Time for a Longbox Graveyard guest blog, as Kris Peterson of the Gravy Age podcast joins us with a favorable review of a comic that I casually dismissed at first impression … and maybe you did, too! Take it away, Kris!
Making a snap decision based on little to no information is the name of the game these days, things are hated from the moment they are announced, meaningless petitions are signed, online battles rage over the merits of taking an existing property and changing things for a new generation. I try (and fail) not to get too worked up over things, despite my sentimental attachment to movies or whatever the case may be. Scooby Apocalypse, from the first time I saw the name, was something I immediately wrote off as stupid, based on nothing but the title. Scooby. Apocalypse. Seeing the cover with Hipster Shaggy didn’t do anything but make me feel completely justified in hating this book.
Growing up, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? was an after school staple of my day. I was always crazy about old sci-fi and horror movies, which my mom always was happy to talk about with me. I loved the ghosts, werewolves, aliens, all of it. My dad was a detective, and until my first draft of this, and then talking to Paul over a couple emails, I had a weird realization. My parents divorced when I was very young, young enough that I honestly can’t picture them as a couple.
What does that have to do with Scooby-Doo? Even though the monsters always turned out to be some creep, dressing up like monsters or a ghost, there was also a mystery to be solved. Maybe back in the day, I associated the campiness and weird “monsters” with my mom, and solving mysteries with my dad. It was basically kids (or teens) solving mysteries. There is probably something in there I can wring for some emotional content. Something about latching onto something from each parent. And like most of the cases my dad worked, these were financial crimes. His cases leaned more towards embezzlement, and less towards, Old Man Smitty is dressing up like a Yeti to scare potential buyers away from the abandoned ski lodge, because there is a silver mine under it. Or whatever the heck any particular episode of Scooby-Doo was about. Even as a kid though I had problems with a cartoon with a laugh track.
Since my kids were out of school, we were heading up to the mountains for a week. I stopped by the comic book store and grabbed a pile of books to read. I picked up Scooby Apocalypse with no other thought than, “If this sucks I can make fun of it on the blog or podcast,” and pat myself on the back for being the super awesome prognosticator that I am. My record is flawless, in that I’m wrong far more often than I’m right.
I knew so little going in, that when I finally sat down to read it and saw the names Giffen, DeMatteis, and Porter on the cover, I was actually surprised. Surprised, and willing to give it a shot. Your milage may vary with those names, but I think they can make fun of things (I’m guessing Giffen’s doing), while also adding a surprising amount of depth and humanity to things (DeMatteis solo, and with Giffen can get deep in unexpected places). If nothing else, I figured it would be entertaining. Maybe because the bar in my head was set so low, that it didn’t have to do much more than not be awful for it not to be a waste of money. The thing is though, I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it.
The first issue is the setup of the world, and our introduction to the gang. Velma is a scientist in some sort of shadowy cabal that was trying to manipulate the world’s population through a nanite plague. Shaggy is a dog-walker at the secret research lab Velma works at. Daphne is the host of Daphne Blake’s Mysterious Mysteries, a late night, cable television show. Fred is her loyal, if not particularly brave camera man. And Scooby Doo himself, a failed smart-dog experiment designed to help soldiers in the field. They are basically the characters I knew, although in all honesty they weren’t really deep characters to begin with.
Fred and Daphne especially, were almost non-characters. They are expanded upon here, enough to fit them into this world without changing them. There is a bit with Daphne punching Fred that feels kind of mean spirited. Fred gets the best panel of the issue, after being startled and throwing his camera, because he’s scared it could be, “Mole people,” which my son and I now just randomly scream at each other. We get some hints at a bit of backstory, at least for Daphne, in that she was once a well respected reporter, though why she left real journalism for the likes of her show haven’t been touched on yet.
The nanites, as originally conceived by Velma were supposed to be beneficial, removing greed, and anger. Unfortunately, the others in the project wanted to turn the rest of humanity into docile slaves. Velma wanted to alert the world to the plague, choosing Daphne, because she is languishing in deep cable, conspiracy, weirdo television that she wouldn’t even be on the radar of the others in the project as a threat to expose them. Before she can do that though, the lab goes into lock-down and the plague is unleashed, turning humanity into actual monsters.
