Friday, 25 December 2015

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug

For another special look...

Wait! Don't start without me!!

Oh. Hello Ambush Bug.

Hey isn't this a Marvel focused site? What am I doing here?

From time to time I take a look at some of DC's output. It makes for an interesting contrast. And after doing a couple of team-up volumes it was time for something a bit different.

You mean there isn't a team-up title focused on Wonder Woman. But hey, I got her for my cover.

Yes, quite an achievement. Anyway shall we press on?

Sure. I want to know what you think about my adventures.

Well here goes. So today I'm going to have a look at Showcase Presents Ambush Bug.

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug? What, no volume number?

No. I guess someone saw that question coming. The back cover even declares "...his one and - we promise - only Showcase Presents volume."

"Only"? "Only"? "ONLY'"! Where's Mackiewicz? I want words!

Who's Mackiewicz?

Don't you ever read the credits page on these things?

Oh yeah. Sean Mackiewicz, the "Editor-collected edition".

That's an odd title. "Editor-collected"?!

I guess he's not the typesetter. But he's not here to explain so shall we get on with this?

Oh very well.

Okay first off the contents list.

Do we have to?

Yes - if I'm going to talk about it, it helps to know what's in it.

Okay, just get on with it.

I'm trying. But we've wandered a long way from the cover so as a reminder here it is again, and this time it's bigger.

Look how I turned those heroes green. That didn't happen on the original cover. The printers mucked it up.

It's strange to be talking about colour correction on a black and white reprint. But shall we just get on with it?

Go ahead, I'm not stopping you. 

Really? No on second thoughts let's not have that argument and so here goes... It's the Ambush Bug stories from DC Comics Presents #52, #59 & #81, Supergirl #16, Action Comics #560, #563 & #565, Ambush Bug #1 to #4, Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer, Son of Ambush Bug #1 to #6, Secret Origins #48 and Ambush Bug Nothing Special.

All those limited series and specials. Those were great days.

And those team-ups. I first encountered you when some of the DC Comics Presents issues were reprinted in the UK Superman title back in the early 1990s.

Wait a minute! I had British reprints?! Nobody told me! Where are my royalties? Who published this series?

From memory at the time of the first one they were still called London Editions Magazines but they soon changed the name to Fleetway Editions after a merger. They were an imprint of EgmontUK. I don't know if you were entitled to overseas royalties.

So who do I have to talk to?

Erm... I'm not sure, but it might be a problem at DC's end rather than LEM's. Have a chat with their overseas reprint department. Otherwise former LEM editor Martin Gray is online. But don't tell any of them I sent you.

So what do I say if they ask how I found out about these?

Isn't Google a wonderful thing? Anyway let's get on with the credits.

Do we have to?

Yes. The creative talent deserves to be acknowledged. Anyway the main creative force on this volume is your creator Keith Giffen who plots and pencils nearly everything, with Robert Loren Fleming doing the scripting.

You mean Robert transcribes my words.

Erm... let's not have this argument now. There's some other folk to acknowledge as well. Except where mentioned, it's Keith and/or Robert on everything. Your first appearance in DC Comics Presents is written by Paul Kupperberg and your second is scripted by Paul Levitz. The Supergirl issue is written by Paul and drawn by Carmine Infantino. There's a brief sequence during Son of Ambush Bug drawn by Steve Bissette whilst Keith replaces the pencil you broke.

Do you have to remind me?

Moving onwards. Finally some extra pencilling on Ambush Bug Nothing Special is by Chris Sprouse and Bill Wray.

I know you don't normally do this but can we give Bob a shout out?

Sure why not? Nearly everything is inked by Bob Oksner.

Bob, what a guy. And sadly no longer with us.

It's amazing how often the Keith-Robert-Bob team appears given how many years these stories were produced over.

I got lucky and largely left to my own creator. I guess Keith was able to call the whole team together whenever he wanted.

It's nice when that happens and can allow for consistent presentation. Which brings me onto the first thing I noticed.

Oh heck, I know where this is going.

Yes your first appearance. You're a bit different from what you've since become.

Hey lots of characters have an inauspicious beginning. You wouldn't judge them solely on their first outings now would you?

