For someone who’s supposed to be a dark, brooding avenger of the night, Batman is actually rather sociable. This wasn’t always the case. Even after the 1940 introduction of Robin, the Dynamic Duo tended to be something of a solo act. Batman made a cameo appearance (along with Superman) in ALL-STAR COMICS #7 as an honorary member of the Justice Society of America, but other than that, Batman and Robin appeared in their own books and by themselves, and that was pretty much it.
That is, until 1954, and Dr. Fredric Wertham’s muckraking book THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. As discussed last week, Wertham’s book pinned all manner of youth-related social ills on comic books, and leveled a charge of homosexuality at Batman and Robin. In the face of the charges, the BATMAN editors of the time began to go out of their way to make Batman even more all-American and clearly heterosexual. At the same time, the steps they took represent a clear attempt to copy the successful Superman formula that Mort Weisinger had developed. The program began with the 1956 introduction of — wait for it — Ace, the Bat-Hound. After all, every red-blooded American male has a dog, right?
I’ll come clean right now and admit that BATMAN #92 (June 1955), “Ace, the Bat-Hound!”, to this day remains one of my favorite comics. Ever. Why? It’s just so damned goofy. Even when I read it as a child in BATMAN: FROM THE ’30s TO THE ’70s, I recall thinking, “Wow. Batman puts a mask on his dog. That’s really weird.”
Our story (written by Bill Finger and art by Sheldon Moldoff, the primary ghost-artist for Bob Kane throughout the 40s and 50s) opens with Batman and Robin rescuing a drowning dog. After the pooch recovers, Bruce Wayne puts a “found dog” ad in all the papers, in an attempt to find the dog’s master. The next time Batman and Robin are called to Police Headquarters, the eager dog follows, and the Dynamic Duo are forced to take him along. However, there’s a problem: the dog has distinctive markings on his forehead, which could identify the dog to any sharp-eyed folk who noticed the dog as having been found by Bruce Wayne. Robin takes care of that dilemma, by resourcefully cutting the black cloth tool bag into a mask and bat-collar insignia for the dog.
The dog takes rather well to having a bag over his head, and soon is helping Batman and Robin collar crooks, with techniques that lead them to deduce that their newly dubbed “Bat-Hound” is a trained watchdog.
A phone tip from the want ad identifies the Bat-Hound as “Ace,” owned by engraver John Wilker, who’s been missing for days.
While Ace and Robin busy themselves with finding missing tykes, Batman continues the search for Ace’s owner, leading to a gang of thugs who plan to force Wilker to counterfeit bonds for them. Eventually, Batman and Robin find themselves captured and tied up, but through an execution of moves so odd that one begins to see what Dr. Wertham might have been looking at, they manage to create a makeshift Bat-Signal to call Ace the Bat-Hound to the rescue.
Once freed, Batman, Robin and Ace make short work of the gangsters, and after Ace and his master are reunited, a reporter notes that their Bat-Hound is the same one Bruce Wayne advertised. However, the resourceful and unusually jovial Batman has an answer for that with a photo alibi of Bruce Wayne handing over the dog to the Caped Crusader, who, Robin’s thought balloon notes, was actually Alfred in the Batman costume.
Alfred in the Batman costume? And this is supposed to fool trained reporters? (Although to be fair, from the looks of the snapshot, Alfred has been working out.)
Although Ace was returned to his master at the end of the issue, he would occasionally return to action as the Bat-Hound when Wilker was out of town on business, and eventually came to live at the Manor full-time.