A Major Spoilers holiday celebration!  I’ve long believed that you can tell a lot about a person based on the pop culture with which they grew up.  Today, we’re going to find out why you need to be VERY suspicious of those who read a lot of comics in the early 1980s…

As The Doctor once said, “This isn’t going to be big on dignity.”  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 awaits!

AmbushBugStockingStuffer1CoverAMBUSH BUG STOCKING STUFFER #1
Writer: Robert Loren Fleming
Penciler: Keith Giffen
Inker: Bob Oksner
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorit: Anthony Tollin
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously in Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer:  Originating as a one-shot villain in an issue of DC Comics Presents, Ambush Bug lived up to his name, surprising readers and DC Comics alike by becoming suddenly (and briefly) one of the hottest properties in comics.  His star-making turn alongside the Legion Of Substitute Heroes cemented his popularity at a time when even Batman wasn’t breaking records for DC.  Breaking the fourth wall, engaging in absurdist-but-loving monologues on the state of comics at the end of the Bronze Age, the Bug was a star, headlining his own miniseries in a time when villain-turned-hero wasn’t quite as prevalent as it would become.  Of course, things were on their downhill side by the winter of ’86, but Ambush Bug’s best days weren’t entirely behind him, yet.

Here’s what you need to know: In his previous series, Ambush Bug was challenged by Darkseid, deconstructed the entire history of the DC Universe, took candid photos of Starfire, and adopted a stuffed toy whom he made a superhero costume for and dubbed Cheeks, the Toy Wonder.  Cheeks was killed (inasmuch as an inanimate object can be killed) at the end of that series.  Now, Ambush Bug is off on vacation, intending to go to the beach, but ending up in a parody of the then-ubiquitous Vietnam war films…


Ambush Bug is, at this point in his life, already aware that he is a comic book character, and an incredibly genre-savvy one at that, and the final panel appearance of The Hukka (a minor player in DC’s ‘Atari Force’ comic book) leads him off on a full-fledged parody of war films, entirely filtered through war comic books of the Silver Age…


His allies, Giffen, Oksner and Fleming, by the way, are the creative team of the comic we’re reading.  Remember that, it becomes important to the plot later on.  (For some values of “plot”, anyway.  The war pastiche quickly gives way, stream-of-consciousness-style, to a space-age tale wherein the narrative remarks that “Somebody once told George Lucas that there were no sounds in airless space.  He didn’t believe it.  George Lucas is now a millionaire,” followed by a massive explosion.  That’s some pretty funny stuff, if you ask me.  After a quick side-trip into “1,001 Uses For A Dead Hukka”, we get into the meat of our issue, a festive holiday tale…


…with a somewhat imposing title.  The flashback to Cheeks’ death, by the way, is utter nonsense, referencing Bucky’s death in the pages of The Avengers, once considered to be the only irreversible death in the history of comic books.  The Bug is quickly side-tracked (get used to that) by nonsense, while elsewhere in the city, a fairly gruesome scene unfolds…


Our cheerful Chrimmus tale quickly turns into a zombie movie parody, with Ambush Bug suddenly feeling the need to visit Cheeks’ grave at the Barnes Memorial Cemetery for blowed-up sidekicks, where something is… not quite right.


The breaking of the fourth wall to talk to the readers is a trick that comics hadn’t used regularly since Superman winked at us in the Silver Age, and when this book came out, it was kind of a revelation to me.  It was a device that did not, however, lend itself to long-term success, as this issue is a clear turning point at which Ambush Bug went from silly and fun to self-referential and impenetrable.  It’s not just the story that begins to change here, either, but the art suddenly transitions as well, as Giffen had recently discovered the work of Argentinian artist José Antonio Muñoz, an influence he was unable to shake, even when it began costing him work.  That’s all in the future, though, right now we’ve got a plague of the undead to deal with.  As Ambush Bug does his research (by going to the local movie palace for a Romero triple-bill), Baby Cheeks wanders the streets of New York, consumed by a strange hunger…


The meta-statements continue with the appearance of Who’s Who In The DC Universe, coincidentally showing us Brother Power The Geek, a character who shares a pedigree with Captain America and Blue Bolt.  He is also, to this day, one of the most-mocked DC properties ever, right up there with Prez and the Dingbats of Danger Street.  Bygones…  Cheeks’ crossover doesn’t end there, as he climbs into the yard where Sugar & Spike (whose comic ran for literally AGES) live…


Important note: THIS IS PAGE 19.

