Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics [Blu-ray]
THE JOKER, LEX LUTHOR, CATWOMAN, DOOMSDAY, BANE. What makes them so thrillingly watchable? So terribly wonderful? So extremely vital to our super heroes and their worlds? This new feature-length documentary explores these questions across seven decades of DC Comics' hallowed Rogues' Gallery of infamous evildoers.
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Reviewed by: Bruce Kanin
Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons is a soft cover compilation containing primarily various WORLD'S FINEST stories starting with #215 (1973) and ending with #263 (1980). There is also a story from the rare ELSEWORLDS EIGHTY PAGE GIANT (1999).
All of these stories concern the sons of Superman and Batman. Yes, in World's Finest #215, the offspring of the two world's finest heroes were introduced! Only in the wild and wacky 1970s - after the somewhat sedate Silver Age had drawn to a close - could something like this be hatched.
Was it a hoax? A trick? A dream? Perhaps an imaginary story? A parallel world? Well, maybe it was all of these - but it really was never clearly stated until perhaps the end of the run. For all intents and purposes, Superman, Jr. and Batman, Jr., as they were named, appeared to exist in a continuity that was effectively the same as that of the "mainstream" Superman and Batman. Bob Haney, who wrote virtually all of these stories, never revealed just where these superhero sons fit in.
Continuity questions aside, and despite some implausible situations and dated dialogue, the compilation is a joy to read. As well, consider this: Superman and Batman were well-known and well-established for decades even as of 1973. Although interesting stories continued to be churned out in the 1970s, both characters were, in effect, part of the Establishment. With their sons, however, new situations could be explored that would not have made sense for their fathers, e.g., riding a motorcycle to "discover" America; hitting on groovy chicks (!); running a storefront community center to help those in need; and so on. Effectively, Haney could put Superman and Batman - albeit in the guise of their sons - in situations that possibly connected better with a younger audience than the super-dads did.
Moreover, he took advantage of a situation with regard to Superman, Jr. having an Earthbound mother (neither mom was identified, nor were they all that pertinent to the stories) in that his powers were approximately half of his father's. Whereas the Superman writers, over the years, made the Man of Steel all but omnipotent, Superman Jr. was weaker and somewhat vulnerable. This made him more of a sympathetic character - and - elevated the excitement factor in that you really didn't know how badly he'd be affected by a bomb, bullets, fire or other threats. There was no need to have Kryptonite conveniently show up in order to slow him down.
Some of the highlights in Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons are as follows:
The initial story, "Saga of the Super Sons", has Superman and Batman agreeing to let their sons prove their worthiness as super-heroes by pitting them against a crime boss - in a make-believe city. What's incredible is the way Superman creates the faux metropolis, by using space and time - and an earthquake fault. It's so far-fetched, it's just plain brilliant.
"Cry Not for my Forsaken Son" tells about the Super-Sons helping someone their age who has two fathers - a foster-father he rejects, and a biological father that he wants to emulate - until things turn out to be not what they seem. It's an enjoyable story that puts both superheroes to good use and leads to a satisfying conclusion.
"In the Angel with a Dirty Name", Bob Haney reaches back to the Silver Age to great effect: the daughter of Lex Luthor and Adora (of the planet Lexor - introduced in the classic SUPERMAN #164 "The Showdown between Luthor and Superman"), uses an unsuspecting Superman, Jr. to free her father from prison so that they can both escape to her home planet. Not surprisingly, Superman, Jr. and Batman, Jr. end up on Lexor in order to bring Lex Luthor back to Earth.
An interesting side-note about this story is that Luthor's daughter puts on a show for prisoners. The show is about two biblical characters, Gog and Magog - names that figure prominently much later in the classic DC KINGDOM COME saga.
In "Final Secret of the Super-Sons", we learn what appears to be the truth about the Super-Sons and their "continuity". It appears that all along, the two junior superheroes have been characters in a super-computer simulation run by Superman in his Fortress (with Batman watching on, as well). In this story, the only Super-Sons story not penned by Bob Haney (this one is by Denny O'Neill), an accident causes the sons to "escape" the simulation into the real world. However, as their existence is impacting the real world in a very bad way (causing disasters wherever they go), the two junior heroes are convinced by their would-be fathers to destroy themselves. The potentially wistful moment at the end is rushed, almost as if DC wanted to quickly get them over with once and for all.
There is one last story from the aforementioned ELSEWORLDS EIGHTY-PAGE GIANT which rejoins Superman, Jr. and Batman, Jr., along with their dads, but it is a forgettable entry.
Despite the redeeming aspects of the super-sons saga, silliness abounds. It's silly that the sons are given the same superhero names and secret ID names, albeit with the suffix "Junior", as opposed to just giving them new names, e.g., Brad Kent and Phil Wayne. It's inconceivable that Robin appears to be the same age as Batman, Jr. (even Commissioner Gordon is still going strong). This would suggest that, soon after donning the Bat-costume, Bruce Wayne found time for a wife and immediately fathered a child! So much for his playboy image!
Moreover, whereas a Superman, Jr. makes some sense, why would there be a Batman, Jr. at all? It was Bruce Wayne who wanted to avenge criminals. His son should be on a different track. But the Bruce Wayne, Jr. in these stories not only dresses up as Batman, he behaves like a playboy.
The artwork is generally good to very good. Dick Dillin, best known as the successor to Mike Sekowsky on the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, did most of the pencils. Sometimes he is aided and abetted by Murphy Anderson, and the results shine. "The Girl Whom Time Forgot", a story that could have easily featured the Super-Dads instead, boasted none other than Superman's premier artist, Curt Swan, doing the pencils. Unfortunately the inks were by Tex Blaisdell, whose work was not as focused as Swan's other artistic comrades such as Anderson, George Klein, Stan Kaye and others.
Bottom line: despite the "hip" language from another era, the contrived plots and the implausibility of even having junior versions of Superman and Batman around, Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons is a worthy addition to the shelf of any fan of Superman, Batman and the WORLD'S FINEST series.
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