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Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog 1
"The Trail of the Folwer of Evil!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND January-February 1952; DC Comics (National Comics Publications); Whitney Ellsworth, editor of record (though I suspect Julius Schwartz and/or Robert Kanigher did the hands-on editing). The cover, attributed by Overstreet to Alex Toth, depicts the redoubtable Rex in the midst of a forest fire, as he pulls an unconscious young woman by her clothing, and an injured man clutching a tree urges, "Rex! Save her from the flames! I can't move!" The cover blurb promises, "Introducing a new hero, Rex the Wonder Dog, in exciting stories of danger and courage!"

Technically this review is off-topic for the list. I've been known to claim jokingly that Rex is really the first Silver Age DC superhero, since he clearly has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal dogs. But actually REX THE WONDER DOG is a product of the interregnum between the Golden and Silver Ages, the period when DC along with other publishers was searching for new formats to catch and hold readers....though the modestly successful REX title lasted into the early years of the Silver Age, ending with issue #46 in 1959. Incidentally, Rex actually preceded his two better known TV counterparts, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, who didn't start their TV series till 1954 (though both dog heroes had appeared in movies before that). And Rex had at least two "wonder dog" predecessors in comics, Rang-a-Tang, who appeared in MLJ comics in the early 40's, and Streak, who appeared in late 40's issues of GREEN LANTERN and inflicted the indignity of pushing GL off the cover of his own book for a couple of issues.

The lead story is "The Trail of the Flower of Evil!" and my guess is that Robert Kanigher was the writer and Alex Toth the artist. The splash page shows Rex, a white police-type dog, sniffing suspiciously at five identically dressed hoodlums and thinking, "EVERYONE has the same scent! Which one is the criminal?" The story begins with Rex sleeping at the feet of "Danny Dennis, his young master," when he is awakened by "a strange sixth sense possessed only by a Wonder Dog!" "I smell evil walking! The smell is strong! Evil must be near!" As Rex watches warily out the window, evil indeed strikes; a pair of crooks knock one Professor Hale out with a pistol butt and steal his briefcase. One of the thugs, George, complains that the leader Brent has again left the flower in his lapel behind; "Yuh always wear 'em! It's as good as leaving yore name!" but Brent insists the flower is his "good luck charm". For a moment the hoods' luck seems to have turned bad as a passerby accosts them-- "What have you done with Professor Hale?"-- but the crooks knock him out too and then leave him unconscious holding their gun to frame him as the perpetrator. However, there is another witness to all this -- Rex. Jumping out a window and bouncing off an awning to the street, Rex chases the crooks, who are afraid to shoot at him for fear of attracting police but try unsuccessfully to run him over with their getaway car. Escaping, the gang isn't worried about leaving a witness behind; "The dog can't talk!" But Rex now has a clue; "The smell of the flower! I won't forget it!" The passerby who was knocked out by the crooks turns out to be Danny Dennis' brother Phillip, and Rex is dismayed when police arrive on the scene and arrest Phillip. "No! No! The man with the flower is guilty! Not Phillip! How can I make them understand Phillip has done no evil!"

Returning home, Rex finds Danny Dennis and Mrs. Dennis distraught over Phillip's arrest. Major Dennis, currently away on Army "special duty", left the medal-winning former K-9 war dog with them promising that "Rex has been trained to help people in trouble! Leave everything to him..and you'll be all right!" But it seems to Mrs. Dennis that Rex has only caused trouble by leading police to Phillip, who is assumed guilty because he had quarreled with Professor Hale. Determined to see justice done, Rex runs out into the street trying to track the scent of the flower worn by the chief crook. After searching for hours, Rex finds flower-loving Brent and his gang, preparing to meet their contact to sell the valuable papers stolen from Prof. Hale. "Blazes! That dog's spotted us again!" The crooks flee into an exhibition hall which happens to be hosting a flower show, swamping the scent of the flower Rex is tracking. "Has Rex finally been outwitted? No! For another scent remains! A scent stronger than any other!" "I smell the FEAR that the men of evil are leaving behind them!" Tracking and confronting the gang, Rex dodges their bullets and subdues them singlehandedly (singlepawedly?) until police arrive; "I'll confess! Just keep that growling ghost away from me!" "Easy, boy! Easy! You've done your job-- now we'll do ours!" Back at the Dennis home, the family rejoices as Phillip is cleared by Brent's confession that he and his gang stole Prof. Hale's "silent motor invention blueprints". Mrs. Dennis admits, "Rex did a great job! I was silly to misjudge him!" and Danny repeats, "Remember what Dad said? If anybody is in trouble Rex will get him out of it!"

