Category Archives: Super-Blog Team-Up
Welcome to the latest (and last!) installment of Super-Blog Team-Up, where I and a dozen other intrepid comics bloggers all take on the same subject. This time, we are looking at death, both for pop culture characters and for the Super-Blog Team-Up itself, which meets its demise with this installment!
I’ve selected the Death of Captain Marvel for my topic — Jim Starlin’s 1982 send-off to the throw-away character he had made relevant a decade before. This was a sixty-six page stand-alone volume, the first in a series of original graphic novels published by Marvel, and while this is a talky and sentimental book (just this side of maudlin), it is still a good read, and particularly meaningful to me, Captain Marvel fan that I was.
No one got Captain Marvel’s life better than Jim Starlin, and I can’t imagine anyone doing better with his death. Starlin is all-in, here, kicking things off with a Captain-Marvel-as-Pietà beneath a title that leaves no doubt how this story will end up.
But how do you build tension in a tale where the outcome is known from the start? By setting out the emotional stakes, of course. Just as in any other superhero book, where we know the good guy will triumph over the big bad (but don’t know if they will get the date with their best girl), here we know that Marvel will die, but we don’t know how it will happen. Most importantly, we can’t anticipate how the Captain will face his own death, though we might have guessed.
It turns out that Captain Marvel died as he lived — with grace and uncommon understanding.
First, though, we go back to the beginning, as Starlin opens with a cogent summary of Captain Marvel’s career, framed as a recording Marv himself is making for posterity. It’s sad to realize that many readers might have been coming to Captain Marvel for the first time here, expressly to witness his death, but I guess that’s what you get when bumping off a low-sales C-lister. Even for fans of the character, though, Starlin’s summary is strong reading, nicely condensing the character’s origin and hitting the high points in his unique career — telling how Captain Marvel turned against his Kree overlords and went native on Earth; how he received Cosmic Awareness and became earth’s protector, and how Marvel and company triumphed over Thanos in final battle (for the time, at least).
Ol’ Marv sure had his share of colorful foes!
Then there’s a bit of action — because this is a comic book, after all, and Starlin always made sure even the most cosmic threats could be undone by a punch in the mouth. This time it is cultists worshipping Thanos’ turned-to-stone body. Marv makes short work of them, and even this action sequence crams in talking in this very talky book … in this case Marvel’s thoughts as he battles, nicely illuminating what makes him different, that he uses his cosmic powers to anticipate his enemies and to defeat them with a minimum of violence, and certainly no loss of life. It is Captain Marvel at the height of his powers, and his most self-aware.
It is also his final fight in this earthly realm.
It is in the aftermath of that battle that death begins to claim Captain Marvel. You know how it is in old movies — that no one has a cold, unless it signals the onset of a fatal disease?
And a page later, the fatal diagnosis.
A bit more backstory reveals Marvel was inflicted with his disease from exposure to Compound-13 while battling the villain Nitro, in a tale that marked the end of Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel, and in which Starlin left the Captain for dead. Well, it only took a decade, but Starlin got his way!
With his death all but certain, Marvel goes on his farewell tour, breaking the news to his lover, Elysius, and then to his old partner, Rick Jones, who does not take the news well.
Those characters do join in the attempt to devise a cure, but the medical race-against-time is a subplot doomed to fail, and not just because Starlin gave away the conclusion of this tale with the title. In short order it is discovered that Captain Marvel’s photonic Nega-Bands are all that is keeping him from dying on the spot, but that those same bands inhibit any treatment the heroes might devise. The clock is ticking down with no real hope of a cure.
The Captain’s final hours are spent receiving visitors, and here is where the book really starts to tug on your heartstrings. There’s good characterization here, such as when The Thing fills the leaden air with old war stories, while Spidey can’t stay in the room …
… but more than any individual interaction, I loved this part of the book because it let Starlin fit Captain Marvel into context, to show how he was a special and important force in the lives of everyone in the Marvel Universe. He drove home the emotional void that Marvel would leave in his passing, and made that so much more important than all the goofy super villain fights and team-ups that comprised the Captain’s career.
Seemingly every hero in the Marvel Universe made the pilgrimage to bid the Captain goodbye.
One-by-one, the heroes parade by Marvel’s bed — even a Skull general, who gives Marv a Medal of Valor for being such a great adversary! — but in the end, despite Rick Jones’ continual railing against unkind fate, only one outcome awaits …
And with Captain Marvel on death’s door, it is inevitable who would visit him last!
In the theater of his mind, Thanks restores Marvel to health, and sets up one last battle.
