Puppy Love

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This year’s Valentine’s Day post will be a bit different, as it will not be featuring any conventional, human romance. Instead, the focus will be on one of my favorite comic-book canines, hence the title.

The canine of which I speak is Krypto the Super-Dog. (Note that it’s been stylized as both one word, “Superdog,” and hyphenated. I decided to go with the latter since that’s how it was done in Krypto’s first appearance.) How did I manage to put Krypto and Valentine’s Day together, you may wonder? Incredible as it may sound, there was a time when the Dog of Steel actually found love in the pages of Superman #287 (May 1975), in a tale titled…

“Who Was That Dog I Saw You With Last Night?”

But before we delve into this story, we should note that this was all set up over a half a year earlier in the back-up feature in Action Comics 440-441 (Oct.-Nov. 1974), starring Green Arrow and Black Canary. Across these two issues, Green Arrow and Black Canary are helped out of some trouble by a white-haired stray that Black Canary decides to name “Demian.” It’s only after they see the adorable little guy break through a steel-plated wall that they finally (eventually) realize the obvious.

Believe it or not, it still takes ‘em a couple panels into the next page to actually put it all together, at which point Krypto has already vanished. They do have enough good sense, however, to call their fellow JLAer Superman in Metropolis to let him know his dog is loose without a leash, license, or cape.

As noted, it would be six months before this loose end was finally picked up in the pages of Superman, with the cover dramatically declaring that Krypto was returning this issue “by popular demand.” I hope this wasn’t hyperbole, because it truly warms my heart to believe there were other fans out there who had a love for the super-dog comparable to my own.

Now when it comes to Krypto, there are basically three categories of treatment. In the first, he’s treated like a real-life dog. In the second, he’s more of a cartoon dog like Scooby Doo, where he’s written and drawn like a cartoon and/or given human facial expressions and/or given human thoughts (expressed in thought balloons). And the third category mixes elements of the first two. Though his portrayal in this particular tale is mostly realistic (category one), there are a few cartoonish elements here that might necessitate pushing it into category three—I’ll let you be the judge.

Lady and the Super-Tramp

…No, not the prog rock band—though for anyone out there that has never heard their Breakfast in America album, I would wholly endorse your giving it a listen ASAP.

As our story begins, Krypto still doesn’t appear to remember who he is, though his super-sniffer has led him from Star City all the way back to Metropolis. Before he crosses paths with Superman, however, he stumbles across this high society dog named Chelsea and it’s pretty much love at first sight. Obviously, there’s more than a touch of Lady and the Tramp to be found here.

Eventually, Krypto frees his new love interest from her leash and the two enjoy some playtime in the park together. This is when our omniscient narrator reveals how Krypto lost his memory.

Serendipitously enough, Superman and Lois Lane are also enjoying some quality time together in this same park. When the inevitable disaster strikes, Krypto’s memory returns at the sight of Supes flying off to contain it. After the two work together to capture some art thieves, Superman helps arrange a more proper meeting between Krypto and Chelsea, but by this point it’s all gone sour. After seeing Krypto fly through the sky, Chelsea is now afraid of him. After this “rejection,” Krypto flies away in what could be considered a bit of a sad ending… if this was the end. But it ain’t.

Some Krypto Pub History

Krypto the Super-Dog made his comics debut in Adventure Comics #210 (Mar. 1955), only to seemingly be written out of the strip by the end of the story. But then he was back to stay just four issues later, with Adventure #214 (Jul. 1955). Once again, the light bulb only went off as I was writing this, as it just occurred to me that Krypto was Superman’s first living link to Krypton (in the Silver Age, at least), pre-dating Supergirl, Kandor, and the Phantom Zone, making him an even more significant character in the Superman mythos than I had realized.

