While plenty of comic book characters stand the test of time, even more fade into obscurity shortly after being introduced. Not every new idea that makes it to page creates a big splash. That's especially true for Batman. New hereos, villains and side characters are introduced all the time, and only a handful survive to become iconic.
Which is exactly why it's so surprising to see a long forgotten Batman character making his DC Rebirth debut in Batman Annual #1, a character that even the most dedicated comic fans likely didn't expect to see make a comeback.
Spoilers for Batman Annual #1 below!
The issue is actually a collection of holiday themed stories, but it's the first story from Batman writer Tom King and artist David Finch that steals the show. Titled "Good Boy", the story sees the return of Ace the Bat Hound, aka Batman's dog.
Ace first debuted ages ago, and hasn't really been since. By the time of DC's New 52, the Bat Hound was a distant memory, one that didn't fit in with the rebooted universe the comic company was looking to create. But DC's new Rebirth Initiative has put a focus on bringing back old characters and storylines, and that's precisely what Batman Annual #1 does with Ace.
This is a brand new imagining of Batman's faithful canine companion, one with a backstory perhaps even more tragic than Bruce's. Ace begins the story in the possession of the Joker, along with several other dogs named King, Queen and Jack. Joker's sadistic mistreatment of the animals (he has them attack innocent victims that Joker dresses up in Batman costumes) amuses the clown prince of crime for a while, only to later grow bored of the savage beasts he had raised. He dumps them on the cold streets of Gotham, where Batman and Commissioner Gordon eventually find them.
Or rather, what's left of them. Struggling to survive, Ace kills and eats his fellow dogs. Ace is brought to an animal shelter and that would seem to be the end of it. Alfred, however, has other plans. He takes it upon himself to adopt and rehabilitate the dog, believing it would do Master Bruce good to have a companion around the house.
Bruce doesn't want anything to do with Ace at the beginning. But over the next couple of months, slowly but surely, Alfred trains Ace to no longer lash out and humans and to understand verbals commands. Come Christmas, Bruce and Ace appear to be best friends, with Bruce having even made a Bat-Cowl for Ace, cementing his place once again as Bat Hound.
It's a heart-warming little story that readers don't often get in the pages of Batman, where despair and heartache are often par for the course. Does this mean Bat Hound might appear in King's main Batman series? Now that he's once again a part of official continuity, it's certainly possible. Batman Annual #1 is on sale now.