Friday, January 30, 2015

Unearthed: Trypto the Acid Dog! #1

Since about 1998 the comic book medium has been overwhelmed with Hollywood types (and wannabe Hollywood types) attempting to either augment their career by slumming in comics (because their Hollywood career is stagnant) or trick people into looking at their terrible screenplays (because they want to make it big in Hollywood). And yet, a full decade earlier in 1988, Hollywood big shots Bill Mumy & Miguel Ferrer enjoyed a tenure in comics which included Renegade Press' Trypto the Acid Dog!, a black & white one-shot drawn by Steve Leialoha.

The story opens with portentious dialogue about the existence of heroes as we find a couple named Benjamin & Alison examining the fish of Kentson River in Kirby, Indiana. The couple are collecting evidence against Toxicem, a chemical plant believed to be polluting the rivers. The couple also brought their young son Dewey and his tiny dog Trypto with them.

Next, we meet Mr. Bursky of Toxicem as he orders his thug Gino to deal with Benjamin & Alison, demanding Gino "shut them down," bring him everything they have on Toxicem and that "a fire might be nice." Later that night as Alison is reading Dewey a bedtime story, Gino arrives at the door and shoots Benjamin to death. Ducking under the steps, Gino proceeds to shoot Alison in the back when she comes down to check on Benjamin.

Seeing Dewey descend after his mother, Gino muses, "A kid! I like kids..." then shoots Dewey dead as well. Are we enjoying this yet? Trypto ventures out next, whimpering and licks the dead body of Dewey. Then, in a fit of rage, the tiny dog attacks Gino, biting into his leg and tearing through his flesh. Gino shoots Trypto twice, collects the data then sets the house on fire. By, er, using explosives, which is going to be pretty hard to pass off as an accident.

However, as the fire is being prepared the nearly-deade Trypto crawls from the home, leaving a trail of blood across the backyard until finally splashing into the waters of the polluted river. Exposed the toxic waste in the water, this naturally grants Trypto superhuman powers. Yes, we've just transitioned to the brutal slayings of a family to all-out comic book science! The narration returns declaring "Thy kingdomc come... Thy will be done... on Earth... as it is in Heaven..." so that we grasp the magnificence of this moment.

"Charged with the power of lightning, strange toxic chemicals mingling within his flesh and blood, fueled with a hunger for revenge -- Trypto is born again! Born of water -- born of fire -- born of blood -- born of acid! Trypto the Acid Dog!" Trypto is now clad in a cape with a "T" insignia (the cape comes from a Toxicem sandbag). Obviously with his power of flight and cape, Trypto is revealed as an homage to Superboy's beloved pet Krypto, the Super-Dog (who had been retconned out of existence at the time this story was published). "Trypto" is likewise a reference to Krypto, while also referring tryptic acid. One wonders if this comic came to be because one night Mumy mispronounced Krypto's name and Ferrer thought there could be a story in that.

With his super-senses, Trypto sets out in pursuit of Gino; flying over the river, Trypto's presence causes dead bodies in the river to rise up and follow in his wake. At Toxicem, Mr. Bursky is patching up Gino's wounded leg when Trypto bursts in dramatically through a skylight. He proves to be immune to Gino's gunfire and Trypto does something to Gino off-panel; we only hear Gino's screams and death rattle.

Trypto confronts Bursky now, the dog's body now increasing in size. Bursky tries to run, but runs into the reanimated people from the river, all of them victims of Bursky's machinations. The creatures carry Bursky to a vat of boiling chemicals and throw him in, then destroy themselves the same way (although if in this world chemicals can regenerate dead people and dogs, I'm not sure why these chemicals are more lethal than the toxic waste).

"A fitting end for his kind," Trypto thinks (quoting Batman in a similar situation from that character's first appearance). The next day, a neighbour boy named Robbie finds Trypto at the ruins of his family's home and Robbie convinces his mother to let him keep the dog. A news broadcast reveals that although the home was destroyed by fire, a fireproof safe contained enough evidence to bring down Toxicem. And our story ends as Robbie brings Trypto to visit Dewey's grave.

Thoughts: This is a delightfully odd comic.

As the Batman & Krypto references I noted bear witness, Mumy & Ferrer had some obvious affection for good old fashioned super hero comics. As a comic printed in the time of the black & white boom, one also wonders if the toxic chemical-based origin had anything to do with a certain quartet of turtles who were teenaged, mutant and also ninja.

Leialoha's art is a treat, with Trypto's cone-shaped head particularly appealing. It's a simple story with a few good gags but it takes its plot seriously - rather different than the all-out Rex the Wonder Dog as Captain America parody I complained about earlier, offering somewhat more subtle humour.

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