The fight only runs a page or two — and it’s no time-mind synch-warp — but it does let Marvel go out on his feet, battling back against Thanos and his phantoms, and allows Marvel to accept that he is finite, and that even the best of the good fights must one day come to an end.
With that, he is gone, putting a bookend on what I’ve previously argued is an accidental masterpiece, a superheroic career with a genuine beginning, middle, and end. Marvel’s death was touching, and it elevated everything that came before. May he remain dead! With other characters carrying on his trademark-sensitive name, there’s every reason to believe the Captain can remain at his well-earned rest.
Plus, this Kree Captain Marvel doesn’t have to be alive to remain a fictional force in our lives. His life (and death!) live on through stories that are made more poignant by his eventual demise.
Re-reading these stories, in particular, has been an illuminating experience for me. A prime mission of Longbox Graveyard has been for me to revisit the pleasures of my youth, to try to fit everything into some kind of nostalgic higher purpose. Captain Marvel’s stories haven’t always fared well on re-examination, but the point, really, isn’t to determine if something was good or bad, or worthwhile to have read and obsessed over.
Re-reading these old tales is its own reward. Not because (as I once read somewhere) the stories have changed any since we read them last, but because we readers have changed. The twenty-year-old me who first read this tale in 1982 is a distant shadow to the fifty-five-year-old-me typing these worlds, but I can remember feeling sorrow for the Captain’s death, as well as an insider kind of cool for being an original fan of the character, who didn’t need a summary of his adventures.
And I can well remember thinking that death was a far-off thing that I would somehow, impossibly, never have to face, just like the good Captain himself.
At this time in my life, death is real. The best friend of my youth that I read these stories with was claimed by cancer just a couple years ago. I am (I think) in good health, with many years yet to live, but as a male in his fifties still working full-time to support his family I am well aware that I walk in “sniper alley,” with heart attacks and strokes and yes cancer too watching me through the crosshairs. I take comfort in knowing I’ve lived a good life and my passing would be mourned by many (maybe not including Spider-Man, but you can’t have everything).
Still I value my life more now than I did in my twenties, and would more greatly regret giving it up, not being able to see what became of my sons, or what children and art they might bring into this world. A fatal bolt from out of the blue would free me from the agony of U.S. politics, and Kim Jon-un’s sparkly new ICBM, and also relieve me of the duty of figuring how to bring Longbox Graveyard to a close … but aside from that, I’m not seeing a lot of upside.
So I wish myself long life, and long life to all my Longbox Graveyard readers, and when our end comes, may we greet it with the spirit of Captain Marvel, the peaceful Kree man of war.
And that end is here in truth for Super-Blog Team-Up, which announces its death with this entry. Please drop around the many other fine blogs in this project to pay your respects:
- Comic Reviews by Walt : Death Of The Mutanimals
- Between The Pages: I Have Been And Always Shall Be Your Friend
- Chris On infinite Earths: Death Of Supergirl
- Crapbox Son Of Chthulu: Death Of My Love For Marvel Comics
- Comics and Coffee: Superman: The Man Who Murdered The World
- Superhero Satellite: Death of a Collectors Passion — A redemption story
- Retroist: These Pirates Of The Caribbean Models Are To Die For!
- In My Not So Humble Opinion: The Death Of Galactus
As for whether this marks the end of Longbox Graveyard … well, you have to admit, it is the perfect opportunity, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll be back next month.
Or maybe not.
Regardless, thank you for reading, and for your many thoughtful comments through the years. Be well!
NEXT MONTH … maybe there ISN’T a next month!
Happy Holidays to Longbox Graveyard readers far and wide.
The holidays ate me alive this year (in a good way), and so I failed to participate in last week’s holiday installment of Super-Blog Team-Up … but the week after Christmas is prime time to sleep in and catch up on cool comics, so I hope you will visit each and every one of these blogs for a special helping of super-powered holiday cheer!
- Between The Pages: The Ghost of Supergirl Past
- Retroist: Christmas Knight
- Superhero Satellite: 4th Annual Holiday Special
- The Unspoken Decade: The 1991 Marvel Holiday Special
- Chris Is On Infinite Earths: Christmas With The Super-Heroes #1
- Crapbox of Cthulhu: !mpact W!nter Spec!al #1
Here’s wishing my Super-Blog Team-Up comrades and comics readers everywhere a peaceful holiday season and a better 2017. See you in the new year!
