How Krypto' Arch-Enemy!

The spotlight falls on the world's mightiest dog in Superboy #92 (October 1961), with "Krypto's Arch-Enemy!" (The art is by George Papp; the Grand Comics Database credits Otto Binder with the script)

We begin in outer space, where Superboy and Kryto are amusing themselves by racing comets. Suddenly Superboy spots a world in trouble; an inhabited planet facing imminent destruction in much the same way Krypton itself was destroyed. Deciding to hang around and arrange the migration of the world's occupants to a new home, Superboy sends Krypto back to Earth to fill in for him.

Back in Smallville, young Lex Luthor is still fuming over the premature baldness he blames on Superboy, and has just perfected a device that will bring him revenge: a machine that fires a ray to grant him super-powers of his own. The catch is that it will only work once, and unfortunately Lex's pet dog, "Wolf" picks this very moment to leap onto Lex affectionately, causing the ray to hit the dog instead of Luthor.

Furious, Lex slaps his dog, yelling, "You miserable cur!" (sure he's a bad pet owner, but he's got a great vocabulary). All this gets him is an injured hand, as he realizes Wolf has acquired the super-powers he'd meant for himself. Always quick to adapt, Lex hatches a new plan and begins training Wolf in the use of his super-powers, getting him to fly by projecting an image of tasty bones onto some clouds, tricking him into bursting through a brick wall by hiding his supper behind it, and testing his invulnerability by firing cannonballs at him (because every small-town teenager has a working cannon, right?).

Lex makes Wolf a "costume" in the form of a black cape with a skull and crossbones symbol, but tells Wolf he must earn it. First he dresses the dog in a Krypto-style "S" cape and has him make mischief all over town, first stealing a mirror from the astronomical laboratory, then a giant magnet from the Superboy Museum.

With the people of Smallville growing increasingly alarmed at "Krypto's" out-of-control behavior, Police Chief Parker tries unsuccessfully to reach Superboy by radio, then reluctantly uses Kryptonite against Krypto, who's totally in the dark about the whole situation and flees the scene in sadness and confusion. Boring deep into a hill to hide, he uses super-hearing to learn why the town's against him. His super-sense of smell picks up the scent of another dog at the scenes of the crimes, which he follows to Luthor's lab. Spotting Wolf, Krypto deduces the truth and pretends to steal a bag of money from Pa Kent's General Store, leaving a trail of coins for the police to follow, which they do, right to Luthor's lab. As the police drag Luthor back to reform school, Krypto and Wolf engage in a super-dogfight, battling as dogs always do; by ramming their skulls together.

When Krypto leaves the fight to save an airplane in distress, Wolf uses the opportunity to free Luthor, who then uses his ray machine to transfer Krypto's powers to Wolf, making Wolf double-super and Krypto...well, not super at all. Wolf blows Krypto away with super-breath (just blowing at all is a super-power for a dog!), but luckily Krypto lands on a nearby haystack. Never one to give up easily, Krypto locates Chief Parker's Kryptonite ("Now that I'm not super, I'm not at all affected...") and uses it on Wolf, who with double super-strength is now double-vulnerable to Green-K rays. With few alternatives left to him, Luthor uses his ray machine to return Krypto's super-powers, putting him back on even terms with Wolf. However, Superboy picks this moment to return from space, returning Wolf to non-super status and chucking Lex back in reform school.

A fun story for the animal lovers, as Krypto carries the whole adventure with little more than a glorified cameo by Superboy. You can't help feeling sorry for Wolf, who obviously wants nothing more than the approval and love of his master, who's a prize rat.

Tucked away in this shaggy dog story, however, are a handful of panels that carry a greater significance for the super-mythos in general. Near the beginning of the tale, we get a recap of Luthor's "origin," but even at this early stage, it's already undergone a subtle but crucial change. Just a year earlier in Adventure Comics #271, we saw young Luthor on the verge of the greatest scientific discovery of the age; he had created! in a beaker in his laboratory. But just as a protoplasmic hand is reaching out of the beaker toward Lex, fire breaks out in the lab and Superboy accidentally wrecks the experiment with his super-breath, causing Lex's hair to fall out in the process. Lex later creates an "antidote" for Kryptonite which turns out to be intentionally temporary, as part of a plan to kill Superboy.

In "Krypto's Arch-Enemy," however, the story is altered. Now we are told Lex was working on a legitimate Kryptonite antidote when the fire broke out and Superboy bungled the rescue:

No doubt this change was made in the interests of saving time and space, but it creates an important shift for Lex. Suddenly his hatred of Superboy is less about losing the greatest discover of his lifetime, and more about petty vanity. For years it would be this take on the story that would define Luthor to generations of readers. In the 70s, an episode of the Super-Friends would repeat the "made bald while working on a Kryptonite antidote" account, and thus define Luthor for millions of TV viewers who possibly never even read a comic. And so a decision made to save a few panels of story space slowly turned Lex Luthor into a pop-culture joke; the big bad super-criminal motivated by premature hair loss.

As far as I know, Wolf was never heard from again. I like to think Clark Kent arranged for his adoption by a loving family.