Top Dog and Joey. Artist: Warren Kremer.

TOP DOG

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1985
Creators: Lennie Herman (writer) and Warren Kremer (artist)
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Comic books used to be, and to an extent still are, considered kid stuff by the general public. But the truth is, by the 1980s (the decade of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Night Returns

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… and Alan Moore's Watchmen), kids had mostly been squeezed out of the market. Gold Key Comics, last comic book bastion of Woody Woodpecker, The Inspector and other children's fare, folded in 1984. But there were sporadic attempts to re-capture that audience. The following year, Marvel Comics launched a new imprint, Star Comics, aimed at younger readers.

Top Dog #1, dated April, 1985, was part of Star Comics' initial set of releases, alongside first issues of Royal Roy, Wally the Wizard, Planet Terry and a few adaptations of licensed properties such as Strawberry Shortcake and The Get Along Gang. He was created by writter Lennie Herman, who also wrote the other Star originals with the exception of Wally; and artist Warren Kremer, whose work at Harvey Comics, on such characters as Richie Rich and Hot Stuff the Little Devil, had been familiar to comic book readers for many years.

Top Dog (no relation) was heir to a long-running comics tradition, starting with Buster Brown's Tige and continuing with Barnaby's Gorgon, Calvin's Hobbes and many others — pets that talk, but only to certain people. There didn't seem to be an explanation for Top Dog's abilities, which also included paws that worked just like hands. Young Joey Jordan, the human hero, simply found him in the park one day, and convinced him to be Joey's dog at least partly by promising not to blab about how unusual Top Dog actually was.

Joey had the usual Mom and Dad, plus an older sister, Lizzie, who, like most older sisters in scenarios aimed at this demographic, was a constant thorn in his side. He also had an arch-enemy, the wealthy Mervin Megabucks, who suspected Top Dog's secret and would stop at nothing to own such a beast. Top Dog and Joey had many adventures, not just with Mervin, but also with spies, criminals, mad scientists, and once (#10, October 1986) with Spider-Man (the guy in the costume was an actor, but the real Spidey did appear). He even had a crossover with one of the characters Star Comics licensed, Heathcliff.

Over the next few years, Star Comics expanded — but mostly by licensing more outside propertiesrather than developing more of its own. One by one, Star Comics' original titles dropped out of sight. Top Dog was the last of the initial releases to go, but even it lasted only 14 issues. The final one was dated June, 1987.

— DDM

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Text ©2005-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.