The Long and Ridiculous History of Superman’s Dog

Reading between the lines.
May 3 2013 11:20 AM

“I Gotta Cut Krypto”

The author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography argues with his editor about the Dog of Steel.

This is Krypto the Super Dog. He is awesome. These are facts.
This is Krypto the Super Dog. He is awesome. These are facts.

Author’s collection

Unedited transcript of the July 12, 2012, phone conversation between Glen Weldon, author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and his editor, Eric Nelson.

Weldon: Hello?

Editor:  Hey, Glen. Got a minute?

Weldon: Hey, Eric. Uh, sure.

Editor: I just read Chapter 5, and I got to the Krypto stuff.

1305_SBR_SUPERMAN_COVER

Courtesy of Turner Publishing

Weldon: OK.

Editor: All the Krypto stuff.

Weldon: Yeah. [Chuckles.] Awesome.

Editor: Thirteen pages.

Weldon: … Excuse me?

Editor: You wrote 13 pages.

Weldon:  … I uh, I don’t …

Editor: About a dog.

Weldon: Ah.

Editor: Glen, who are you writing this book for? Who exactly is this person in your head who’s prepared to wade through 13 pages about Superman’s dog? It’s you, isn’t it?

Weldon: OK, let me just stop you right there. I think I see the issue. You are talking about Krypto as if he’s just a dog. He’s not just a dog, Eric.

Editor: Here we go.

Weldon: He is a dog ...

Editor: “ … in a cape.”  

Weldon: Yes, he is a dog in a cape, Eric. And that … that is awesome. OK? Empirically so. That’s just science. I mean … did you read that section? Really read it?

Editor: Oh, I read it. All 13 pa …

Weldon: Because it doesn’t sound like you really read it.

Editor: I’m cutting it, Glen. Sorry. I gotta cut Krypto.

Weldon: [Sputtering.]

Editor: The contract says, “75,000 word manuscript.” You turned in how many?

Weldon [mumbling]: … 150.

Editor: 150,000 words. And this book’s about Superman—who he is, what he represents, how he’s changed—so if we gotta cut something, then maybe, I don’t know, 13 pages about his pet doggie might be a good thing to start with, I feel.

Weldon: [Silence.]

Editor: Hello?

Weldon: Let me walk you through it.

Editor: Oh, fer …

Weldon: Let me explain it to you while I have you on the phone. Why Krypto the Superdog is awesome. What he’s there for. Why he matters.

Cover of Adventure Comics No. 210 (March 1955).
Cover of Adventure Comics No. 210 (March 1955).

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Weldon: The year! 1955!

Editor: Oy …

Weldon: On the nation’s movie screens, a smoldering young heartthrob named James Dean was setting millions of hearts a-throbbin’! Bill Haley and His Comets had the country up on its feet and dancin’ to a brand new beat!

Editor: Can we maybe not do this?

Weldon: And in the pages of Adventure Comics No. 210, Superboy, the Boy of Steel, was about to make a startling discovery that would change his world—indeed, his very UNIVERSE—forever.

Editor: [Sighs.]

Weldon: Ever since TV’s The Adventures of Superman had debuted four years before, editors of DC’s Superman comics had decreed that his funnybook adventures should read like extensions of his television adventures. That meant scaling back Superman’s comic-book exploits to reflect the low-budget aesthetic of the television show. Thus, for years in the comics, the most powerful being in the universe had largely contented himself with nabbing jewel thieves and rescuing Jimmy Olsen from kidnappers—still, again, some more.

But the Space Age was dawning. The comics’ writers and editors began to chafe against their TV-mandated constraints; after all, a comics page comes with an unlimited special-effects budget. Things could and should get weird.

The period in comics history when stories started getting truly and thoroughly bananapants—when Batman would cavort through space and time and Jimmy Olsen would get turned into a giant Turtle-Man—is designated the Silver Age, to distinguish its whimsical tone from those earlier, more earnest wartime adventures known as the Golden Age.

For Superman, the Silver Age was a time of newly intense emotions—a period when his word balloons filled up with Choke!s, Sob!s, and Gasp!s. Suddenly, his lost planet Krypton—which for the first two decades of his existence had merited only a handful of passing mentions—became his obsession, injecting a heavy-handed but nonetheless new and powerful dose of melancholy into his character. 

