I’ve said it before, but Marvel’s Epic Collections are a great way to experience disparate corners of its publishing empire from times long since passed. This week’s deep dive is into waters I didn’t even know existed, with a complete collection of Star Comics: Top Dog.
Written in the mid-’80s and illustrated by Warren Kremer and John Romita Sr., I can honestly state that I never encountered this creation in my decades reading comics, even though the trade states that this character was “one of the biggest” names from its Star Comics imprint. Of course, I was old enough to jump immediately into mainstream superhero books in the ’80s, so even if these issues were on the rack, I likely paid them little attention. While lacking that personal connection to the series that may produce childhood nostalgia, I am old enough to appreciate a book centered around a boy and his intelligent, detective-minded dog. Better yet, I have young children, and since they are likely the target market for this property, I decided to have them read the trade with me and help in crafting this review.
For those unfamiliar with Top Dog, he is a super intelligent animal who meets a young boy (Joey Jordan), who promises to keep his new canine’s intelligence secret as they go on adventures foiling crooks, mad scientists and wealthy scoundrels. Each issue is predictable but well illustrated, with clear lines and animated character expressions. Kremer, the artist responsible for most of these issues, created a body of work that sits nicely along similar children comics from the ’70s and ’80s.
My daughters enjoyed issue #9, which acts as a crossover with Heathcliff (a character whose personal comic would feature Top Dog from time to time following this book’s cancelation). The issue touched on all their personal interests: a cat and dog rivalry, admirable comedic slapstick, kids running amok in a museum and living mummies to boot! They also appreciated issue #10, which guest starred Spider-Man; they have yet to compartmentalize characters by property and see it perfectly appropriate for the web slinger to show up in a book about a talking spy dog.
While my children were less interested in the final issue, it was a fine conclusion to the series, and actually leaves the reader with a heartfelt sendoff between Joey and Top Dog. It was an unexpected but fitting end to the run.
This compilation is a fine example of how Marvel can unremittingly recirculate its past creations back into the mainstream. It’s also a fine reminder to a weary comic fan like myself, that this back catalogue of characters and narratives continue to have life when introduced to a new generation of readers, willing to embrace them as new creations.