The Adventures of Rex, the Wonder Dog | Origin

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The Adventures of Rex, the Wonder Dog

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.

The Adventures of Rex, the Wonder Dog

Trail of the Flower of Evil (1952). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Alex Toth. When his owner Danny's brother Phillip is accused of a crime, Rex tries to track down the real killer. The origin of and first story about Rex. Kanigher's title might owe a little to Charles Baudelaire's poetry collection, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) (1857).

The Rex stories bear a resemblance to the Lassie tales that were so popular in the radio and movies of the era (there would later be a Lassie TV show too, starting in 1954). Both are tales of intelligent and courageous dogs who rescue people who are in trouble. Aside from the fact that the dog hero is very smart, perhaps much smarter than most dogs in real life, the tales of both are realistic, with no elements of fantasy or science fiction. They take place in a realistically depicted modern day America.

The tales have some differences from the Lassie shows. For one thing, we see Rex's thoughts, thoughts that are depicted as being in English. This is more anthropomorphic than the Lassie TV shows. The writers try to restrict Rex's thoughts to a dog's point of view: he often smells things, he worries about people in trouble, and so on. Secondly, although Rex has a boy owner, Danny Dennis, Danny is more an observer and less of a protagonist than Lassie's owner Timmy in the TV series. The tales consistently focus on Rex, and the people he helps. Third, although the comic book is never other than G rated family entertainment, it tends to deal with largely grown-up characters. Most of the people who Rex helps are grown-ups. This tends to make the Rex stories resemble the science fiction comics DC was producing in the 1950's, whose protagonists were usually grown-ups as well. Often times their professions are linked with the subject matter of the stories, just as in the sf comics.

This story is more urban than many other of the early Rex tales. It takes place in the big city, and everyone is wearing sharp suits. Its murder plot and atmosphere link it to film noir.

The splash shows the world as it appears to Rex. His sense of smell during tracking the killer is confused, and all men look alike to him. So the splash shows numerous men on a city street, all identical looking to the killer, and all dressed in the same suit. It is a startling surrealistic image. It is related to the many appearances of doubles and twins in Kanigher's work.

Rex -- Forest Ranger (1952). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Alex Toth. Based on a cover by: Alex Toth. Rex assists Danny's uncle Jim Dennis, a forest ranger whose job is to prevent forest fires. This story is full of educational information about preventing forest fires. Kanigher did other educational comic book stories: see his "Stand-In for Murder" (Big Town #13, January-February 1952) which appeared exactly at the same time as this story, which focuses on safe driving. Both of these subjects would eventually become the subject of massive public service advertising campaigns

During this era Robert Kanigher and Alex Toth were collaborating on Western stories such as Johnny Thunder. Many of the Rex stories were also essentially Westerns. They would take place out West, away from large cities, in forests such as this tale, or ranches or small Western towns. Although they took place in modern times, the plot elements would be those of a typical Western. Such Westerns with modern settings were quite common in comics and TV. They were especially common in works that appealed to children. Most "grown-up" Westerns, whether John Ford movies or the Gunsmoke TV show, took place in the 19th Century. By contrast, shows popular with kids, such as Roy Rodgers or Sky King, often seemed to be set in modern times. Among other things, there was a lot less killing in these kid's shows. Grown-up entertainment often stressed the lawlessness and violence of the Old West, at least as it was depicted in the movies!

There is a romance subplot embedded in the tale, with Jim Dennis wooing away a girl who's friends with a spoiled playboy. Jim behaves much like the more sinister boyfriends in Kanigher's romance tales. He is good looking, wears a glamorous uniform, orders the heroine around, and woos her by dancing with her. This is a combination that Kanigher's heroines find irresistible. See his "Play With Fire" (Girl's Love Stories #178, July - August 1973), which has a similar hero. Jim is more modest acting and less cocky than most of Kanigher's romantic heroes, but his behavior is essentially the same.

Similarly, in the issue's first tale, "Trail of the Flower of Evil", the father of the family is a man wearing an Army officer's uniform. One wonders if we are seeing the fulfillment of a Kanigher courtship in the marriage here.

Rex -- Hollywood Stunt Dog (1952). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Alex Toth. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. Rex and Danny go to Hollywood, after Rex wins a contest to do stunt work in the movies. This story has a welcome vein of humor throughout. Gil Kane's cover shows the second part of the tale, in which everyone goes on location in a dangerous island; it does not depict the Hollywood scenes in the story, which presumably Kanigher added to the plot.

Tales about people getting Hollywood contracts were a standard plot gambit in the comics. This was the studio era, and we see fairly realistically depicted studio employees as characters: the studio press agent, the studio head, the film's director. Toth does a good job in capturing the slick look of a film studio. The studio head is a middle aged man squeezed into an expensive suit. He has a huge office, and a desk with a pad whose many buttons he can push. There is a bit of tongue in cheek humor here.

Four-Legged Sheriff (1952). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Alex Toth. Rex gets adopted by young cowboy Hank Sears, who is trying to get over a fear of being attacked by steers that keeps him unemployed.

There are some very good portraits by Toth in this tale. Both the portrait of Hank kneeling on the splash, and close-up (p5) are excellent.

Non-Series Stories

The Killer Bear (1952). Writer: Dave Woods. Art: Carmine Infantino. Bill Randal, who trains animals for the circus, meets a giant white bear on a trip to the North woods. This is an anti-hunting story, with the hero trying to protect the bear from evil hunters. Both its Western nature setting, and its animal hero, makes it fit in with the series stories in The Adventures of Rex.