Super-Blog Team-Up returns with a Doctor Strange-driven look at magic in comics! Now, Halloween was last week, so I’m a couple days late for Dracula, but with his movie out this week, I’m right on time for Doctor Strange … and it’s always time for Bronze Age Marvel here at Longbox Graveyard. So let’s jump right in as Doctor Strange battles Dracula, Lord of Vampires!
This two-part crossover began in Tomb of Dracula #44, smack-dab in the middle of the classic run by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer. I’ve sung the praises of Tomb of Dracula here at Longbox Graveyard before (twice!) — it really might have been the finest Marvel comic of its age. And one of the reasons the book worked so well was that writer and editor Marv Wolfman largely kept Dracula and his tales sequestered from the rest of the Marvel Universe. While Drac would encounter Spider-Man and Thor in other titles, Marv jealously guarded the door of Dracula’s own book, ceding to editorial pressure to more closely connect Tomb of Dracula with the Marvel Universe only through crossovers with otherworldly and supernatural characters like Silver Surfer, Brother Voodoo, and (in our case) Doctor Strange!
The first part of the tale, written by Marv Wolfman, opened with Strange mourning the death of his faithful manservant, Wong, beneath the flashing fangs of a vampire!
Just look at Gene Colan’s smokey pencils, beautifully illuminated by Tom Palmer’s perfect inks! There’s never been a better team for supernatural comics storytelling!
But this wasn’t just any vampire — this was Dracula, the Lord of Vampires, as Strange discovered when his sorcery allowed him to experience Wong’s final moments.
Harnessing the fathomless powers of the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto (which then, as now, could do about anything the writer needed it to do), Doctor Strange tracked the “life-patterns” of Dracula from the scene of the crime to Dracula’s lair in Boston.
I love how Colan’s “camera” pushes in on Dracula, starting with his open coffin, then Dracula in repose, and then Dracula alert to Strange’s intrusion. Looking at this sequence, did you “see” Dracula’s eyes snap open between the last two panels? That’s the magic of comics, boys and girls — like Scott McCloud noted, comics are as much about what you don’t see between the panels as what you see in the panels themselves.
After that? Well, it’s on!
But this battle between Dracula and Strange wasn’t the usual Marvel Comics Fist City beat-down, and it wasn’t even a garden-variety Doctor Strange ectoplasmic duel of ghosts.
No, to battle Dracula, Strange invoked the “Images of Ikonn” to delve into Dracula’s “passions and fears,” taking Dracula back to the moment his mortal self fell on the battlefield in a cavalry duel with Turkish invaders.
It’s kind of dirty pool, to be honest.
For a couple panels, there, we could almost sympathize with Dracula, and this was intentional. Marv Wolfman considered Dracula the “protagonist” of Tomb of Dracula, rather than the hero, but as readers we still needed to get on board with Dracula, and moments like this served to humanize him. We see Dracula as a mortal terrified of his pending (un)death, we see his noble sacrifice in defense of his homeland, and can kind of feel bad for him … but it doesn’t take much for Dracula to revert to form, showing the dark side of his noble nature with his incredulity that this conflict originated with the death of “… a mere hireling … a cretinous menial … a whimpering domestic.”
(Don’t take a job with Dracula, folks).
Taken aback by Dracula’s sudden recovery — and reluctant to use his “more potent magics” for fear of rendering Dracula incapable of restoring Wong to life — Doctor Strange was quickly mesmerized by Dracula.
Mesmerized … and slain!
How’s that for a vintage Marvel shock ending? Doctor Strange is dead? Say it isn’t so!
Fortunately, we needn’t wait even one week to see how this one turns out … the tale continued in Doctor Strange #14!
While this issue was written by Steve Englehart (who firmly put his stamp on the story, as we shall see), the book was illustrated by the self-same team of Colan and Palmer, and also edited by Marv Wolfman, resulting in an unusually coherent crossover, at least by Marvel standards.
The issue opened with Dracula gloating over his fallen foe, casting Strange’s body into a dungeon, where he might rot until rising, three days later, as Dracula’s undead slave.
But in his arrogance, Dracula didn’t reckon that Doctor Strange might be “no stranger to death,” as we learn that Strange escaped death by leaving his body instants before Dracula killed him at the end of last issue. But now, Strange was trapped outside his body, in astral form, with only three days to concoct a solution to his dilemma.
So what did Strange do?
Why, he thought, of course!
But all the thinking in the world didn’t solve Doc’s trouble. After trying to distract Dracula with visions and spells — and nearly catching Dracula out in the daylight — Strange was still a helpless, disembodied spectator when Dracula returned three days later. But Dracula was taking no chances, and in an odd reversal of roles, he sought to put a final end to the undead Doctor Strange with a stake through the heart!