From his inception through the mid to late sixties, Krypto would appear periodically in basically all the Superman books. Then he disappeared (somewhat) for a while. Prior to this story from 1975, outside of reprints and a couple appearances in out-of-continuity, “imaginary” stories, Krypto’s last appearance in proper continuity was Adventure Comics #396 (Aug. 1970), a Supergirl tale with an appearance that basically amounted to a cameo. Before this was Superboy #163 (Mar. 1970), though this story was set in Superman’s past, obviously. His last prior appearance in then-present continuity with Superman was Action #349 and Superman #195 (both cover dated Apr. 1967). By the way, Action #349 featured what has to be the ugliest depiction of Krypto ever drawn, courtesy of Wayne Boring:

I haven’t done the research, but I’m hoping this was the first and last time that Boring was tasked with drawing the super-dog. If there was ever another time, please don’t tell me, as I’d rather not see it or even think about it, to be honest.

So it had been about eight years since Krypto had last truly partnered with Superman when Superman #287 came out. Fan response must have been rather positive, as the super-dog would begin appearing regularly in the then-new Superman Family almost immediately. After reprint stories ran in in issues #168 (Dec. 1974), #169 (Mar. 1975), #173 (Oct. 1975), and #176 (May 1976), Krypto would appear in an all-new story in Superman Family #182 (Apr. 1977), written by Bob Toomey with pencils by John Calnan. But it’s the second new story in this run that is most pertinent to today’s conversation.

Superman Family #183 (Jun. 1977), again by Toomey and Calnan, gave us a reunion with Chelsea in a tale titled “Love and the Single Dog!” It opens with Krypto pining away for his lady love in his “Doghouse of Solitude” when he decides to go find her again. After discovering she’s no longer in Metropolis, he tracks her to Hollywood, where she’s begun to work in films. When a fire breaks out on set, he saves her sans cape, as he’s hiding his super-nature so as not to scare her off again.

In hindsight, it’s surprising they would bring back Chelsea in this manner, as DC was only just getting into more complex continuity and callbacks at this time. Paying this much attention to any character’s backstory, let alone Krypto’s, feels unusual for DC in the 70s. (Even moreso when considering how perfectly well Superman #287 worked as a one-off story.)

Krypto’s adventures in Hollywood with Chelsea would continue through Superman Family #187 (Jan. 1978), at which point he leaves at the end of the story with a detective named Ed Lacy. Krypto would remain paired with Lacy through the end of his residence in Superman Family with issue #192 (Dec. 1978). It was a nice little run of more than a year and a half, with all the stories written by Toomey with pencils by Calnan and Juan Ortiz.

Krypto’s next appearance with Superman took place in DC Comics Presents #14 (Oct. 1979). As discussed nearly three years ago, this would be the last time we’d see Krypto and Superman together in the old, original Superman continuity, before Alan Moore wrote the swan song for that continuity in 1986. (Krypto did frequently appear in the pages of Superboy during the early 1980s, but again, those stories took place in Superman’s past and were not part of the then-present-day continuity.)

In more recent years, Krypto was revived and even featured in his own cartoon—which had a six-issue comic adaptation in 2006. He’s also scheduled to star in DC League of Super-Pets, a 3D computer-animated feature where he’ll be voiced by Dwayne Johnson, aka the Rock. Set for release on May 20 this year, it sounds like it could be fun, but personally, I just can’t seem to stop thinking about the potential for a serious treatment of Krypto in comic-book form.

Krypto-Thing?

For a long time now, I’ve had this idea for a Krypto solo strip that would be patterned after… now hear me out… Marvel’s Man-Thing. Strangely enough, this idea was inspired by both Krypto’s run in Superman Family and by that aforementioned swan song, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” by Alan Moore and Curt Swan, originally published in Superman #423 (Sept. 1986) and Action Comics #583 (Sept. 1986). Let’s take a deeper dive into the latter, focusing on the Dog of Steel.

Near the end of part one of this story (Superman #423), Superman has brought all of his closest friends to the Fortress of Solitude to keep them safe from his enemies. Almost as soon as they’ve arrived, Superman’s oldest friend of all shows up on his own to join the gathering.

Note the words of our narrator, Lois Lane: “Krypto had been roaming the stars for years, but now he’d returned. Why, unless he’d sensed what the rest of us had?”

Then, while his guests sleep, Superman takes a walk around the Fortress with Krypto.

