Wild Dog’s name (and habits) were first seen in a mini-series in September 1987, and the first projected an image similar to what is buried in the pages of the mini-series in which he was the key character.
A masked man in a football shirt with an evident thirst for vengeance, whose identity had been long questioned to be hidden amid a group of pals – all of this points to a multi-layered mystery engulfing all those in their immediate vicinity.
We meet the four ‘prospective’ Wild Dogs in due time, each in a different position and life setting. But no one really knows who is Wild Dog among them. Is it a single person or a group? The storyline thickens until it thins out, revealing the story’s beauty.
We want to modify the perception of Wild Dog, who is often seen as a ‘wild-card’ figure in the comic world. DC fans need to know him as more than an impetuous, passionate vigilante who joined the ranks of Team Arrow in 2016 as a 5’8″ blonde, blue-eyed man.
WILD DOG: First Sight and the Comic Lore
It’s all chaos in River City as criminals run wild on the streets, making a mess out of the beautiful, liveable place. Lo and behold, appears a man who has a laughing red dog on his football jersey, camouflage pants, huge combat boots, and a mask to hide his face – seeking to rescue River City from its woes.
The comics, however, just go on attempting to prove the phrase “Eh well, sometimes the pain of the cure outdoes the disease itself”. The writing actually, is quite well done to the point where the evil characters seem to be a part of our daily lives; that is to say, regular behavioral tendencies and natural scenes we might see as a happening in our day-to-day lives and we find ourselves rooting for the man who is basically committing homicide at every chance he gets to attack any wrongdoer.
Issues 1 to 4 of the series came out in 1987 before Wild Dog appeared in the Action Comics Weekly. The comics open with one Ms. Susan King, a journalist reporting on the opening of the River City Community Center. A hostage situation arises as she interviews Mr. Newell of the Committee for Social Change, and Newell admits to being a terrorist.
He tells Ms. King that he will give a true interview, but with the standards of privacy and safety that he deems fit. The journalist crew is taken hostage in a theatre, and a fresh broadcast of the interview begins. Reporter Lou Godder, Police Lieutenant Andy Flint, Mechanic Jack Wheeler, and one Graham Gault are then shown as listening to this overtaken interview in different settings.
It all unfolds to a superhero in full gear – mask, red shirt, camo pants, and combat boots – barging into that theatre and killing the criminals on-site. As Ms. King is rescued, the SWAT is ordered to shoot our hero on-site as if he were a “wild dog on the street”, earning him his nickname as we know. Susan King then recounts the tale of her abduction and following ordeals, as her next interviewee is Police Chief Davis.
This man INSISTS that Wild Dog’s vigilante justice outlook is outright nonsense and won’t allow the law to take its course, which is why they are hunting him down. Very familiar a viewpoint from real life, isn’t it? Moving on, Ms. King eventually decides that she wishes to dig deep and hopefully encounter he who goes by the name of Wild Dog. Susan however, is not met with friendliness as she goes on her adventures, so she resorts to what can politely be called “keeping an eye on her suspects”.
At this point, all the law enforcement being boasted of is pretty much in Wild Dog’s hands it seems. Not much is talked about it, until the four suspects Lou, Andy, Jack, and Graham – who are revealed to be friends since college and played football together for the same team – are seen hanging out doing some good old catching-up on a boat ‘Dixie Belle’, being side-eyed by our familiar pal Ms. Susan King.
Graham tries to reason with the others, pointing out that all of them have reasons to be Wild Dog as he shows them all the ‘gifts’ that he brought for them – all of which are things associated with the Wild Dog. The boat reaches Arsenal Island, where all five of them come off-board, but Ms. Susan stays away from the group of four as they extend their talk about who amongst them is Wild Dog in real life.
True to the essence of a superhero tale, adventures follow them here too. Needless to say, identity hiding had become an expensive affair in terms of damage to property because Wild Dog loves blowing things up it seems but hey, we got ourselves a hero-slash-anti-hero-slash-villain giving us pages after pages of jam-packed suspense and action.
