If you're not familiar with Max Alan Collins and Terry Beatty's Wild Dog, the simple explanation is that he's DC's version of the Punisher. I don't know if that's exactly what they were inspired by, but it's hard not to look at the two characters and see a pretty huge influence in Wild Dog and how he works, especially when you consider how popular the Punisher was getting in the late '80s.

The thing is, Wild Dog doesn't really feel like he's meant to be an equivalent as much as the product off someone reading comics about a perpetually grumpy vigilante who runs around with a giant skull on his chest and saying, "Well we can do something weirder than that."

That's what I mean when I say that he's DC's Punisher: If Frank Castle is what a gun-toting vigilante looks like in a world where having your family killed drives you to put a skull on your chest and hunt down criminals, Wild Dog is what that looks like in a world where having your family killed drives you to dress up as Dracula and drive around in a rocket car punching out murder clowns. Everything about him is taken to the extreme.

And that, I imagine, is how we ended up with a story where he fought a version of the Moral Majority that basically amounted to a bunch of ninjas who blew up convenience stores that sold Playboy.

 

 

That's the thing about Wild Dog: everything about him is so far over the top, and presented so sincerely, that it's indistinguishable from a parody of the ultraviolent '80s vigilante. I mean, this is a character whose introduction to readers is in a panel where he's kicking a Hans Gruber-looking terrorist in the face so hard that it breaks the dude's neck, and before that, you could've seen him in a house ad, holding up a Jatimatic submachine gun and glaring at you from behind a hockey mask over the words "Everyone talks about terrorism --- He DOES something about it!"

Incidentally, all this terrorism that Wild Dog is concerned with? It's all happening in Iowa. Seriously.

And then there was the gimmick of the original miniseries, which asked readers to try to puzzle out which of four characters, who were once teammates playing college football, was actually behind the hockey mask. As it turned out, it was Jack Wheeler, an ex-Marine whose squad was killed by terrorists. Terrorists with a grudge against Iowa. Like I said, it's all pretty far over the top.

But at the same time, Wild Dog himself is strangely realistic. Except for the bulletproof turtle neck and a pair of electrified "Shock Gloves," his costume is all generic stuff that you can buy off the rack at any decent-sized sporting goods store: Camo pants, combat boots, and a football jersey from his time in college. It really makes me wonder why you don't see more Wild Dog cosplay, although I suspect that only appearing in about a dozen comics probably has something to do with that.

Put both of those ideas together, and you've got this weird character who's grounded in reality, but only in an extremely loose way. He's a realistic vigilante built for a world where realism is completely bonkers, so when the stories turn to ripping their subject material from the headlines, things always go a little bit too far. Which is how we get to the story about the Legion of Morality.

 

 

This particular Wild Dog adventure ran through Action Comics #601-609, during that year when Superman decided to take a break from DC's flagship title and it became a weekly anthology for characters who didn't have a book of their own --- and the fact that this story is happening in that book is one of the weirdest things about it.

This time around, the bad guys are the Legion of Morality, a right-wing religious group that has set its sights on freeing the world from the scourge of pornography --- which, by their definition, is pretty much anything that is printed as a magazine. It starts off with national chairman B. Lyle Layman --- one of the least notable entries in Action Comics' long history of characters with double-L initials --- getting members to picket bookstores, but, this being Wild Dog, things escalate pretty quickly until the Legion's hired mercenaries are firebombing comic book stores.

 

 

The bigger concern than the loss of a comic book store that also stocked rental copies of Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords of Death --- quite possibly the perfect retail establishment --- are the people being killed in the process. That's what leads Wild Dog's buddy Andy Flint, police lieutenant and one of the four suspects from that original miniseries, to get Jack to go undercover as a member.

But even though he's undercover, Jack still hits the streets as Wild Dog, and it's a good thing he does. Not content to just take out the establishments peddling late '80s filth, the Legion sets out to cut off the supply itself by taking out a truck loaded up with spank mags, which, let's be honest here, really should've been the plot of Smokey and the Bandit II.

Wild Dog shows up to intervene, and when they chuck a Molotov cocktail at him, he catches it one-handed and throws it back, giving the bad guys the chance to set up the most ludicrously over-the-top moment in the entire story with the line, "God, burning flesh smells bad."

 

 

There's a bit where the Legion attacks the local newspaper for running columns attacking their policies where the story goes full-on Looney Tunes --- Wild Dog defeats the bad guys by making the floor really slippery with a bucket of ink and then bowls them over with a big ol' roll of newsprint --- but then things get serious again for the climax. After accepting Jack into their ranks, the Legion's soldiers set their sights on a local museum that's hosting an exhibit of pinup art, planning to blow it up along with all the sinners in attendance.

Layman himself leads this particular mission, armed with a bunch of explosives and a very poor choice of words:

 

 

That the next page does not contain the line "A WILD DOG!" is a testament to the restraint that Collins and Beatty possess, which is shown exactly zero other places within the story. Or maybe the dialogue was meant to appear, and just got drowned out by the hail of bullets that we get instead.

Either way, Wild Dog finishes off the Legionnaires and threatens to blow Layman up with his own explosives if he doesn't disarm the bombs. And thus, the day is saved. Except that Layman actually gets off.

In one of those weird examples of realism cropping up, there's no way to actually convict Layman of his crimes unless Wild Dog himself comes forward to testify, meaning that the person who was actually calling the shots is going to get away with it. But that's life, I suppose. Sometimes things just aren't tied up that neatly, especially when you're dealing with a character as dedicated to realism as Wild Dog.

 

 

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