Today (Sept. 25) is National Comic Book Day! Along with Free Comic Book Day, observed on the first Saturday in May, these are the two major annual events dedicated to promoting and celebrating our enduring love affair with comic books. Here at Dogster, we’re celebrating by counting down our five favorite dogs in comic books.
Our selection includes Batman’s loyal German Shepherd, Ace the Bat-Hound, Superman’s pet Krypto, Lockjaw the cosmic Bulldog, a mutt affectionately known as Pizza Dog, and a Labrador Retriever mix named Bandit. From following trends to setting new standards and marking bold achievements in comic book storytelling, these five dogs illustrate where the comic book medium has been and the ways it can still move and surprise us.
Dogs have always been a part of popular media. From the 1920s through the 1940s, dogs like Rin Tin Tin and Lassie proved to be major attractions in both film and print. The early 1930s witnessed the rise of comic books. It wouldn’t be long before dog celebrities began making their presence felt in comics. Debuting in Batman #92 (June 1955), DC Comics introduced a German Shepherd companion for the Caped Crusader and Robin the Boy Wonder.
Ace the Bat-Hound has proven largely to be as gimmicky as most of Batman’s other friends and foes during the ’50s and ’60s. In the contemporary DC Comics universe, the erstwhile Bat-Hound has been replaced by a Great Dane, also relatively marginal to ongoing stories. With a look inspired by Rin Tin Tin, Batman’s German Shepherd came about in response to the success of our next powerful pooch.
Krypto the Superdog took his first sniff of the comic book world just a few months before Ace, in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955). In that first appearance, Krypto was revealed to have been used as a test pilot by Superman’s parents, to see whether they could get their infant son safely away from their soon-to-be doomed planet of Krypton.
Like Ace the Bat-Hound, Krypto the Superdog has gone through a number of revisions and rewritings over the years. Unlike Ace, Krypto has proven more enduring and been included in more substantial storylines. In a two-issue story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” (1986), written by Alan Moore with art by Curt Swan, Krypto makes the ultimate sacrifice. In order to save Superman’s life, Krypto throws himself upon a villain whose very skin is poisonous.
Moving into the Marvel Comics stable, Lockjaw appears to be a giant Bulldog with fantastic powers, including teleportation. Unlike Ace the Bat-Hound and Krypto, Lockjaw is no one’s sidekick. This titanic beast is the leader of his own team of marvelous super-powered creatures known as The Pet Avengers. Lockjaw’s team includes a dragon, a bird, a puppy, a prehistoric cat, and a frog with the powers of Thor.
Lockjaw’s prominence was a long time in coming. The cosmic Bulldog being first appeared in Fantastic Four #45 (December 1965), the creation of legendary comic creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It wasn’t until the 21st century that Lockjaw became a star. Lockjaw and his motley group of empowered pets managed, in Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers (2009), to defeat Thanos, one Marvel’s most implacable evil forces.
From Pet Avengers to an Avenger’s pet, we now reach my two favorite comic book dogs. Perhaps no other dog in contemporary comics has drawn the attention of Pizza Dog, from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye (2012-2014). This solo series for the Avengers’ decidedly non-super-powered archer is domestic in every sense of the word, as it examines Clint Barton’s everyday life. Since both are haggard, careworn, and broken as the series starts, Pizza Dog and Barton are seemingly made for each other.
Pizza Dog’s moment in the sun occurs in Hawkeye #11 (June 2013). As Clint Barton’s life continues to crumble all around him, this extraordinary issue is written, drawn, and presented entirely from Pizza Dog’s point of view. From his understandably-monosyllabic grasp of human language to the beautifully-rendered depictions of how a dog thinks and perceives the world, every dog lover should make an effort to read this series.
Our top comic book canine has a tragic but redemptive story. In 2004, Vertigo, a subsidiary of DC Comics, released We3, a three-issue series by Grant Morrison, with art by Frank Quitely. Pizza Dog’s story moves us because of its relatability and domesticity, but Bandit’s science-fiction horror narrative is no less gripping. As the series begins, we meet the members of “We3” — a dog, a cat, and a rabbit — “surgically engineered, bio-modified organisms, armed by the air force and trained to kill.”
We3 is as much about the continuing debate over animal testing for science and medicine as it is with humanity’s predilection for developing ever-more insane ways to destroy our planet. The series begins with the We3 experiment being decommissioned by the military. Rather than see the animals euthanized as surplus to requirements, their handler sets the three animals free.
Bandit, a Labrador Retriever mix, is the main character in the series, and with added weaponry comes added intelligence and conscience. Over the course of three issues, Bandit struggles in very profound ways with the question of where “home” is and what it means to be a “good dog.”
There’s no way I could cover every dog, cybernetic puppy, or cosmic canine in one article. This is just a brief survey of some of our favorites. What are your favorite dogs or dog-like beings from comic books, graphic novels, or comic strips? What’s on your puppy pull-list? Share the ones that move you most in the comments!
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