Bat-Hound: a Batman sidekick and his strange history

Even though Warner Bros is digging through the DC archives for characters, Bat-Hound's chances of making it to the screen are, er, slim...

A spoiler lies ahead for Turner & Hooch

Whatever your take on comic books may be, it’s hard to deny that these days, they make for big business. With both DC and Marvel’s movie slates already running into the next decade and TV adaptations spreading like wildfire, writers and executives have already burned through the top-tier characters and beyond into less well-recognised properties.

Back in the dark days of the late 90s, during the post-Batman & Robin malaise, it seemed that the comic book movie could be going the way of the western. If you told us back then that just a decade or so later we’d be living in an age that would spawn two concurrent screen incarnations of the Suicide Squad; that Jessica Jones would be fronting her own series on TV and that goofy villains such as Captain Boomerang would feature in shows like Arrow in a camp-free take played as straight as an… well, you know what, we’d probably have fallen into a catatonic state, drooling all over our Global Hypercolour T-shirts. (What can we say? It was the 90s).

It’s a strange world for sure; the longer the comic book movie boom lasts, the deeper writers are going to delve into the vaults of Marvel and DC in the hope of finding new characters to satisfy fans’ rabid desires. But how deep into the vaults will they go? And will someone like Bat-Hound get their day in the spotlight?

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Never heard of him? Ah, step this way…

Promising beginnings

Bat-Hound first appeared in the pages of Batman #92 way back in June 1955. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction Of The Innocent was published a matter of months beforehand and openly attacked comic books, directly linking them to juvenile delinquency. The book’s claims regarding the corruptive nature of these seemingly-innocent cartoons shocked middle America, sparking a nationwide moral panic which in turn led to a U.S. Congressional inquiry.

Horror and crime comics took the worst of the hit and virtually disappeared overnight. Sadly, the Caped Crusader didn’t fare too well either; Wertham highlighted Batman’s relationship with Robin, the Boy Wonder as being ‘psychologically homosexual’. Aghast at the idea of one of their cornerstone characters becoming part of the so-called ‘Lavender Scare’, DC Comics acted swiftly to bring in a new character on whom the Dynamic Duo could bestow their affection, instead of showering it on each other.

Enter… Bat-Hound! Yep, they elected to introduce a dog.

In his opening story, mild-mannered pooch Ace gets rescued from drowning by the crime-fighting chums and ends up becoming part of their team. He proves his worth before the issue’s end, saving the captive Dynamic Duo after Robin, in spite of his restraints, manages to tear off Batman’s costume with his teeth (and who said they were homoerotic?) before using Batman’s chest emblem as an impromptu bat-signal to communicate with their faithful canine companion.

By this point, Bat-Hound had his own mask and dinky little bat-collar and was well on the way to comic superstardom. Issue #125 was surely the high point of the character’s career as the crime-fighting canine became the issue’s improbable narrator, and in doing so answered that age-old question that has divided scholars for generations: do dogs speak using phrases like ‘gee’ and ‘shucks’? With that answer seeming to be a resounding ‘yes’ and a closing kiss from Batwoman to boot (for once again saving the day), it seemed only a matter of time before Bat-Hound eclipsed Elvis in the hearts and minds of the American public. 

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The wilderness years

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. By the time Bat-Hound next appeared in Batman #133, he was relegated to serving as a steed for Bat-Mite, the playful imp from another dimension. By now even Batwoman was bestowing kisses on the mischievous sprite, and it seemed that the writing really was on the wall for our favourite bat-garbed canine. Bat-Hound’s falling star was further underscored by the meteoric rise of Krypto the Wonder Dog over in the pages of Superboy, Superman and Adventure Comics. Krypto would go on to make his television debut in the following decade and eventually headline his own series by 2005; Bat-Hound would however have to settle for playing second fiddle to his canine rival and settle for a co-starring role, proving once and for all that in any contest, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather how many Kryptonian super powers the dog has, that really matters. 