Right on cue, Strange rose as a vampire, and we finally got some fist-and-fang action, as Dracula battled with a thing that was not-quite-Strange: Doctor Strange’s body, given in to dark vampiric impulses, while Strange’s conscience was helpless to intervene.
And it didn’t take long for Dracula to gain the upper hand against a Doctor Strange reduced to bestial impulses.
I love it when Drac calls someone a “clod.” If your boss calls you a clod — or “cretin,” another favorite — then he’s probably a super-villian
It’s when Dracula had Doctor Strange on the ropes that something intriguing and even a little profound occurred. When Dracula asserted himself as “Lord” while strangling the life from Strange, from the depths of his possessed soul, Doctor Strange called on the power of the Christian god to save his life!
It’s a bold turn of events, and something Steve Englehart didn’t shy away from — he once featured God Himself in a Doctor Strange story, then authored a bogus fan letter to deflect scrutiny — but what’s most interesting to me about this moment is what it asks about Doctor Strange’s own spirituality.
Does Doctor Strange believe in the Christian god, or is He just another deity in the Rolodex, to be invoked like Cyttorak or Vishanti? In his moment of greatest extremis, it is the Christian god that Strange turns to for salvation. Is Strange a man of faith, or is he just happy to use the best tool at hand?
Either way, that cross-like burst of light sure did the job …
Strange’s body and soul become one again even as Dracula is sent down to defeat, but Englehart implies that the will and even the cruelty required to overcome Dracula’s evil doesn’t come entirely from the divine force Strange invoked — that the “… true Dr. Strange would find no pleasure in his (Dracula’s) pain … that his tormentor (Strange) has been touched with Dracula’s own evil …” This conclusion points to an (ahem) strange duality, with the power of God getting Strange back on his feet, but Dracula’s own dark power of evil being the special sauce that let Strange finish the deed and kill Dracula for all time.
(Or at least until the next issue of Tomb of Dracula!)
And with Strange’s (and Wong’s) souls miraculously restored through Dracula’s death (could Drac have died for their sins? Nah …), that brings this tale to a close, and with it this installment of Longbox Graveyard!
It’s been awhile since I posted here, and it feels good! I hope to make this a more regular occurrence — please let me know what you think of this story and Steve Englehart’s Strange cosmology in the comments section below!
But, before you go — it took the awesome power of Super-Blog Team-Up to wake Longbox Graveyard from its Odinsleep … assuming you view this as a welcome development, please pay your thanks forward by visiting these other Super-Blog Team-Up articles, all looking at some form of “Strange” Magic!
- Between The Pages: The Wondrous Worlds of Doctor Strange
- Chris Is On Infinite Earths: Batman Visits The Sanctum Sanctorum
- Crapbox of Cthulhu: The Makings of a Sorcerer Supreme — Optimism And Sacrifice
- Coffee And Comics: Doctor Strange — Journey To The East
- DC In The 80s: The Immortal Doctor Fate
- The Unspoken Decade: Nighttime Sunburn — The Rise of the Midnight Sons
- Retroist: The Other Doctor Strange Movie
- Superhero Satellite: Strange Magic
It’s time for another Super-Blog Team-Up, where Longbox Graveyard joins with pop culture blogs from around the world to celebrate a particular comics trope. This time, in honor of this week’s release of Captain America: Civil War (and also Batman v Superman, I suppose), we’re looking at great “Versus” comics events!
For my contribution, I went all the way back to the source … to the summer of 1940, when the Human Torch fought the Sub-Mariner!
If you were expecting this titanic clash to appear on the cover of Marvel Mystery Comics #8, you could be excused for missing it. It’s easy to overlook that Torch vs. Subby sidebar on the left, especially when the dominant image features some kind of four-armed caveman gunslinger, and the Golden Age Angel coming perilously close to punching a monster below the belt.
But make no mistake — no matter what the cover might show, the first meeting of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner was this issue’s main event!
Barely a half-dozen issues old, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch were still the new kids on the block in 1940, but after a debut that sold nearly a million copies across multiple printings, these two new superheroes had already managed to stand out from the host of Superman imitators hitting the newsstands. It was perhaps because these characters were so different from Superman that they found an audience. Harkening to the noir world of pulp fiction, which was just now yielding in popularity to comics, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch were anything but an embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way.
