How Krypto' Arch-Enemy!
spotlight falls on the world's mightiest dog in Superboy
#92 (October 1961), with "Krypto's Arch-Enemy!"
(The art is by George Papp; the Grand Comics
Database credits Otto Binder with the script)
We begin in outer space, where Superboy and Kryto are amusing
themselves by racing comets. Suddenly Superboy spots a world
in trouble; an inhabited planet facing imminent destruction
in much the same way Krypton itself was destroyed. Deciding
to hang around and arrange the migration of the world's
occupants to a new home, Superboy sends Krypto back to Earth
to fill in for him.
Back in Smallville, young Lex Luthor is
still fuming over the premature baldness he blames on Superboy,
and has just perfected a device that will bring him revenge:
a machine that fires a ray to grant him super-powers of
his own. The catch is that it will only work once, and unfortunately
Lex's pet dog, "Wolf" picks this
very moment to leap onto Lex affectionately, causing the
ray to hit the dog instead of Luthor.
Furious, Lex slaps his dog, yelling, "You miserable
cur!" (sure he's a bad pet owner, but he's got a great
vocabulary). All this gets him is an injured hand, as he
realizes Wolf has acquired the super-powers he'd meant for
himself. Always quick to adapt, Lex hatches a new plan and
begins training Wolf in the use of his super-powers, getting
him to fly by projecting an image of tasty bones onto some
clouds, tricking him into bursting through a brick wall
by hiding his supper behind it, and testing his invulnerability
by firing cannonballs at him (because every small-town teenager
has a working cannon, right?).
Lex makes Wolf a "costume" in the form of a black
cape with a skull and crossbones symbol, but tells Wolf
he must earn it. First he dresses the dog in a Krypto-style
"S" cape and has him make mischief all over town,
first stealing a mirror from the astronomical laboratory,
then a giant magnet from the Superboy Museum.
With the people of Smallville growing increasingly alarmed
at "Krypto's" out-of-control behavior, Police
Chief Parker tries unsuccessfully to reach Superboy
by radio, then reluctantly uses Kryptonite against Krypto,
who's totally in the dark about the whole situation and
flees the scene in sadness and confusion. Boring deep into
a hill to hide, he uses super-hearing to learn why the town's
against him. His super-sense of smell picks up the scent
of another dog at the scenes of the crimes, which he follows
to Luthor's lab. Spotting Wolf, Krypto deduces the truth
and pretends to steal a bag of money from Pa Kent's General
Store, leaving a trail of coins for the police to follow,
which they do, right to Luthor's lab. As the police drag
Luthor back to reform school, Krypto and Wolf engage in
a super-dogfight, battling as dogs always do; by ramming
their skulls together.
When Krypto leaves the fight to save an airplane in distress,
Wolf uses the opportunity to free Luthor, who then uses
his ray machine to transfer Krypto's powers to Wolf, making
Wolf double-super and Krypto...well, not super at all. Wolf
blows Krypto away with super-breath (just blowing at all
is a super-power for a dog!), but luckily Krypto lands on
a nearby haystack. Never one to give up easily, Krypto locates
Chief Parker's Kryptonite ("Now that I'm not super,
I'm not at all affected...") and uses it on Wolf, who
with double super-strength is now double-vulnerable to Green-K
rays. With few alternatives left to him, Luthor uses his
ray machine to return Krypto's super-powers, putting him
back on even terms with Wolf. However, Superboy picks this
moment to return from space, returning Wolf to non-super
status and chucking Lex back in reform school.
A fun story for the animal lovers, as Krypto carries the
whole adventure with little more than a glorified cameo
by Superboy. You can't help feeling sorry for Wolf, who
obviously wants nothing more than the approval and love
of his master, who's a prize rat.
Tucked away in this shaggy dog story, however, are a handful
of panels that carry a greater significance for the super-mythos
in general. Near the beginning of the tale, we get a recap
of Luthor's "origin," but even at this early stage,
it's already undergone a subtle but crucial change. Just
a year earlier in Adventure Comics #271, we saw
young Luthor on the verge of the greatest scientific discovery
of the age; he had created life...life! in a beaker in his
laboratory. But just as a protoplasmic hand is reaching
out of the beaker toward Lex, fire breaks out in the lab
and Superboy accidentally wrecks the experiment with his
super-breath, causing Lex's hair to fall out in the process.
Lex later creates an "antidote" for Kryptonite
which turns out to be intentionally temporary, as part of
a plan to kill Superboy.
In "Krypto's Arch-Enemy," however, the story
is altered. Now we are told Lex was working on a legitimate
Kryptonite antidote when the fire broke out and Superboy
bungled the rescue:
No doubt this change was made in the interests of saving
time and space, but it creates an important shift for Lex.
Suddenly his hatred of Superboy is less about losing the
greatest discover of his lifetime, and more about petty
vanity. For years it would be this take on the story that
would define Luthor to generations of readers. In the 70s,
an episode of the Super-Friends would repeat the
"made bald while working on a Kryptonite antidote"
account, and thus define Luthor for millions of TV viewers
who possibly never even read a comic. And so a decision
made to save a few panels of story space slowly turned Lex
Luthor into a pop-culture joke; the big bad super-criminal
motivated by premature hair loss.
As far as I know, Wolf was never heard from again. I like
to think Clark Kent arranged for his adoption by a loving