In the last installment of the mini-series, we have a throwback to the first one as Ms. Susan is reporting again. It allows the reader to introspect while making the overall background discussion appear natural. Meanwhile, the four friends – Andy has already tried to coax Susan to spill the tea on what she knows about Wild Dog and could only manage an “It is obviously not Graham Gault” out of her – have internal conflicts where they accuse each other.
At this point, we get a more detailed insight into each of their origin stories, and money is almost set on Jack Wheeler being Wild Dog, as Flint catches up with Gault and Lou and reminisces the happenings in their lives that may encourage a desire for vengeance in them.
The story spun around a college kid Jack Wheeler who has a football scholarship, who starts making sense word-by-word. Having been plagued by an injury, that career collapsed for him, and to complete his education, he enlisted with the US Marines. Tragedy struck once again when most of his team was wiped out by a terrorist attack on them, following which he chose to return to Quad Cities and attend night classes. There, he met Claire who was a fellow student and unbeknownst to him the daughter of a crime boss from Chicago who she did not want to be associated with any longer.
While on a date with Claire, she was shot dead in front of Jack’s eyes. Claire left everything she owned in Jack’s name. Inspired to become Robin Hood but like…instead of distributing the privileged rich’s money, to use it to fight the mob, Jack made his plans. Carefully enough, he adopted the public persona of Jack Wheeler, the car mechanic.
And just like a man with a plan, he made a costume out of his old football jersey with a red dog that hid his protective armor, camouflage pants, huge combat boots, and a mask to hide his face. All setup, he not only found the gang and ended them, that killing spree list of his included the gang leader as well as the hitman who was hired for killing Claire.
Wildly enough, the combat boots gave our dear Jack away, since the sighting of the Wild Dog on Arsenal Island described a man with those, and on that day, Jack was the only one wearing them. While Flint says Jack is now wanted by law enforcement officials, Jack smirks and corrects the “want” to “need”. As the radio announcement near them reports another terrorist attack, the comic closes with the hint of Jack and Andy coming together for good cause. Following the conclusion of this inaugural mini-series, his exploits continued in the serialized Action Comics Weekly and, finally, in a Wild Dog Special.
WILD DOG: Outside the Mini-Series – Arrow-verse and otherwise
Writer Max Collins gave the character his form known for today, serving as the modern version of Zorro, The Green Hornet, and The Shadow since Issue 119 of Amazing Heroes came out. Artists Terry Beatty and Dick Giordano did justice to Collins’ writing by giving the reader an image to go along with the powerful aura and lines.
Alternatively, hints of Wild Dog being an important character are seen in several instances, which is why we choose to discuss his impact on the DC Universe today. He had a DC rebirth in the gang Wild Dogs which seemed to have been formed around the aura of Wild Dog, in Green Arrow’s Issue 18 in 2017.
Their villainous nature is set in their motto as a “libertarian militia inspired by some nut in the Quad Cities”. Green Arrow tackles them effectively but that’s a story for another time. That aside, Wild Dog has been a regular in the running series ‘Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye’ where his attire and personality are extremely similar to his pre-Infinite Crisis incarnations. He is portrayed as a full-time mechanic and part-time vigilante, also Cave Carson’s buddy.
The most noticeable deviation comes in Season 5 of Arrow. Wild Dog is entirely different from his original counterpart. The show is led by one Rene Ramirez, an ex-Marine residing in Star City who falls into depression and is plagued by alcoholism after his wife is the victim of an accidental killing spree conducted by his drug dealer.
Having lost his daughter to Child Protective Services soon after, he watches Green Arrow on television and gets inspired enough to become Wild Dog with all the traits of seeking vengeance and having a vendetta. The Green Arrow himself attempts to deter him because he disapproves of the methodology adopted by Ramirez, ending up with the Green Arrow and Wild Dog working together towards a common goal taking the path of the ‘right things to do’.
WILD DOG: The OG Creator’s Woes
In a widely infamous incident brought to light in 2021, Terry Beatty who is on the co-credits of Wild Dog as one of his makers strongly criticized DC Comics for commercializing Wild Dog in a frankly insane and unnecessary manner. In the upcoming series ‘Suicide Squad: Get Joker series, Wild Dog was sought to be depicted as one of the misguided rebels who attacked the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, and was imprisoned for the same, before Suicide Squad and Red Hood were on a hunt for Joker and sought Wild Dog’s help.