To be fair, Superman hadn’t fully evolved into that all-American paragon quite yet, either … but these new characters were still a breed apart. Carl Burgos’ Human Torch was an android who ignited into a creature of living flame when exposed to air, and who was buried alive by fearful humans before breaking free to take vengeance on the world that shunned him. In time, the Torch mastered his emotions, and become a defender of the common good, but his Frankenstein-like origins made for an unpredictable and sometimes menacing hero. And if it was unpredictability and menace that you wanted, you needed to look no further than Bill Everett’s Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, an undersea avenger that made war on the human race, and was elevated above outright villainy only by his own noble nature and a slippery moral code that (sometimes) saw Namor doing the right thing.
When our story opened, Namor was in rare form, waging a one-man war of revenge against New York city. Now, the people of New York did send Namor to the electric chair (!) the issue before, having found him guilty, more-or-less, of being a maniac. Disastrously for New Yorkers, a jolt from the chair just awakened the powers of a groggy Namor, who escaped from custody and then made Gotham pay.
What a rampage! Namor got started by flooding the Holland Tunnel with a depth charge …
… then downing a police biplane. Poor fool!
Next Subby hit the Bronx Zoo, freeing wild animals to wreak havoc.
Plus, poisonous reptiles. Couldn’t forget the poisonous reptiles.
Or the killer (!) elephant. Turn ’em all loose!
Namor suffered temporary remorse when he saw a baby threatened …
… but no sooner did he deliver the baby to a hospital than he was off to knock the top off the Empire State Building, before wrecking the George Washington Bridge!
I don’t know about you, but I love this stuff. This was Golden Age comics at their raw, heedless, unbridled best, with little concern for consequences or continuity, or even making much sense from panel to panel. The Sub-Mariner is pissed off, and he’s a freaking force of nature. What more do you need to know?
It’s on the George Washington Bridge where the Human Torch finally catches up with Namor. And … it’s not a great page. At all. There is little drama when these characters finally meet — the action is remote and restrained, the Torch is seen at a distance throughout, and Namor has his back to the audience the whole time.
You can’t win them all. Bill Everett was all of twenty-three when he created this tale. Even Everett couldn’t be a genius all of the time.
Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek render the meeting in more dynamic terms when they revisited this scene, half a century later, in the pages of Marvels #1.
But Ross and Busiek had an advantage — they could look backwards through time. Neither Everett nor fellow twenty-something creator Carl Burgos could have guessed that their crazy comics story was giving birth to the Marvel Universe. Yet you can argue that is exactly what they did — bringing these two characters together, and proving they lived in the same world, where the consequences of each character’s actions would reverberate through each other’s stories. Heroes and anti-heroes, stories told in shades of grey, big events in real cities with hapless human bystanders caught in the crossfire — that’s the Marvel storytelling DNA, right there, decades before Reed, Johnny, Ben, and Sue rocketed into space in the pages of Fantastic Four #1.
Marvel Mystery Comics was an anthology book, with separate stories of the Torch and Namor in each issue, along with characters like the Angel and Ka-Zar. This team-up was notable in that it spanned two stories in issue #8. Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner story led the issue, and concluded with that meeting on the bridge — then Carl Burgos’ Human Torch story took over, with the Torch, now a policeman, tasked with capturing Namor on his first day on the job!
Burgos’ entry largely re-told the Everett story, from Torch’s point-of-view, but where Namor was tearing things apart, the Torch was putting them back together, herding zoo animals back into their cages, and dispatching a rampaging gorilla with a flaming right-cross.
Issue #9 continued the clash, with a twenty-two page lead feature by Bill Everett, and (finally) a cover image worthy of this tale …
The battle even rated a splash page heralding the fight as the “Battle of the Comic Century!”
In this second part, the Human Torch was mostly a punching bag — not unreasonable, given that much of the battle took place underwater.
But in a strange turn of events, Namor seemed to lose his mojo — first failing to break a bubble (!) that carried the Torch to the surface, then falling prey to chlorinated reservoir water. So, yeah, Namor is the lord of the seven seas, but keep him away from the water park!
Weakened by chlorine, and with his ankle-wings singed off by the Torch’s flame, Namor escaped by highjacking a plane, and returned to his old homicidal ways, only to think better of his actions in the very next panel. He was nothing if not mercurial, our Namor.
He was also a thinking-man’s madman, rendering the Human Torch powerless by trapping him inside a “translite tube.”
And that’s how issue #9 concluded, with readers encouraged to think how they’d break the stalemate!
So, who was the greater hero in this hero vs. hero tale — Subby, or the Torch?
How about … neither of them?