Now note Superman’s words: “You know what I mean. Animals get those feelings too, when they know.” I’m sure you’ve also noticed that Krypto has no thought balloons, nor is he acting like a cartoon; he’s acting like a dog and only makes dog sounds in response to Superman.

Then the Legion of Super-Heroes—the classic, Silver Age Legion—appears, along with Supergirl. Seeing his cousin shakes Superman up, as she had just recently “died” in the Crisis on Infinite Earths series. Plus the fact that the Legion would pay a visit from the future at this specific juncture of his life tells Superman that his superhero career, perhaps his very life, is indeed close to an end, just as he (and his friends) had been fearing. The issue (and part one of the story) then closes on this amazing image that is at once beautiful and heartbreaking:

I should mention that George Pérez inked Swan’s pencils in this issue (Kurt Schaffenberger would do the honors for the concluding chapter in Action Comics #583), adding to the presentation immensely, as you can readily see. Now if you’ve never owned a dog, this page might not land with the same power for you, so I’ll try to put the effect into words as best I can.

Superman is crying. Krypto does not appear to be doing much, but he’s there. He’s by Superman’s side and will be there whenever Superman’s ready to reach out for comfort. He’s there because Superman needs him there; he came back from the farthest reaches of the universe because he knew Superman needed him. He will always be there for Superman because he loves him as only a dog can. For all of my fellow dog-people out there, you know exactly what I mean.

In his wonderfully-written review for Amazing Heroes #99 (July 15, 1986), Mark Waid listed “the characterization(!) of Krypto” (p. 73) as one of the many highlights of this magnificent story. This had to be Krypto’s finest hour, in my view, and it only made me want more of him—which made the tale doubly tragic, because it was clear Krypto was going to be swept under the rug along with most of the rest of Superman’s classic backstory in the wake of Crisis. But even knowing this couldn’t stop my spinning imagination. What if Krypto could somehow go on? What if we could make more stories about him, taking our cue from Moore’s treatment here?

And so my imagination went.

Krypto is a dog. Any potential writer of a Krypto story can only be human, with an entirely-human reading audience. As humans, we can never truly know how a dog thinks or feels, so any attempt to give our fictional dog human qualities, or put its thoughts and feelings into human terms, is going to destroy any realism or verisimilitude. (In other words, it’s going to wind up turning into a Scooby Doo cartoon.) While there are still doubtless many creative ways to write a realistic story from a dog’s point of view, it’s going to be a challenge.

The simplest solution, then, would seem to be the anthology-like approach that was used in Superman Family, where we had Krypto roaming around and interacting with a number of different human folk, who would provide a more conventional, human point of view. This would keep the stories accessible and relatable to the human audience while remaining relatively realistic—and as “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” demonstrated, a realistic, real-dog approach is the likely path to delivering the best Krypto stories.

You know what this anthology-like approach brought to mind for me? Yep, this is where the Man-Thing comes in.

Back at the dawn of this blog, I covered Man-Thing in a series of posts, writing in the opening entry that Manny was “a mindless creature that, as such, was a narrative spectator in his own book; a protagonist that served as a blank slate.” And while Krypto is not mindless, his canine “thoughts” are unknowable to us humans (as we just discussed), rendering him something of a narrative spectator as well. Thus I believe making Krypto interact with different people in each story arc (much like Man-Thing) could work well for him. He may not fit in a horror story like Man-Thing, but on the flipside, he’s also less confined to one setting (the swamp) like the Man-Thing is. You could set your Krypto story anywhere in the country, in the world, or even the universe.

As a dog, Krypto is also a sort of empathic creature like Manny. We know dogs clearly recognize when their human companions are sad or angry, right? Moore made note of this in his classic tale as well—go back and re-read those quotes I pulled. This is an aspect of Man-Thing that fueled his best stories and could work in a similar manner with Krypto. In fact, I’d play it up a special super power of his, one particular to his species as a Kryptonian canine.

Am I nuts? I dunno, but I think it could work. Honestly, I’d support just about any project that would put Krypto in the spotlight. Guess I will always and forever be a dog person.

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