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!
NEXT: Doctor Strange vs. Dracula!
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!
Halloween is a month away, but all of October is Monster Month for me, and to kick things off I offer an especially timely Dollar Box column, where I look at single-issue comics stories with an original cover price of a dollar or less. This month is all about swamp monsters, and while Swamp Thing isn’t the first of his kind (that would be The Heap), and not even the first muck monster from the Big Two (as Marvel’s Man-Thing debuted several months earlier), Swamp Thing is certainly the most famous and best-realized of all the the many fiends stalking the four-color funny book bogs.
Originally appearing in a short story in House of Secrets #92, Swamp Thing made his first full-length appearance in somewhat altered form in 1972’s Swamp Thing #1. The product of a close collaboration between writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing is one of the greatest creature designs in all of comics. With his craggy brows and half-skull face, Swamp Thing is perched on the edge of uncanny valley, with a visage by turns soulful and monstrous, the perfect mask of torment for forlorn man-turned-monster Alec Holland.
Later creators — including luminaries like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughn, and Scott Snyder — would develop Swamp Thing into an elemental champion at the center of a complex and expansive comics cosmology, but the original Wein & Wrightson version of the character is simplicity itself. Tasked with creating a bio-restorative formula by the government, scientist-couple Alec and Linda Holland retire to a remote swampland laboratory, where they are immediately menaced by thugs intent on stealing their knowledge. One thing leads to another, and before long a bomb has gone off and a flaming Alec Holland has plunged into the muck, only to rise as the avenging muck monster, Swamp Thing!
This is a taut and effective horror comic, strongly-written by author Len Wein and lent an extra layer of creepy by the uncredited letterer, who employs drippy caption boxes to good effect. Perhaps that letterer was artist Bernie Wrightson, who put his stamp on every other aspect of the book, creating a swamp-gothic look on the fly — a world of shadowy locales that are still perfectly detailed, and populated with heavy-featured thugs rendered with such skill that you don’t recognize the degree to which the art uses comic exaggeration until you’ve read the book two or three times.
Wrightson would go on to become one of the most celebrated artists in the medium, but he was largely unknown when Swamp Thing debuted … and what a debut it is. This is a mature work with a rare balance of style, mood, character, and storytelling.
It’s also a simple story, as befits the best origin tales, setting the table for stories to follow by introducing the main characters, and establishing our (anti) hero’s all-important powers and foibles. Of interest to fans of later incarnations of Swamp Thing (or readers more familiar with the minimally-sentient Man-Thing), this version of Swamp Thing is fully aware of what he is.
Alec Holland’s scientific mind instantly comprehends what has happened to him, and there is a minimum of mooning around and identity crisis before Swamp Thing gets down to the business of revenge.
And that’s the long and short of it, really — in “Dark Genesis” we have a bare bones Silver Age horror comic, an on-the-rails story that could pass for a one-and-done entry from EC’s Tales From The Crypt. Swamp Thing’s many complications and evolutions would come later, and it is a testament to the solid foundation laid down by Wrightston and Wein that this most basic muck monster is still surprising and delighting us forty years later. I personally revere Alan Moore’s 1980s reinvention of this character, but there’s also room in my collection for this simpler version of Swamp Thing, an effective and eminently memorable character in its own right. You won’t find this 20-cent comic in dollar boxes any longer, but affordable reprints are readily available, should you wish to familiarize yourself with the original adventures of this greatest of the swamp monsters! (A digital version of the story was also available for free direct from DC Comics at the time of this writing).
(And if you want even more Swamp Thing, check out my review of the rest of the series, here!)
This article originally appeared at StashMyComics.com.
NEXT MONTH: #153 First Cut
It’s been a bit of a rough ride for me in real life lately, so when my pal Billy King suggested we spend a part of last Saturday at the Long Beach Comic Con, I leapt at the chance. Two hours on the highway from North County San Diego passed in a blur as Billy and I gabbed about comics the whole way.
We knew we were in for a hot time when we saw the parking sign:
Reminded me of …
The $35 one-day admission I paid at the door felt like about fifteen dollars too much … but it was still fun to be at a comic show, especially one that was easy to get to and to get around in when compared to the madhouse that is San Diego Comic-Con. Just being able to walk-up on the day of the show and buy a ticket without waiting in line was probably worth the price of admission.
The floor wasn’t worth much more than half a day, but I did score a semi-random stack of back issues, and it was a real joy to just kind of follow my nose and buy things I didn’t expect.
Like a stack of Doctor Strange books that I found in an honest-to-gosh dollar box:
These are the good stuff — Gene Colan and Tom Palmer on art, and Steve Englehart at his faux-mystical best. I already had a few Doctor Strange books from this era, and now I suppose I will have to fill in the run and maybe think about a review here at LBG (especially with a movie coming up in the next year or two).
