Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Showcase Presents Ambush Bug (DC, 2009).

"Only about a thousand people bought Ambush Bug, but every one of them went on to write for Robot Chicken." -- attributed to Brian Eno (poss. apocryphal)

In the grim, awful eighties, we had these standup comics who insisted, by right of their maximum-volume catchphrases, that they were funny. You'd have Joan Rivers bellowing "Can we talk?" and somebody, somewhere was laughing, but nobody you'd want to share a meal with. And they had to be funny, because they insisted that they were funny, and there was a laugh track, so it had to be true.

Ambush Bug started as a lighthearted, self-aware supervillain, created for Superman and the Doom Patrol to have somebody new to fight. Evidently, Keith Giffen and his collaborators fell in love with the idea, and then spent the next several years coming up with madcap comedies based around the idea that Ambush Bug and his cast all knew that they were characters in a funnybook and acted accordingly. And it's apparently all very funny, because the stories keep telling you that they're very funny.

So the Showcase book, it contains sixty squajillion issues of Ambush Bug, a series which people - trustworthy people, people whose opinions I respect - have said for years were the funniest things DC ever printed. When I read this book, I felt like the NASA bigwigs in that episode of The Simpsons who watched a six second clip of Married... with Children and concluded that my God, the people of America are idiots. Or, you know, finding Joan Rivers on USA Night Flight once in 1987 and spending the next fifteen minutes waiting for her to say something that made me laugh.

To be fair, there's a screamingly funny Steve Ditko parody about a third of the way through this book. Twenty pages later, Giffen, Fleming and Oskner repeated the gag, since it was too good not to. Those were the only laughs I got. They were resounding, stomach-hurting, kneeslappin' laughs, but the only ones. There are 480 pages in this book.

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