There had been Scooby-Doo comics before but none like this.
A few years ago, DC Comics entered into partnership with Warner Brothers to create a line based on classic cartoon characters owned by the latter, to be done in a modern and up-to-date style by the former. In short, no matter how child-oriented and funny-absurd the characters were, they were going to be given a dose of the patented DC dark-as-hell approach. The results were mixed.
On the one hand, Space Ghost teamed up with Green Lantern in a serious fight-first-then-join-forces story befitting both heroes’ status as guardian forces. On the other, the Banana Splits re-invented themselves as hip-hop.
Snagglepuss became a gay Southern playwright in the McCarthyite Fifties, with Ruff’n’Reddy (who were just that bit before my time) as a washed-up nightclub duo who hated each other, but The Flintstones because a wonderfully naturalistic socio-political satire that deserved three times the twelve issues it got, at least.
Until now, all I know of Scooby-Doo is the full-page adverts in other DC Comics. They did not fill me with confidence. Now I’m going to see for myself whether there was any merit to this adaptation, or if it was the wholescale abortion I feared it was.
Before we drop into the story, let’s look at the five characters as they appeared on the cover of Scooby Apocalypse 1, the full page advert that repelled me so. Apart from their carrying bizarre SF guns and wearing short-sleeved as opposed to long-sleeved tops, Fred and Daphne looked more or less normal, though if you looked harder you could see that the latter had jettisoned her famous lavender tights for combat trousers (boo! hiss!).
Velma was drawn as virtually a midget, with much modernised and blank-lensed glasses and looked nowhere chunky, whilst Scooby-Doo himself was kitted out with some form of harness that fitted a metal circle in front of his right eye. But it was Shaggy whose look made you want to run screaming away from the title: ears visible, pierced, goatee extended in length and shape to full beard and a moustache added, a curled, immaculately trimmed moustache that spelt complete lack of understanding of character.
There were six alternate covers, including one for each star. Shaggy’s looked even worse.
This was going to be grim.
The creative team was the combination of Keith Giffen and J. M. de Matteis, the old Justice League International pairing on plot and script, with Howard Porter on pencils. The reset involved changing everyone’s characters. Daphne was now a pushy, egocentric TV reporter out to resurrect her career, with Freddie, or Fred, as her devoted but put upon cameraman, an out-and-out cynic who’s invisibly in love with her. Velma is a brainy scientist with contempt for lesser mortals (i.e., everyone else) working on a secret project to Save the Earth that she’s discovered has ulterior and sinister motives and repercussions (what secret Project worth it’s salt doesn’t?), and has solicited Daphne’s aid to expose it. Scooby Doo is the failed prototype Military smart dog, capable of rudimentary talk but totally lacking in viciousness and killer instinct, who gets involved trying to protect Doctor Dinkley, whilst Shaggy is a dog-trainer with a special protectiveness towards Scoob.
As you always knew was going to happen, they, not the four private ‘backers’ ended up in the Project’s Safe Space whilst the Apocalypse was triggered. And that was just issue 1.
Of course, this now being serious comics, nobody likes each other, nobody trusts each other, everybody argues, even when monsters are trying to kill them. There are smart remarks on top of all this but they don’t really carry much weight.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go off on one about darkness. Not just yet, anyhow.
Six issues in, out of an eventual thirty-six, I came to a conclusion about what I was reading. Scooby Apocalypse is nothing but an adventure series obsessed with brutality, monsters and blood. Though I’ve neither read the comic nor watched the television series, it gives off the flavour of being a pretty direct rip-off of The Walking Dead. The story lacks anything genuinely original save the fact that it has been imposed onto the Scooby Doo gang, but their part in this bears no recognisable resemblance to the original cartoons. Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby are no different from football fans wearing flat facemasks of Eric Cantona, or whichever star floats their boat (I should know this as I have just such a Cantona mask myself: fun to wear but it doesn’t make me any more able to kick a ball where I want it to go than I ever could).
In addition, in the world’s least-unexpected twist, issue 6 was a solo delving into Velma’s history and revealing that the Four who were supposed to be behind the Project were actually the Five: her four brothers and her.
Every few issues there’s a back-up story featuring this world’s version of Scrappy Doo. Given that the original version belongs in a gallery of History’s Ten Worst ‘Creative’ Ideas, the transformation of the concept into a vicious, bloodthirsty monster intent on killing Scooby in as disgusting a manner as possible actually represents an amelioration, but like everything else in this series, it hasn’t got an ounce of originality to it.
So far as the ongoing story was concerned, Velma discovered something about the Nanite plague that had her throwing up and running away, in that order, definitely in that order, leaving a note of apology. The next issue was either an extravagant jump into a future where she’d become Queen of the Monsters and was dedicated to wiping humanity out, or else some kind of dream. The fact she was costumed in thigh high boots and a slightly more long-line Red Sonja bikini but otherwise drawn no differently kinda tipped the hand on that (flu: fever dream) whilst delaying the revelation by a cliche-filled month. The wait wasn’t worth it.
What it was was that whilst she had dreamed of elevating humanity, of squeezing out hate and selfishness and all the other ills, her brothers wanted a population of docile sheep, only they fucked it up because she was the genius and they weren’t. At least one is dead, a suicide but the fattest and most self-obsessed one, Rufus, a figure who makes Donald Trump look like a selfless philanthropist, is alive and not in the mood for a visit from the sister he despises and her friends.
