This week’s entry: List Of Anthropomorphic Animal Superheroes
What it’s about: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Wait, go back one, it’s actually a bird. Nearly as long as there have been superheroes, there have been animal superheroes, as an assortment of mice, monkeys, dogs, and other creatures have kept the world safe, often from an array of animal villains.
Strangest fact: If there’s one thing we know about outer space, it’s full of heroic monkeys. Both Space Ghost and the Superfriends had non-superpowered teen sidekicks, who themselves had a space monkey sidekick (Blip on Space Ghost, and Gleek on Superfriends). Recent years have also given us Captain Simian & The Space Monkeys, and ADHD trigger Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!
Biggest controversy: Wikipedia has a pretty broad notion of what constitutes a superhero. For every Mighty Mouse on the list, there are half a dozen characters who are questionably super (Rocket J. Squirrel?), or questionably heroic (Donkey Kong?) There are plenty of video game protagonists here like Sonic The Hedgehog or Skylanders who, while they are heroic and have powers, don’t seem like according-to-Hoyle superheroes. And The Penguins Of Madagascar seems like an especially big stretch.
Thing we were happiest to learn: We’re not the only ones who remember Hong Kong Phooey. Hanna-Barbera put no more effort into Phooey than it did any of its ’70s Saturday morning fare, but the kiddie kung-fu movie spoof managed to have a cultural impact well out of proportion to its 16 episodes. The story is one that surely must exist in all cultures throughout history: A talking dog works as the janitor at a police station, overhears the police mention a heinous crime, and changes into a kung-fu-fighting superhero to foil the villain before the cops get the chance. Rumors have persisted for years of a big-screen remake, and Eddie Murphy was even attached to star back in 2011, but so far, the tiny part of Gen-Xers’ childhoods devoted to talking dog martial artists remains untainted.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spawned some awful imitators. Somehow, the world decided that combination of age group, martial arts, and talking animals, wrapped in a several-word phrase, was so irresistible that the public just had to have Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, or Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos, as well as Immature Radioactive Samurai Slugs, Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils, Mildly Microwaved Pre-Pubescent Kung Fu Gophers, and Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Pachyderms. The Fairly Oddparents even got in on the gag with Adolescent Genetically Altered Karate Cows. No doubt the creators of each one of these thankfully forgotten titles were very proud of themselves for being the very first to think of the joke.
Also noteworthy: In the 1950s, DC Comics decided that kid sidekicks or offshoots weren’t enough for their top-tier superheroes, so Superman was given Krypto, a super-powered Kryptonian dog who snuck aboard Kal-El’s escape pod when their planet—which through an astounding genetic coincidence, contained aliens who looked exactly like humans and dogs—exploded. Around the same time, Batman helps track down a kidnapped dog owner with the help of the man’s German Shepherd. The grateful man gifts the dog to Bruce Wayne, and he continues to use him to fight crime as Ace. He was written out when Julius Schwartz took over the imprint in 1964, although Ace returned for the duration of the 1990s, disappearing again after the No Man’s Land storyline. (Technically, neither animal is anthropomorphic, but both make the list as they’re quintessential animal superheroes. Either that, or Wikipedia’s standards are slipping.)
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: One of the odder mainstays of the Marvel Universe is Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham. The one-shot Spidey spoof ended up continuing bimonthly for three years in the mid-’80s. Once the solo title was cancelled, Spider-Ham continued as an occasional backup feature to the actual Spider-Man in Marvel Tales. There have been numerous cameos and shout-outs since, like 2005’s Spider-Man Family #1, in which Peter Parker’s daughter is watching a Spider-Ham cartoon, or 2007’s Ultimate Civil War: Spider-Ham, spoofing Marvel’s event series. Porker’s Wikipedia page is worth it alone for the astounding list of animal-pun-themed side characters, including Deerdevil, Goose Rider, Black Panda, Ant Ant, The Fantastic Fur, and Nick Furry, Agent Of S.H.E.E.P.
Further Down the Wormhole: One of the best-known names on the list is Mighty Mouse, a furry Superman spoof that originated in the 1940s, and paid homage to Supes, movie serials, and oddly, then-popular opera singer Mario Lanza (many of the Mighty Mouse shorts were staged as operettas). Ralph Bakshi revived the character in the late ’80s, but his series came under heavy fire for a brief scene where Mighty Mouse sniffs crushed flower petals, and it appears he’s snorting cocaine. Bakshi insisted the scene was innocent, and compared the attacks to McCarthyism. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s infamous witchhunts are looked back on as a form of mass hysteria. With a new Ghostbusters in theaters this summer, the time seems ripe to examine mass hysteria, which we’ll do next week. (Human sacrifices, and dogs and cats living together will appear later in our 5,185,804-week series.)