There is also a back-up story about Shaggy meeting Scooby for the first time that fills us in that Shaggy has a special connection with dogs, and shows that Scooby lacks the killer instinct to be effective in combat, and is scheduled to be destroyed. In a show of bravery, Shaggy steps between Scooby and the other dogs to protect Scooby from being killed. Two of the dogs seem to be nods to Scooby-Dum, and Scrappy-Doo in size and coloration. Hopefully we don’t really get into Scooby-Dum or Scrappy Doo in this world though. Ugh.
The second issue gets to the actual apocalypse, with the gang trying to figure out what happened outside and how to escape the facility. It would be pretty easy to turn this into a gritty, kill ’em all, excuse to mow down monsters, and turn the gang into gun-toting bad-asses. Thankfully (and wisely) Giffen and DeMatteis don’t do that. These monsters aren’t mindless, they retain memories of who they were. The gang take no pleasure in having to kill them. I appreciate that the violence in the book has consequence, I appreciate that the characters are sickened by what they have to do to to survive. Daphne gets another punch in on another one of the gang that feels a lot more justified.
I hope I’m not selling this as too dark a book, it’s still a fun read. The humor is in there, in fact this book is not just the team from Justice League 3001, it’s almost a spiritual successor to the book. It takes different versions of existing characters and places them in a new world, and allows the creative team to have fun with ideas, they couldn’t get away with in a regular Scooby Doo book. The only real issue I have, (aside from Daphne’s punch) with the series so far is Scooby’s pointless, emoji projecting headset. Yes, Scooby can project emoji’s into Shaggy’s contact lenses. What purpose it would serve, I’m not entirely sure.
Like I said at the beginning, maybe I set the bar too low at the start, but Scooby Apocalypse caught me completely off guard with how much I dug it. And I’m pretty proud of myself for getting through this without a single, “Zoinks,” “Jinkies,” or “Ruh-Roh!”
Thanks for the review, Kris! It sound like Scooby Apocalypse might have caught some of the same magic that made Afterlife With Archie an unexpectedly great read. I hope Longbox Graveyard’s readers will check it out … and be sure to listen to Kris at the Gravy Age, and follow him on Twitter, too!
The sleeper has awakened! Longbox Graveyard is back!
My thanks for sticking with me through this month-long hiatus. After five years of continuous publication here at LBG, going away on vacation for a couple weeks seemed a good opportunity to step back from the blog (and Twitter, and Instagram) and take stock of my online comics fandom efforts. My return coincides with this summer edition of the Longbox Soapbox, where I reveal blog stats for the last several months, and determine if Longbox Graveyard will continue.
First things first — Longbox Graveyard will continue! I do still enjoy doing the blog, and you guys seem to like reading it, so I will commit to another year of publication. But my frequency will decrease. LBG started as a weekly blog … then moved to twice-monthly … then to once-a-month … and as of now, will be published “irregularly,” which means that I will aim for once-a-month for big “numbered” articles, but we’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to publish just to publish, and while I still have plenty of enthusiasm for comics blogging, the refractory period between those enthusiastic outbursts is getting longer and longer. It happens to all of us as we age, honest!
This shouldn’t impact LBG’s readership too much. The blog has been on a slow drip for quite some time (my frantic publication of Marvel reviews notwithstanding), and I effectively missed the last month entirely and the world still kept spinning. In fact, it kept spinning at a remarkably stable rate, which gave me a picture into the blog’s base traffic level, absent any sort of promotion on Twitter or Instagram. (I abandoned promoting on Facebook ages ago — not because it was a poor source of traffic, just because I don’t like Facebook).
Anyway, it looks like daily search traffic and the occasional visit from Longbox Graveyard diehards guarantees about 2000 views a week for my little one-man blogging operation, down from roughly 2800 per week when I am actively adding content and promoting up a storm. The chart below bears with out, with the last four full weeks on the graph showing activity when the blog was mothballed while I was on vacation (and the right-most week being partial at the time of this screenshot).
