The Crime-Fighting Canines of Comics!
The phrase “Dog Days of Summer” has traditionally referred to the hottest period of the summer, typically falling between early July and late August. In other words, right about now….so what better time of the year to take a look at the unusually intelligent, super-powered and (in some cases) cape-wearing members of the comic book Adventure Dog community?
Though he was a wolf in the original comic strip version of The Phantom, Devil was eventually identified as a dog. Loyally serving the Ghost Who Walks alongside Hero the horse and Fraka the Falcon, Devil was essentially a well-trained attack dog with no special powers.
Also without super-powers was Rex the Wonder Dog, though as you can see from issue #5 (1957) of his DC Comics title, he didn’t need any! Rex could simply do it all, whether it was parachuting behind enemy lines, battling a dinosaur, or even riding an ailing human to town on horseback!
Perhaps a lesser-known cousin of Rex, Elmo the Wonder Dog occasionally served as the German Shepherd “steed” of Darrell (Doll Man) Dane. Seen here on the cover of Doll Man #39 (1952), Elmo assists the World’s Mightiest Mite in fighting the scourge of drugs. Which begs the question: In a world where a tiny man could be seen riding a dog, why would anyone even need hallucinogenic drugs?
Bulletman #10 (1942) marked the debut of Bulletdog, “Sensational Canine Cop”. True, granting a dog its own gravity regulation helmet was astoundingly stupid and dangerous, but considering Jim Barr made a career out of crashing through stuff head-first, completely understandable.
In a heavily brain-damaged kind of way.
Heavy brain damage no doubt played a role in the creation of Ace the Bat-Hound, who made his surreal debut in Batman #92 (1955). In a tale too unbelievable to tell (trust me), Batman had to mask a German Shepherd who assisted the Dynamic Duo on a case, eventually becoming a semi-active member of the Silver Age Batman Family.
The creators of Bat-Hound, writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff, said that the Darknight Dog was inspired by Rin Tin Tin, an adventure dog whose radio adventure show ran from the 1920’s through the mid-50’s. However, it’s more likely that Ace was a response to Krypto, the quintessential canine crime fighter who’d made his debut only a few months earlier in Adventure Comics #210 (1955).
In a staggering coincidence typical of that era, “Krypto, The Super-Dog from Krypton” was not only a fellow survivor of Krypton’s destruction, but the former pet of Kal-El and his Kryptonian parents as well! Apparently, daddy Jor-El had used the family dog as his test subject while working on an escape rocket, which was then knocked off course and drifted through outer space until it reached Earth (like everything from Krypton eventually did).
Like all the members of the Superman Family, it was only a matter of time before Krypto received his own imperfect duplicate. In Superboy #82 (1960), a criminal named the Brain used an ever-available duplicator ray to create a Bizarro-Krypto, whom the real Krypto promptly chased from Earth and far into space.
Years later, Bizarro #1 created yet another Bizarro-Krypto, seen here on the cover of Adventure Comics #294 (1962), easily one of the strangest covers in my comic book collection. You simply haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed the sight of a Bizarro wearing a JFK mask…never mind the deeply surreal weirdness of Bizarro-JFK standing next to Bizarro Marilyn Monroe (considering their sordid real-life history together).
Superboy wasn’t the only teen hero with a super-powered dog. Superboy #85 (1960) chronicled the Boy of Steel’s adventure on the planet Zumoor, home of Mighty Boy and his Mighty Dog “Rovo”. Sadly, the super-friendship didn’t work out, since Superboy’s presence triggered a series of strange mutations in Mighty Boy, much like the weird effects of Red Kryptonite on Superboy.
Krypto runs into a little Red Kryptonite trouble himself in Superboy #101 (1962), as the Dog of Steel is temporarily transformed into a “handsome collie”…giving TV star Lassie a serious run for her money in the “freakishly intelligent collie” department.
While we’re on the “freakish” frequency, no discussion of the Krypto mythos would be complete without covering the dogs of the S.C.P.A. (sung to the tune of “Y.M.C.A.”).
No, not the S.P.C.A. (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), but the S.C.P.A., which stands for The Space Canine Patrol Agents!
Taking the place of fallen member Mammoth Mutt, Krypto joins this astonishingly bizarre “barking battalion” to help them “hound criminal curs” in Superboy #131 and #132 (1966). Krypto’s fellow agents included Tusky Husky, Hot Dog, Bull Dog, Paw Pooch, Chameleon Collie, and Tail Terrier…the leader and “Top Dog” of the S.C.P.A.
Even Superboy’s villains got in on the super-dog fad. The Kryptonite Kid and his evil (unnamed) dog returned in Superboy #99 (1962) to bombard Kal-El and Krypto with their deadly Green-K radiation.
When young Lex Luthor invented a machine to grant him super powers in Superboy #92 (1961), his dog Destructo accidentally got the powers instead! Naturally, Luthor trained Destructo to discredit and later battle Krypto, until Superboy returned from…you guessed it…a “space mission” to right Luthor’s wrongs.
Clearly the super-dog phenomena was primarily confined to the Superman “kennel” of titles, since no other DC hero (except Batman) felt the need to add a dog to the franchise. But what about that “new kid on the block” Marvel Comics? Their style of a more “realistic” kind of superhero surely wouldn’t allow for super-powered mutts running around, right? Well…not entirely.
While it’s true that the majority of the budding Marvel Universe was without canine companionship, there was a notable exception. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the mysterious Inhumans to the Fantastic Four family of characters, they also included an enormous dog named Lockjaw.
First appearing here on the cover of Fantastic Four #46 (1966), the bulldog-like Lockjaw had the ability to teleport anywhere on Earth, to the moon, or even between dimensions. He was also known for chewing, gnawing and devouring any inorganic material he could get his paws on. Sorta like my dog, come to think of it (the chewing…not the teleporting).
Another giant dog from a different quadrant of the “Kirby-verse” was Sturmer, leader of the War Dog Company and “pet” of the New God named Orion.
Adding to the pack of costumed canines was the kid-friendly world of Saturday morning cartoons. Some of the more popular hero dogs received their own comic book titles, such as Underdog, the robotic Dynomutt, the incompetent martial artist Hong Kong Phooey, and Jonny Quest’s yip-yapping Bandit.
As the years went by, tastes changed and kids rejected the fairy tale whimsy of cape-wearing dogs for a darker, rougher-hewn brand of comic book storytelling. Ironically, one of the architects of that grim new trend was also a fan of the more whimsical tales of the Silver Age. So much so, that when Alan Moore was hired to reboot a character named Supreme, he dropped the title’s “violent psycho-Superman” theme and fashioned it into a brilliant, metafictional tribute to the Silver Age Superman. As you can see from the cover of Supreme: The Return #4 (2000), the “Supreme Family” included its own collar-caped super-pooch named Radar, “the Hound Supreme”.
A year later, Krypto himself returned from the Great Beyond of comic book limbo. This time around, he was the El family dog from an alternate version of Krypton, possessing all of the same powers as the previous version of Krypto…minus the super-intellect. As of this writing, Krypto has recently returned from a long, mysterious absence, and what his future holds with the Superman family remains to be seen!
As the debate over Krypto’s role within the oh-so-sophisticated modern comics scene continues, our journey through the “Dog Days of Comics” should make it clear that comic creators of the past didn’t share our neurotic aversion to light-hearted whimsy. Were horse riding, mask-wearing, and cape-collared dogs beyond silly? Of course they were…but at the same time, those goofy tales seemed to celebrate the deep, abiding friendship between humans and dogs…something anyone who’s ever loved a dog, and been loved by a dog, completely understands.