Now, Eric, there are those comics historians who place the beginning of the Silver Age in the June 1958 issue of Action Comics No. 241, “The Super-Key to Fort Superman!” which gives readers a walking tour of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. [Pause.]

Editor: But you disagree.

Weldon: But I disagree!!

Editor: See this is precisely the kind of insular nerd-fight that no one cares ab …

Weldon: The Silver Age of Superman starts here! With the Man of Steel discovering that another Kryptonian has survived the destruction of his home planet! And! In a further, quintessentially Silver Age twist! That the survivor in question? [Pause.] Is his very own childhood pet!

Editor: [Sound of aspirin bottle shaking.]

Jor-El takes Krypto from baby Kal-El. Kind of a dick-el move-el. Adventure Comics No. 210 (March 1955).
Jor-El takes Krypto from baby Kal-El. Kind of a dick-el move-el. Adventure Comics No. 210 (March 1955).

Author’s collection

Weldon: As our story opens, Superboy learns that a super powerful pup has staged a mass breakout from the Smallville dogcatcher’s paddy wagon. Superboy tracks the hound to the wreckage of the rocket ship that has recently delivered it to Earth. 

Inside, the Boy of Steel finds a note (“Why, it’s in the language of Krypton, the world of my birth!”), explaining that the ship was one of a series of test rockets launched by Superboy’s father Jor-El as he set upon his doomed quest to build a fleet of space-arks that would save his people.

Editor: You don’t say.

Weldon: Reunited with his beloved (albeit long-forgotten) pet, Superboy cries a tear of joy. But his delight turns to despair when the willful pup’s superpowered antics prove to be too much of a handful; just as Superboy is reaching the end of his tether (“Krypto, as much as I love you, you spell trouble rather than fun for me! I wish I knew what to do with you! I’ll have to sleep on it!”), the dog resolves the issue by flying into space to romp and play throughout the universe. The Boy of Steel looks after him wistfully, wishing for the dog to return “j-just to say hello!”

Krypto faces off against the dreaded Brain Globes of Nambat. Like a good dog. Adventure Comics No. 293 (February 1962).
Krypto faces off against the dreaded Brain Globes of Nambat. Like a good dog. Adventure Comics No. 293 (February 1962).

Author’s collection

Weldon: Just four months later, the Dog of Steel returned—and this time (and from now on), thought balloons make readers privy to his thoughts. By issue’s end he earns himself a costume and a secret identity.

As Krypto, the superpup sports a small red cape and an S-shield dog tag. When staying with the Kents, however, he wears a brown spot of shoe polish on his back and answers to the name of Skip.

Location, location, location: Krypto’s doghouse/Unabomber space-cabin. Superman No. 150 (January 1962).
Location, location, location: Krypto’s doghouse/Unabomber space-cabin. Superman No. 150 (January 1962).

Author’s collection

Weldon: Krypto spent much of the Silver Age off by himself in outer space, chasing comets and whatnot. Having doggy adventures. He even made himself a swank Doghouse of Solitude out of some meteors …

Our numbers, and fleas, are legion: The Super-Pets. Adventure Comics No. 293 (February 1962).
Our numbers, and fleas, are legion: The Super-Pets. Adventure Comics No. 293 (February 1962).

Author’s collection

Weldon: … and led the Legion of Super-Pets, whose august roster included Beppo the Super-Monkey (another of Jor-El’s test animals); Streaky the Super-Cat (an Earth cat who’d acquired superpowers through exposure to “X-kryptonite”); Comet the Super-Horse (actually a centaur-turned-horse, who also spent some time as Supergirl’s boyfriend LOOK IT’S COMPLICATED); and, later, Proty II (an animate, shape-changing lump of protoplasm).

During this time, Krypto was a key component of the burgeoning Super-family. The TV show ended its run, and writers were free to get wild— but this new freedom was daunting. Rather that muck around with Superman, they instead devoted themselves to building a rich and diverse cast of characters, thus deepening and diversifying his relationships to those around him. But first came Krypto. If Superman ever had need of the Dog of Steel, he simply let out an ultrasonic whistle or used his super-ventriloquism …

Editor: Come on.

Weldon: The Silver Age, Eric. Super-ventriloquism. Canonical superpower. As I was saying, Superman could bust out his super-ventriloquism and Krypto would be by his side in seconds.

I’m gettin’ too old for this dog poop. Cover of Superman Family No. 187 (February 1978).
I’m gettin’ too old for this dog poop. Cover of Superman Family No. 187 (February 1978).