That level of traffic might be kind of sad if I was trying to monetize Longbox Graveyard, but seeing as I’ve turned off most advertising here (again), it’s more than enough for a cozy little fannish operation that is primarily an outlet for my four-color obsessions, and a safe space to discuss the same with a loyal cadre of leaders that have stuck with me through thick and thin. So I expect this to be my traffic level for the future, maybe ticking up a bit when I add new content, or return to Twitter and Instagram in force (and the jury is still out on whether I want to do that … it’s fun to interact through those channels, but it was starting to feel like work, and after a month away I find I don’t miss it much, whereas blogging is still calling my name).
And what might you expect here at the blog in the coming weeks?
I have a pile of DC Rebirth books here awaiting review, but I am having trouble getting traction with that project. For the most part, these books have failed to inspire the kind of strong emotion that makes for good reviews. Everything has been a “C” so far, and I’m not sure I want to devote a lot of digital ink to damning DC’s latest reboot with faint praise. I may yet take a run at this — if so, you’ll see the first reviews in a day or two.
Looking farther out, I will certainly do something magic-related when the Doctor Strange movie comes out in November (probably in concert with Super-Blog Team-Up). I have a long-gestating Golden Age review series that looks at comics year-by-year that may finally see publication — I’ve written the 1939 entry, but need to finish my 1938 article to kick things off right. I might do something with Star Wars in December, to coincide with Rogue One’s theatrical release. I have special monster plans for October. There’s the second-part of my promised Fantastic Four Annuals review bumping around somewhere; I’d like to take a look at the Claremont/Byrne run on Marvel Team-Up; and I am forever saying I will get back to reviewing Tomb of Dracula, Master of Kung Fu, and the rest of Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. Maybe this is the year!
But for now, it’s summer time. The nights are long and the living is easy. San Diego Comic-Con begins this week, and it is right in my backyard, so I expect I will be down there getting in trouble. I’ve been keeping up with a few contemporary Marvel series through my Unlimited digital sub, and several DC Rebirth books are still inbound, seeing as I preordered them months ago. I hope everyone out there is having a great season and reading lots of comics. In fact, that suggests a survey question:
Sound off in the comments, to let me know what you are reading, and to let me know you are still out there and a part of Longbox Graveyard! Thanks in advance for your support, and I look forward to visiting with you here at LBG for the balance of this year and beyond. Excelsior!
art by Brendan Tobin
In the meantime, keep reading comics! And feel free to comment on this or any other post … I will reply when I return!
I will be back in July, with the roll-out of my DC Rebirth capsule reviews, a new Longbox Soapbox, and much more. Thanks for your support!
DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1
CONTEXT-FREE REVIEW: DC’s latest reboot leads with DC Universe Rebirth #1, a big ol’ bunch of housekeeping that is one part mea culpa and one part blueprint for doing better, served with a side of finger-wagging at past editorial decisions that have painted DC into a grim and gritty storytelling corner. It’s also an entertaining story, mostly. The writer is DC’s silver bullet, Geoff Johns, who along with a half-dozen artists serves up a literal lightning storm of present-tense DC vignettes, with a time-lost Wally West bursting in and out of reality, looking in on old friends who do not remember him (or their pasts). The script is wordy with a couple awkward exposition dumps but does the job, assisted by art that values clarity over style (and where each artist seems to be trying to make this book look the product of a single hand). The Big Idea, here, is that the DC Universe has lost its way, manipulated by an outsider Big Bad (and I won’t spoil his identity, but details are here). The Big Bad, you see, is the reason why DC has failed — why it over-applied the lessons of Watchmen and Dark Knight in creating a dark and unsmiling comic universe where no one is having any fun … not the characters, not the creators, and not the fans. “A darkness from somewhere has infected us,” Wally says, “It has for a long time now.” The premise of Rebirth, it seems, will be heroes struggling against this darkness.
