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Showcase Shocker: Graeme Doesn’t Get Ambush Bug

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something kind of depressing about SHOWCASE PRESENTS AMBUSH BUG. I remember, when the original series (serieses?) were coming out, thinking that there was something hilarious and subversive about what Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming were up to, even though I didn’t get half the jokes (Hey, I was ten years old or something like that; give me a break), but re-reading the stories now – and especially in one large chunk like this collection – I came away feeling as if I was watching the creators fall out of love with comics, or at least the comics industry; what starts as affectionate parody gradually becomes more and more bitter (and repetitive, as if Giffen and Fleming are getting less and less interested in actually trying to entertain) and, because of that, less enjoyable to read.

(If I had to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong? The Son Of Ambush Bug mini-series, where it was already feeling as if the joke had worn out its welcome, and Giffen and Fleming were getting more insular and straw-mannish with their targets; if the character had pretty much disappeared after the first series, or the Stocking Stuffer special, it might’ve been better for all involved. By the time the book’s last issue, the Nothing Special rolls around, there’s almost some kind of contempt – for the audience, for the comic industry, for themselves – sneaking in, some kind of “You think we can get away with this? Why not?”, disguised as irreverence.)

Maybe I’m projecting – It wouldn’t be the first time – but this is an interesting book for the wrong reasons; somewhere around the midway point, the stories stop being very entertaining, but I started to get fascinated watching the series, and the character, become smaller and more embittered, raging against the way his medium was going. The Showcase collection is interesting for all the wrong reasons; it’s interesting because of what was happening behind the scenes, all the things left unsaid and watching as the satirists lose their sense of fun and just get angry instead. Like I said, maybe I’m projecting, and maybe I just don’t get the joke. But, even though this is only an Okay book for me, I can’t help but feel like there’s more here than I initially expected going in.

18 Responses to “ Showcase Shocker: Graeme Doesn’t Get Ambush Bug ”

  1. Very, very interesting post. I honestly think you are dead on here; I am a big Keith Giffen fan, but it’s been an odd experience tracking his writing over the past 10 years as it managed to keep pace with the trends while growing a definite cynical and tired tone. (His complete disinterest in the horrible fates of various JLI regulars kind of repulsed me, frankly.) Giffen seems to have turned himself into the consummate work-for-hire man and broken his own heart in the process.

  2. I remember thinking at the time that Fleming was cheesed off at DC at having “Thriller” taken away from him, and of course Giffen’s always a pretty spiky individual.

  3. Nice review, Mr. McMillan, but I find the fascination for me now is with the fact that despite the latter issues clear impressions of anger and bitterness Ambush Bug was still published.(And still quite funny).

    Compare and contrast this with the 2008 Ambush Bug: Year One series where the final issue came out a year late and was completed by hands other than Giffen and Fleming. I, naturally, have no idea what really went on but I doubt it was pretty. This abrupt and shady silencing of Irwin Schwab indicates, for me, not that there is nothing to poke fun at anymore but rather that fun poking is more important than ever.

    Still, they can never take away Combat Cheeks: Frontline Medic away from me. Medic! Medic!!

  4. Yeah, I remembered the originals fondly and having red bits of them again since in small chunks – they were still enjoyable. But all at once, read as a block, there is a weariness to the proceedings that gets a bit bothersome. I think if it was read slowly, dipping into it on occasions, it would still hold up better. Somethings, it seems, were destined for the Anti-Trade.

  5. I loved Ambush Bug as a kid (I might be five years older than you, Graeme), but I didn’t even finish the 2008 miniseries — didn’t know the last issue hadn’t come out, because I’d stopped an issue before that. It just seemed tired and sad, and I think now I’ll never look back at the Bug, except for those early appearances …

  6. I loved Ambush Bug for years, but this latest mini series left me cold to the point where I gave up on it during the delay between issues. I came to the realization that I was buying the series out of habit rather than finding it funny.

  7. Interesting . . . I would definitely agree that the Stocking Stuffer right before the “Son of” series is the turning point, but an entirely different turn. I think after that point the series really takes off and becomes far more interesting and significant than the (very funny) genre parody of the first series. The increasing insularity and bitterness are, for me, the attraction. And yes, for that reason I think your comment about “falling out of love” with superhero comics is brilliant, spot-on.

  8. Yeah, I’m with Tim. I think that Peanuts-ish bleak despair is funnier than “Haw! Haw! Lookit what happened in ’60s Wonder Woman comics!”

  9. Although, to be fair, you can never go wrong with poling fun at 60s Wonder Woman.

  10. Or poking fun, even.

  11. Yeah, I tend to think Ambush Bug generally improved as it went on, though with the NOTHING SPECIAL being somewhat of a letdown, but still pretty funny. I think the effect of reading it in one big chunk like that deforms the quality, but that’s the case with most of the Showcase books, with the unplanned speed of the reading emphasizing the repetition and reducing the time you can spend actually thinking about what you just read.

    Or maybe I just think “bitter” is funnier than you do.

    I was going to pick up the new series when it was collected, but I guess that looks like it won’t happen now? Has it been confirmed if there was indeed a 6th issue that got pulled, or if that was all part of the meta humour?

  12. GM (or anybody else who’s read it) — Does the AMBUSH BUG Showcase collect *just* the various minis and specials, or does it also collect the various issues of ACTION, DC PRESENTS, etc. that introduced the character?

    And, yeah, as someone who first encountered AB in the 6th grade or so — I vividly remember my dismay as each progressive one-shot or mini went to a darker & darker place. Looking back at them years later, it really did feel like there was a growing disillusionment, even disgust with the genre.

    It was almost in that category of dark, absurdist exercises like the bizarre movie THE DARK BACKWARDS, a messy and uncomfortable affair that dares you to laugh at its “comedy.”

  13. Steve D, I’m pretty certain that the Showcase collects all the Action, DC Presents etc. appearances of The Bug as well as The solo stuff. Which reminds me that I never knew The Bug was introduced as an edgey villain before reading the first part of the book. Bizarre times. Bizarre book. Liked it.

  14. I think a lot of the Bug stuff still holds up, in small clumps. A gag here, a sequence here, maybe a full issue there. But it’s also an artifact of its time, practically an extended editorial cartoon about that year’s comics. Out of context, I can’t see it being as funny. But if you know the context, it still kills.

  15. I think it might have had more impact had Giffen actually, you know, quit comics instead of hanging around like he has.

  16. Steve, yes, it includes the various bits before the series, and the SECRET ORIGINS short as well. See here.

    One thing that was new to me was the early non-Giffen issue of SUPERGIRL he was in. Man, that was pretty horrid. And had a few places where the word balloons seemed to be pointing to the wrong person, so I guess Julie Schwartz couldn’t stand reading it much more than I could.

  17. I really don’t think there is a growing disgust for the medium, genre or characters as the various Ambush Bug series went on, but there was definitely more weariness when it came to the actual industry and the strange games big companies play. I still find there is a lot of affection for all the goofiest aspects of the DC universe, and for many of the people who created it. The Nothing Special stuff with Julie Schwartz showed that while they didn’t always agree with the old man, they still knew he would outlast them.

  18. I really don’t think there is a growing disgust for the medium, genre or characters as the various Ambush Bug series went on, but there was definitely more weariness when it came to the actual industry and the strange games big companies play. I still find there is a lot of affection for all the goofiest aspects of the DC universe, and for many of the people who created it. The Nothing Special stuff with Julie Schwartz showed that while they didn’t always agree with the old man, they still knew he would outlast them.

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