Author’s collection

Weldon: And so it went, throughout the ’50s and ’60s. But as comics entered the 1970s, a wrong-headed desire for “relevance” held sway. Superman was depowered in an attempt to make him more relatable (it didn’t take), and many of his most whimsical Silver Age conceits fell out of favor. Krypto got demoted to a backup feature in the anthology title Superman Family. His storyline got off to a classic Silver Agey start: He moved to Hollywood, adopted a new secret identity (Jocko), and landed the starring role in a movie called … The Adventures of Krypto.

There, he befriended an LA cop named Ed Lacy whose nephew had disappeared after being falsely accused of murder. Together, Lacy and Krypto wandered the highways and byways of America. For over a year they traveled from city to city, solving crimes and righting wrongs as they searched for the young man in an effort to clear his name. It was like an awesome cross between The Fugitive and Lethal Weapon.

Editor: Uh- huh.

Weldon: If Harrison Ford was a troubled black kid. And Mel Gibson was a dog in a cape.

In 1986, DC called a do-over and rebooted its entire universe of characters from scratch, including Superman. Editor Julius Schwartz asked writer Alan Moore to write a story that would bid a fond farewell to the classic Man of Steel and the decades’ worth of goofiness that had accrued to him.

“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was an odd tale, with a palpably somber, even maudlin tone. But it did give Krypto the hero’s death he deserves, as the super-pooch sacrifices himself to save his master from the evil, radioactive clutches of the Kryptonite Man.

Krypto saves the universe. Sniff. Action Comics No. 583 (September, 1986).
Krypto saves the universe. Sniff. Action Comics No. 583 (September, 1986).

Author’s collection

Weldon: Krypto stayed dead for a good long while. But this is comics we’re talking about, and when a dog in a cape goes away, it leaves the kind of vacuum that nature, and nerds, abhor. He came back in 2001, minus the thought balloons, and dutifully cropped up in Superman stories from time to time, like a good boy.

In 2011, DC Comics pulled yet another metafictional mulligan, starting all their characters over. Krypto disappeared again.

But just over a year into the so-called “New 52” reality, writer Grant Morrison brought Krypto back by having Superman rescue him from the Phantom Zone—the incorporeal Kryptonian prison. I mean, if you want to call him Krypto.

Editor: … What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I?

Weldon: Well, he’s almost there. He’s got the full complement of superpowers, like Krypto. And the S-shield dog tag. Like Krypto.

Editor: I don’t understand. What are you saying?

Superman’s best superfriend. Action Comics No. 18 (May 2013).
Superman’s best superfriend. Action Comics No. 18 (May 2013).

Author’s collection

Weldon: I’m saying he doesn’t have a cape. I’m sorry, but Krypto is a dog in cape. You tell me you’re bringing Krypto back, and I’m all, “Woo! Dog in a cape!” But then you bring him back without the cape. It’s like you saying, “There’s cake in the board room!” But then when I get there, it turns out to be a cake made of vegetables and cigarette butts and regret. A cake of lies.

Editor: Uh-huh. OK.

Weldon: A cake of lies.

Editor: Settle down. You’ve convinced me. I won’t cut Krypto.

Weldon: Well, good. Because what you were saying, about cutting him … that was crazy. That was a crazy thing a crazy person says. Crazily.

Editor: We’ll just trim it down. A bit.

Weldon: That’s … fine, I guess. As long as we keep the main points.

Editor: Down to a paragraph.

Weldon: … What?

Editor:  A paragraph.

Weldon: I … Good lord, man, I can’t sign off on that. One paragraph on Krypto? Harbinger of the Silver Age? That’s insane.

Editor: I’ll send the edits. You’ll see. It’s much tighter.

Weldon: I mean I can’t imagine. A paragraph. Good grief.

Editor: You’ll see. You know, it occurred to me: You go on for 13 pages, and you never tell me the only thing about Krypto that I was even marginally interested in.

Weldon: What, really? What is it?

Editor: You never tell us what breed he is, Glen.

Weldon: What … breed? [Chuckles.]

Editor:  Yeah. … Wait, what’s funny?

Weldon: Well, Eric, that question you tossed out there so idly, like it’s nothing, just so happens to be the subject of an intense and, at times, acrimonious debate that has been raging for over half a century. From his very first appearance, there have been those who insist that, given the shape and floppiness of his ears …

Editor: [Click.]

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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon. Wiley.