Monday, November 9, 2009

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Volume One

Alright, so in my last post, wherein I lambasted the latest  Ambush Bug mini-series, I recommended that fans of the Bug should pick up the recent Showcase Presents Ambush Bug if they're really hurting for some Schwab.  (That's Irwin Schwab, the Bug's "secret identity")  Ok, then, let's take a closer look at that tome.

Buggy's appearances through the years have been few and far between, which is actually a good thing, as his brand of humor would be quite difficult to sustain over the course of an ongoing series, and his infrequent appearances become true events.   It also allows this one volume to contain nearly every appearance of the character, starting with his debut in a Superman/New Doom Patrol team up in DC Comics Presents to 1992's Ambush Bug Nothing Special.  There are a couple of stories, like the DCCP issues with the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Bug bugging Supergirl in issue #16 of her 80's series, that I didn't even know existed.  The Supergirl story is a bit of an anamoly, as apparently the Bug's creator Keith Giffen isn't involved with it. Paul Kupperberg is the writer, and Carmine Infantino drew it.  However, this story is an important turning point in the Bug's life, as in his initial appearances he'd been nominally a "villain", but here decides to try his hand at being a super-hero.  Thus, I can't believe that, even though his name isn't in the credit box, Giffen didn't have a hand in it.
Most of this stuff has never been reprinted before, at least not in its entirety.  In fact, the only AB reprint that I'm aware of is a Best of DC digest from 1983 that presented one of his Action Comics back up stories with several pages missing.
There's a lot of funny stuff here, but my favorites are the first Ambush Bug mini-series, especially the first two issues, and DCCP #81. In the DCCP story, the Bug finds a glowing red rock while he's golfing and decides to polish it up as a gift for his pal Superman and pops up to Fortress of Solitude to give to him. It just so happens that the rock is red kryptonite, whose effects on the Man of Steel are unpredictable and last for 48 hours.  In this case, the red K causes Supes and Buggy to switch bodies. While they're switched, the Bug battles Kobra, making his return to comics after a four year absence, while Superman finds himself mistaken for an imposter by his robot duplicates and tossed into the Fortress of Solitude's brig, unable to figure out how to make Ambush Bug's power of teleportation work.  This issue includes the great line, "With great power...goes great responsibility! No skill or grace...but loads of responsibility!" which the Bug in Superman's body thinks to himself after his first attempt to land after flying back to Metropolis.
The first issue of the mini-series features the dynamic debut of the Bug's sidekick, Cheeks the Toy Wonder, who is, as the name implies, a stuffed doll, and a battle against Republican terrorists holding hostage what they think is a warehouse filled with nerve gas. (It probably doesn't sound too funny from that synapsis, but just read it--it's hilarious)  In the second issue, he takes on a mad scientist who, while doing research into the essence of cuteness, turns himself into a giant koala. Issue three is a guided tour of some of the more obscure and sillier characters of DC's past, including Wonder Woman villains Egg Fu and the Glop, Bat-Mite and Ace the Bathound, Green Lantern's pet Itty, Archie rip-off Binky, boy millionaires The Green Team, and many more too ridiculous to mention.  The fourth issue promises a battle with the villain Scabbard, from the comic Thriller, but that ends abruptly when Scabbard realizes he's in the wrong comic book, so writers Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, who, by the way had written Thriller, introduce Ambush Bug's arch-enemy Argh!Yle, a talking sock with arms and legs and a Dr. Doom-style metal face mask.  Each issue ends promising a coming confrontation with Darkseid, which sort of occurs in the final chapter.
In the remainder of the volume, Ambush Bug battles a rogue comic book writer called the Interferer, stands trial for contempt of comics and is banished from the DC universe, tries to avoid revealing his "secret origin" (why do you think it's called a "secret" origin?), and travels through time battling the head of his former editor Julius Schwartz (or something like that).

One minor problem. Now in most cases, it doesn't bother me that these Showcase Presents volumes, like Marvel's similar Essentials line, are in black and white.  It certainly helps keep the cost down, and a more than five hundred page comic book for seventeen bucks is a bargain, believe me, bunky.  I mean, how else, other than by picking up the first five volumes of Marvel's Essential Fantastic Four, are you going to get Jack Kirby's entire run on the title for under a hundred bucks? Nowhere, baby, and you can take that to the bank.  However, in the case of Ambush Bug, a few of the jokes actually depend on color.  In the world of Irwin Schwab, nothing is sacred, and everything is fodder for spoofery, including the book's creators, right down to the colorist.  Even though you can get the gist of the page making fun of colorist Anthony Tollin from the text, it still suffers from being in black and white.  Another color based gag is the cover of Action Comics #565, but fortunately they used that as the cover of the reprint book, so it does get presented in color, otherwise it wouldn't make any sense, as you can see if you shift your eyes upward.
So, why are you still reading this?  Get your butt to the nearest comic shop and go pick up a copy of Showcase Presents Ambush Bug
Go on! Git!

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