Super-Pets

Krypto, Streaky, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, Throg,  Beppo, Comet, Topo, Salty, Arrow, Lockjaw, Lockheed, Hairball, Zabu, Cheetah, Grizzly Adams' bear Ben, Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Cow, Redwing, Itty, Dynomutt, Manhunter's robot dog Thor, Battlecat, Randar the Hound Supreme, the dire wolves of the Starks, Wonder Dog, Gleek... Faithful companions, but also stars in their own right. Artifacts of a bygone era when the trend was to create derivatives of each iconic hero (also spawning gender-switched, bizarroid, magical imp and kid versions, fodder for future Archetype articles), or sometimes, simply animal sidekicks, they were mostly abandoned as "silly" in the "realistic" mid-80s. But they seem to have made a comeback in recent years, especially but not exclusively in all-ages books. I, for one, couldn't be happier. But why? It's time to examine their renewed appeal.

In an age when nostalgic comics hark back to the dark 90s, why are super-pets, an archetype more prevalent in the 60s, getting attention again. One possible reason is the ghetto-ization of young readers to off-mainstream books. When a five-year-old was meant to read the same comics as a cynical 15-year-old, super-pets wouldn't make the cut. When those Rated T books became entirely too violent for the 5-year-old, comics had to be made for them, and more whimsical concepts could better survive in that environment. Ironically, it's that whimsical fun that has drawn many OLDER readers to so-called "all-ages" books. It would be easy to dismiss these older readers are nostalgists looking to relive the comics of their own youth (and some are), but many of these were young comics readers in the 70s and 80s, long past the super-pet's heyday. Rather, these readers - and I am one of them - have simply lost the cynicism of their teenage years and are reading comics for different reasons, less for the angst-ridden soap opera or whiz-bang violence and more for literary merit, inherent charm, or even as a shared experience with their still-young children. It's not uncommon for a reader today to read both Saga and Tiny Titans, for example, while complaining bitterly about mainstream superhero comics.

That generation is also in the industry, not just producing these all-ages comics - the Pet Avengers, Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures being most prominent - but inserting animals into mainstream books as well. Current DC Comics have given super-pets to Superman (Krypto), Aquaman (Salty and soon, Topo!), Animal Man (that talking cat), and Batman & Robin (Ace and Bat-Cow... BAT-COW!!!). Over at Marvel, Hawkeye's adopted an injured dog (Arrow) and the company recently published a Marvel Universe book focusing on animals alone! There's a willingness there to reintroduce crime-fighting animals into mainstream superhero comics. The trick is not pandering so much to the teen demographic that these pets lose their sympathetic (retro?) looks in favor of "kewl" savage identities (see the current dire wolf Krypto for one example).

Superhero comics allow us to imagine what it would be like to have powers and/or to go the extra mile to do the right thing by society. But what if our beloved pets could accompany us on these power fantasies as equal partners, loyal friends and comic relief, just as they do in our every day lives? It bears exploring. Keep at it, pet-loving comics creators!

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