EXCL. PREVIEW: Superman Escapes a Black Universe in "Dark Knight III" #5
At the risk of overstating things, I may have just read the single greatest book of all time, Capstone’s DC Super-Pets Character Encyclopedia, a compendium of more than 200 heroic and villainous pets, compiled mainly from the line of Art Baltazar-illustrated chapter books for young readers.
You see, here are four of my favorite things about comic books: 1) colorful characters of what has become known as the DC Universe, 2) pets and animal allies of superheroes, 3) Art Baltazar’s artwork, and 4) encyclopedias, profiles, atlases, maps and suchlike detailing the often-exhaustive trivia of a byzantine superhero universes.
In other words, this is a book that is pretty much perfect for me, despite that, at 36 years old, I’m well outside the target audience for the DC Super-Pets line of books.
I’ve read a few of those, but despite the copious amounts of Baltazar illustrations, they’re really hard to get into. They’re not comics and they’re not picture books, but illustrated prose; technically all-ages, but harder, I think, for grown-ups to get into than all-ages comics might be, as there’s no getting around the fact that an adult reader is going to feel like they’re being talked down to (and for good reason).
But this book is pretty much perfect for adult fans of Baltazar or those curious about the Super-Pets line who haven’t been able to get into those books, as it excises the worst part — the prose for kids — and boasts the best parts, the pictures and the often somewhat-insane characters starring in them (for example, there’s a book titled Swamp Thing vs. The Zombie Pets, in which Swampy and his animal neighbors in The Down Home Critter Gang come into conflict with Solomon Grundy and his gang of undead pets).
I devoured every page of the encyclopedia, and much of its contents were somewhat shocking.
Baltazar and writer Steve Korte have included pets derived from a variety of origins: There are of course Super-Pets with classic comics origins (Krypto and the Superman Family’s many red-caped super-pets, Ace the Bat-Hound, Rex the Wonder Dog, The Space Canine Patrol Agents, etc.), plus some from Baltazar and Franco’s Tiny Titans run (Aqualad’s goldflish Fluffy, Robin’s robin Robin Robin, Batcow, etc.), more modern DCU super-pets (Power Girl’s cat Stinky, Dr. Mid-Nite III’s owl Charlie), anthropomorphic animal characters (Tawky Tawny, Dr. Canus and Prince Tuftan, G’Nort, Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew), those from animated series (Aquaman’s giant seahorse storm, Starfire’s alien moth larva Silky, the Wonder Twins’ space monkey Gleek), and tons of original super-pets kept by heroes you never knew had pets (Green Arrow and Speedy’s porcupines Quiver and Quill, Red Tornado’s Tasmanian devil Dusty, Black Canary’s canary Pierce, and so on).
I honestly can’t count the number of times I ran across an entry and was surprised and delighted to find that a particular hero or villain kept a pet, and the often inventive and humorous nature of those pets (and, of course, the crazy cognitive dissonance that comes from thinking for more than a few seconds about, say, the Doom Patrol’s Doom Pet Patrol or The Fearsome Five’s Fursome Five).
It wasn’t easy, but I narrowed the 200-plus characters down to the 10 most surprising entries.
10.) SALTY THE AQUADOG
Perhaps a somewhat late addition, Salty doesn’t get his own entry, but shares space on a page devoted to Aquaman’s steed, Storm the giant seahorse. Salty is probably the newest pet from the DCU comics to make it in here, being the only pet introduced following the New 52 relaunch. He appears in the early issues of Geoff Johns’ Aquaman run, wherein Aquaman and Mera adopt him into their Mercy Reef lighthouse home.
Aquaman and his family naturally have a lot of animal allies. In addition to Salty and Storm, Aquaman’s pet pals include octopus Topo and seal Ark, while Aquald and and Aquagirl have walrus Tusky and poprpoise Pory, all of whom wear golden Aquaman logos.
If Johns seems an unlikely creator of super-pets, given his deserved reputation for blood and gore in his usually anything but all-ages DCU stories, and his talent for reinventing Silver Age heroes and villains as dark, brooding emotional types or psychotic killers, respectively, it’s probably well worth noting he may have created more of the preexisting Super-Pets characters to make it in here than just about anyone else. Not only did he create Salty, but also Red Lantern Dex-Starr, Green Lantern B’dg and Larfleeze’s “pet” gloop monster Golmulus. Johns has also written a ton of the other animal characters to appear in here, like Green Lantern Bzzd and Dr. Mid-Nite’s Charlie, and there are many pets based on concepts he introduced during his Green Lantern run.