OK. Here is where you get on, or you get off. Here is where you embrace the meta or you choke on DC’s naked admission that all those books they’ve been marketing to you for decades were dirty, nasty things that we should regard with shame and revulsion. For my part, I got on board. I liked the stories Johns set up here, including the schmaltzy ones, and I even felt a bit of emotion — like a tingling sense of wonder when the Atom’s recorded message served as a call to adventure in the microverse, and I teared up (just a little bit) when Wally witnessed a marriage proposal, and again later when he was reunited with his old mentor. Rebirth #1 is not perfect, but it will do — and it had better, as there is a sense that if DC can’t get it right this time, then we may not have DC (as we know it) to kick around any more. In the end, Johns goes right at it, inviting us to cleanse ourselves of the sins of the past through the transformative power of love. And, yeah, I don’t feel like those sins were mine, especially, but I’ll give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I’ll read more of this reboot …
… but you will have to wait until July for my capsule review series to continue, because I’m going on vacation, and Longbox Graveyard is going on hiatus!
THE PART WITH THE CONTEXT: It’s kind of silly that I even have to add this paragraph, but DC Comics has become such a lightning rod for fannish discontent that some kind of public service announcement is required, if only for self-defense. There’s been plenty of coverage about how DC has walked back their this-is-the-new-reality New 52 launch with Rebirth; how Rebirth smells of desperation after DCYou cratered last year; the editorial turmoil around DC’s Vertigo line; and the serious-on-entirely-different-level charges of sexual harassment inside the DC offices … it’s a big ball of awful, to be sure. This is apart from the more mundane fan outrage DC has provoked with how they’ve handled some of their characters these past several years; or the collateral news of Warners reshuffling their movie division after Batman v Superman seemed to get it so wrong; or even the echoes of discontent over new projects spinning out of beloved DC classics like Dark Knight and Watchmen (with the later now hotting up again). It seems like everyone has a beef with DC Comics! I’m not here to dismiss anyone’s issues with DC — and I even share a few of them — but I do want to state that I’ve gone into this review series laser focused only on the comics in front of me, without really trying to fit things into the larger context of DC’s business operations, talent relations, or the way they have treated their fans and their brand/continuity. I’m just reviewing the comics, man! In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a couple friends and DC, and I would like to see them succeed in their jobs … and if that makes me some kind of apologist, well, OK, I guess. But I’m here to tell you that I don’t have a dog in this fight — aside from wanting to like these comics, and wanting superhero comics in general to enjoy success — and if DC can give me that, then I’m happy. I have scant investment in DC’s characters or history and thus will have little sensitivity to the character and continuity changes that may drive more dedicated fans mad. So you can blast off at me in the comments section if you like (and I hope you will!), but please do so with the understanding that I am an outsider when it comes to most things DC, for better or worse … at least as much of an outsider as a guy who has been writing a comics review blog for five years can be!
Approachability For New Readers
This book is aimed squarely at the core, and new readers be damned. It is readable and entertaining but good luck if you don’t already know most of DC’s characters and history. There’s an awful lot of handwringing here about continuity and characters and times gone by, but I was intrigued more than I was confused. Hopefully the stories to come will focus more on the present than the past.
Well, there isn’t a second issue of DC Universe Rebirth on the schedule (yet), but I will definitely be reading the next issues in this relaunch.
Read capsule reviews of a competing relaunch — The All-New All-Different Marvel Now!
Look — up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … Superman novel?
Guest blogger Ryan McSwain — author of Monsters All the Way Down and the upcoming Four Color Bleed, now on Kickstarter — offers this look back at a literary form that has finally come of age: the superhero novel!
There have been many attempts to capture long-underwear heroes in prose. There are the old Marvel Pocket novels, fast reads packed full of imagination. More recently fans have loved Soon I Will Become Invincible and It’s Superman! Jim Butcher of the Dresden Files even cast his hat in the ring with Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours. Add in indie hits like Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? and Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, and you have plenty to choose from.
If you’re looking for something really special, you want the Superman novels by Elliot S! Maggin, Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday.
