Comic dogs were irrelevant to me in my youth. Dogs with capes and powers were just another of the endless line of comics’ industrial-strength happenings. Honestly, who cared if the pet had scandalous abundances of power? As long as Superman was using his eyes to brand criminals in the same comic, I was happy.
But when you think about the world of superhero comics, superdogs and wondercats make logical sense—in a world of radiation accidents and chemical spills, why wouldn’t animals get powers too? Still, even granting the sensibleness of superdogs, the entire concept still raises uncomfortable questions. To me, the eternal mystery was: why did these animals have powers I didn’t? Superman’s dog Krypto was a mere quadruped of the field, and he could destroy countless moons on a whim. Was I so unworthy of bringing the apocalypse? Because that’s the message that super-animals communicated to me: this unlettered mammal has a headquarters, but you, a human boy, do not.
Which of course drew me to next question: why the hell couldn’t I have megapowers? There had to be a way, ladies and gentlemen. Would it take selling my childhood friends to the jackals to score the gift of flying? If so, I was ready and willing. If cats (who are basically a disorganized form of the criminal class) can bend steel, why not me?
Now, in the height of my own maturity, the jagged fever of envy has broken. I respect, nay, even love the superbeasts. I have consumed universities of Internet literature in my quest for understanding. Your author now comprehends power animals for what they are—an extraordinarily hard-to-pull-off feat for any creator. Super-animals, and superdogs in particular, are really a canary in the mine of creativity. They are the LSAT of originality for comic writers and artists, except you are not forced to turn into a lawyer once you pass it. If you are truly gifted as a crafter, then whipping up a god-level housepet should be the easiest trick in the world, right after making a living at comics and not getting killed by the infinite power of crime. It is long past time, and far beyond the ordinary demands of decency, that the best and brightest of superbeasts be recognized for their excellence. Here, then, is a list of our power menagerie of the all-time best superbeasts (mostly dogs).
Krypto Art by Rags Morales
The gamechanger. The incredible beast who tried to become Superman, failed, and became a dog. Krypto is the logical extension of extending the franchise. Really, he was the first canine to become god, even taking Egypt into account. Before Krypto, no dog had ever had the power to extinguish humanity, but plenty of dogs have since. Who am I to say? Superman’s best friend that wasn’t famous red-haired traffic accident Jimmy Olsen, Krypto became a part of everybody’s heart, and more to the point, DC’s sweet merch line. He vanished briefly after the close of the Silver Age, but he’s back now, with a brand-new edition. If you’re curious why DC ever shuffled him off, I suppose you could blame the powerful anti-dog lobby. But honestly, you’d strike closer to home by staring at the British, since their embrace of super-serious comics essentially outlawed all the bejeweled flamboyance of the gas-huffing ‘60s and made the notion of a flying dog of hideous strength verboten and trefa. Well, they also invented Agent Orange, so they’re hardly judges of proper decency. When I reflect on Krypto, the starter of the super-pet arms race, I remember that men who had fought World Wars came up with this, and something in me turns to alcohol.
Bandit Art by Frank Quietly
Bandit is the star of the deeply moving Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely joint We3, a story that wasn’t secretly about Morrison’s depression or breakups. Much in the same way that Ray Bradbury or Neil Gaiman are horror authors who somehow stumbled into the fantasy and comics rackets, Morrison is a writer of perfect melodramas who ate a ball of hashish back in the ‘80s. Bandit, the Good Dog of the cybernetic ally enhanced pet squad, leads his feline and lagomorph teammates to freedom while being pursued by the secretive government agencies that turned them into adorable, flesh-hunting war tanks. Morrison’s great power is to spy pathos in a story like a hawk diving after mice. He and Quitely pull off a masterpiece here, as a cigarette drops ashes. In Bandit, Morrison portrays a Good Boy who is everything you’d want in a hero, and much more. The leader of the pack, Bandit is the pillar of the tale: man made him strong, but heart made him super.
