Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Team-up Time

DC Comics Presents was a great book with a crappy title. Published from 1978 to 1986, this was Superman's version of Batman's Brave & Bold: each month, Superman would team up with a different hero. The series began with a classic trope, a Flash-Superman race. As the series progressed, sometimes the guest would be an established star, sometimes a supporting character being revived, sometimes a new character being promoted. There was great story arc in the late 20s - early 30s numbers (with Green Lantern, Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, and my second-favorite Starman) that introduced Mongul (and not incidentally included an insert for the premiere of the New Teen Titans).

I had all that stuff, almost a complete run, and when I sold them, this is the sole issue of DCCP that I kept:

DCCP 59, July 1983. "Ambush Bug II" Story and breakdowns: Keith Giffen; Additional Dialogue: Paul Levitz; Finishes: Kurt Schaffenberger.

The plot of this issue is simple: Ambush Bug hitchhikes a ride with a time-traveling Superman and causes chaos in the 30th century (the era of the Legion of Super-Heroes) until he can be corralled again. It's all just a simple framework on which to hang a great deal of fun.

First of all, Giffen's layouts are dynamic and energetic throughout; even the pauses in action (not that there are many) seem relatively frenetic.

Schaffenberger is a wonderful match for art duty here. This Golden- and Silver-Age great, perhaps best known for Lois Lane, is not just a token link to the grand tradition of comic illustration; his command of the subtleties of facial expression and body language make the story click.

Plus, he makes Superman look like he just stepped out of a Fleischer cartoon!

The earnest and helpful young man with Superman is Polar Boy, the leader of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, comprised of rejected LSH applicants. These losers were a wonderful secondary story in the world of the LSH for as long as I can remember, and they fit wonderfully with the mood of an Ambush Bug story. I have always had a soft spot for these guys, and apparently so has Giffen: the story is means to parade them all across the page, from Porcupine Pete and Infectious Lass to Color Kid and Antennae Lad, as well as the aforementioned Polar Boy (who actually spends most of the story unconscious). Ambush Bug is such a menace that the Subs even call in their Auxiliary! In the words of Science Police Chief Zendak, "Lord give me strength."
(BTW, I never understood why Polar Boy never made it into the LSH. Most of the other rejects had unworkable flaws in their powers; for example, Stone Boy could turn to stone, but he couldn't move while rocky. PB has typical "cold guy" powers and I can't recall a problem with them. It must have been politics.)

Ambush Bug himself is clearly in early days here; this is only his second appearance ever in the DCU, and it shows. While there is a Bugs Bunny-ish timbre to his mischief, he functions more-or-less as a traditional foe, in the troublemaker club rather than the evil nemesis club. He still needs little flying robotic bugs to facilitate his teleportation, there's no breaking of the fourth wall, and he often acts a lot like a typical supervillian,

only funnier:

(That's a piece of Superman's wedding cake, I think; Ambush Bug was ransacking the 30th century Superman Museum, so I can't imagine what else it might be. Oh, and he's wearing Superman's cape -- he stole it earlier. You get the picture.)

I like this Ambush Bug. The later version was great for self-conscious meta-commentary on comics and for obvious satire, but early on, he could fit quite well with the internal consistency of the DCU and still be the springboard for superhero comedy:

When I get tired of all the hubbub about darkness and meanness in comics (and it's not all peaches and cream in the short box), this comic is a great big glass of organic ginger ale: crisp, bubbly, and well-made.


Anonymous said...

Any Ambush Bug is great in my book! (Though I must admit a bias for the 4th-wall-breaking version...)

Keith Giffen is just refreshing. I wish he'd do more pencilling work. As much as people (including myself) have poked fun at his penchant for the 9-box gridded layout, there's something about his art that "reads" like an animation storyboard.

Once again, you've covered a comic I wish I owned. I can't wait to see what else made it into the last remains of your collection.

Anonymous said...

A great fun issue. For a while Ambush Bug was all over the place but then got shuffled off into comic book limbo.

I was surprised that this was only his second appearance though, as he seems much more mellow already (in his first appearance he actually killed a guy.)

I think Keith Giffen should forget about the Beetle and bring back the Bug.


Walaka said...

In light of the recent character re-designs for Blue Beetle and Spider-man that I have seen on the web, I wonder if anyone wants to take a shot at a post-IC Ambush Bug? I'll post it if anyone sends one along.

Anonymous said...

Polar Boy did eventually make it into the LSH proper. He disbanded the Subs (off-panel) following the Legion of Substitute Heroes Special (1985), and showed up in LSH (v.3) #14 to join the main team, alongside Sensor Girl, Tellus, Magnetic Kid, and Quislet. He was even elected leader at some point down the line,

Anonymous said...

Oh, and another thing: I think that's a slice of the cake that was served at the going-away party the town of Smallville threw for Superboy when he left to make Metropolis his home base.