of the series were pretty strong. But, when I was eight years old, we didn’t know the word “gay” meant anything but “happy.” All that was lost on me.
Goofy as they were, I was kind of sad when the Super Sons just disappeared from comics. They had been, after all, companions of my early, comics-reading years. So I was intrigued when I heard that there was going to be a new regular series. It’s not about Clark, Jr. and Bruce, Jr. of course. It’s about the actual, in-continuity sons of Superman and Batman, Jon and Damian, who are much younger, much less friendly with each other, and much less prone to wear orange-and-purple striped pants. (There are some things you just can’t un-see, even after 43 years!)
And these new Super Sons were just released as action figures, which proves they’re real and not imaginary. You can put them on your desk and look at them when there isn’t a comic book in sight. For more information about those Super Sons, see my review of the figures over on The Figure in Question’s site.