Lockjaw Art by Jack Kirby
Here are few facts about Lockjaw, the teleportation architect of Marvel’s Inhumans:
Is a giant dog with teleportation powers.
Is linked with Inhuman violence—so what? Who are you allied with?
You could be teleported a trillion times by the giant beef-dog and still you couldn’t fathom out his secrets. Is he sentient? Like with God, no answers will come to you. A question is asked, and there is no response.
Has preferences, but is not telling you.
His albums express the best part of him, but not all of him.
Has a favorite president, guess which one.
Is not going to speak your tongue—he lets his acts speak for him.
Is definitely a good boy, but not a tame one.
Says nothing you are not thinking.
Is unable to be emotionally available.
You’re going to have to deal with it.
Ace Art by Sheldon Moldoff
Much as Batman can be stopped by a bullet, Ace the Bat-Hound can be stopped by editors. He has popped up in sly, subtle, wink-wink form within the franchise—one of the characters announces they’ve got a dog—but they hadn’t given him the full 24-gun reintroduction yet…until recently, in Tom King and David Finch’s Eisner-winning 2017 short. And it’s about time. The exiling of Golden, Silver and Bronze Age memes has always struck me, and probably Ace, as one of the less brain-nutrient-informed fads in comicsdom. If you think Ace is ridiculous, maybe it’s time for someone to check their bat-privilege, and surprise, the person in question is YOU. I mean, is Batman realistic? You’re talking about a killer bro in a moisture-trapping skin-suit. If you’re prepared to go that far, why stop at the border of weird? Why not go all the way in? I know the cool kids consider America’s favorite mask-wearing animal that isn’t Wolverine to be yesteryear’s news. Go on, say it. We all know you’re thinking it: Ace is a poor-man’s relation to Krypto.
Well, if that’s the case, then your precious sweet Batman is an impoverished version of Superman, and North America is a punier version of the greatest-of-all-time continent, Pangea. But comparisons are odious, and so is that logic.
Ace the Bat-Hound is perfect for our Bruce Wayne. Ace shares Bruce’s characteristics. I’ve no doubt that if he could talk, Ace would tell us all the demons that drive him. If we could savvy the language of dogs, we would find him to be obsessive, muttering, vengeful. And those people who make fun of Ace are, simply, hypocrites. Love Batman, Love Ace. That’s the creed my ancestors lived by, and I must follow it too.
Batman sees in black and white, but Ace can view the world is shades of gray. Many of you Ace-haters comment on his mask but not the fact that state executioners wear a mask. Logic much? Maybe Ace’s job goes deeper. Maybe he’s there to do the things Batman would do but can’t. Perhaps he’s there to do what Batman is afraid to do: walk around without clothes on, sniff people in awkward places, shamelessly urinate in public and kill without discrimination.
Aquadog Art by Ivan Reis
I put him in here because a friend asked me to. I will note simply that we are all made of enormous amounts of water, and by the laws of royal prerogative we owe the king of the ocean our freaking respect for once, is that too much to ask?
Yes it is.
Rex Art by Alex Toth
Rex was forged in the white-hot after-Trinity-bomb-test fever of the ‘50s, when anything went, except sex and Communism. Rex was the brainchild of Robert Kanigher and Alex Toth. He had a bimonthly series. That’s right, detective. A series of simpatico narratives featuring canine interiority ran for years—years—in the same nation that was eagerly at work slowly driving Lenny Bruce to hard drugs. What a country, eh?