I got Giant-Sized Man-Thing #1, just because my kid giggles like Beavis and Butthead when I say the title:
It’s not a bad story, either — vintage Steve Gerber weirdness, with Man-Thing battling the Golden Brain of the Glob, along with a pack of entropic cultists lead by a hooded villain who bears what surely can’t be an accidental resemblance to Richard Nixon.
Billy found a stack of Kamandis at half off … I told myself I’d buy one if it was that “crazy issue with the bats,” which I previously reviewed (in digital form) here at the blog.
I found an issue from the Claremont/Byrne run of Marvel Team-Up (which I still want to review here eventually):
And I bought Son of Satan because … why not? It’s a book I missed when I was a kid buying these things, and now it seems like the kind of thing that could never get published. I confess I thought this was the character’s first appearance (actually it is the second), but, wow, love this John Romita cover.
I think the most I spent on any of these was about five bucks, and most were less. Stacks up nicely against buying a $4.99 current comic off the rack.
It’s ceased to be a major theme at this blog since culling my collection to move into a smaller house, but being possessed by my possessions is something I’ve written about a lot, and wandering the show today and buying comics anew made me reassess some of those insights. Most interesting was how seeing so many books on sale gave me an inflated sense of what my own comics are worth. There are significant differences in grade, of course, but I saw a lot of books today that I own, or that I recently sold for smallish sums, and of course all those books at the show were marked up to Overstreet and beyond. If I hadn’t experienced such spotty success trying to sell my own collection last year, I might have come away genuinely believing that some of those lesser #1s I had from the 70s — the Godzillas and Devil Dinosaurs and Human Flys — really were worth sixty or seventy or a hundred dollars, instead of the five or ten bucks I scored actually moving them out the door.
my database says I still have this book in my collection … is it really worth $30 in Good condition?
Just seeing so many aspirational books ranged at the dealer booths with their high sticker prices created a kind of echo chamber effect, a self-referencing feedback loop where of course those books are worth a lot of money because every dealer says they are (until you try to sell to them, at least). I wonder how many fans’ perception of the value of their comic books is shaped purely through buying them, without the experience of later trying to sell them without taking a loss?
But no matter. I’m still a reader before I am a collector. And now I’ve got a little stack of new-old comics to read. Life is better now than it was before. Can’t ask for more than that!
Welcome to the Dollar Box, where I look at single comics issues or short runs of books that had an original cover price of a dollar or less. This time I turn my attention to Jack Kirby’s Kamandi — the last boy on Earth!
If Wikipedia can be trusted, Kamandi was born when DC Comics failed to land the Planet of the Apes license, and turned to Jack Kirby to create something similar. You can almost imagine the conversation, with Carmine Infantino saying, “Jack, can you do us a Planet of the Apes strip?” and Jack saying, “Never saw the movie — what’s it about?” Carmine: “A ruined future, where men are beasts and humanoid apes rule.” Jack: “Got it!” Of course, Kirby wasn’t going to content himself with drawing a bunch of human actors in ape-face. Jack’s post-apocalyptic world of tomorrow would be ruled by every manner of man/animal hybrid — ape-men (of course), but also dog-men, and tiger-men, and humanoid bats that wear costumes looking a bit like opera capes because, why the heck not?
“Why the heck not?” might very well be the subtitle for this whole loopy series, which ran forty issues under Jack Kirby, and almost as long without him, debuting in 1972 before getting wiped out in DC’s own apocalyptic event, the “DC Implosion” of 1978. Kamandi was a wildly imaginative and far-ranging series, but you can’t help but suspect Jack was making it up as he went along. Seemingly every issue is about Kamandi discovering some bizarre splinter of topsy-turvy civilization, getting captured, escaping, being chased, fighting, and then quitting the scene after an issue or three to turn up in Las Vegas or some old department store on the outskirts who-knows-where only to find it overrun by another race of crazy, gunned-up, animal-headed maniacs. Good times!
These are pure adventure comics, and while later storytelling gymnastics would tie the series in with the larger DC Universe — including another Kirby creation, OMAC — I’m not sure these books benefit from close scrutiny. It really is about turning the pages, admiring the art, and wondering what the heck will come next. The stories themselves read like throwbacks to early-20th century adventure fiction, and were pretty clearly pitched at kids — these tales have more in common with Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs than they do DC’s 1970s superhero oeuvre. Trying to read a bunch of them in a single sitting will frankly melt your brain. But for a book that you dip into for an issue or two, to get your head turned inside-art and to marvel at Kirby’s sometimes-goofy but always-earnest world building, Kamandi has some real virtues.