Wild Dog is also seen unabashedly talking about defecating on the table designated for the Speaker of the House and disregarding the authorities as well as borderline abusing them. Several parts of the project by Alex Malley and Brian Azzarello were posted by Bleeding Cool and all of it threw similar light on Wild Dog; that bothered Terry a great deal.
He claimed that the portrayal was appallingly twisted and vigilante justice had been stretched to a point where it was so re-worked, he would not recognize the Wild Dog he and Max Allan Collins had initially created. To them, Wild Dog wasn’t an idiot who believed in conspiracy theories, but actually, man has driven to do what he did back by very human emotions and something almost all readers may have faced in their lives – a choice to do right to oneself with or without taking into account who else would be affected.
Beatty’s disapproval was rooted in his belief that a person of color’s portrayal of the character on the CW TV series made the situation worse. The character now associated with a real-life individual would impact people’s thoughts if shown as a moronic, violent goon leading an essentially racist mob into authoritative grounds and validating its destruction. He would never be seen as a hero ever again – vigilante or not.
WILD DOG: His Unique Super Powers
Superheroes are obviously synonymous with superpowers and in the DC Universe, it is our special man Wild Dog who has such unique ones, that they get you wondering if he is someone you could befriend and know in your life! He is not the first one in the DC Universe who is that way, and will perhaps not be the last one, but the fact is noteworthy regardless; as it is common to all of Team Arrow’s new members.
A man blessed with superior physical strength, and bashful bravery that can be called borderline insanity that adds to the much-loved action in the comic, and intellect – it is those qualities that have him sailing through the worst of challenges. His weapons do come to his aid, but that’s about it. He is an absolute loyalist to guns and knows a lot about them; if not seen as carrying one in each hand, he definitely has one on him all the time.
Excellent at hand-to-hand combat, he is an exceptionally talented gunman, very less likely to miss a target. Stun gloves adorn him as well, and if the guns weren’t enough, these little things with electricity shooting through them are enough to take an enemy down. He wears an armor that hides underneath the dog logo on his shirt, but once again it’s not exceptional and merely durable against regular attacks. A utility belt with some gadgets and extra ammunition completes the looks….and powers of this man.
WILD DOG: Wrapping Up
Starting at the start as we should, Wild Dog was long made a passing punch-line in the DC Universe before the mini-series was developed. A lot of these plots and his preparation for the challenges in his own series are oddly convenient but it is a short, fun, enthralling, mindless ride through and through. The reader can even relate with Susan King to the extent that we only know as much about Wild Dog’s identity as is on the page, and can only further guess wildly.
A little side-note – the professional struggle and commentary on that from Ms. King is seriously relatable at times and as far as her presence in the comic is concerned, her involvement in the first installment seems like it could either tilt in favor of Wild Dog or otherwise. Her questions during interviews while her research on Wild Dog is on mirror the questions of the readers and that is a good play on the plot by the writers.
The violent, but silly-and-fun violence eases the reader out, pretty much until the end of the comic series. They manage to do a good job of keeping the identity of Wild Dog secret till Issue 4 in classic 80s comic style, and by that time its honestly all unraveled and expected. The wild, violent, frightening Dog is now hailed as a hero with…slightly jarring methods of action that manage to settle the nerves of those who seek “immediate justice”.
Essentially, he does nothing wrong; it’s the moral turpitude and impact of his actions that enable the rational side of the brain to ask questions. Is it pure evil and spite, or is it the right amount of “necessary evil” that is being propagated?
At one point you could even wonder if there’s more than one of the Wild Dog in red, doing the deeds of vigilante justice.
Once you realize, however, that the side character amongst the four friends who are least needed or ‘wouldn’t really matter if missing’, the mystery of identity solves itself. In striking contrast to other superheroes in the DC Universe, he isn’t caped or fancy otherwise and looks…. the most relatable and realistic out of all of them.