The true hero of this story — and about the only person who behaves with an ounce of sense — was policewoman Betty Dean. As Namor’s only friend among the surface-dwellers, and as a member of the police force like the Human Torch, Betty was uniquely qualified to see both sides of this conflict, and propose a peaceful solution.
The problem was that she couldn’t get these meatheads to listen to her.
How many times was Betty supposed to offer the answer before someone got the point?
Four times, by my count. Gotta give Betty points for persistence, and bonus points for telling the Torch he was a fool, right from the get-go.
And so the conflict ended sensibly — if not very excitingly — when Betty brokered a peace in the single-page conclusion to the story in Marvel Mystery Comics #10:
Of course, it would have been cooler if they’d fought.
(And Ross and Busiek seemed to agree).
But what the heck? This was the Golden Age, where anything was possible — even Subby and the Torch turning into the Get-Along Gang because Betty Dean told them to make nice. Never mind what happened to the Empire State Building, or the Holland Tunnel, or the Bronx Zoo! I’d say it was all water under the bridge — but Namor knocked the bridge down, too!
Bridge or no bridge, this story was the high-water mark for Namor’s mayhem. Succeeding stories would mostly see the Sub-Mariner venting his rage on Nazis and Imperial Japanese agents, while the Human Torch fought corruption and gang bosses in New York City.
(Well, true, there was Human Torch #5 where Namor hurled a tidal wave against New York City, but we’ll just forget that ever happened …)
The two heroes teamed again in Marvel Mystery Comics #17 to foil a Nazi attack on America, and modern Marvel continuity would team them with Captain America in the WWII hero squad the Invaders. Namor would go on to become a featured Silver Age character in his own right, after being reintroduced in Fantastic Four #4, while the Human Torch — now identified as the “Original” version, to set him apart from the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm — would suffer an even stranger fate in modern Marvel comics, getting bound up in the origin of the Vision, among other things.
But that’s really all too complicated, and serves only to obscure the core nature of these primal characters, who have rarely been better than in this story, in all it’s crude and unvarnished glory. My heart belongs to the Bronze Age, but sometimes the old ways are the best ways, as when fire and water clashed, with no punches pulled, at the dawn of the Marvel Universe!
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think of the Golden Age Torch and Sub-Mariner in the comments section, below, but not before checking out these other “Versus” features from the Super-Blog Team-Up crew!
- Bronze Age Babies: Civil War, Silver Age Style — Tales of Suspense #58
- Between The Pages: Star Wars Versus
- Crapbox Son Of Cthulhu: Versus Edition
- Chris Is On Infinite Earths: Justice League of America
- Coffee & Comics Blog: Spider-Man vs Ghost Rider
- In My Not So Humble Opinion: Captain America vs Wolverine
- Superhero Satellite: Batman vs. Guy Gardner
- The Unspoken Decade: War Machine vs. Cable
- The Retroist: The Joker vs Sherlock Holmes
IN THREE WEEKS: #160 X-Men: Genesis!
Longbox Graveyard goes to the dogs with this Top 10 List of the greatest comic book super-dogs of all time!
It’s Super-Blog Team-Up time again! Super-Blog Team-Up is a loose collection of comic book blogs and podcasts that come together several times a year to opine on a common topic. In the past, we’ve tackled superheroes calling it quits, ret-cons, bad guys, team-ups, and alternative time lines. This time, we’re offering Top 10 Lists — a subject near and dear to my heart!
My past Top 10 lists have been (mostly) serious … or as serious as things get in funnybooks. I’ve listed my Top 10 Captain America Villains, Top 10 DC Comics Characters, Top 10 Marvel Comics Characters, Top 10 Superhero Lairs, and many more. With the Longbox Graveyard Super-Animal Showdown recently drawn to a close, this Super-Blog Team-Up seemed the ideal opportunity to add the Top 10 Super-Dogs to my roll of honor!
Before we get to the list, a few ground rules.
First, I am interested only in characters that appeared first or primarily in comic books. Animation is a whole ‘nother business … so you won’t find characters like Underdog or Dynomutt here. While some of these characters would also appear in animation, they are first and foremost comic-book dogs. Get it? Got it? Good!
Second, this list is heavily biased by the Bronze and Silver Age superhero sensibilities of Longbox Graveyard. Most (but not all) of these mutts are traditional comic book canines that have been around for decades, and all but one of my pooches hails from the comic book “Big Two” publishers. My apologies to all the contemporary, hip, indie comics hounds that I have unfairly consigned to the dog house!