I need to repeat this: Rex has his own series. Rex. A dog. A wonder dog. This is the brilliance of the Boomer years in comics. Everything was doable. Rex managed to survive longer in the cut-throat world of pet drama than other creatures. If you’re curious about the Wonder Dog, pour yourself a tall glass of wood-grain uncut rubbing alcohol and strap in for the end of everything you thought you knew about how publishing and narrative and comics works, because a dog who was not Scooby-Doo carried a series for seven years. Reading Rex’s biography is like reading a surreal journey into the ‘50s Lynchian id. He was injected with a serum in a scheme which would be patently illegal, but back in the world where space dogs reigned he was necessity. Dogs could be heroes, then. Some would say that Rex’s gift made him a kind of god. Would I go that far? No. I would say, simply, Rex was not the god we wanted but the god we needed. I must quote at length from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. There’s simply no other way of doing this subject justice:
“Over the next few years, as well as solving a never-ending series of burglaries, robberies, murders and other crimes, becoming a film star and a circus actor, and daring natural disasters such as forest fires and thick snow, Rex also managed to survive attacks from lions, wolves, bears, panthers, and even octopi (twice). He could ride a horse, or bull—and proved an expert bullfighter. He often operated small appliances such as cameras, or swung on ropes or vines to save people. ... Rex added to his military medals when he was decorated for bravery by the French Foreign Legion in North Africa, after one of several adventures with them, and added further to his awards when he became an honorary Native American Indian Chief, and an Honorary Fire Chief.”
Jesus, Jesus. What is wonderful about him? He diminishes the talking ape who is his master. We can only stare at the flame of Rex as it burns down the house of our pride. Like Blake’s Tyger, we must ask what kind of creator would frame such fearful symmetry. We are witness to a great becoming. Look at it. Look. Look.
Comet Art by Darwyn Cooke
Comet. Oh, Comet. What box can I put you in? Comet was a horse, a kind of elevated dog. Just focus on the four-legged aspect, and we’ll get along fine. Okay, I admit it: he was not a dog—not even a horse. He was a centaur. A centaur. I regret even bringing this up now. He was a centaur named Biron who spent most of his time being a superhorse. We have too many unanswered questions about Comet the Super-horse, and this is not an exaggeration. There’s an entire arc in the Silver Age where Comet deals with his feelings for Supergirl. A tangled web of love surrounds Comet, and no wonder: like all horses, there are known knows and known unknowns. An air of sex and mystery clings to him like mold after rain.
Francois Le Grande Art by Sam Glanzman
Francois is not a super-pet, and is not a superpowered animal. If the editor notices this, the list will be kiboshed for sure. Let’s keep it quiet between us, reader. It is everything that makes comics great. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I cannot claim gorillas are dogs, as the writ of nature does not extend this far. The original argument above stated that this feature was for superdogs, of superdogs, by superdogs, so their splendor should not perish from the Earth. Having remembered Francois Le Grande, I can safely argue that a superdog-only list is unjust … and that there are places to look for love and inspiration beyond mere superdogs, or any kind of canine powerhouse. One of the places you should look, if you wish to know the glory of animals in combat, is G.I. Combat #189, done in 1976.
Writer Robert Kanigher and penciller Sam Glanzman did this. May it last a thousand years. In this story, Francois Le Grande is an ape in a French circus who, through a series of miraculous events, becomes the gunner on a haunted tank and murders Nazis. Trust me, and the destiny which brought me here, when I tell you, with sweat beaded on my forehead, that this story be Everything:
Gorilla. In. Tank.
It is the marvelous unwitting dream logic of Silver Age made wonderfully manifest. Francois does not have a superpower, but let’s be honest here: being a fucking tank primate is its own mutant gift. The power of murder is really the primordial superpower. Francois has it, and our affection, in ample supply.
Boris the Bear Art by James Dean Smith
I threw Boris in here to remind us that when the age of dog comes to an end, there will come again an age of bears. Boris the Bear is a satire character published by Dark Horse, created by the Richardson-Stradley-Smith team. In the ‘80s, Dark Horse published this tale of a hyperviolent android man-like ursine, who slaughters freely, recklessly, hilariously. Look, this is clearly the work of people who couldn’t stand the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Cerebus and wanted to slaughter them all in a safe, therapeutic manner. Arguably drinking and rage are his hallmarks. But this was comics in the ‘80s, so such grim hallmarks are excusable. Who among us has not stumbled into a place of war and come out changed?