Did they begin their careers as murderers?

Some did.



It's no good looking around. There isn't a copy of Who's Who in the vicinity. Or a Marvel Handbook. There's a reason I chose this venue for this.

I was beginning to wonder.

Don't keep changing the subject. You started off as a clear villain, if a somewhat bonkers and frustrating one. Yet somehow your villainous side got forgotten and you instead became a generic pest.

It happens to some of the best of us - look at the Joker's early years. Or Catwoman's redemption. I just took it one step further.

Yeah your second appearance is different. A reprint of it was when I first saw you, nearly twenty-five years ago now. And I just have to ask: The Legion of Substitute Heroes. Why? Why? WHY?

The Legion of Super-Heroes were unavailable that day. And I've never worked out which day it was. You know what DC team-up comics are like when it comes to continuity.

Yes but the Legion of Substitute Heroes?! Was Superman trying to help you?

Come again?

I mean tying you to a lamppost or just telling you to stay put would have been a safer bet than entrusting you to the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

Aww come on. They're not the worst group ever. What about their Auxiliary? You know, the heroes who weren't quite ready for membership in the Substitute Heroes yet!

Not... ready... for... membership... in... the... Substitute... Heroes...

You have got to stop lifting dialogue and reusing it without properly quoting it.

You started it.

No I didn't.

Oh yes you did.

Oh no I didn't.

Oh yes you did.

Oh no I didn't.

Oh yes you did.

Oh no I didn't.

What is this, pantomime?

What is this pantomime?

You don't know?

Not really.

Erm... erm... erm... Shall we just go with "it's one of those British things that we just can't find a way to clearly explain to Americans"? Like cricket. And it's appropriate for this time of year.

And they say I'm the mad one.

Anyway, back to the stories and here's the cover again. Now we have this slapstick adventure and I guess that's what moved you into full wacky mode. And it's had slightly more reprints than your first appearance so clearly that image stuck.

Hey I'm not complaining.

And then the silliness increases when you encountered Supergirl - who you thought was Superman?!

How was I to know there was more than one sole survivor of Krypton? That doesn't make much sense.

Thank you John Byrne.

Please don't swear.

But despite not being able to tell the Supercousins apart you were able to deduce their identities.

One of them thinks a pair of glasses is a disguise. The other thinks a wig is. The only question is which is the more absurd disguise.

Or maybe you had inside information? We never actually see the point at which you gained awareness of your fictional status. Instead it just pops up as side comments in some short pieces in Action Comics which otherwise start satirising everything from Superman's origin to Spider-Man's two new costumes in 1984.

Hey it wasn't all satire. I got enhanced powers and the ability to teleport anywhere without relying on my little bugs.

Whoever had that idea must have quickly regretted it.

I've used it for good. Heck I even used it to take on Batmite.

Oh that was actually you in the cartoon and not some non-canonical alternate depiction?

Who do you think you're talking to? A DC Comics character?


Haven't you got anything further to say?

Oh yes, quite a bit. You didn't dive straight into satire though - your final DC Comics Presents appearance was a classic chaotic Superman story even if you and Kobra did know where you where.

Kobra? Who was Kobra?

The evil mastermind in the story.

I though that was Lex Luthor.

Not every bald evil genius in a Superman story is Lex Luthor.

You live and learn.

And then you got your own limited series after just a few years.

Woohoo! It's great isn't it?

It's... bizarre. It's not a coherent tale but rather a collection of random ramblings about comics and other bits and pieces, with a lot of the humour coming from highlighting the silliness of Silver Age DC comics.

I wanted to do something more substantial but first Cheeks got killed off then business was slow then Jonni DC came to try and sort out the continuity then...

Enough already! It's really turning into a satirical commentary on the comics industry rather than the adventures of one of its wackier characters.

Hey don't blame me! I wanted an all-star extravaganza but all the stars said no. And then Keith and Robert (I can't call him "Bob", that's too confusing here) decided to try something different.

How did they get the idea past Julius Schwartz?

Julie went to his grave wondering the same thing.

I guess editors don't always set direction.

No, indeed.

