Monday, September 7, 2015

Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 Review

Written By: Robert Loren Fleming
Art By: Keith Giffen and Bob Oksner
Cover Price: $1.25
Release Date: December 1985

*Spoilers ahead, score at the bottom*


Before he was a histrionic newscaster in the back pages of early issues launched with DC’s New 52! initiative, Ambush Bug was really fucking funny. He was essentially the Bugs Bunny of the DC Universe: pulling pranks, illuminating forgotten corners of the DCU, breaking the fourth wall—years before John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk would do it, mind you. He had a mini-series and this special Annual issue during the 1980s, along with a handful of other appearances, and I loved every bit of ‘em. I found it hysterical as a grade-schooler, but does Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 hold up as funny today? Let’s find out!

We open this issue with Ambush bug tunneling underground, literally like Bugs Bunny, so he can get to Vietnam and relive the horrors of war for some reason. He makes a wrong turn and ends up on a different planet entirely where a race of Hukkas, as seen in the comic book Atari Force, either live or are hanging out. Ambush blasts them with a tank that seems to come from nowhere.

Then a Hukka is transported by the writer and artists to airless space, where it expands until it blows up. Pan out to discover that Ambush Bug has been writing and drawing this comic all along! That’s the first eight pages. You can see this is not going to be like your average issue of Legion of Super Heroes.

The real story, if you can call it that, starts now: titled Night of the Living Doll, it opens with Ambush Bug remembering the death of his sidekick, an oval-eyed doll named Cheeks the Wonder Toy. Cut to cops at a crime scene interviewing the owner of retailer “Toys Ain’t Cheap” whose entire stock of dolls has been eviscerated, stuffing strewn everywhere. He sort of has the same accent site co-owner Jim Werner has when he imitates Jimmy Palmiotti.

Cut to Ambush Bug at Cheeks’ burial plot where he discovers the grave is open and the coffin is missing. Back at his office, A. Bug bemoans having spent too much on the coffin, then notices a scrawled note on his desk that reads “STOP ME BEFORE I EAT AGAIN.” Back at the police station, a routine autopsy on the ripped-up dolls reveals that their wounds were made by teeth!

The next two pages are in the form of a tutorial titled “How to Write Comics,” number twelve in a series, that provides a little social commentary about our broken justice system, as well as a parody of Steve Ditko’s character Mr. A, re-named Mr. Bug, which is Ambush Bug in a white suit and fedora saying “So remember: B is B and I before E except after C and tea for two for you and me.” Then there is a cover in the style of EC horror comics depicting A. Bug being beset by slavering, fanged dolls. Later, we see that Cheeks has found his way to the world of DCU babies Sugar n’ Spike, a comic written and drawn by Sheldon Mayer in the 1950s. Cheeks has dragged off Sugar’s doll and is eating it in the bushes, when Ambush Bug teleports in (his only power, besides insanity) and takes Cheeks away while making a hasty excuse about taking the doll back to its home planet.

Mayhem has fallen upon whatever city that this is taking place as cannibalistic dolls have appeared on the darkened streets, eating only other dolls. Continuity cop Jonni DC, a take-off of one-time DC Comics mascot Johnny DC, is out checking on the graves of dead DC characters to ensure they are staying dead. Turns out Cheeks’ grave was opened using a radioactive bulldozer, and then the bulldozer driver dies as his body disintegrates off-panel. Because that’s what happens when you operate a radioactive bulldozer.

There’s a full page of various superhero bases in the DCU with a sound effect of a phone ringing and word balloons overlaid. A. Bug is calling around for help, and the funniest and most racist panel is the call to the Justice League, which is answered off-panel by what I assume is the cleaning person, who says, “Jes? Jes man, thees eez the Justice League of America. No, he is not here. No, he is not here either. No, she is not here. Hello? Hello?” There’s also an exchange at the Legion of Super Heroes headquarters, which is weird because that means Ambush Bug called the thirty-first century. Cut to a pretty creepy scene where a mom gets her daughter’s Christmas present eaten by Cheeks, that is awfully reminiscent of the scene in The Dark Knight Returns where two Mutants put a bomb in some lady’s purse on the subway. This would have come out right after that so I am thinking there’s a connection. Either that, or Ambush Bug’s schizophrenia is rubbing off on me.

The story wraps up with Cheeks elected King of the Doll Zombies, and he graciously takes their offerings of another dead doll and copious ass-kissing. Cheeks accepts their sacrifice and eats it. The end.

Except it isn’t the end, because this is a forty-page Annual and they’ve only filled twenty-four pages. This leads to a stream of filler pages that are largely hit-or-miss: we meet the Japanese Manga version of Ambush Bug who is being chased by venerated, ball-busting DC editor Julie Schwartz to fill the rest of the book.

 There’s an ad for a book called Santa! that is a rip-off of Marvel’s gritty house ads for Uncanny X-Men at the time. “Shaddap!” bellows Santa, “I’m sick of milk and cookies! I’m sick of the North Pole! So up your chimneys!” Then there is a phony spread imitating Saturday morning cartoons that contains an ad for a Transformer that will do your homework.Cut to Ambush Bug selling roasted dolls from a street cart because that makes a whole lot of sense. A. Bug’s guardian angel, a cantankerous wino, appears and reminds him that he already found Cheeks back on page nineteen, in the bushes of Sugar n’ Spike’s backyard. Ambush Bug teleports away to “the funny part of the book” to get his sidekick.

A. Bug playing fast and loose with comics continuity doesn’t sit well with Jonni DC, and as she surveys a bunch of comics to determine the damage being caused, she suits up in the traditional DC bullet logo and takes off to set things straight. She shows up at Ambush Bug’s office…or his apartment, I’m not sure which, where he is exorcising Cheeks of demonic possession by making him watch Gilligan’s Island re-runs. Jonni DC enters the scene and chastises A. Bug for being foolhardy, then hands him a script and sends him to the North Pole by literally changing the pull-down scenery behind them.

The fourth wall is all but obliterated as creators Fleming, Giffen and Oskner start screwing with Ambush Bug for no reason: they drop a bunch of snow on him, they burn his house down, but just as he is about to walk off a brand-new Cheeks doll appears, for which A. Bug thanks the creators though it turns out to have dropped from Santa’s sled, flying overhead.

There are a couple of more wacky pages, but that about sums it up. Keith Giffen is a master plotter, and is known for plotting the weekly DC series 52. Despite the lack of panel gutters and fairly cramped drawing style, it’s really not difficult to tell what is happening in any given scene. What is damn near impossible is making heads or tails of this comic book. It sort of has a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sensibility, and evinces a style of humor that was really popular in the 1980s but wouldn’t get a ton of traction today. I really enjoyed re-reading this comic, but a lot of that had to do with nostalgia. In the final analysis, this could have been a regular-sized issue and been just as funny without a bunch of extra ancillary bullshit.

Bits and Pieces:

I’m betting you will like this comic book if you regularly take strong hallucinogenic drugs. It’s definitely not what we would call “standard” comic book fare, and reads more like something Robert Crumb would have written than something that takes place in the DC Universe. I love the art style, and I do like this book, but I couldn’t in good conscience recommend it heartily to a reader new to comics since many of the jokes are steeped in arcane comics history and continuity. So either bone up on comic book facts or take LSD before reading this Ambush Bug Annual, whichever you think is easier.


No comments:

Post a Comment