Raised in the “Command-D” bunker from which he took his name, and educated by microfilm records of the world-that-was, Kamandi is a blank slate, a prideful and adventurous teenager who thinks with his fists and acts mostly in service to the story’s plot, another call-back to pulpy heroes like Tarzan or Conan the Barbarian. Kamandi lacks the depth of those characters, though, partially because Kirby writes him as a brash teenager archetype, and partly because characterization would crowd out pages better devoted to the Gopher Men of Ohio, or a giant grasshopper grand prix. It’s not that the series is lightweight — for example, Kamandi’s first love meets with a bad end, and it is wrenching to read — it’s just that this isn’t a character-driven series. It’s a spectacle, with Kamandi and a loose collection of supporting characters along for the ride in Jack Kirby’s magical mystery tour of “Earth-AD” — our planet, horrifically contorted by the intentionally ill-defined “Great Disaster.”
Among those supporting characters are three human mutants — Ben Boxer, Steve, and Renzi — who figure prominently in this tale from issues #8 and #9 of Kamandi. The three have the weird power of turning themselves into living metal by clapping their hands to their chests …
… which feels perfectly normal in this world, even a bit pedestrian, and sure, why not, why wouldn’t this prove a survival trait in a world where humanoid bats swarm to attack your hot air balloon as you drift above an abandoned test range?
That guy with this pistol is Ben Boxer, in his non-metallic form, a kind of adult supervision in this series. Ben’s the sort of dashing male adventure figure that Kirby wrote all the time, someone Jack seemed to think would be cool to younger readers, but he mostly feels like your dad. In this particular story, Kamandi has joined up with Ben and the boys to explore the “Tracking Site,” a NASA experiment gone awry (don’t they all?) that was intended to pave the way for man’s conquest of space.
Ben and the boys are revered by the robots that run the place … but of course the robots almost immediately run amok, because what’s the use of drawing robots if they can’t run amok?
But it’s not the robots fault — they’ve been corrupted by The Misfit, a kid of degenerate freak with mental powers, carried around by his robot servants …
… and here we have another of those pulp throwbacks, as the Misfit and his burly host remind me of Kaldanes and Rykors from Burroughs’ Chessmen of Mars …
… though they might be more familiar to readers of a certain age as Master Blaster from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Who rules Bartertown? Master Blaster rules Bartertown!
(And since I need to sometimes prove I don’t live entirely in the world of 1978, here’s the same big-dumb-guy-carrying-the-little-genius trope from Game of Thrones)
Anyway, this Misfit is a piece of work. He’s got the robots all stirred up, and he seems bent on destroying the world by releasing a killer germ to which he thinks he is somehow immune. And if not for those damn bats, he might have just pulled it off by now!
But the return of Ben Boxer and the boys upsets the Misfit’s plans, and kicks everything into hyperdrive, with bats and robots and mutants brawling all over Tracking Site.
Kamandi is saddled with the little lunatic long enough to learn the Misfit’s sad origin as a failed experiment to breed life that might survive this grim future, and which implies the Misfit may be related to Ben Boxer, a kind of demented half-brother that can’t be killed but needs to be locked in the attic. Certainly, Ben doesn’t seem surprised that the Misfit is primed to do something nasty when let off the leash …
And that nasty thing is nasty indeed — Morticoccus, a truly revolting creation, a malevolent, ambulatory super-germ, a prime example of the loathsome mad science that permeates this series.
“Every human in Tracking Site died in the effort to contain him … in this new world he can live — only if he destroys all other life around him …”
To tell the truth, I have no idea what is going on here. Mutants that turn to metal, their evil brain little brother, rabid bat-men, robots, killer germs, none of it makes a lot of sense. And none of that matters! It’s just off-the-hook crazy fun.
Our heroes eventually get their feet under them, and win the day. Kamandi gets points for showing compassion to the Misfit, moving the little creep to a rare moment of gratitude, permitting Kamandi to escape certain doom …
… but the Misfit himself still pays the price, dying in epic fashion as his space-probe sphere rockets into the sky, with its hull breached by those bloody bats just as the killer germ breaks free.
A gruesome ending indeed, and while I’m not sure I buy Kirby’s conclusion that the Earth was the winner, I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this bizarre tale of bats and germs and robots and the Last Boy on Earth, even if I’ve read it three times and still don’t know what happened! I’m sure I’ll read it again, as I will every issue of Jack Kirby’s weird vision of Earth “After Disaster.”
Issues #9 and #10 of Kamandi had a cover price of twenty cents, but I expect you can find them for around five bucks now, which seems a fair price to pay for a big slice of looney Jack Kirby nostalgia. There’s also an out-of-print omnibus (which commands big bucks), and digital versions through Comixology, where I snagged most of Kirby’s whole run for .99 an issue. But whether you find them in the dollar box or not, keep an eye out for Kirby’s Kamandi — every collection would be enriched by having an issue or two on hand!