Johns also wrote the foreword to the book , which is accompanied by a nice portrait by Baltazar (above), and he’s further honored by having Mera’s pet named after him:
One of my all-time favorite comic book cameo characters came in 1993’s Batman: The Vengeance of Bane #1, by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, Eduardo Barreto and Adrienne Roy. That was one-shot special that introduced Bane a few months before he broke the Batman and became one of the Dark Knight’s most tenacious and challenging foes.
In depicting Bane’s miserable childhood in the Santa Priscan prison, where he was experimented upon, the creators gave him a teddy bear, which in the one scene where Bane talks to him, he calls it “Osoito,” an apparent misspelling of “osito,” Spanish for dear little bear. In one transformative scene, when the little boy that would grow up to become Bane is knocked unconscious and has a vision of himself as an adult and of the fear symbolized by a giant bat, Osoito seems to come to life and lead the child toward his future.
Well, according to the Encyclopedia, while Bane might have outgrown his teddy bear (which didn’t make it off Santa Prisca with him), at some point he later adopted a bear cub, gave him a matching luchador mask and named him after his only childhood friend (and by this time, Bane had learned to spell better).
Osito sure is cute at the moment, but he’s just a bear cub. Imagine how scary he’ll be when he grows up. Especially if Bane shares his venom with him!
No big surprise that The Joker and Harley Quinn have a pair of green hyenas or that Catwoman has a feline partner in crime or that The Penguin keeps a gang of birds. Heck, even the revelation that Mr. Freeze keeps a polar bear or that Ra’s al Ghul has a camel aren’t that hard to swallow (although it is kind of surprising that Ra’s camel Sandy stores the magical water of the Lazarus Pit in her hump).
But who would have guessed that Two-Face kept a pet crab that so closely resembles him, from the one scary eye down to sharing Harvey’s taste in neck wear?
I really wish I knew which Super-Pets book Lefty appeared in, if any, as I would be quite curious to learn more about this unusual pet and how Two-Face decided to adopt him (well, I can imagine the decision had something to do with a coin toss, but I’d be curious of the exact circumstances).
7.) THE MAD CATTER
Another Bat-villain not known for his love of animals is The Mad Hatter, although one could see why he might be attracted to a feline that so perfectly resembles the Disney version of the Cheshire Cat. Especially considering The Mad Catter’s profile notes that it also enjoys hats.
The Mad Catter has maybe the second-best pun of a name in the whole Encyclopedia, surpassed only by the name of the pet belonging to the Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes version). It is, of course, a blue scarab beetle and its name is Scarabian Knight.
Despite the presence of multiple vowels in his name, this dodo bird hails from the 5th Dimension, and belongs to Superman’s most-difficult-to-pronounce foe Mr. Mxyzptlk. Given his imp owner’s nigh-infinite powers, it seems strange that Mxy would have a pet at all, but then, I suppose he needs someone to keep him company while he awaits every 90th day, when his dimension comes into alignment with Superman’s and he can visit Earth to antagonize the Man of Steel.
Why a dodo bird? Perhaps Mxy got to like the species while hanging out with The Do-Do in 2000’s Superman & Bugs Bunny crossover miniseries.
Mxy isn’t the only denizen of the 5th Dimension with a pet, of course: Batman super-fan Bat-Mite has his own dog dressed in a Batman costume, just like his idol Batman does.
Cute little devil.
Oh, boy, where to start with Animal Man’s pet lion, King?
First of all, hey, look, it’s Animal Man, star of one of the foundational and longer-running comics in DC’s mature reader’s imprint, Vertigo! While the character originated in the DCU, before there was a Vertigo, and rather recently emigrated back, it can still be a little strange to think of him as a kid-friendly character again, DC Nation shorts or no (I suppose the fact that his current DCU ongoing has been more of a horror title than a straightforward superhero comic might have something to do with that).
Still, as I previously mentioned, Swamp Thing appears in here, too, and is even the title character in one of the Super-Pets books.
Of all the DC heroes, Animal Man has to be among the most likely to have a pet of any kind, given that he’s such an animal lover. Even still, a lion is a pretty exotic pet, particularly for a family man living in a big city like San Diego.
And given that Animal Man’s powers already allow him to tap into the abilities of any animal — lions included — and communicate with them, I’m not entirely sure what use he has for a crime-fighting lion, although I bet it sure helps if and when A-Man ever has to try the old good cop, bad cop routine. You know, “Look Captain Cold, I understand why you might have been tempted to rob that bank and, frankly, if it were up to me, I’d be inclined to go easy on you, but my friend over there? He’s a lion.”
