Scooby Apocalypse #9
“Before the Storm”; “Monsters”
Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis (writers), Ron Wagner, Bill Reinhold and Dale Eaglesham (artists). Covers by Howard Porter and Rafael Albuquerque.
I’m just going to come right out and say it – Scooby-Doo has never been good. Whether we’re talking about the formulaic and hackneyed early series, the embarrassing cross-overs with Sonny and Cher and Tim Conway, the abomination known as Scrappy-Doo, or the live-action movies (with all due love to James Gunn) – all of that was at best mediocre, at worst completely atrocious. Admittedly I hit an age where I stopped following the new cartoon incarnations and direct-to-DVD animated movies, but from what little I’ve seen, things didn’t improve all that much. I didn’t even bother watching either of the WWE tie-in films, and I’m such a fan of bad wrestling media, I own a copy of Roddy Piper’s film Hell Comes to Frogtown.
So let’s flash back to around this time last year, when DC Comics announced their new “Hanna-Barbera Beyond” imprint, which would reimagine classic cartoon characters in new ways. Based on initial impressions, Scooby Apocalypse looked like it was going to be a train-wreck – a shallow and cynical attempt to cash in on the long-since worn out Zombie Apocalypse subgenre, featuring laughably terrible characters redesigns from Jim Lee, who is rapidly becoming a Frank Miller-esque parody of himself.
But here’s where the M Night Shalayman twist comes in – Scooby Apocalypse is not, in fact, the worst book in the line (that would be Wacky Raceland, one of the absolute worst miniseries in comic book history). In fact, it’s shockingly good.
Unlike the traditional cartoon incarnations, the Mystery Incorporated group are actual characters instead of lazy archetypes, with each character driven by their own distinct motivations. Daphne Blake is a would-be Lois Lane-style investigative journalist, whose career has fallen apart. The only person in the field of news media who doesn’t treat her like a joke is her loyal cameraman Fred Jones, who not only believes in her, but has an openly unrequited love for her. Shaggy Rogers – Green Arrow beard and sleeve tattoos and all – is a junior employee at a high-tech program attempting to create “smart dogs”, canines with human-level intelligence that can communicate and operate complex tasks through the use of cybernetic implants. Shaggy immediately befriends the runt of the experimental litter, who he nicknames Scooby. The titular apocalypse comes about when the mysterious Project Elysium is unleashed on the world, transforming much of humanity into genetically-modified monsters – and from the looks of things, geneticist Velma Dinkley may be directly to blame.
The reason this series works (and this is the same formulae that made The Walking Dead such a massive success) is that ultimately the monsters of the world are just a set-piece, a backdrop to the growing relationships between a group of strangers thrown together and forced to coexist in order to survive. For film fans, it’s kind of a throwback to the era of pre-Eli Roth slasher films, where the victims were sympathetic and interesting, instead of just a pack of douchebags the audience is waiting to see get slaughtered.
Scooby Apocalypse is the type of series that by all rights should be little more than a cynical cash-in on a trend, but it actually has some really interesting things to say. In this issue, Daphne and Velma debate the power of investigative journalism in the face of an insurmountable conspiracy, Velma philosophizes about whether or not happiness is just a meaningless construct created by humanity to cope with universal entropy, and Shaggy quotes from Jack Kerouac while opening up about his struggle to remain optimistic while surrounded by a world of seemingly impenetrable darkness. That’s some heavy shit, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been considering some of the same topics myself in the past few months.
For the sake of completion, we’ll also address the back-up story, which features this world’s version of Scrappy-Doo – a brutish antihero anguished by his own duality – on the one hand, he fears reverting to a bestial state or becoming like the monsters he callously kills, but who is also driven by an almost instinctive desire to kill Scooby, who he sees as a weakling and the antithesis of what their new race of “smart-dogs” should be. Basically, it’s a present day pastiche of about a hundred different mid-90s Image comics which ripped off any given 1980s-era appearance of Wolverine. It’s not as good as the main story, it’s certainly self-aware, but it’s not great either. Your mileage may vary.
Look, none of this breaks new ground – as I alluded to, The Walking Dead has been doing all of this, and better, for going on fourteen years now. As a Scooby-Doo story though, it massively over-achieves. In nothing else, for the first time in forty-eight years, Scooby and friends have found themselves embroiled in a mystery I actually care about seeing solved.