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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Arrow Adds Rick Gonzalez as Wild Dog

Edited by Robert Beach 

How do you solve a problem like Arrow?  That might seem disingenuous given Arrow is the show that kicked off the CW-verse, a vast miasma of interconnected television shows that spans 4 series and a huge amount of characters; the likes we haven’t seen since the Star Trek triple threat of Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager in the late ‘90s, but hear me out.  As important as Arrow was to the origins of the CW-verse, there’s no denying at this point the show’s been outpaced by its own spin-offs. 

The Flash rushed ahead to become a massive favorite; Legends of Tomorrow brought superhero team action to life in a way never thought possible, and Supergirl is the best live-action adaptation of the Superman mythos since Superman 2. Arrow has little to do now, especially now that Ras Al Ghul has receded from the series’ emphasis. So how do you keep a show like Arrow relevant and interesting without just trying to rip-off Batman (like in seasons 1 and 2)? Well, obviously you do what worked in season 3, Arrow’s best season; you rip-off Daredevil.

That might sound like a dig, but it’s really not. Comics have been ripping each other off since the time of Shazam in the ‘40s. Much like back then, it’s less about who does it first and more about who does it better. Granted, Arrow has not eclipsed Netflix’s Daredevil by any means, but you can see the connective threads and thinking between the two. Swapping in Ras Al Ghul as an Arrow foe follows the exact same thinking as making Kingpin a Daredevil bad guy back in the ‘80s. 

Both Kingpin and Ras Al Ghul were B-list bad guys when facing their original foe. They were made infinitely more interesting by fighting a hero of lesser means like Green Arrow or Daredevil. Additionally, both bad guys look a lot better when they’re not being compared to the 2 best rogues galleries of all time. Seriously, as much as I like Kingpin, he really doesn’t hold up as that compelling compared with Green Goblin or Venom; same goes for Ras Al Ghul compared with The Joker or Two-Face. 

As such, Arrow season 5 is now looking to ape Daredevil season 2’s best elements by bringing in their own version of The Punisher in the form of Wild Dog, played by Rick Gonzalez. Again, I’m not averse to this copycat approach, given Punisher was the best damn part of Daredevil season 2. 
With all that in mind, I worry what made Punisher so great was the performance by Jon Bernthal. I’m not ruling out the possibility of Rick Gonzalez putting together a performance to emulate that. It’s just a high bar to clear right out of the gate with a character that’s intrinsically hilarious and nowhere near as rich and complex as Frank Castle. 

Which brings us to Wild Dog, the little hero who wouldn’t stay small. In all honesty, this is going to sound extremely hipster, but I’m decidedly irked by Wild Dog’s ascension to the big time as someone who was genuinely fond of him before he got big. Like I said, it’s a hipster viewpoint, but I reserve the right to express my lonely fondness for the original Wild Dog comics. Anyway, Wild Dog came about in a bizarre experiment in the wake of DC’s 1986 Crisis on Infinite Earths comic. 

That book rebooted the DC universe continuity for the first time ever, and one of the new mandates from editorial was for more books that spoke to an urban and modern sensibility. That’s part of why ‘80s Batman became a much more gritty urban street hero. Wild Dog was another attempt at diving into this particular market; it's just an attempt that DC didn’t really believe in all that much. 

Wild Dog first premiered in 1987 in a 4-issue miniseries. Jack Wheeler was a US marine returned home to find his country in shambled and his girlfriend killed by crooks for reasons that aren’t important. Faced with all the crime and filth of late ‘80s America, Wheeler dawned a hockey mask, bulldog T-shirt, and camo pants to embark on a career of violent vigilantism. The miniseries really wasn’t popular enough to spawn an ongoing comic, but Wild Dog was unique enough to persist into Action Comics Weekly.

 Action Comics Weekly was a bizarre experiment at the time where DC would release a weekly comic that would alternate between various characters, including big names like Superman and more off-beat heroes like Black Canary or Wild Dog. That’s pretty much all there is to know about Wild Dog. He’s about as much of a footnote as you can get in the history of DC superheroes.  The most exposure he’s ever enjoyed was when the Internet collective rediscovered his fight to protect pornography from an ultra-conservative terrorist group (yes, really).

I suppose that limited history of Wild Dog is why I feel so protective of the character being adapted and brought to the mainstream. I like Wild Dog because he’s this weird little failure and him suddenly getting blown up to be the series antagonist of Arrow with a major actor and serious visibility really robs him of those elements.  It’s still possible the folks on Arrow will preserve the elements of Wild Dog that are so unique and appealing, but I honestly doubt it. 

What seems far more likely is that he’ll become what he was always intended to be: a C-rate Punisher clone. There are certainly worse things to be, and there’s still fun to be had with Punisher clones. I mean, Law Abiding Citizen was basically a Punisher movie without the Punisher, and it was great. It’s not like Gonzalez’ Wild Dog can’t be cool and enjoyable, but he won’t be Wild Dog. 

The entire appeal of Wild Dog as a character is that he’s a dope, a loser, a Z-list hero who never lets his place at the bottom of the food chain deter him from failing his way through super heroics. He’s honestly more of a comedy character than anything else, and that goes right down to his design.  

This isn’t a character girded for war with the scum and villainy of the gritty, grimy allies of the world like the Comedian or Rorschach. He’s a complete dope in a cartoon dog shirt and Jason Vorhees hockey mask fighting to protect the sanctity of porn. Sure, that’s a weird character and not terribly cool, though it also makes Wild Dog incredibly rare among superheroes and not just another attempt to recapture the Frank Castle magic. Maybe that’s just me.  

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