But here's the problem I have. Just what's the point of wasting limited space with such digs at old material? Surely it would have been better to focus on critiquing the modern direction of the industry?

You have to start somewhere and build up. Who was going to go into battle about Ace the Bathound or the Flash's true origin?

Indeed. But it's still not the most substantial is it? Anyway, next we have Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer.

Don't open it before Christmas Day!

Erm it is Christmas Day.

Oh yeah.

Although what a zombie story has to do with Christmas is beyond me.

I like breaking conventions. And how else was I to get Cheeks back?

And also trying to refight the Vietnam War and take on Hukka. I had to look him up. Just what was Atari Force?

I couldn't understand either and I was there.

And that cliffhanger. Did you go to the actual Arkham Asylum class reunion?

What do you think I am, mad?

Well the Joker thought so.

There's a reason Batman always beats him.

Indeed. So instead you just did a puppet show. Now this next limited series came out in 1986. Is it pre Crisis or post Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis?

You mean you transcend even different incarnations of the DC Multiverse?

I'm Ambush Bug. Need I say I any more?

Well I'm hoping so otherwise I'll have to fill the rest of this post by myself.

Okay I'll help.

You may regret that.

How so?

To be absolutely blunt, neither of your limited series really excites me. They're both rather incoherent, veering off all over the place and making a lot of the same jokes that get repetitive after a while.

Well they weren't intended to be read all at the same time.

True but the logical conclusion to that line of argument is that they should never have been collected together in this edition at all. And where would you get your royalties?

I don't get any. Should I?

Maybe a trip to the DC reprint office to sort this all out? But they'll be closed today so anyway these two limited series plus the Stocking Stuffer were all released in a period of just eighteen months so the jokes would have been only slightly less repetitive at the time.

Don't you like them at all?

Oh there are some good individual moments - Argh!yle! is especially funny as is the decision to correct his omission from Who's Who? But the vague general narratives of dealing with the Interferer, dying, coming back to life, going on trial, trying to get your super-villain licence back and the return (again) of Cheeks all keep getting lost under a whole string of not too funny moments that are either saying the same old things again and again (and again...) or making obscure cultural references that are both dated and geographically locked.

Well it was published in another country. And unlike Marvel it didn't even pretend to be global with some foreign prices printed on the cover.

Not true - DC did two cover variants in this era, presumably newstand and direct market versions. The one not used in this volume has Canadian and British prices on it. And more recently the back cover of the Showcase Presents edition has a Canadian price on it.

But no English one?

British. The adjective is "British"!

Is that a touchy subject?

Yes. We don't call the US "Texas" do we? Or Canada "Ontario"? So why do Americans consistently fail to call my country by its name? The scene setting captions in your adventures are just as bad.

Is it even worth arguing with you about this one?

Quite simply no.

Okay then...

Let's move onwards. But wait - how did you get away with Mitsu Bishi?

I never could understand. The lawyer mumbled something about intellectual property, parody, different spheres and then I screamed "ENOUGH!!!" and paid her there and then. She was charging by the minute. By the minute! BY THE MINUTE!!

Disgraceful isn't it? But surely DC were covering your expenses?

I have a feeling I'm going to have to go to an awful lot of offices once this is over.

They'll all be closed today. And tomorrow. And the next day.

Will they ever open?

Do you have a substitute Bank Holiday for Boxing Day?

Boxing Day? What's that?

The day after Christmas Day. It's full of traditions up to and including chaos in the sales.

We do that on Black Friday. Do you know it?

The day after Thanksgiving?

Yeah that's it.

Yeah we have it too. Despite not having Thanksgiving.

That's ridiculous!

I know. But the retail industry often makes silly decisions.

It's the same in the States.

How did this all begin?

There are many different stories. It's a multiple choice origin.

Like yours.

I'm one of the few characters to have agreed to do Secret Origins who actually realised what the title means.

It's handy. And somehow you managed to duck out of the National Bureau of Origins's attempts to extract it.

It helped that Keith had been a bit busy at the time. Have you ever read Invasion?

Only the Justice League International tie-ins. Fleetway Editions felt that running the main story would take far too long when Superman and the Justice League was bimonthly. It would also have meant there wasn't room to reprint one of your earlier adventures in the final issue before a relaunch.

