Thursday, September 3, 2015


He preceded Krypto and Ace the Bat-Hound by more than decade, but does he ever get the credit? No, he does not, even though he was created by one of Superman's daddies - Jerry Siegel - in the pages of Star-Spangled Comics, with artist Leo Nowak. He's Robbie the Robotdog, and I'll defer to the readership on this one, but I think he might be DC Comics' first talking animal sidekick.

You wouldn't think that would be a competitive field, but, you know, comics. There you have it.

Robbie is judgmental.
Robbie's owner was Robotman, a scientist whose brain had been transferred into a super-powerful robot body and who had decided to use his mechanical might to fight crime. Apparently the gig got lonely, so in Star-Spangled Comics No.25 (October 1943), Dr.Bob Grayson (aka Paul Dennis, it's complicated, I'll explain some other time) built himself a wise-cracking robot sidekick in the shape of a titanium terrier.

Robotman's armored shell possessed a fully functioning human brain, which explains why he kept his personality and ability for speech. Where exactly Robbie the Robotdog picked up his articulate sense of wry humor is anyone's guess. I doubt it was a dog's brain bouncing around that metal crockpot of a skull, because not only would that not give him the power of speech it would also be super-super sad.

Like his owner, Robbie could pass for "normal" by slipping into a lifelike rubber suit made just to his specifications. For Robotman, that was latex gloves and mask which allowed him to pass as Paul Dennis, for Robotdog it was a fursuit. Like most of your discerning adult convention aficionados possess.

It's not atypical for more lighthearted characters in comics to pick up the habit of speaking directly to the reader, and that's exactly what Robbie would often find himself doing. Breaking the fourth wall is practically de rigeur for comic book comedy these days, but it's something Robotman never found himself indulging in before his steel-jacketed sidekick started tagging along

Robbie wasn't particularly any great help to Robotman's crimefighting career - he made a better hostage than helper and primarily stuck around for the comic relief.  Still, Robbie's absence probably played a bit of a key in James Robinson's and Paul Smith's Golden Age miniseries - a prestige format book which starred dozens of lesser-known golden age superheroes now under DC's banner, and in which Robotman was an emotionless machine of destruction allied with the Nazi cause.

It's hard to imagine Robotman signing up with a second effort at the Third Reich with a wise-cracking metal mutt dropping bolts on his new carpet. I can't say what happened to Robbie, but he was obviously missed.


Tom said...

I'm frankly astonished Grant Morrison missed this detail when he was writing Doom Patrol. A whimsical dog would've been just the thing Emo Robotman needed.

John said...

Aw man, now I miss Robbie even though I had never heard of him before today.

Also, "a second effort at the Third Reich" - love it.

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