I know I’d surrender immediately to any large predatory cats, no matter what kind of super-powers or super-weapons I might happen to have.
OK, as surprising as some of these Bat-villains with pets have been, I know there is at least one rogue who would never, ever, ever have any pet of any kind, as she greatly prefers flora to fauna of any kind. And that’s Poison Ivy. Surely she doesn’t have a super-pet, does she?
Of course she does. Although he’s only partially animal, and mostly plant. His species is referred to as “Plant-based dog,” whatever that means. I guess that’s another pet whose peculiar origins would demand further investigation in Capstone’s Super-Pet line.
Dogwood is one of the many pets in this book that aren’t all-animal. There are a few more hybrids, like the Reverse Flash’s cyborg newts X-43 and Bit Bit, Metallo’s cyborg cat Mechanikat. And then there are handful of not-at-all-animal pets, including robots like Toyman’s toy monkey Banjo, Brainiac 5’s Computo, Booster Gold’s Skeets and Cyborg’s F.E.L.I.X. and M.A.X. And there’s at least one completely inanimate, non-mechanical pet: Teen Titan Terra’s pet rock Thud.
While so many of the superhero pets were surprising to learn of, like Deadman’s ghost cat Vapors or Hawkman and Hawkwoman’s red hawk Big Ted, more surprising still were the pets of some of the villains not exactly known for their love of animals, like Captain Cold’s Husky Admiral Peary or Deathstroke’s white tiger Razor.
But no villain’s pet was probably more surprising than Rebound, Captain Boomerang’s pet koala, with its matching hat, scarf and bandolier of boomerangs.
Koalas are supposed to make for pretty lousy pets, given their anti-social nature, their ultra-specialized diet and their need to sleep pretty much constantly. Not particularly active animals, it’s hard to imagine one tossing a boomerang. Almost as hard as it is to imagine Captain Boomerang adopting an animal so linked to his Australian heritage that he’s practically begging to be made fun of for it. He might as well have adopted a baby-eating dingo, or a shrimp for throwing on the barbie — oh, wait, he does have a pet shrimp too, huh?
If you’re wondering why he doesn’t have a kangaroo, it’s likely because Wonder Woman beat him to it with her steed Jumpa, a member of the larger sub-species of the kangaroo family found only on Paradise Island and domesticated by the Amazons.
Pretty much everyone who wears a costume in Gotham City apparently has an animal companion. I’ve already mentioned some of the pets of the super-villains, and the Bat-Family has its own parallel family of pets. In addition to Batman and Robin’s pets Ace, Robin Robin and Batcow, Batgirl Barbara Gordon has a cat named Misty and a parrot named Charlie, Nightwing has a monkey named Haley, Batwoman has a caped Doberman named Shadow and even relatively new addition Batwing has a masked and armored heron named Blue.
However, Batman’s civilian allies also have pets of their own. Alfred keeps a teacup pig named Copper, who serves Ace the Bat-Hound as a butler, and, more surprising still, Commissioner James Gordon owns an aardvark named Gumshoe!
An aardvark’s a pretty unusual pets, especially for a workaholic like Gordon, who is so busy running the city’s police department and fighting super-crime and getting kidnapped that he probably doesn’t have a lot of time to spend taking his aardvark to the local aardvark park or sitting around feeding him aardvark treats.
He does seem to have found time to make him an adorable little police uniform, though.
It’s just as well, as Gumshoe keeps himself busy. While the Bat-Family super-pets spend their time fighting the Bat-Villains’ super-pets, Gumshoe apparently fills the same role his human companion does — calling on Ace when the city needs the Dog Knight Detective.
Hey, how did Apache Chief get into this continuity? This continuity being more or less modern DCU continuity, save with better costume designs and a pre-New 52 variety of generations of heroes.
Sure, Gleek and the Wonder Twins from Super Friends are here, but the Twins were at least introduced into the DCU proper, and Gleek is a Super-Pet (he appears with Beppo the Super-Monkey and Gorilla Grodd in the Super-Pets book Midway Monkey Madness, if you’re curious). But I think the closest Apache Chief has ever made it into the DCU was in the form of Manitou Raven, who on one occasion grew to giant proportions by shouting Apache Chief’s magic word, “Inuk-Chuk!”
Well, here he is, regardless (no sign of Black Vulcan, Samurai or El Dorado, however). And, of course, he has a pet of his own, a bald eagle with the same powers as him. Note that there is no limit to Chuk’s size-increasing powers, and it’s speculated that he can grow as big as a planet, just as Apache Chief can — so apparently, they’re ability to grow gigantic isn’t proportional to their respective sizes as a human being and a much smaller eagle.