‘Scooby Apocalypse’ And The Difficult Balance Of Being Weird Enough To Work
Here’s something I want you to do right now: Take a moment and just try to imagine explaining this week’s high-profile new releases to someone who was reading comics ten, maybe even five years ago. It would take hours, and by the time you’d dealt with all the incredulous reactions and clarified all the ways that we got to this point, you’d still have to launch into your third act with “and there was also Scooby Apocalypse, where the cast of Scooby Doo meets at Burning Man right before the world is destroyed by nanotechnology.”
What I’m getting at here is that it’s a weird book — and more than that, it’s exactly the weird book that we all knew it was going to be ever since it was announced. The question, then, is whether it’s weird enough.
It’s tempting to refer to Scooby Apocalypse as the flagship book of DC’s sudden relaunch of the Hanna-Barbera properties, but in all honesty, I think it’s already ceded that title to Future Quest. It was the first to hit shelves, and it’s the book that has those characters in their most recognizable forms, being lumped together into a big shared universe. Well, second-most recognizable anyway, unless the next issue opens up with Space Ghost interviewing Jonny Quest on the set of his late-night talk show.
Point being, Scooby Apocalypse, by its very nature, is always going to feel like the goofball offshoot that it is. I mean, yes, it might be the one with the Jim Lee designs that are getting all the press, but it’s not even the only Scooby Doo title that DC’s publishing. It’s the third, coming in behind the long-running, original recipe Scooby Doo: Where Are You? and the truly delightful Scooby Doo Team-Up, which has already broken the seal on going completely bananas with the concept by dropping the gang right into stories where they hang out with everyone from the Flintstones to Superman to the Shazam Family. There’s even one that features a team-up with the Spectre!
Yeah: For those of you who may have missed it, Shaggy and Scooby met the embodiment of the Wrath of God. Comics can be amazing sometimes.
Because of all that — and because Scooby Doo has spent the last five decades hardwiring itself into the pop cultural landscape — there’s a fascinating sort of freedom that comes with a book like Scooby Apocalypse. Aside from the names of the characters and the fact that one of them is a talking dog, the events of this issue are so far removed from that core of what we know as Scooby Doo that it could almost be anything. But then, that’s the hook, isn’t it? The changes they’ve made are exactly the source of what’s keeping me interested.
And folks, they are some changes.
So here’s the basics of the plot that Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Howard Porter are setting up in the first issue: Rather than being meddling kids, this comic’s version of the cast are all meddling young adults. Daphne and Fred, for instance, are old enough to have a TV show that used to be popular, which they’re trying to revive by blowing the lid off of a secret government project with the help of a whistleblower.
As for Velma and Shaggy, they’re employees of the government agency in question. Velma’s one of the five scientists in charge – and the whistleblower that called Fred and Daphne — and Shaggy’s been working as a dog trainer, helping with a program designed to develop combat-ready “smart dogs.” So, you know, in case you were wondering how Scooby learned to talk, it’s because he’s essentially the product of the evil laboratory from We3.
The thing is, the dogs aren’t the only thing they’re working on. Instead, Velma’s team of scientists were focused on controlling the world by releasing nanites that are meant to fundamentally change humans, reducing their aggression and putting an end to war — and, not coincidentally, allowing the scientists themselves to emerge from a sealed bunker and rule over a passive, obedient population.
Needless to say, the nanites end up going off while the gang’s down in the bunker themselves, leaving them as the only unaffected humans (and cybernetically enhanced dog) in a world that just went through the apocalypse. And honestly, if that was all that happened, it would’ve just sat there, a future candidate for a Bizarro Back Issues column about the time Shaggy went to Burning Man.
But that’s not all that happens. In a week that’s been defined by last-page reveals that have gone way over the top even by superhero comic standards, this comic had the one that was my favorite. If you’ve managed to avoid spoilers up to this point and you’re at all interested, I’d suggest closing this review now and coming back to it after you’ve seen it, because it’s the kind of surprise last page that got a genuine, honest laugh out of me when I saw it for the first time.
If you’re still with me, here’s what happens. Regardless of that their original intention was, the nanites end up going horribly wrong, because of course they do. It’s not really much of an “apocalypse” if everyone is just sort of chill and agreeable, so instead, things go immediately, horribly wrong. And really, while I was expecting the standard array of zombies, what we got was way, way better:
If you’ve been reading ComicsAlliance long enough, then you might remember that I’m a person with very strong opinions on whether Scooby Doo should involve the existence of “real” monsters. At the core of the franchise, that’s the dealbreaker for me, because the idea of a cartoon about a talking dog that also teaches kids about critical thinking when faced with superstition and outright lies told by adults has a huge amount of appeal for me.
But when you get two or three steps away from that core? When you’re dealing with something that’s a concerted effort to exist as the weirdest possible offshoot of that concept?
At that point, all bets are off, and you arrive at a place where you’re free to go as big as you want. And if “as big as you want” ends up at “nanites have fundamentally altered all humans to turn them into an apocalyptic nightmare world full of cartoony Halloween monsters,” I am pretty much in.
I’ve said from the start that the very existence of these comics is something that I find fascinating, but if Scooby Apocalypse is going to work, it’s going to have to figure out a way to maintain its weirdness once the initial shock of the premise has worn off. Dropping those kids into a completely bonkers version of Transilvane that one of them helped create seems like a pretty good way to keep things interesting.