You know Batman and Wonder Woman, Captain America and Thor. But what about Streak and Tige? Or Krypto and Ace?
Since the dawn of newspapers, dogs have graced the panels of comic strips, serving as everything from trusted sidekicks to heroic main stars to adorable goofballs.
To learn more about these pups, we caught up with some of the country’s leading cartoon historians. Here are their picks for nine of the country’s most influential comic book canines.
Streak the Wonder Dog
Streak was the crime-fighting pet of the Green Lantern. A super-smart German Shepard, Streak battled bushfires and poachers, rescued damsels in distress, and saved his owner’s life on multiple occasions.
Streak became so popular with readers that he soon outshone the Green Lantern. In the 1940s, when the formerly top-selling comic book was facing lackluster sales, it was once again Streak who saved the day, says Jerry Stephan, a comic grader and consignment director at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas.
“They were trying to drum up sales, and there are issues at the end where Green Lantern isn’t on the cover, but Streak the Wonder Dog is,” Stephan says.
Perhaps the most popular of all comic canines, Charlie Brown’s sidekick fought the Red Baron, wrote epic novels and even traveled to the moon (at least in his imagination). But it wasn’t always that way.
“He was just a pet dog before (Charles) Schulz gave him the power to think and talk,” says Stephan.
Once he had the capacity to communicate with readers, Snoopy’s vivid daydreams drove many of the comic strip’s plotlines.
Tige was comic strip star Buster Brown’s Pit Bull sidekick. When the two made their debut in a 1902 newspaper, many say Tige was mainstream culture’s first anthropomorphized mutt.
“He was the first talking dog,” Stephan says. “Way before Snoopy was fighting the Red Baron, Tige was thinking and speaking in the early 1900s.”
Tige and his pal Buster went on to star in movies and radio and TV shows. The two eventually became the mascots for Brown Shoe Company.
Superman’s super sidekick, Krypto is a cunning canine who first met the Man of Steel as a baby on Krypton.
The superdog can fly, freeze objects with his breath and use his heat vision and super strength to fight alongside his master.
“Krypto has all the powers of Superman,” says Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of New York’s Metropolis Collectibles. “He was just as intelligent.”
Rex the Wonder Dog
“One of the oldest and most popular dogs in the comic book world is called Rex the Wonder Dog,” Zurzolo says. The German Shepard was originally an army dog who used his superdog strength and stamina to battle everything from villainous bears to angry dinosaurs.
Rex was more than a sidekick; the pup starred in his own series in the 1950s. But good luck getting your paws on a copy. Today the Rex the Wonder Dog books are hard to find, Zurzolo says.
The famous collie got her start in a 1938 short story published in the Saturday Evening Post. She would later become the star of movies, TV shows and even her own comic book.
In the 1950’s editions of Lassie, the cunning canine battles pickpockets in Rio de Janeiro, helps set up camp in the Amazon, and seeks out lost villages in the wilds of Peru.
“This is before Timmy came along,” says Stephan. He didn’t make his appearance until the 1950’s TV show.
Ace the Bat-Hound
In the 1950s, many comic book writers would gauge readers’ responses to potential new characters by running what were called “test stories”. One such test story introduced Ace, a pup who saved the lives of Batman and Robin after secretly trailing along on their crime-fighting adventures.
Readers loved him, Stephan says, and he became a regular star in the series. The German Shepard didn’t have any super powers, says Stephan, but he always managed to help save the day.
After eating a handful of magic peanuts, everyone’s favorite Disney dog becomes a crime-fighting hero in the Super Goof comic strip. During his nearly 20-year run, the superdog used his strength and x-ray vision to save the world from evil villains. All his heroics were performed in Super Goof’s signature outfit of red long johns and a cape fashioned from a blue blanket.
But they don’t call him “goofy” for nothing. Super Goof’s super powers had a way of turning off at the least appropriate times. Take for example, when he loses his power of flight mid-air.
This gigantic teleporting Bulldog is part of the Fantastic Four series, says Zurzolo. “If he bites down on you, you’re not going anywhere,” he adds. “Hence the name Lockjaw.”
The mighty muzzled mutt played an integral role in the series’ early adventures, Zurzolo says.
“There were times when it looked like one of the main characters was about to get beaten up and then all of a sudden Lockjaw comes in and chomps on the villain’s arm.”
What made dogs so popular with comic book readers? Zurzolo has a theory.
Just like the kid who imagined he or she could say “shazam” and turn into Captain Marvel, he said, there was the fantasy that the family pet could also have special powers.
“When you’re a little kid, to see a dog in a comic book, it makes you think your dog could be a superhero sidekick,” he says.