Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #122 by Drew Barth
Cult Classic Crate Digging
DC Comics in the 80s was an interesting time. With the publication of Watchmen in 1986 and the slow eroding of the Comics Code since the 70s, they were apt to make some wider choices with what kinds of stories they wanted to put out. With much of what would become staples of the Vertigo imprint coming at the close of the decade, DC started experimenting with shorter, four-issue stories geared more toward a mature audience. One such creation by Max Collins, Terry Beatty, Dick Giordano, and Michele Wolfman was a new take on vigilantes that would still endure in its cult status for decades: Wild Dog.
Centering on the quad cities of Davenport, Rock Island, Moline, and Bettendorf, we’re met with an urban area beset by a terrorist organization set on leveling all institutions and starting the world over from scratch. The group, The Committee for Social Change, is laughably evil as they target civic centers, high schools, and tourist destinations with bombs. The police, as always, are functionally useless in these scenarios, so one individual dons a hockey mask, football jersey, and many, many guns to fight for his cities. But we don’t know who this character is. We’re given options for who it could possibly be, but it isn’t until the final issue that we truly learn who is behind Wild Dog’s mask. And even then, we’re only given a few moments of knowing this person before the entire series—one that never received a follow-up—ends on a cliffhanger.
Wild Dog is as pure a distillation of 80s action and paranoia as comics could get in that era. From the lone gunman aesthetic to the broad public support of their actions to the local news zeroing in on their every action, Wild Dog as a character tapped into that “realistic” vigilantism that people thought they could try. And this is maybe where its cult classic status comes from—Wild Dog is just a guy with a mission, a lot of determination, and that American love of GUN. A singular focus and an iconic design can take a character much further than longer series in fans’ eyes. And this is likely one of the reasons Wild Dog has been in the background of a few series and has recently become a regular in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye almost thirty years after his creation.
What makes a cult classic like Wild Dog? It could be the allure of the titular character that Collins, Beatty, Giordano, and Wolfman created or it could just be one of those obscure characters that fans gravitate towards as there’s so little of him in DC canon. Even still, a character like Wild Dog represents one of those times at DC where they threw ideas at the wall to see what would stick. And yet if they had waited only a couple years, Wild Dog may have become a staple of Vertigo at the turn of the decade.
Get excited. Get digging.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.