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Ace vs. the Joker's Hyenas

Krypto the Superdog
by yo go re

It's possible that no one has had as large an impact on the modern incarnation of DC Comics as Paul Dini. Not only have many of the ideas from the animated series been adapted for the books, but at a time when Joel Schumacher was doing his best to ruin things, Paul Dini and the animated team were there to show that it was still okay to tell good stories.

Now comics have followed his lead - gotten darker and more mature. Once again bucking trends, Dini's newest DC animated series proves that it's okay to have fun and be goofy. Eschewing the continuity built by more than a decade of continuous cartoons, Dini's newest project is the pup of steel, Krypto the Superdog. And following the trend of the "World's Finest" teamups and Superman/Batman, Krypto tends to pal around with Ace, the Bat Hound.

After Frederick Wertham and his half-baked ideas tore through the industry, specifically targeting Batman and Robin, the editors at DC went overboard trying to make Bruce a real family man. Girlfriend for Bruce, girlfriend for Dick, all that. And a pet dog.

Life must be a freaking nonstop party for Bruce Wayne. You or I find a dog, it belongs to the neighbors down the street who can't figure out why, if they leave their dog outside alone for nine hours a day, it keeps climbing over the half-collapsed fence. Bruce Wayne finds a dog, it belongs to a kidnapped engraver and turns out to be the key to uncovering a huge counterfeiting ring. We get a dog that can't figure out the second half of a game of fetch is to pick up the ball and bring it back, he gets a dog that can recognize the bat-signal, open windows and untie knots. Sigh. Stupid dog.

Yes, so anyway, Bruce had been putting up "lost dog" posters all over town, when he got a tip that the dog might be able to find his owner. However, since the dog had a distinctive mark on its forehead, it wouldn't do for Batman to be running around with the dog that Bruce Wayne found. Which is why Robin made Ace a mask.

Thankfully, Ace's mask on the cartoon looks more like Batman's cowl and less like the S&M hood the one in the comics resembled. He's better equipped, too, with a dog-sized cape and a utility collar. Yes, a utility collar - it's still better than Batgirl's utility purse.

The show's designs are distinctly different than the Bruce Timm stuff we've come to know over the years, but they're still a stylistic descendant, and those sleek, angular lines really suit Ace. A German shepherd in the comics, cartoon Ace has those same Alsatian looks, though he also seems to share some of Scooby-Doo's Great Dane pedigree. His coat is grey instead of brown, to better match Batman's coloring. His muzzle is the only tan left on him, suggesting the way Bruce's mouth shows through his mask.

Back to that mask. The dog wears it to conceal his identity, right? Well, at the end of his first appearance, a reporter unmasks him (much to the dog's delight) and Batman reveals he had a ready-made alibi for why he was tending Bruce Wayne's dog. If that's the case, why did Ace need a mask in the first place? Why not just use the alibi? Grah! Stupid Silver Age.

The sculpt is really good, considering that these are unquestionably children's toys. The figure captures the look of the show nearly perfectly, and is as heavy on the detail as a cartoon-based toy can be. The cape has a scalloped edge and three vertical folds running down from the neck. The collar has two sculpted pouches on the front, with simple lines the rest of the way around. His white eyes are sculpted in, as is his nose and the line of his mouth. There are three toes on each foot, and they even got the little tuft of fur on his chest.

The paint apps are great - Ace's cape and cowl are matte black, and the lining is a deep blue. His collar is bright yellow, with a crisp bat symbol on the front. His nose is blue, and even the thin line of his mouth is painted. In true doggie style, his pricked-up ears are pink inside. Ace stands more than 6⅜" tall, and moves at the Big Five - that's the Big 35 in dog years, which makes him super-articulated!

There are two versions of Ace available: a single-carded Bat Hound with spring-open cape and a voice chip, and a deluxe version with a bat-load of accessories. Given the choice, the extra couple dollars for the bigger set is worth it. Not only does the chip fail to capture the sound of Scott McNeil's deep, rumbly voice (you'll probably recognize him as Wolverine on X-Men: Evolution or wolf-demon Koga from InuYasha) but the other stuff jammed in the blister with the deluxe set is just so awesome!

First of all, you get two of Ace's recurring villains. No, it's not Isis, Catwoman's pussy, but the Joker's hyenas, Bud and Lou. Named after famed comedy duo Abbot and Costello, the hyenas share billing on the card with Ace, but they're really just glorified PVCs. Huge, heavy, expertly painted PVCs. Each of these laughing boys has a different pose and a unique face, and their collars are painted different colors: one green, one purple. Their bodies are dark brown, with black splotches. No articulation, but they're still really nice. The one with the purple collar (Bud or Lou? I can't tell which one is which) tends to fall over, however, because of his walking pose. They're only in the 3" tall range, which puts them more in scale with 6" figures than with the Ace they come with.

Ace's other accessory is the real deal-maker: he's got the Batmobile! Okay, not the real thing, but his version, at least. It's a bat-shaped skateboard thing, just the right size that any kid who gets this set is going to use it as their own personal batarang, then immediately have it taken away for breaking something while throwing it at their siblings. See? It's just providing an important lesson for the youngsters: all joy is fleeting.

Let's get dangerous! The detail on this thing is astounding - the Batman Begins Batmobile has less intricately sculpted bits than this thing does. Turbines, wiring, diamond-plate surfaces, this set of wheels has it all. A double-barreled missile launcher plugs in the front, and pressing a huge red button fires a "hyena-seeking missile net." Yeah. The launcher is easy to remove, and even easier to discard or ignore. There are six footpegs on the roller, though Ace is only posed to reach a specific set of four. Who are the other ones for?

The first episode of Batman: The Animated Series debuted on Saturday morning, September 5, 1992, and now, 13 years later, the universe is still going strong. 13 years to follow one animated thread? That's Simpsons territory, there. Admittedly, it hasn't all been one show - two Batmans, a Superman, a future Batman, one and a half Justice Leagues... the universe meandered. It's not clear whether Krypto is supposed to be in the same continuity, but Superman did appear on one episode, Ace talks about his partner Batman, and the fact that Isis and the hyenas were on the previous shows does strongly hint in that direction, despite all the other changes. In the end, it's really up to you - the figures aren't in-scale to the normal Justice League figures, but if you happen to have any of the 10" rotocasts, try putting them on display together - it works really well.

-- 09/27/05

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