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Superpets

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Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) and respected interpreter of heroic lore, noted that heroes often have helpers along their mythic journey. Though the traditional sidekick has often fulfilled this role through comics history, the superpet has occasionally proved to be a hero's best friend in perilous circumstances.


Probably the best known of all superpets is DC Comics' super-pooch, Krypto the Superdog. As the beloved canine companion of Superman, Krypto was first introduced in Adventure Comics #210 (1955) as the teenage Superman (a.k.a. Superboy)'s dog, who had drifted down to planet Earth many years after being launched off into space as a test by Superman's scientist father, Jor-El. He has all of Superman's powers (including X-ray vision, superstrength, and flight), is vulnerable to kryptonite, and retires to his Doghouse of Solitude when the going gets tough. The comics often refer to Krypto as the Dog of Steel. During his many adventures, Krypto wears a red cape detailed with the letter S.


A few years later, in Action Comics #261 (1960), DC introduced Streaky the Super-Cat, pet feline to Supergirl. She was an average cat before being exposed to a strange strain of X-kryptonite (accidentally created by Supergirl while experimenting with the common green kryptonite), after which the cat gains the ability to fly, with matching red cape. In her heroic form, Streaky has a yellow lightning-bolt streak on either side of her body. A few years later Supergirl also acquired a white stallion, Comet the Super-Horse, in Action Comics #293 (1962). Unlike the other pets in the Superman mythos, Comet didn't quite start out as an animal. A former centaur from ancient Greece with powers of mental telepathy, he locates Supergirl, who takes him under her wing and adopts him as her equine companion. To complicate matters, he also has the power to temporarily take on human form, changing into a handsome young man (with the identity of cowboy Bronco Bill Starr) each time a comet passes through the solar system. In his adventures, Comet is bedecked with (are you sitting down?) a red and yellow cape. Beppo the Super-Monkey, a Kryptonian lab animal who was a stowaway on the rocketship that carried Superman to Earth, made his first appearance in Superboy #76 (1959). As Superman's pet, he wears a yellow and blue costume and enjoys many of the same powers as his master. Proty II is a native creature of the planet Antares who can change into any shape he chooses. He is the pet of Chameleon Boy, and—along with Krypto, Streaky, Comet, and Beppo—does double-duty as a member of the Legion of Super-Pets. A nonhuman superteam who often came to the aid of the thirtieth century's Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legion of Super-Pets enjoyed about a dozen adventures over the 1960s, after which they pretty much disappeared from the DC mythos. Only the careful comic-book reader noticed that Streaky and Beppo were given cameos by British comics writer Grant Morrison in a 1990 Animal Man story (issue #23).


Outside of the Superman storyline, other DC superpets include Ace the Bat-Hound, Bruce Wayne's household pet and Batman's courageous crime-fighting companion. Wearing a bat insignia on his collar and a tight-fitting eye mask intended to conceal distinctive markings that would otherwise reveal him as Wayne's pet, Ace accompanied Batman and Robin on many adventures from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. He was occasionally joined by Bat-Mite, a magical, elf-like creature described as a mischievous mite from another dimension in a 1960 story from Detective Comics (issue #276).


While the superpets phenomenon is primarily restricted to DC's lighter moments, a few other characters come to mind. Captain America's partner the Falcon has a real falcon partner of his own, Redwing. A trained bird of prey, Redwing developed a paranormal mental link with Falcon and often aids his master in defeating various criminals. Marvel's Red Wolf, a Native American hero with mystical powers and a smattering of adventures in both the Old West and the present day, has a trusted companion, a wolf named Lobo. The most notable superpet of late, however, might just be Radar, canine companion to the strongman Supreme, as recreated by British comics scribe Alan Moore in 1996 for the now-defunct Maximum Press Comics. In Moore's homage to the Superman myth, Radar takes the Krypto role, with a radio collar to amplify his translated doggy thoughts. Though he shares the cape and superpowers of his predecessor, Radar can terrorize the neighborhood and get his master in the doghouse in ways the comics of a more innocent era would never have depicted—both a nostalgic and satirical reminder of how far comics have roamed from the superpet's golden age. —GM

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