The first three issues of REX featured non-series animal adventure stories as fillers in the middle of the book, before Detective Chimp made his debut in #4. This issue features, "The Killer Bear!" Bill Randal, an animal trainer for the circus by profession, is on vacation fishing in Alaska when he meets two hunters trailing a giant, supposedly vicious Kodiak bear. He declines an offer to join in the hunt, but later encounters the bear trapped in a pit. Randal lifts his rifle to shoot the bear, but decides, "I can't do it!" and instead rolls stones into the pit to help the bear climb out. He momentarily thinks he has doomed himself as the bear pursues him, but the Kodiak allows him to escape. The next morning Randal is confronted by the two hunters, angry that he freed the bear from their trap, but he fights them off and chases them away from his camp. Later, while hiking back to civilization, Randal gets his ankle twisted and trapped in a rock crevice. He thinks he's done for when a wolf pack attacks, but the Kodiak bear appears and fights off the wolves. Then, in an apparent gesture of friendship, the bear leaves a bunch of berries within Randal's reach, and he is able to free himself by using the juice as lubrication for his trapped foot. The bear refuses to allow Randal to use his rifle for a crutch, but then helps support the injured man against his own shoulder. Puzzled by the Kodiak's remarkably helpful behavior, Randal spots a distinctive scar on his ear and realizes that the bear is Boka, whom Randal trained as a cub and saved from an attacking circus tiger before the cub escaped. Boka helps Randal reach a trapper's cabin and then returns to the wild, leaving him to explain to the trappers puzzled that he hasn't been killed by the marauding Kodiak, "Maybe I've just had a favor returned!"

Following a text page on wildlife preservation in the Rocky Mountains (which incorrectly states that "our herds of buffalo are extinct") the second Rex story is "Rex--Forest Ranger!" and the splash has Rex dragging Danny Dennis out of the path of a raging forest fire, only to spot a falling tree threatening to crush them both. Danny Dennis takes Rex to visit his uncle, forest ranger Jim Dennis, in the State Forest, and Rex is impressed by the scenery; (thought) "This place has as many trees as there are stars in the sky at night!" Ranger Dennis reminds Danny that all this natural beauty could be destroyed by a single careless camper with a match. Rex encounters a deer fawn who is ready to bolt at the first sign of a threat, but by remaining still and allowing the fawn to "smell that I'm a friend!" Rex reassures the fawn, who licks his face. Then a runaway horse and rider appears, and Rex pushes the fawn to safety and seizes the loose reins to slow the horse. The rider, Elaine Cole, says her horse bolted when it was startled by the spark from a match lit by her male companion in the woods. When the man himself appears looking for Elaine, Ranger Dennis asks if he made sure his match and cigarette were put out. "Why? They couldn't possibly do harm!" Not so sure about that, the Ranger, Danny, and Rex go checking, and it is Rex who spots a tiny blaze that the Rangers stamps out. Returning to the couple, the Dennises find them quarreling, with the man calling her a "coward" because she doesn't want to get back on the horse. Ranger Jim encourages her more gently to ride again before she becomes permanently afraid, and a spark of "love at first sight" is lit, much to the displeasure of her unnamed boyfriend.

Elaine and her chain-smoking companion go off in the woods together, leaving Danny to suppose that she's not all that interested in Uncle Jim. But as the two fail to return, Danny gets concerned and sends Rex to find them. Meanwhile, in the woods, Elaine tells her upset would-be paramour that they are "no more than friends" and that she will see Jim Dennis if she wants to. But as she demands to be taken back to the lodge, the two find themselves trapped by a forest fire started by one of the man's dropped cigarettes. The man trips in fleeing and injures his foot and is left unable to walk, and then Elaine is felled and knocked out by a falling tree branch. It is then that Rex finds the unlucky pair and drags Elaine to safety, then goes back for the man, little though he deserves it. It appears the fire may catch up to them, but Rex leads the people to a pool of water where the forest wildlife has gathered for safety; "In time of danger to everyone-- no one is an enemy!" The rangers manage to put out the fire before it causes major damage, and the contrite ex-boyfriend is ordered to "appear before the chief ranger for questioning," while Rex is rewarded for his "invaluable service" by being made an "honorary forest ranger".

The mix of Rex stories in this first issue-- one urban crime story, one nature-adventure story-- would prove typical of the run of the title, which involved Rex in every kind of adventure possible to a "wonder dog"-- detective stories, jungle stories, international-intrigue stories, Westerns (in dream sequences and stories of the "modern West"), and even some science fiction stories late in the run of the title. Not to mention that some early issues featured flashback stories of Rex's adventures a few years earlier as a K-9 dog on World War II battlefronts. (I've seen accounts of REX that claim that it started out as part of DC's war line and only later became a general adventure title; this is untrue, but the mistake is understandable since several early issues do feature war-themed covers.)