Ask Chris #301: Comet The Super-Horse Is None Of Those Things
Q: I need a Comet the Super-Horse primer. What's his deal, Chris? -- @MagiknKitty5evr
A: All right, you might want to buckle up for this one, because Comet the Super-Horse is way more complicated than you might expect, even by the standards of the Silver Age. He has a history that literally covers thousands of years in both directions, and provided what are unquestionably some of the most inexplicable and occasionally uncomfortable moments in the 78-year history of DC Comics.
So here's where we start: His name's not actually Comet, he's not actually a horse, and if we're being honest with each other, he's only some definitions of "super."
To figure out how we got to Comet, though, we have to go back to 1955, seven years before Comet trotted onto the page. See, that was the year that Otto Binder and Curt Swan brought us Krypto the Super-Dog, and that's notable for a lot of reasons.
As strange as it might seem given that he's, you know, an indestructible flying dog from outer space, Krypto has the distinction of being one of the first real, persistent connections that Superman had to his origins on Krypton. Stuff that we generally think of as being part of that heritage, like Kandor, the Phantom Zone Criminals, and even Supergirl, wouldn't show up until a few years later, and while Kryptonite had been a staple in the comics ever since it had been introduced on the radio show in the '40s, that was a piece of Krypton that was actively harmful.
Krypto, on the other hand, was different. With all due respect to Jimmy Olsen --- and the record will show that I have a lot of respect for Jimmy Olsen --- Krypto was Superman's best friend, a tangible connection to his home planet that was actually on his side. He's loyal, he's smart, and as silly as he might be, the image of Superboy flying around playing super-fetch with Krypto is one that's both striking and charming in equal measure.
And he was also extremely popular.
I mean, of course he was popular. If the Internet has taught us anything, it's that people love pets, and I don't think that was really all that different back in the '50s. Besides, giving Superman --- or more often, Superboy --- a pet dog was one of the most instantly understandable attempts at making him relatable to young readers.
And as is the case with all things, with popularity comes imitation. If one super-pet is good, then two or three would probably be better, if only because some readers prefer cats. With Krypto acting as a proof of concept, there's no real reason to not just introduce an entire caped pet store. The only problem is trying to figure out the origin stories.
See, the thing about Krypto is that he's that perfect Otto Binder combination of being almost ludicrously bizarre and also propping up the mythology around him in a really fascinating way. His origin story takes a pretty understandable question and answers it in a way that actually makes a certain kind of sense, if you look at it through the weird logic of the time.
The question was "Why did Jor-El only make one rocket," and the answer, of course, is, "Well, he actually made two, but the El family had a very boisterous dog that jumped into the bigger one and accidentally got rocketed off to space well before Krypton exploded, and then later he crash-landed on Earth and was Superboy's pet. You haven't see him lately because he's been living in a literal dog house in space."
And that's amazing.
When it came to the rest of the super-pets, though, the most obvious origin story was already taken, so they ended up having to go pretty far afield. With Beppo (1959), Binder and George Papp went with another easy leap, inspired by the real-life space race, of having Jor-El use a monkey to test out his rocket. With Streaky (1960), Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney went with another pretty simple idea, having a piece of strange Kryptonite cause a permanent mutation. By the time they got to the horse, though, all the obvious ideas were taken.
Which brings us, at long last, back to Comet. And in his first appearance in 1962, Siegel and Swan didn't even have an origin.
Yeah: Just in case things weren't already complicated enough, Comet's first appearance is actually in a story set in the future where people from the future go back to their past (which is our future) and find Supergirl hanging out with the pet that she does not actually own yet.
Comet's proper "first appearance" wouldn't come until seven months later in Action Comics #292 and "The Super-Steed of Steel"...
... but even then, we wouldn't get an origin story. Instead, there's an extremely complicated setup where Supergirl sees a movie about a very smart horse (really!) and then keeps having dreams about how nice it would be to have her own horse, to the point where they become a genuinely worrying, almost Tina Belcher-level distraction from her day-to-day.
Eventually, she and her parents decide that the best way to deal with this is to go on vacation to a dude ranch that is inexplicably named after Supergirl, and sure enough, there's Comet.
Also, it will not shock you to learn that "Mace Greede," which is a name so ridiculous that it could pass for a minor Star Wars villain, is not a good guy.
Anyway, we don't actually get the origin story until the next issue, marking eight full months from Comet's first appearance to readers actually finding out what his deal is. That might not sound like much time now, in an age of six-part stories and year-long epics, but considering that this was a time when the standard policy was to deliver three complete stories in each issue, that seems like an eternity to wait.
It's tempting to think that the writers just wanted to put it off as long as they could on account of having to come up with an origin, but personally, my theory is that they were trying to give readers enough time to prepare themselves for an explanation that's completely bonkers.
Remember how I said that Comet the Super-Horse is neither of those things? Well, Action #293 is where we find that out.
Yeah, so it turns out that "Comet" is actually a centaur named Biron from Hercules times who was accidentally turned full horse by Circe, who then tried to make it up to him by giving him the super-powers of Jove, Mercury, Athena, and Neptune (and yes, that weird mish-mash of Roman and Greek names is what's in the story), and is then sprinkled by an evil wizard with dust that sends him into outer space for thousands of years, until Supergirl's rocket used laser beams to destroy the magic field.
That's where we're starting with this guy.
If that seems like it might be a little too complex, it's because it is, but it only becomes moreso when you think about the how this changes the dynamic. Since Comet's first appearance was that weird cameo as part of the Legion of Super-Pets, it's already been established that he's a pet. So this origin story hits with the creators knowing that it's going to result in Supergirl essentially claiming ownership of a person. And since he tells her his origin story through his power of Neptunic telepathy, she knows that!
But wait, it gets weirder.
Even though he tells her the gritty details of his origin story, Comet does keep one secret from Supergirl. See, because of the mystical effects of an actual comet that seems to pass near Earth on an orbit that's pretty much random, he sometimes turns into a full human.
It happens in Action Comics #311, and after he gets over a brief bout of amnesia, he ends up using his experience as a horse to become a rodeo star named "Bronco" Bill Starr.
And then he dates Supergirl, without telling her who he is.
And this, I think, is the high point of weirdness, not just for Supergirl, not just for DC, but maybe for comic books as a whole. You can't really get past "Supergirl sometimes dates a boy who is secretly her 3,000 year-old sentient pet horse, who is also a member of a team of superheroes in the future."
Eventually, after a few more bizarre adventures and a couple more dates as Bronco Bill, Comet would be phased out around 1970, as the Superman titles tried to lean more into a focus on the more bipedal members of the Superman family. Barring a few retro-themed appearances in books like Supergirl's Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade --- which is fantastic --- Comet was pretty much gone for good after Crisis.
Except, of course, for post-Crisis Comet...
... but on that one, your guess is as good as mine.
Ask Chris art by Erica Henderson. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris.