Things get bestial in the Dog Days of Summer 80 Page Giant, an anthology collection that centres on animal heroes, heroes with animal based powers, and animalistic villains. Like most of these anthologies, it’s a bit of a hit and miss, although for the most part these are entertaining tales, with a couple of really stand out entries. Francis Manapul gives the cover over to Krypto, Batcow and Beast Boy, all of them looking pretty chill despite the heat.
Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing and Cully Hamner open the issue with a Krypto story. It’s a bit unfortunate that this is the lead tale, as Krypto is very much the sidekick in the Superman based adventure. Not that it’s a bad story, but it’s the one that gives the least attention to the supposedly featured character. Superman and Krypto fly into the Crucible, an alien machine that puts Superman through a series of physical and psychological tests. One might expect Krypto to save the day, given the theme of the anthology, but really this story is far more about the bond between Superman and his super-pet.
In contrast, Batman gets only a cameo in the second story in the issue, which features Killer Croc. Written by Joshua Williamson, with superb art by Kyle Hotz, this tale sees Croc head back to the swamps outside Tampa, Florida. He has a friend there, Gator, another malformed misfit who Croc rescued from a life of crime. Croc had wanted to give Gator a life better than the one he has had, but Gator has his own hopes and dreams, which do not converge with Croc’s ideas. It’s a sad story, with a downer ending, but it is also a surprisingly compassionate outing for Croc. Definitely one of the better tales in the collection.
G Willow Wilson and Stjepan Sejic give the third story over to Ferdinand the minotaur, a supporting player from the Wonder Woman books, who also works as the chef for the Justice League. This is a weirdly silly adventure, as Ferdinand goes in search of a meat substitute. The minotaur had been struggling with his own morals while running a barbeque for the League, feeling that serving them meat was a kind of cannibalism. Excellent art helps carry this odd tale along. It doesn’t hit every note as well as it might, but as Wonder Woman observes, it’s far more interesting than it might have been.
The only story in this collection that really doesn’t work for me is the Captain Carrot tale, by Andrew Marino and James Herren. I don’t really blame them. I have just never really clicked with Captain Carrot. I do commend Marino for spinning this tale out of Multiversity, and using some of the characters from that series, as well as the Zoo Crew. The art is really dynamic, but nothing was likely to get me on their side as they face a killer sun.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Christian Duce rise to the challenge with their Animal Man tale. He is not the easiest character to write, with stories that require a really down to Earth, human element, as well as some superhero action, and insight on top of that, but they pull it off. Buddy brings Ellen and Maxine camping to a very remote location, where tourists are not usually allowed. They find out why as the tale goes on. I love the way Buddy accesses the exceptional vision of mantis shrimp in order to more fully appreciate watching his wife and daughter splashing around in a pond, before the story takes its dark turn. Nature is violent and unforgiving, and heroism is hardly a concept that one can apply, as the story makes clear.
I was very happy to see that Dex-Starr, the Red Lantern cat, was given a solo story in this issue. And it’s a decent tale, with Dex-Starr coming to the aid of some other exploited animals on an alien planet. He is not made completely benevolent. The Red Lantern finds it hard to respect creatures that will not stand up for themselves. But by the end the cat has found a new ally in the fight against the Khunds. But while I enjoyed Kenny Porter’s story, I felt let down by the art, by Paul Fry and Mick Gray. Like all Red Lanterns, Dex-Starr vomits blood as his way of expending his cosmic energy. If I hadn’t known that, I would have thought it was just a power beam of light emerging from the cat’s mouth. It’s really the only thing about the art that displeased me, but it made a huge difference.
I also had very high expectations for the Batcow story. How could one not? Dan Didio and Tom Raney do not disappoint. This is an exceptionally silly romp, following two sketchy cowboys, Billy Ray and Cyrus, as they deal with Laffa, a bull with a familiar grin painted on its face. Batcow comes to the rescue. Sort of. Frankly, Batcow really doesn’t do anything, but that doesn’t stop Billy Ray from interpreting all manner of depth to the situation. And as he observes, Batcow isn’t just the cow we deserve, she’s the cow we need.
The issue closes out with the Beast Boy story, by Mariko Tamaki and Cian Tormey. I didn’t care for the way Beast Boy had been altered by the events of No Justice, but this story brings back the goofy Gar Logan that we all loved. He winds up in a series of challenges against a muscle bound beach bum, using his morphing powers to take on various animal bodies to help him prevail. It’s pure fun, though there is some depth on the last couple of pages. I am glad to see Beast Boy back to his old self, and it was a solid tale to close the issue on.
You never really know what you are going to get with one of these 80 page giants. I always expect to be disappointed by at least one of the stories. I consider them a success if the good stories outweigh the weaker ones, and if there are one or two that really stand above the rest.
Dog Days of Summer is at its best with the Killer Croc, Animal Man, and Batcow outings, but even though I didn't love all the tales, I hugely enjoyed the volume as a whole.