Not that brother Rufus lasted long. His perspective on the mutates being a little like 179 degrees out, he ended up doing an Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man. With Brother Hugo already dead, that left at most two more Dinkleys. Not counting Rufus’s put upon but beautiful wife Daisy, who chose to throw in her lot with the Scooby gang, and start flirting immediately with, of all people, Shaggy.
Issue 14, behind a completely misleading cover, was where the Scrappy Doo subplot caught up with the main action. I have to admit that, having got this far, I’m at least curious as to where this thing will go. As for the pestilent pup, his ending in issue 16 was half a surprise and half a cliché, foregoing his own selfish interests to kill the mutated big brain that was organising all the mutates into a single monstrous organism, at the cost of his own life.
The same issue introduced a new back-up strip in a similarly updated, i.e, darkened unmercifully Secret Squirrel, which was one that came along too late for my years of watching Hanna Barbera cartoons in the run-up to The Magic Roundabout and the news.
Except that Scrappy wasn’t dead: I should have known. Which meant that when he was killed off again, I didn’t believe it.
Meanwhile, Daisy Dinkley had been around long enough to become a permanent member of the team, not that that got her onto any covers. The flirtation died in its own length as Daisy stayed practical, serious and cardboard, the voice of reason and simply cold.
The storyline took a turn for the worse in issue 20 when Velma pronounced the Nanite Plague irreversible. The new direction involved a two month timejump and a coast to coast transition, not to mention Shaggy shaving his beard off without explanation. Now the gang was going to set up a colony in Albany for the human survivors, building up to retake the planet. That originality issue wasn’t getting any better.
In fact, Giffen and de Matteis started slowing their story down, flooding it with undercurrents about personal relationships. With the Scooby element reduced to 17 pages to accommodate the back-up, it was also as if their pacing had gone, with the end of each episode coming over as perfunctory and ineffectual.
And then they dropped the big one. No sooner had Daphne finally accepted one of Fred’s interminable proposals of marriage than they killed him off. Yes, that’s right, killed off one of the Scooby Gang. Now there are some things you do and some things you don’t do, and killing off one of the Scooby Gang is something you don’t do, but Giffen and de Matteis did it. Scooby Apocalypse was one of only four regular HB series produced by DC, and it was already by far and away the longest running, but quite apart from the creative violence already done to so many of its characters, you can see why HB’s thinking on the project might be apt to change.
In fact, what I’m seeing, without benefit of sales figures, is the same old, increasingly familiar series going into the tank. Right after Fred’s death, we jump six months. Daphne’s locked up with grief and rage, Shaggy and Velma have becomes lovers, something I do not want to see in my mind’s eye unless it’s the Linda Cardellini Velma-is-a-babe version from the film, and Scrappy Doo is back. Deep joy.
Incidentally, do you want to know the reason I’ve not been mentioning the Secret Squirrel back-ups since they started? They’re incoherent crap, that’s why.
Issue 28 exemplified both the rut the comic had gotten itself into and the failed level it operated upon, as the first six pages consisted of nothing more than Daphne brutally slaughtering monsters: that was the story, if story you call it. Basically, it was about being a psychotic killer, and ended with the reappearance of a blank-eyed Fred, presumably zombified.
Zombie it was, as things just got more sickening, with glowing-red-eyed Fred chowing down on monsters’ internal organs, Daphne totally gone round the bend etc. It all has the feel of a upcoming Blake’s 7 ending, with everyone having to be killed off because there’s no remotely viable way back from here.
By the way, Secret Squirrel ended in issue 29. No, this was not back to full-length stories, as the back-up slot went to Atom Ant. Then Daphne suddenly fell out of her psychotic break and decided to commit suicide, and a new figure, who’d supposedly been giving instructions to Scrappy Doo, turned up. Yes, it’s the smell of death on a series, all over again.
So what else gets piled in? Daphne gets horribly scarred all down one side of her face. Scooby starts talking intelligently. Velma’s pregnant by Shaggy. Scrappy’s new boss turns out to be Quentin Dinkley, with Rufus still alive though mutated. It’s like a determined effort is being made to pervert everybody to the limit. As for Atom Ant, it wasn’t as all-out offensive as Secret Squirrel, until they brought back G’Nort.
Quentin Dinkley threw in the possibility of a cure. Nanite Fred was out to save everyone by collaboration between human and Nanite. The Nanite King was out to destroy, starting with the fixed base the gang had had since issue 25.
The series came to an end in issue 36, after exactly three years, with a happy ending. Velma found a cure and the Apocalypse was reversed. So much for the Blake’s 7 ending, which would at least have been quasi-realistic, not to mention satisfying in seeing all these perverted monstrosities gunned down. Throw in lots of sappy elements totally inimical to the tenor of the series and that was that, done, gone and never return. Because Hanna-Barbera will never let anything like that be done to their creations again.
There are two ways in which to look at this series which, at 36 issues, was actually longer than the other three series in total (Wacky Raceland 6 issues, Future Quest and The Flintstones 12 each). Looked at as a Scooby Doo story it was the pits. There are ways to do a more serious and more adult version of the Mystery Incorporated Gang, but they involve some form of hewing to the original characters and not the deliberate perversion of the characters in a twisted fashion that reads like nothing more than the ‘clever’ creators showing off how much smarter they are by shattering anything remotely creditable about originals they could never have conceived in a million years.
Looked as as a post-Apocalypse story featuring five brand new characters with a coincidence of names, it was better but not by so much that it deserved any great respect. The middle of the run did hold the interest on a purely what-happens-next basis but even that is overlaid by indescribably awful and self-indulgent violence that forces any more serious ideas out through simple lack of space.
On either level, it just wasn’t good enough. So now I know. I’d rather I didn’t.