From Rocket Raccoon to Krypto the Super Dog: A Brief History of Animal Superheroes
With the upcoming ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ Marvel is betting big that the world will fall in love with a wisecracking, gun-toting, badass little bundle of fur named Rocket Raccoon. After all, people may readily accept alien invasions and Norse gods and giant green monsters powered by anger, but a genetically modified raccoon with an itchy trigger finger and the voice of Bradley Cooper is a whole separate bottle of cosmic weirdness.
Rocket may be one of the first animal superheroes to make it to the big screen, but he’s certainly not alone in the pages of Marvel and DC comics. In fact, superhero comics have been introducing animal heroes for years, ranging from stand-alone heroes with unique origin stories to pets who simply share the same powers as their owners.
Consider this a brief, but whirlwind, history of the untamed world of animal superheroes.
The Legion of Super Pets
Once upon a time, back when DC comics didn’t take itself quite so seriously, a race of aliens called the Brain-Globes of Rambat developed a nefarious plan for Earth. Although their mind-control powers bent many heroes to their will, it was soon discovered that they had no power over animals. And thus the super-powered pet quartet of Krypto, Comet, Streaky and Beppo were brought together to defeat the alien menace. Dubbed “The Legion of Super-Pets,” this bizarre crew continued to pop up throughout the DC universe, albeit not as often as you’d hope.
Krypto the Super-Dog
Originally introduced as an ally of Superboy in 1955, Krypto the Super-Dog belonged to a young Kal-El back on Krypton … until his father decided to test the rocket that would later send his son to Earth on their beloved family pooch. After years of flying around the universe in suspended animation, Krypto arrived on Earth reunited with his teenage owner and revealed himself to have superpowers comparable to Clark Kent himself. Krypto continues to play a part in the DC universe to this day, with legendary Alan Moore giving him a heroic last stand in ‘Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and the modern “New 52″ universe re-imagining his origin as being trapped in the Phantom Zone for years until being rescued by an adult Superman.
Comet the Super-Horse
Although originally introduced in the pages of ‘Superboy,’ Comet the Super-Horse became a regular in pages of ‘Supergirl,’ where he assisted the young Kryptonian hero on her many adventures. Although not as famous as Krypto, Comet is notable for his truly baffling origin story. Initially a centaur in ancient Greece, he was tricked into drinking a potion that transformed him into a full horse (albeit one with superpowers) before being imprisoned on an asteroid. Once freed by Supergirl, he fought villainy in his horse form before being granted an unstable human facade, with which he, uh, courted Lois Lane.
Streaky the Super-Cat
Streaky the Super-Cat has an origin that’s just plain irresponsible. After experimenting with green Kryptonite in an attempt to nullify its effects on her and her brethren, Supergirl chucked the chunk of radioactive rock out the window when things didn’t go her way. And then her pet cat came along, got a little too close to the powerful extraterrestrial stone and found himself granted the powers of flight and super-strength and what-not. Because that’s the kind of story you should tell the kiddos: poison your pets and they’ll gain powers!
Beppo the Super-Monkey
Like the other members of the Legion of Super-Pets, Beppo the Super-Monkey has a pretty labored origin. One of the test subjects in Jor-El’s Krypton lab, Beppo stowed away on the rocket that sent young Kal-El to Earth. Upon his arrival, he got involved in all kinds of monkey shenanigans and threatened to expose the little secret that Ma and Pa Kent were hiding. Beppo ultimately left Earth after being scared by fireworks (seriously) but would later return for the occasional storyline. He was removed from the DC universe during the infamous ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ storyline.
Aliens and Alien Artifacts
While the Legion of Super-Pets have powers that are Kryptonian in nature, this subsection is all about the beasts that gained their abilities through other spacey methods. Some are aliens and some just had a close brush with something out of this world, but they’re all still animals who could kick your ass.
Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers
In one of the stranger stories to be published by Marvel comics in recent years, Lockjaw (the teleporting dog companion of Inhuman ruler Black Bolt) found himself exposed to the powerful Mind Gem of the Infinity Gauntlet. With his increased intelligence, he rounded up a team of the Marvel universe’s other animal heroes and set about tracking down the rest of the Infinity Stones, ultimately beating the villainous Thanos to the punch. Dubbed “the Pet Avengers,” this motley crew promised to reunite again in the final issue of their four-part miniseries, but as of 2014, they’ve yet to embark on a second adventure.
Howard the Duck
Quite possibly the most misunderstood comic book character of all time, Marvel’s Howard the Duck has almost nothing in common with the infamous film that borrowed his name and little else. An alien creature who finds himself trapped on Earth, Howard’s resemblance to an Earth duck makes him a perfect parody of anthropomorphic animal characters, allowing him to go on all kinds of satiric adventures while looking like an adorable mascot. Cynical and grumpy, Howard doesn’t have too many superpowers beyond knowing a little “Quack-Fu,” but when in the right hands, he’s one of the funniest and most interesting C-listers hanging around the fringes of the Marvel universe.
