Are you ready to read one of the finest bits of inspired folderal and nonsense ever to emit from the hallowed halls of DC Comics, Inc? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Ambush Bug #3 awaits!
Writer: Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming
Penciler: Keith Giffen
Inker: Bob Oksner
Colorist: Anthony Tollin
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: Priceless. (And/Or 5 bucks)
Previously in Ambush Bug: Initially introduced as a one-off villain in an issue of DC Comics Presents, Ambush Bug was an immediate hit with the fans. When he returned to bedevil Superman and the Legion of Substitute Heroes, he became a phenomenon. Seemingly aware of the fact that A: he exists in a comic book reality and B: that comic books are wonderfully silly, Irwin J. Schwab set about creating his own detective agency and using his free-wheeling non-logic to solve problems that others could not. Or, at least, he would have, if he had any clients to speak of…. At the end of issue #2, he was confronted with the menace of… DARKSEID! Will he be able to prevail against the ruler of Apokalips?
Maybe, but not right now. The thing about Ambush Bug circa 1985 was that the rules of comic book storytelling had really become hard-and-fast strictures. The cowboys and romances were gone, the kid-friendly Caspers and Richie Riches were on their way out and only Big Two Superhero books were any level of success, each under increasingly inflexible rules of operation. Our man Bug flaunted those rules at every turn, taking this issue not to counter Darkseid’s insidious attack at the McDonald’s drive-thru (which is real thing that happened, I might add) but to discuss what he believed were omissions in DC’s big 50th Anniversary extravaganza. For instance, this bit of racist dogma…
It’s easy for me to imagine a young Grant Morrison picking up this comic book and having it fuel his later professional work, as Bug points out the should-have-always-been-obvious issues with this character, then explains the continuity problems behind Wonder Tot/Wonder Girl/Wonder Woman, all with a loving, but pointed, satirical edge. Ambush Bug (as an extension of Giffen and Fleming, one must point out) makes the valid point that not everything has to be ordered and logical and capital-R Realistic. ‘Course, that doesn’t preclude some hardcore detective work…
I want to make it clear to anyone who doesn’t realize it: Everything you will see in this issue is a real thing that appeared in DC Comics over their decades or publication. Binky was one of a couple of Archie Andrews clones at DC during the Silver Age, and I have to say that he and his pals have never been more interesting than on this page. Giffen and Fleming are willing to point their fingers at every level of comic book history, from the cute filler characters who used to grace the pages of our favorite 80-page giants…
…to thesidekicks like Quisp and Itty to the very nature of comic book storytelling. As a comic-book character who KNOWS he’s a comic book character, Irwin even breaks the rules of “tell your origin as often as possible”, as we find when a young girl requests her favorite bedtime story: The Secret Origin of Ambush Bug!
In case you’re wondering, his origin is as follows: An alien named Brum-El (a historical allusion to noted fashion-forward fellow Beau Brummel, as well as Superman’s pops) of the planet Schwab rocketed all his clothes from his dying planet, hoping that his wardrobe would survive, only to have the rocket end up being bitten by a giant radioactive space spider. Only the green suit that Ambush Bug always wears (because the zipper got stuck) survived. Well, that and a sentient argyle sock. But that’s not important right now. Operating under the stated mandate that all comic characters are great, “even the stinky ones like Matter-Eater Lad”, Ambush Bug continues showing us all the strange side-trips that DC editorial refused to acknowledge circa the realistic 80s comic book era.
Sharp-eyed fans of The Legion Clubhouse may notice the origins of a recurring shout-out that I make on that show on these pages. We find out what happened to The Green Team (Lotto millionaires sunk their exclusivity) and Cheeks The Toy Wonder (*choke*), but it’s not just the old comics that the Bug is willing to lovingly mock. When Ambush Bug tracks down a retired Bat-Mite, he discovers that the fifth-dimensional imp doesn’t come around anymore because the Caped Crusader just isn’t any fun these days…
As with Binky, we hear about a mysterious girl once more, a recurring theme in this comic. It’s actually remarkable how such a scattershot journey through the weird, awkward and forgettable parts of comics manages to hold so well together, but the real answer is: Because they like comics, and they know we do too. Case in point: Aiming their good-natured ribbing at some of the artistic giants of the age.
Okay, most of those guys are giants of any age. But there’s also a really clever tribute to the advertising pages that even thirty years ago were mostly going or already gone away…
I dunno about you guys, but I want my own fifty-foot Proty. And I want you to carefully read the text on the X-Ray Glasses, because that still amuses me even today. But, here’s the best part of this issue for me: Our creators have shown that they don’t take any of this TOO seriously, and they’re willing to prove it by turning the analysis back on themselves…
That moment really solidifies this book as one of my favorites of all time. (Granted, it came out when I was 14, a key time for things to stick in your head forever and be remembered as The Best Thing Evar…) After a quick check-in with the science of superheroes, a recipe for teriyaki burgers and the revelation that “a strange young woman” foreclosed Cain out of the House Of Mystery, Julius Schwartz gets his ribbing, only to remark as the actual editor of the issue that they’ve gone more than 20 pages without a fight scene. Cue Ambush Bug’s explanation of comics storytelling through the nine-panel grid through a fight with a sea monster named Sidney…
We get to meet Bizarro Ambush Bug (a staid, quiet fellow constantly bugged by Bizarro #1) as well as an admission of the existence of Mopee (whose story was technically still never actually retconned away as of the time of this writing, meaning that Flash got his powers from a magical imp in a pointy hat) before the story of… The Glop. Words can’t do The Glop justice, folks, so we’ll just ask the same question our friend Irwin does: What could cause a nice kid like Wonder Girl to imagine such a thing?
(Jim Ross voice) BAH GAWD, THAT’S JONNI DC! JONNI DC! (/Jim Ross voice) Jonni is actually based on a real DC mascot from back in the metaphorical day, who appeared in house ads talking about the great new things coming up from what was then National Periodical Publications. As for Jonni, she has been conducting her crusade to clean up the continuity, removing everything childish, silly or wonky in order to make everything fit perfectly, and her plan has worked perfectly… until this happens.
Dun DUN DAAAAAAH!!!
For the third consecutive issue, the Lord Of Apokalips has arrived for his mind-bending showdown with the Bug, and the stakes could not be higher… Maybe someday, I’ll get around to reviewing issue #4 so Faithful Spoilerites will know the true grandeur of their epic battle. Regardless of all that, this comic was one of my first real interactions with metatextual storytelling, and even with the strangeness of Keith’s art during this period (he had become fascinated with an Argentinian illustrator, Jose Munoz, and radically altered his style to resemble Munoz’) and the subjectivity of humor, this book still sticks with me as one of the funnier comics I’ve ever read. Ambush Bug #3 refuses to let its subjects get away with ignoring the ridiculous, the embarrassing and the strange, but does so from a place of love that doesn’t fall back on easy reverence or “Greatest [BLANK] Ever” rhetorical shortcuts, making for a truly entertaining comic book experience and 4 out of 5 stars. If nothing else, it is one of the foundations of my own writing and humor, and thus is responsible for a big swath of my love of comics, meaning it’s responsible for work at Major Spoilers, my Ten Things lists and the existence of Retro Reviews.
So, now you know whom to blame…[taq_review]