Maggin is no stranger to longtime Superman fans. He wrote many of the Man of Steel’s four-color adventures in the ‘70s and ‘80s, enjoying long runs on both Action Comics and Superman. He helped define Superman’s world in the Bronze Age, beginning with the landmark “Must There be a Superman?” in 1972.
Maggin wrote Last Son of Krypton based on his own idea for a Superman movie, and it came out the same day as the 1978 film. The book expands on Superman’s origins and early life, including a memorable retcon with Albert Einstein. Superman and Luthor have to work together to defeat an alien tied to Superman’s past.
Miracle Monday reads like a milestone event in the life of Superman. Luthor’s latest prison escape allows a demon to escape from hell, and Superman must save the earth without sacrificing his ideals. It’s a surprisingly modern story, but it holds true to the characters.
Maggin’s Superman, both in the comics and novels, resides in an era of the Big Blue Boyscout’s history that is currently overlooked. The collective consciousness of comic fans holds plenty of nostalgia for the frenzied creativity of the Golden Age, the naïve splendor of the Silver Age, or the crafted Post-Crisis continuity. For whatever reason, people aren’t reminiscing over the period when Clark Kent was a news anchor with Lana Lang and Luthor still broke out the purple and green tights.
Which is a shame, because the ’70s and early ’80s have a wonderful balance between classic Superman and mature themes. Nowhere is this more on display than in Maggin’s novels. At no point do you feel these stories are ashamed of their origins. Sure, Superman battles a mischievous imp from the fifth dimension. Why wouldn’t he? We’re here to have fun, right?
Maggin somehow takes these absurd elements and puts them into a believable context. He describes elements like Superman’s microscopic vision in detail, just enough to make you say, “Hey, that actually makes sense.” When Superman and Luthor head off into space, it feels natural in this fantastic reality.
Something modern adaptations get wrong, with the possible exception of Smallville, is the relationship between Superman and Luthor. The Bronze Age Luthor is still a villain, but he’s like the Flash’s Rogues Gallery. This Luthor has never killed anyone, which allows Superman to take a different approach to his capers.
In Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, Luthor takes on the role of almost a secondary protagonist. Maggin also explores the childhood friendship between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, showing where things went wrong. It’s tragic and intriguing, and it adds so much to the dynamic.
A little bonus trivia for you: The title Miracle Monday comes from a fictitious Superman holiday celebrated on the third monday in May. The concept later appears in Superman #400 (1984) and Superman/Batman #80 (2011). Maggin later imported Kristin Wells, an important character from Miracle Monday, into the DC universe as Superwoman.
I have only one complaint about these two wonderful books. Superman exists in this fantastic world, but the rest of the DC universe is missing. Luthor is there, and other villains are mentioned, but none of them show up. The Guardians of the Universe make a guest appearance, but Hal Jordan is nowhere in sight. Superman and Luthor are on their own to save the day, which serves the story, but it leaves me wishing Maggin had written a Justice League novel to complete the trilogy. Fortunately, he wrote a fantastic novel adaptation of Kingdom Come and a Generation X novel I still need to read.
If the idea of an entire comic universe in a book intrigues you, I have good news. Four Color Bleed is my attempt at a massive comic book event in novel form. It’s all the fun of a summer crossover without having to chase down the tie-in issues. It’s inspired by my love for comics from the Golden Age to now, and it captures the fun and imagination of the paneled page. It’s for fans of series like Astro City, Starman, and All-Star Superman.
Four Color Bleed is currently on Kickstarter. I’ve lined up eight fantastic artists for the project. Their illustrations will accompany fictional encyclopedia entries in the style of the old Who’s Who series, to expand the world of Four Color Bleed and its huge cast of characters. Any support would be incredible, so head on over to the Kickstarter and help us make it happen.
Thanks, Ryan … now I’ve got two superhero novels I need to track down. No, make that three superhero novels … I’ve just backed Ryan’s new novel, and I hope Longbox Graveyard’s readers will join me! We Silver Age fans have got to stick together!