Comics are weird. So often we forget the joy that comes with the bizarre nature of the medium. The joy that such oddities bring is why we love this form. Yet, it also is a barrier to entry for many. Sometimes, however, we get wonderfully wacky creations like Scooby Apocalypse ; a dystopian take on everyone’s favourite crime-solving gang and their dumb dog. Having already teamed up with Vincent Price, encountered extraterrestrial life and engaged in a monster derby, the only logical place to take Scooby and Mystery Inc. was the end of days itself.
Scooby Apocalypse follows books like Afterlife with Archie and the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in putting classic cartoon/comic characters, in scenarios that starkly contrast their light-hearted origins. The conceit here is that each character, while retaining their core characteristics, is radically re-invented from their iconic counterparts. Scooby, for example, is presented as a genetically engineered experiment (loving branded subject 24602) as a way of explaining his limited intelligence and speech ability. Velma is the one character who differs substantially from her original form as the quirky, nerdy sleuth is turned into a near nihilistic Oppenheimer; scared of her own creations. There is a limit to when concept encroaches on character and this book tethers on the edges of style over substance.
One is left wondering if the story itself would have been better served if the classic version of the gang faced the end of the world. This inaugural issue marks the first time that these versions of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby meet. Instead, we are presented with facsimiles of the iconic characters who we have little relation with. Continuity may not have been one of the franchise’s strong suits, but it would give a weight to the series that it currently lacks.
There is a lot of exposition in this issue, in order to explain how the
Umbrella Corporation Complex created a nano-tech virus that turned humanity into Scooby’s rogue gallery of monsters. This style of information dumping isn’t something that the Scooby Doo franchise has ever shed away from. Indeed, the series is premised on characters explaining another’s motivations in a master-class of show don’t tell. Having Velma becoming self-aware of her tendency to monologue to herself, is in many ways, a loving tip of the hat to continuity, but it is also a clear of example of the writers trying to be a bit too clever for their own good. The dialogue, therefore, ranges from clunky world-building to compelling Whedon-esque character moments which is a shame because it truly excels when it gives the gang breathing space to allow their personalities to manifest. It is in those quiet moments that we remember why these characters have endured for nearly 50 years.
Howard Porter’S interior artwork presents our heroes in a photo-realistic style that ground them in a semblance of reality. It does so to great effect, even if the sight of Shaggy as a modern-day hipster rather than his more traditional beatnik is quite jarring. Meanwhile, Scooby manages to retain his cartoonish charm even with his revised mad science origins. This style, much like Afterlife with Archie, serves to distinguish this iteration of its predecessors. Rather than present itself as cynical “not your father’s Scooby Doo”, the art serves to highlight the cruelty of this new world and the challenges that Mystery Inc. will face. Rather than the cheap, stock-footage cartoons of the past, they are real flesh and blood characters. For the first time, they are as fragile and mortal as the rest of us, something that not even the live-action movies were able to achieve. For the initiated, eagle-eyed Hanna-Barbara fans may also catch references to Dyno-Mutt among others in the backgrounds, though as the title suggests they may not be long for this world.
If it feels like Scooby Apocalypse was a book designed by committee then you aren’t far off the mark. Although Jim Lee is credited with the initial concept, Keith Griffin handled the plot and breakdowns while J.M. DeMatteis handled the dialogue. The term “too many cooks” springs to mind. The result is as mixed a bag as one might expect which makes this quite a difficult comic to review. I am slow to call this a bad comic by any means because when it focuses on these characters and their relationships, it does to tremendous success. It certainly suffers from a sever case of “set-up syndrome” where the weight of establishing it’s own concept overpowers the more personal tale it wants to tell. There is potential here for a compelling narrative about a group of meddling-kids way in over their heads. It longs to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but often forgets that it was the characters and not the concept that made that series work. This has the bones of the classic Scooby Doo underdog story and the talent to execute it, but they need to return to first principles. The creative team has a way to go if they want to earn themselves a Scooby Snack.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher; DC Comics.