Couldn't you have gone to your local comic shop?

We only briefly had one in Epsom and it was around that time it got hit in an arson attack.

An arson attack on a comic shop? Are you kidding me?

No, but as this was in 1992 it's hard to find details on the internet - the local paper doesn't have all its old stories online. But it was called Trojan Comics so keep an eye out with Google from time to time.

Okay I'll have to take your word for it. Did it ever return?

I'm not too sure - there was another a year later but it was above another shop and I can't remember its name or if it was the same people. And it seemed to be out of date compared to other comic shops - looking back I suspect that by the time I found the shop it had fallen in debt to the distributor who had retaliated with delayed shipments. It folded after a few months.

Gee that's too bad. How did you keep up with comics?

I was lucky enough to have a rail season ticket that allowed me access to the whole of London and so could access other shops there. But anyway we have one final issue in this volume - Ambush Bug Nothing Special.

It's horrible the way the legal information fuses the title into that.

I believe you wanted it to be an annual?

Yes - but it would have to have been part of the "Eclipso" crossover that ran in them all.

Amazing that DC kept trying with that format years after Marvel abandoned it. And you even tried to have a crossover issue as well.

Only to get Brownouto, Eclipso's third cousin twice removed. I ask you, is that any way to treat the star?

But your real enemy was elsewhere. And I don't mean Argh!yle!

No it was always Julie. A man who would defy even death to hold his position forever.

Sounds like Kim Il-sung.

Come again?

North Korea's head of state is the Eternal President of the Republic, Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current day to day leader Kim Jong-un.

So the head of state is a dead guy?!

Yeah - he's sort of President for After-Life.

Now I get it. Yeah Julie was always the ultimate problem but I did my best.

I particularly liked the sequence where you had ridiculous muscles, physically impossible poses and no coherent dialogue whatsoever. Now I wonder what that could have been parodying?

I wonder!

But overall it was a bit of the same old, even if a single special meant all the effort had to be focused on just the one issue. I guess my problem is that if I want rambling incoherent narratives I'll look to old Image comics.

Well I did the best I could. But I guess your tastes weren't for it.

Maybe. But you did still have some nice moments. For instance at the very end of the book we get a special feature - a "Where's Irwin?" doublepage in the style of Where's Wally?

You mean Where's Waldo? What's all this Wally stuff?

That's his original name in his original market.

Who's bright idea was that?

Wally? His creator's? Waldo? His North American publishers.

Why can't they leave things the way they are?

I know. But it happens on both sides of the Atlantic and the consumers rarely get a say. You were lucky - in different circumstances you could have been renamed!

Me?! But Ambush Bug is an amazing name! I'm named after an insect. Why would anyone want to rename me?

Because the ambush bug insects (called Phymatidae or Phymatinae by those who understand classification naming and can explain what those different spellings mean) aren't native over here so a lot of the joke is lost on a British audience.

A pity but hey it hasn't stopped my fan club growing.

No - and I see I'm an honorary member thanks to this book.

We wanted to offer more than any other book delivers.

And it works. Let's see that cover just one more time - and it's even bigger than ever. It's interesting to see your evolution from villain to extraordinary pest to commentator. I guess I was just expecting much more of your pest era as that's all I saw of you all those years ago.

The curse of limited foreign reprints.

Yeah. Still it wasn't the end even if Batmite did declare you "a pretty obscure hero even for this show" when you turned up on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

What would he know in his own dimension?! I may not have saved the show but I helped save the people of Gotham from being turned to bananas, got Batman to reassert his core identity, made a Scrappy disappear, organised a great party, talked to Ted McGinley and had the most appropriate voice artist ever to fight jumping the shark - Henry Winkler.

How many of the show's target audience even got that joke?

Who cares? The episode was for the fanboys!

And your greatest moment.

Thank you.

I notice your speech style is different across appearances.

It's multiple choice, like so much else about me.

Ambush Bug - A character for all circumstances. And a great sport for coming to contribute to this even when I wasn't always the biggest fan.

It's good to get multiple perspectives.

Indeed. Thank you for this.

Thank you.

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