Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 December 2009

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug, v. 1

Collects: DC Comics Presents #52, 59, and 81, Supergirl #16, Action Comics #560, 563, and 565, Ambush Bug #1-4, Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1, Son of Ambush Bug #1-6, Secret Origins #48, Ambush Bug Nothing Special #1 (1982-6, 1990, 1992)

Released: February 2009 (DC)

Format: 480 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 9781401221805

What is this?: The adventures of Ambush Bug, a continuity and fourth-panel busting vehicle for humor in the DC universe.

The culprits: Keith Giffen, scripter Robert Loren Fleming, and others

You have to be prepared for Ambush Bug before reading Showcase Presents Ambush Bug, v. 1, I think. God knows DC tries, on the cover copy, to let you know this isn’t going to be a normal superhero story.

But readers can be forgiven if they don’t see exactly what it will become in the first half-dozen or so stories. These are Ambush Bug’s formative days, guest starring in Superman family stories; he starts as a slightly outlandish villain, then suddenly becomes an annoying hero. A decent enough start — one that would, with a considerably different scale and higher body count, be echoed by Deadpool — but nothing that would inspire a long-lasting following.

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug, v. 1 coverAnd then comes the limited series and specials.

Plotted (and penciled) by Keith Giffen and scripted by Robert Loren Fleming, Ambush Bug eschews plot and embraces wackiness. At its best, this results in solid parodying of the superhero genre and the medium of comic books. The standout issue is Ambush Bug #3, “The Continuity Game,” which relentlessly mocks DC’s lip service to continuity and its more bizarre stories. There is a good deal to laugh about in this part of the book, although the humor dissipates as the book goes on. It’s almost as if Giffen and Fleming are running out of funny ideas — and in the final issue, Ambush Bug Nothing Special #1, the creators joke about getting drunk while trying to pitch ideas to one another. (Nothing Special is a good deal funnier than the second limited series; the time off seemed to help.)

But in that second limited series, Son of Ambush Bug, the ideas get thinner. “The Interferer” is introduced to justify the complete abandonment of plot, but that’s not necessary, and pointing out the lack of plot only serves to make it an annoyance. The jokes start falling flat; the sentient, malevolent sock Argh!yle, the Interferer, and Ambush Bug’s confinements in prison and Hell fall flat as jokes and have no plot to fall back on for usefulness. It would have been better if Son had been the four-issue mini and the original Ambush Bug six, but the issue counts were reversed.

Giffen’s art is superb at getting the jokes across, which should be no surprise to those who have followed his career. His ability to copy other styles when necessary is also excellent; I wished he would have done more stylistic jokes. For some reason, Ambush Bug’s noseless face is occasionally difficult to read in black and white; perhaps it’s the double dose of missing features (nose and color). The few childlike drawings, ostensibly by Giffen’s son Kyle, are charming.

Humor is a dangerous business; even if you make an audience laugh for twenty minutes, you can be perceived as unfunny after one joke bombs spectacularly. There are no bombs, spectacular or otherwise, in Ambush Bug, and the worst that can be said is that it drags occasionally. At its best, it reaches hilarity for a few pages at a time. But without a real plot for a reader to hang his interest on, those dragging moments seem to stretch on and on …

Rating: Ambush Bug head Ambush Bug head Ambush Bug head (3 of 5)

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