Powered by pure rage and constantly vomiting blood, the Red Lanterns represent one of the weirdest corners of the Green Lanterns mythos. So weird that one member of their ranks is a former house cat named Dexter. When his owner was murdered and two crooks flung him off a bridge, a Red Lantern ring came to the abused and traumatized animal, offering him tremendous power (and not much responsibility). Now a dedicated member of his corps, Dex-Starr is as violent and brutal as his compatriots, but he still continues to hunt for the man who killed his beloved owner. Yes, we too find it hard to believe that the DC universe is home to a superpowered, blood-puking cat.
How strange is The Flash’s rogue’s gallery of villains? Strange enough that one of his greatest foes is a super-intelligent gorilla with telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Once a perfectly ordinary gorilla living his life in Africa, Grodd was exposed to an alien presence (a meteor or crashed ship, depending on the continuity) and found himself and his fellow gorillas granted extreme intelligence. Grodd went on to co-found “Gorilla City,” a home for his super-smart ape companions, but his time as a peaceful ruler didn’t last long. Now, he regularly battles The Flash, often using the animal kingdom against him.
Although Buddy Baker is human, no discussion of animal superheroes would be complete without mentioning his alter ego: Animal Man. An actor and animal right’s activist, Baker got too close to a doomed alien spaceship and found himself granted the ability to borrow the natural abilities of any animal on the planet. If he needs to fly, he takes on the ability of a bird. If he needs to bash down a door, he calls on a Rhino. The most recent run with the character retconned his origin to be more mystical in nature (and gave him minor shapeshifting abilities), but Baker himself remained more-or-less intact as a character.
No all animal superheroes were born in the depths of space or brushed against a powerful artifact. Some of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and found themselves the unwilling victim of a little experimentation.
Before he was a key member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon was an ordinary animal who was genetically and physically altered to cater to mentally ill inmates on the planet Halfworld. But that job wasn’t going to be enough for someone as crafty as Rocket, who took his masterful tactician skills and his god-given heightened senses and made a career of super-heroics (and occasionally super-crime) out of them. Initially written as a strong and wise leader, recent issues of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and his brand new, self-titled spin-off series have made him more manic and silly, positioning him as a comic relief sidekick. Whether or not the new movie will follow suit is still up in the air.
Although they exist outside of DC continuity, the trio of animals at the center of ‘We3′ are some of the most memorable animal superheroes ever created and deserve your attention. A pitch black science fiction tale, the comic follows three house pets (a dog, cat and rabbit) who are forcibly experimented on and transformed into cybernetic killing machines. However, their creators never counted on the fact that these animals would maintain their instincts and memories. When they escape in search of their long-lost homes, a violent manhunt (animalhunt?) ensues. With no trace of sentimentality to be found, ‘We3′ is a shattering and brutal experience that should not be approached be people who don’t want their day completely ruined.
Sometimes, an animal is just an animal. Sometimes, an animal superhero is just a pet with a costume. These are animal heroes who wouldn’t be able to hold their own in a one-on-one fight with the forces of evil, but they’re noteworthy for being the personal companions of some of comics’ greatest heroes.
Ace the Bat-Hound
After Krypto found success in the pages of Superman, it was decided that Batman and Robin should have a pooch partner of their own. Thus, Ace the Bat-Hound was created in 1955 and like all Silver Age super-animals, his origin in a wacky one. After Ace’s original owner is kidnapped, Bruce Wayne takes the dog in and uses him to help track down and free his master. Because he had already been seen about town with his new canine companion, he gives Ace a mask and bat emblem, letting him continue the mission without exposing Batman’s true identity. Although the day is won, Ace’s owner ultimately leaves the dog to the Wayne family, letting this partnership continue on for a few more decades.
Once upon a time, Wonder Woman’s home of Paradise Island (later renamed Themyscira) was home to a race of kangaroos called Kangas. But these were no ordinary kangaroos: they were gigantic and came from outer space courtesy of the Sky Riders of Nebulosa. Anyway, the Amazons used the Kangas like most people used horses and Wonder Woman had a Kanga of her own named Jumpa, who would occasionally assist her in her crimefighting. Recent updates have wiped Jumpa and the Kangas out of continuity, but they cannot erase the fact that nothing will ever be cool as an island of warrior women who ride big kangaroos around.
Although Anthony Mackie’s take on Sam Wilson, AKA, the Falcon, in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘ is terrific, the big screen version of the winged character is missing one key power — the ability to psychically communicate with birds. This allows Sam to keep an eye on the bad guys through the eyes of countless feathered friends, but it also led to his close bond with Redwing, a falcon who was mentally bonded to him after an encounter with the Red Skull. In the comics, Sam doesn’t go far without Redwing by his side. C’mon, ‘Captain America 3.’ You know you have to write this bird into the script.
You may think that being able to pass through solid matter is enough superpower for one girl, but beloved X-Man Kitty Pryde has additional assistance in the form of Lockheed the dragon. Kitty first encountered Lockheed in deep space and despite him being an infamous warrior well-known among his people, the pint-sized purple dragon decided to accompany her back to Earth, where he’s gotten involved in the affairs of the X-Men for the past three decades or so.
Yes, Aquaman used to ride an oversized sea horse named Storm.
Hahahahaha. Look at him! Hahahahaha!