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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A brief summary of Wild Dog v1 mini-series (1987)

Wild Dog house ad (circa 1987). Property of DC comics.

As explained by editor Mike Gold, the whole concept behind Wild Dog originated from the fact that all of the big cities in the DC Universe (i.e. Gotham City, Metropolis, Coast City, Opal City, etc) had multiple superheroes protecting them, but who was watching out for the smaller towns in America’s Heartland? Wild Dog was devised to be DC’s answer to that - he was a ‘regular joe’ who used the weapons/tools at his disposal to take down any threats within the Quad City area. Basically, a 'hero’ for small town America. Coincidentally, the creators of Wild Dog both lived in Iowa.

Fun fact: Originally Wild Dog was meant to be named 'Red Dog’ (as per the logo on his jersey/costume), but it was discovered that one of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe characters was using the name already so a quick alteration was made.

The first issue of this mini-series was the first appearance of Wild Dog in the DC universe. How did a completely brand-new character get to headline his own mini-series without ever being introduced to the DC universe beforehand? Well, I’d wager it would have something to do with the creative team behind the character and mini-series: Max Allan Collins (writer) and Terry Beatty (artist).

If the names Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty don’t mean anything to you, then you probably aren’t familiar with Ms. Tree. Ms Tree was a detective-fiction comic book created by Collins and Beatty that debuted in 1981 under the Eclipse Magazine imprint. It may have jumped around from one publisher to another, but it ran for 50 issues before being picked up by DC comics in 1989, and developed a loyal readership along the way. Collins, understudy of Mickey Spillane, was no stranger to writing detective and crime fiction - by 1988 he had already written his 19th mystery novel, had a short stint scripting the Dick Tracy newspaper strip and had a hand in re-introducing the post-Crisis Jason Todd back to DC continuity (Batman #408 to #412). Collins’ love of mystery fiction becomes apparent as you read the Wild Dog mini-series and realize that it’s set-up as a four-issue 'whodunnit’ mystery - the secret identity of Wild Dog is hinted at throughout the mini-series with clues for the reader to try to solve. Wild Dog’s secret identity and back-story is finally revealed in the final issue, but only at Collins’ insistence - editor Mike Gold originally wanted to save the big 'reveal’ for the first issue of the second mini-series (or possible ongoing series). I’m not sure why Collins was dismissive of making it a full-time project. It may have had something to do with Beatty stating, on record, that the motivation for the creation of Wild Dog (the character AND the mini-series) was to pay a few bills and keep the Ms. Tree publication afloat. As previously mentioned, while critically acclaimed, Ms. Tree was not a very financially profitable venture.

An issue of Ms. Tree issue published by Eclipse Comics. Property of Eclipse Comics. An issue of Ms. Tree issue published by Renegade Press. Property of Renegade Press. An issue of Ms. Tree issue published by DC Comics. Property of DC Comics.

While Wild Dog may have embodied a lot of trending late 80s comic book elements (ex: excessive violence, a gun-toting anti-hero who doesn’t take prisoners), Collins states that Wild Dog was derived from classic crime-fiction pulp heroes (ex: Zorro, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, etc) but packaged for the GI Joe crowd. As comic books in the late 80s were synonymous with merchandising, Collins has stated that he had started to craft the idea of Wild Dog with the potential of a toy line and Saturday morning cartoon in mind, but his artistic integrity stopped him from 'selling out’ and going down that route.
I remember seeing the ads for this mini-series in several DC titles (as DC was marketing it heavily during 1987) and it really appealed to my 9 year-old self - so much so that about a decade later when I happened upon it for sale at a comic book shop I snatched it up with no delay. I do believe that Collins and Beatty were trying to create a comic that would appeal to a pre-adolescent audience and they undoubtedly delivered on that goal. You can tell that Collins didn’t take his creation too seriously - as a character in the first issue sees Wild Dog and openly asks if he’s part of a publicity campaign for a new Friday the 13th movie.
I was unaware of what happened to this character after this mini-series ended (it kind of ends on a cliffhanger). Had I known that it would run as a 7-page feature in Action Comics Weekly #601 to 641 (1988) and a one-shot special in 1989, I probably would’ve made greater efforts to track those issues down. My 9 year-old self still looks at Wild Dog with glee and secretly longs for his massive collection of GI Joe action figures from yesteryear.

Fun fact: Collins was not a fan of characters talking during fight scenes. He cited this as being an annoying comic book cliché and went to great efforts to omit it from his scripts (much to the dismay of DC editors).

For a more in-depth summary, our talented and witty Chris Sheehan reviews the entire Wild Dog mini-series - issue by issue (comes with spoilers):

[This article originally published on our tumblr in November 2013]

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