Bat-Hound’s final appearance with the Bat-family would prove to be little more than a glorified cameo in the pages of 1964’s Batman #162. Whilst tackling a wild tiger and an enraged rhinoceros, the crime-fighting dog did little more than bark at his opponents whilst Batwoman secured them with her hair-net (score one for challenging gender stereotypes, Bat-writers!). It would prove to be the canine’s final adventure. Incoming editor, Julius Schwartz, jettisoned the pooch from the pages of Batman for good. Unfortunately, it seems that nobody told DC that a dog is for life, not just for ratings boosts. Bat-Hound’s fall from grace was complete.   

A rebooted version of the character would return after a fashion in the guise of Ace during Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s seminal Batman run in the early 90s; the Dark Knight inherited the dog from a Native American medicine man and brought him back to the cave as a companion. Ace didn’t accompany Batman on patrol, however, and therefore never fully adopted the mantle of the Bat; instead the affectionate pooch seemed content to lounge in the Batcave with Harold, the Dark Knight’s Quasimodo-like helper. During the seismic disaster of No Man’s Land, Ace disappeared and was seen no more, leaving many to surmise that perhaps he had been claimed by the earthquake which destroyed most of Gotham.

The crime-fighting canine has appeared a few more times throughout Bat-history, but usually out of continuity. He enjoyed a starring role in the psychedelic, meta-textual comic-within-a-comic storyline in Detective Comics #623/4 and made the most fleeting of cameos in Alan Moore’s iconic The Killing Joke, but as the decades passed, glimpses of the fallen idol became increasingly rare. The character would appear in Krypto the Wonder Dog’s 2005 animated show but had to share the spotlight with a whole host of other canines, whilst suffering the indignity of seeing his old rival get top billing. Presumably, he didn’t get his own dressing room or stylist either – a humbling experience for the once-great icon. 

An appearance as a playable character in 2014’s Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham briefly brought a return to the big time but again poor Ace had to share billing with 150 other characters. With people such as Kevin Smith getting a playable character, in part because he hosts a Batman podcast, the appearance wasn’t a guarantee of a return to the big time. That said, doggy-sidekick reboots aren’t always a blessing; when DC brought back Wonder Dog, the canine companion of the Super-Friends (a Saturday morning animated show featuring Batman, Robin and Superman amongst others), he turned into a monstrous demon and ate a member of the team before being destroyed by the Teen Titans and presumably disappearing from DC continuity forever. Bat-Hound, however, waits in the wings of the New 52 rebooted DC Universe, hoping that his eventual reintroduction will be just a little more classy. A Highbrow Christopher Nolan reboot maybe? 

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Don’t Call it a Comeback?     

So where now for Bat-Hound? We don’t see Zack Snyder calling anytime soon as the cheery canine chum seems just a little too campy for his darker take on the DC Universe. Nor do we see Ben Affleck opting to use the plucky young hound in his upcoming reimagining of the Batman franchise. Perhaps Bat-Hound’s best chance of a return to the big time lies in animation, although we’d argue that an appearance in Gotham would be perfect. Ace wouldn’t need to adopt the cowl or the title, he’d just be a normal everyday dog who’d make a faithful companion for the young Bruce Wayne. From its cameo-laden opening episode to its villain-of-the-week approach to serialisation, the show does seem intent on fitting as many winks and nudges into each episode as possible, so tonally Ace would be a great fit. Plus, young Bruce Wayne in that show is a lonely, terribly sad young person. Someone please get that boy a dog.

Perhaps the best (and most fitting) return for Bat-Hound would be in the pages of Batman. In the current DC mainstream continuity, Jim Gordon is Batman, by virtue of a bleeding-edge robotic suit that enables him to continue the legacy of the Dark Knight in Bruce Wayne’s absence. This of course, offers huge potential in a number of ways: Bat-Hound could return as a robot companion to offer Gordon assistance. Law enforcers with dog companions have always been a great recipe for success in the buddy cop genre; we’re also pretty sure that in Asimov’s Law of Robots it says somewhere that the only thing cooler than robots in capes are robot dogs. (Evidence of this being the current plans to create a feature film based on K-9, Doctor Who’s robotic canine companion.) Plus, they could even riff on the ending of Turner And Hooch, kill off Bat-Hound (because the Batman universe is so very short on pathos…) and send him to the great kennel in the sky in the blaze of glory that he truly deserves.

So there you go. Let’s start the grass roots movement right here! Expect to see Bat-Hound attending A-List parties faster than you can say ‘shake a paw’…