Third, there is no third rule … aside from the restriction that David Letterman used to offer when introducing his nightly Top Ten — “Please, no wagering!”
Without further ado, and in reverse order (to help preserve the suspense, natch), here’s the Longbox Graveyard Top 10 Super-Dogs!
The list leads with an honorable mention for DC’s Space Canine Patrol Agents!
A product of DC’s wonderfully unhinged Silver Age, the Space Canine Patrol Agents (SCPA) were a kind of all-dog counterpart to the Legion of Super-Heroes. First appearing in Superboy #131, the group included a dog you know — Krypto — and a whole bunch of C-list canines, like Tusky Husky, Prophetic Pup, and Chameleon Collie. Close your eyes and you can imagine this lot opening their meetings with their sacred oath — “Big dog, big dog, bow wow wow! We’ll stop evil, now now now!”
I can’t begin to parse through the SCPA membership for this list, so they all get in with an honorable mention (and one member of the crew will shortly get much more than that). For more on the too-weird-not-to-be-true SCPA, head on over to the indispensable Dial B For Blog, which has enough vintage SCPA art to get your tail wagging!
Wilson was an alternate-universe mutt experimented upon for cosmetics testing. With the experiment deemed a failure, poor Wilson was thrown away … only to rise as Dogpool!
Animal testing for the cosmetics industry? On dogs? Now, there’s some true villainy!
Dogpool appeared in an astonishing 29 issues of various Deadpool comics (if Comic Vine is to believed), which either says something about the staying power of this character, or the vacuous nature of Deadpool books! Fingers are crossed that Dogpool gets some spotlight time when Deadpool comes to the silver screen in his 2016 movie debut!
Did you know that the Punisher had a dog? And did you know that this dog was so tough, even the Punisher couldn’t kill him? Meet Max!
Max was totally off my radar until Dean Compton — frequent Longbox Graveyard guest columnist, host of The Unspoken Decade, and the world’s biggest Punisher fan — convinced me that Max deserved a place in the Round of 32 in last month’s Super-Animal Showdown.
Max is a savage Rottweiler who guards the Punisher’s safe house. He was wounded in the line of duty — so badly wounded that the Punisher put him down with a knife. But wait! So outraged was fan reaction to Max’s death that a retcon later established that hard-hearted Punisher actually performed some kind of surgery on Max and saved his life!
And so there you have it … Max, the dog even the Punisher couldn’t kill!
(And let’s not be exploiting any more poor Rottweilers to guard our safe houses, OK?)
As near as I can tell, Destructo only appeared once — in 1961’s Superboy #92 — but if you’re Lex Luthor’s dog, and you wear a Jolly Roger cape, you’ve got to make the list …
Gaining super powers by a run-in with young Lex Luthor’s time machine, Destructo went on a rampage, impersonating Krypto and ruining the Dog of Steel’s good name! This adventure alone was enough to earn Destructo the title of Krypto’s arch-enemy … this is one super-dog overdue for a comeback!
The honor of being the sole non-DC or Marvel comics dog in my top ten goes to Archie’s loyal dog, Vegas!
If we were just talking about the classic, canonical, Riverdale version of Archie’s pet, he likely wouldn’t make this list … but Vegas’ stand-out appearance in the zombie-infested Afterlife With Archie was emotional and unforgettable. I reviewed that surprisingly impactful series here — and I don’t want to give too much away about Vegas, in case you haven’t yet read Archie’s excellent undead adventure — but this image should give you an idea of why Vegas rates the seventh spot on my list!
Now, this is pure cool. A Soviet space dog that drifted off course, mutated into a super-intelligent psychic that projects his thoughts with a stereotypical Russian accent, still wears his CCCP space suit, and serves as security chief on the space station the Guardians of the Galaxy calls home? Damn, it’s all I can do not to make Cosmo #1 on my list!
I just about leapt out of my seat when Cosmo made a cameo appearance in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, as one of the many captors of the dread Collector. When the Collector’s headquarters went boom, I turned to my son and said, “If Cosmo bought it, I’m walking out!” Fortunately, a quick shot showed Cosmo trotting to safety, and so the dream is alive that we will see Cosmo facing down his frenemy, Rocket Raccoon, in the inevitable Guardians of the Galaxy sequel!
#5 Pizza Dog
Also known as Lucky, Pizza Dog is the lovable mutt that Hawkeye rescues from the Russian mob in his recent breakout series by Matt Fraction and David Aja.
