These days there seems little to differentiate the output of Marvel and DC. With artists and writers constantly moving back and forthe between the big two that’s perhaps not surprising. However, it wasn’t always thus. Back in the 1960s, comic fans had a real choice. Let’s take a look at one of the more startling examples of this profound difference of approach.

FF 50

It’s May 1966. At Marvel, the Fantastic Four are embroiled in the finale of one of their greatest, and most oft-reprinted, adventures. In Fantastic Four #50, our heroes face off against the might of the planet-devouring Galactus! Trapped within the Invisible Girl’s force field, Mr Fantastic, the Thing and Invisible Girl herself can only watch helplessly as the Silver Surfer, one time herald to Galactus, fights valiantly with his former boss. Meanwhile, across the cosmos, the fourth member of the team, the Human Torch, is on a secret mission to find “the Ultimate Nullifier”, the only device in the galaxy that can bring Galactus to his knees.

Arriving back home, the Torch is a quivering wreck, his senses almost shattered by the senses-shattering sights he has witnessed on his pan-dimensional quest. Taking up the Ultimate Nullifier, Mr Fantastic points it at Galactus and the god-like being stops in his tracks, fear of the device rocking him to his very core. Rather than see the galaxy possibly destroyed by the Nullifier, he agrees to leave Earth in peace. Before he leaves, however, Galactus removes the Silver Surfer’s space-time powers, effectively stranding him on Earth forever. And that one moment of petulance gave birth to twenty years of angst-ridden tales of the Surfer’s endless attempts to leave the planet he grows to hate.

Stirring stuff. It was big, it was bold, and it was a classic. Comics had never seen its like before, and in many ways it became a template for the star-spanning epics that later became standard fare.

Meanwhile, over at DC:

Superboy #131.

Krypto joins… the Space Canine Patrol Agents.

I kid you not.

Superboy 131

Upset that his master, Superboy, has gone off to have fun with the Legion of Super-Heroes, Krypto thows a strop and goes for a romp in space. He soon comes across being that looks like a cross between a dog and a balloon. We discover that this is Mammoth Mutt, a member of the SCPA: the Space Canine Patrol Agents. Sadly, Mammoth Mutt soon breathes his last, punctured by a missile. Determined to avenge the Mutt’s death, Krypto dons his SCPA collar and heads for a nearby planet.

It turns out that this is a planet where dogs rule. Spying a gang of dirty dog crooks in pursuit of their nefarious deeds, Krypto puts on a spare pair of Clark Kent’s glasses, and leaps into action as secret agent “Air Daile”! Unfortunately, the crooks’ pet “doggysaur” attacks and Krypto is soon flat on his back, helpless.

Thrown in jail, Krypto finds himself cell mates with the rest of the SCPA: Tail Terrier, who can stretch his tail, Tusky Husky, who has one long tooth, Chameleon Collie, who can morph into different things, Hot Dog, who can heat up like a furnace, Bull Dog, who has the head of a bull (!), and, finally, Paw Pootch, who can mimic a centipede (should such a thing be necessary…). They offer a frankly astonished Krypto a stick of gum to eat.

“Gosh! You fellows are as sensational as the Legion of Super-Heroes!” exclaims Krypto – and who could disagree?

The Space Canine Patrol Agents

Quickly discovering that he has lost his super powers, Krypto suggests that Tail Terrier wraps his tail around Tusky Husky. Having done that the remainder of the SCPA then yank Tail Terrier’s tail and Tusky becomes like unto a canine drill, whirling around, his long tooth boring through the floor and into an underground drainpipe! Racing away from their prison, the SCPA fall foul of the dog crooks’ dastardly trap: a pile of bones that no dog can resist! Alarmingly, it seems the bones are filled with explosives, which our ravenous heroes are oblivious to!!

Luckily, Krypto and Chameleon Collie have fallen behind the others and Krypto spots what’s happening. He orders Cham to transform himself into a dinosaur. Suddenly, the SCPA members are distracted by an even more appetising sight than the explosive bone pile: a walking dinosaur skeleton! “We can eat for a week, let’s go!” cries Hot Dog.

Walking Bones

It turns out, though, that the dinosaur skeleton is merely the result of Krypto bringing his x-ray vision to bear on the transformed Chameleon Collie, and the SCPA quickly forget their hunger and come to their senses. Phew! They go into action against the dog crooks, expertly displaying their powers in the process. One of the crooks knocks the chewing gum out of Krypto’s mouth, and Krypto notices that it was laced with traces of Kryptonite – thereby explaining his earlier power loss.

The fleeing dog crooks escape to the nearby Fido Fortress where they pull out the heavy weaponry and threaten the SCPA with ray gun death if they approach. Krypto will have none of that and agrees to tow the fortress to another planet where the dog criminals will be free of the SCPA do-gooders.

As good as his word, the super pooch drags the entire fortress through space to a nearby planet where he bids the celebrating crooks farewell. Their celebrations soon come to an end however when they discover that the planet is run by cats! And not only that, but these super cats have their own SCPA: the Space Cat Patrol Agents! Atomic Tom, Power Puss and Crab Tabby soon make short work of the gang, and Krypto flies for home.

So, there you go: back in mid-1966 comic fans had real variety in their comics reading.

“But,” I hear you cry, “Al, surely the SCPA were an aberration, a one-off, a moment of madness never to be repeated..?”

Oh yeah..?