Remember that, it’ll be important later.  Cheeks, once again in the care of his foster-father, teleports away, but the damage is already done, as the dolls upon which he had previously chewed begin to rise as dolly zombies as well.  Things get pretty dark for an all-ages holiday special, Faithful Spoilerites…


Ambush Bug sees the report on the news and sets off to find his boy (stay with me here), while the writers of the book panic that things have gotten out of hand.  A flashback shows us that Cheeks was irradiated by a bulldozer from Three Mile Island (another timely and topical reference), while Ambush Bug recognizes the team-up potential inherent in a the building plague, and seeks out assistance from his fellow super-dupers…


Fifteen panels in one page, each with a separate joke, at least 12 of which are funny.  Top that, Deadpool!  With no help to be found, Ambush Bug is at loose ends, while a roving, ravenous Cheeks is surprised by the appearance of some old friends…


Heh…  That one cracks me up every time…  Having reached the end of their usual 24-page allotment (which, at the time, would have cost you 75 cents, more than a little bit depressing), Fleming, Giffen and company wrap things up, only to find that their work isn’t done, as it’s a double-sized special issue.  Editor Julius Schwartz arrives to force Ambush Bug back to the story, but while they scramble to finish the story, we get a statement from the Bug’s marketing firm, holiday greetings from around the world (including Krypton) and a full-page “house ad” for DC’s newest superstar…


After a devastating parody of Saturday morning TV shows designed to sell toys, we cut back to Ambush Bug, selling barbecued baby dolls on a street corner, a development that even *he* thinks is a step too far…


Remember Page 19?  I toldja it’d be important.  Teleporting backwards in page sequence is not without consequences, though, as we soon discover.  Enter: JONNI DC, CONTINUITY COP!


Jonni herself is another reference to the Silver Age of comics, and Johnny DC, the company’s unofficial mascot back in the day,  Ambush Bug, having retrieved Cheeks already, is in the midst of an exorcism when Jonni arrives to put the story back on track.  “But this is a comic book!”, interrupts Bug, “Shouldn’t it be fun?”  She doesn’t take his criticism well…


Seemingly lost without the script, Ambush Bug is saved by Giffen, Oksner and Fleming, who tell him he’s supposed to go to the door of the workshop, and shout “Golly, it sure looks like snow!”

He does, and promptly gets buried in an avalanche.  It’s a little bit funny.

What’s funnier is when he returns home, and begins berating his creators for torturing him, calling them all jerks and refusing to speak to them…


Reaching down into the snow, Ambush Bug finds Cheeks, The Toy Wonder, as good as new, his stuffing intact, with no zombie tendencies, with a very cute explanation for why that you’ll have to find the book to read about.  As we fade to black, the book ends with an inexplicably but amazing warm and emotional holiday message…


It’s a pretty amazing ending, even if nobody addressed the herds of cannibal zombie dolls.  (For what it’s worth, Jonni DC’s vetoing of the storyline probably negated that alternate reality, relegating it to Earth-Square-Root-Of-63.)  Even today, I fondly remember the effect of reading this book, a combination of “OHMYGODSOCOOL!” and “WHUTTHEHAIL?” that sticks with me even decades later.  Certainly, humor is subjective, and absurdist humor that often lacks a plotline isn’t for everybody, but this is still a memorable issue, and one of the last before Flem, Giffen and company get overly meta and even a little bit bitter about the DCU and their character’s place in it.  (Ambush Bug: Year One is a series that tastes of ashes for me, for exactly that reason.)  Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 gets points for balancing humor, horror and good feelings, breaking the rules of comics in a melange that feels very Christmas/Holiday Of Choice-Appropriate, even with Giffen’s art getting loopy, leaving us with a nostalgic 3 out of 5 stars overall.  We’re about one inflatable Darkseid short of brilliant, here…



Discover the true meaning of the holidays with a festive fourth-wall breaking zombie movie. No, really...

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About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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