Lucky becomes a memorable supporting character in the series, and even stars in the brilliant issue #11 of the run, a book that told the kind of story that comics do better than any other dramatic form — a story related from Lucky’s point of view, using only the senses and sensibilities of a single and extraordinary dog. A great story about a great character, from a team at the top of their form (and good enough to snag an Eisner, too!)
#4 Rex The Wonder-Dog
We need to fire up the Wayback Machine for the #4 hound on our list …
Debuting in 1952’s The Adventures of Rex The Wonder Dog, and appearing in DC adventures right up into the 21st century, Rex would have a serious pedigree even if his early adventures hadn’t been created by comics legends Robert Kanigher and Alex Toth! Rex’s forty-six issue run through the 1950s benefitted from some terrific Gil Kane covers, too.
A kind of canine Captain America, Rex was a German Shepherd in the U.S. Army’s K-9 Corps who received a super-soldier serum injection, serving in World War II and Korea before becoming a crime-fighter, battling aliens and dinosaurs, and fighting alongside the future Justice League of America. A wonder dog, indeed!
#3 Ace the Bat-Hound
Ace hasn’t the resume of Rex the Wonder-Dog, but he gets on the podium of our Super-Dog Top 10 because … Batman!
Because nothing that works in comics isn’t worth over-doing, Ace’s appearance was a foregone conclusion when Krypto took the comics world by storm in 1955. A scant four month’s later, Superboy’s dog was joined by Batman’s hound, Ace, in the DC universe of super-animal stars!
Ace never caught on like Krypto, but c’mon. He wears a Batman mask, and he hangs around the Batcave. Ace is awesome just walking into the room …
The surprise winner of the Longbox Graveyard Super-Animal Showdown rates the penultimate position on our list!
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and making his first appearance in 1965’s Fantastic Four #45, Lockjaw is the unforgettable teleporting super-dog of the weird and wonderful Inhumans. That alone would ensure that Lockjaw made this list, but the four-footed Inhuman has had a long and surprisingly successful second act to his career, first headlining his own book in Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, and then playing a supporting role in the new fan favorite Ms. Marvel series.
Fifty years after he was born, it seems that Lockjaw is still a pup. Respect!
And respect is what it’s all about for the #1 entry on the Super-Dog Top 10.
It’s Krypto, of course!
C’mon, who else could it be? Krypto is the sine qua non of dogs in capes!
First appearing in Adventure Comics #210 in 1955, Krypto was an instant hit as Superboy’s pet. The pilot of Jor-El’s prototype rocket that would eventually bring baby Superman to Earth, Krypto was knocked off course and reached our planet later than baby Kal-El, but still in plenty of time to partner with Superboy in many of his Silver Age Adventures, and even becoming leader of the Legion of Super-Pets!
Lockjaw may have (narrowly) defeated Krypto in their recent showdown, but in the long view of history, there’s only one possible Top Dog when it comes to super-pets. All hail Krypto, the greatest Super-Dog of them all!
That will do it for my Top 10 Super-Dogs. Please share your thoughts in the comments section, below! And also take a look at the many other fine Top 10 Lists on offer from my fellow Super-Blog Team-Up colleagues:
- Super-Hero Satellite: Top 10 DC Comics Titles That Ended Before Their Time
- Idol Head of Diablou: Top 10 Most Important Martian Manhunter Villains
- Marvel Superheroes Podcast: Top 10 Avengers (An Age Of Ultron Tie-In)
- Too Dangerous For A Girl: Top 10 Worst Super-Heroic Hairstyles
- Chasing Amazing: Top 10 Favorite Moments Of The “Chase”
- Fantastiverse: Top 10 Avengers Greatest Super Battles
- Mystery V-Log: Top 10 Avengers Covers
- In My Not So Humble Opinion: Top 10 Avengers Sketches
- The Unspoken Decade: Top 10 Avengers Moments
- Flodos Page: Top 10 Green Lantern Ring-Slings … That Don’t Appear In Modern Continuity
- Between The Pages: Top 10 Wackiest DC Comics Covers
- BronzeAge Babies: The Top 10 Bronze Age Characters (x2!)
- Legion of Super-Bloggers: Legion Who’s Who Top 10
- Vic Sage via The Retroist: Top 10 Comic Character Deaths
- I’m The Gun: The 10 Best All-Star Squadron Covers
Thanks for reading! And if you are ready to make room for a super-dog in your own home and heart, remember that there are thousands of awesome shelter dogs looking for a good home! Please visit my friends at Adopt-A-Pet.com to find your new best friend!
NEXT MONTH: #148 Longbox Soapbox