There are so many iconic Superman supporting characters. Lois Lane always jumps to mind (and I’ll fight anyone who doesn’t agree that she is the most important female character to ever come out of DC…or any other comic book publisher, for that matter). What is interesting about a character of alien origin like Superman is that his supporting cast and crew expands beyond the other characters that inhabit Metropolis or the rest of the planet. And sometimes, they aren’t even human.
Krypto the Superdog always stands out to me as such an integral supporting character against the backdrop of the larger Superman mythos.
Superman is a character who is very representative of the way the world was when he was first being created. He’s been around for so long that it’s often easy to forget he’s a product of The Great Depression. To many fans and people in general, Superman and his iconic glyph are symbols of hope, and that’s no coincidence. When the whole country (and much of the rest of the world), was so down on their luck, hope was the one thing that they needed most in the world.
What does this have to do with a superpowered alien dog? I’m so glad you asked!
It’s a popular and widely acknowledged sentiment that a dog is a person’s best friend. Even if you’re more of a cat person, you’ve heard this and it’s been exemplified by other pop culture doggie staples like Shiloh, Old Yeller, Lassie, Benji and more. Having a dog by your side is part of our shared unconscious language. It tells us, the reader, that this person is a good person. If they love a dog and a dog loves them, then they can’t possibly be a bad guy, right? Since Superman is the best of all potential guys, the fact that he has a dog is one of the easiest ways to prove all of his wonderful qualities right out the gate.
In fact, Krypto brings out such goodness in Superman that when other Super characters enter the DC Universe decades later, Krypto is bequeathed to them by Clark to help them embrace and harness their goodness.
And can you blame Superman for that? I mean, Krypto followed baby Kal-El all the way to Earth to ensure that the literal Last Son of Krypton was never left alone. Not only is he an adorable pooch, but he also embodies so much of Clark’s earliest understanding of the planet Krypton and what it means to be Kryptonian. He bears the history of an entire race of people on his four legs.
Connor Kent, the Superboy that was introduced during the 1990s in the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline is a clone of both Superman and Lex Luthor. As such, he’s a character who has always struggled with his identity. When Connor eventually joins the Teen Titans, Superman gives him Krypto so that Connor can learn a sense of responsibility, but also how to care for something. He explains to Connor that even though Krypto is a flying dog from outer space, he always helped Superman feel grounded as Clark Kent.
Skipping forward another decade, we get to Rebirth and the introduction of the latest Superboy, Jon Kent (Clark and Lois’ biological son). Is it any surprise that Krypto reappears to serve the same position of mentor-cum-best-buddy that he used to serve for Connor? Granted, Krypto and Jon appear to share a deeper bond more similar to that which Krypto shared with his father. In fact, Krypto is so protective of the Kent family that when they are faced with near certain destruction at the hands of the Eradicator, he allows himself to be swallowed whole by Eradicator in order to ensure that the three other members of his family make it out of the experience safe and sound.
You don’t have to look back any further than Old Yeller to know that dogs giving up their lives in service of their human(oid) companions is yet another shorthand for nobility. Krypto obviously embodies this in droves.
That wasn’t even the first time that Krypto embraced death in service of Superman’s safety. Going back to 1986’s famous Alan Moore story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” Krypto died protecting Superman from the Kryptonite Man. He succeeded and also managed to take out the supervillain as well. Talk about a good dog!
Beyond representing Krypton and his incredible support of Superman—to the point of self-sacrifice—Krypto is also a reflection of the qualities that his best buddy represents.
Superman is more often than not the leader of any team that he is a member of. His charisma is certainly a factor, he looks good standing front and center on the cover of a single issue, I grant you. But I like to think that Superman keeps finding himself being chosen as leader because his peers inherently recognize that he will make the toughest decisions with the most heart and everyone’s best interests in mind.
So, is it any surprise that Krypto has joined the ranks of superteam leaders not once, but twice? He’s headed up both the Legion of Super-Pets (an answer to the humanoid Legion of Super-Heroes) and the Space Canine Patrol Agents (which are totally worth a Google search if you are unfamiliar with them).
Krypto is a leader in his own right. He’s the most loyal companion of the Man of Steel (and several of his wayward children). He’s not afraid to give everything up. He is a surviving beacon of Kryptonian values. In short, he’s the goodest boy in the DC Universe.
ACTION COMICS #1000 featuring art and stories by Brian Michael Bendis, John Cassaday, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, Tom King, Jim Lee, Scott Snyder and more is in stores on April 18, 2018.