Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug Vol. 1

First Published: March 2009

Contents: DC Comics Presents #52 (December 1982), #59 (July 1983), and #81 (May 1985); Supergirl #16 (February 1984); Ambush Bug stories from Action Comics #560 (October 1984), #563 (January 1985), and #565 (March 1985); Ambush Bug #1 (June 1985) to #4 (September 1985); Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 (1986); Son of Ambush Bug #1 (July 1986) to #6 (December 1986); Ambush Bug story from Secret Origins #48 (April 1990); and Ambush Bug Nothing Special #1 (September 1992)

Key Creator Credits: Keith Giffen, Paul Kupperberg, Robert Loren Fleming, Bob Oksner, and others

Key First Appearances: Irwin Schwab/Ambush Bug, Cheeks, Argh!Yle!

Overview: Sometimes a character is introduced in the background of a story, used to help advance the plot. But sometimes, those background characters become the most interesting part of the book. Case in point, we start by looking at DC Comics Presents #52, which is listed as a team-up of Superman and the Doom Patrol. Those are the stars of the book, but the story is stolen by an odd villain character – a guy in a green bug suit that has the ability to teleport and cause some mayhem. That is how we are introduced to Ambush Bug.

Ambush Bug caught on with readers and started become a foil for the various Kryptonians located on Earth. By the time DC Comics Presents #81 came out, he had garnered enough recognition to warrant the co-star status along with Superman. From there, it’s time to move on into your own mini-series and specials.

However, with those mini-series and specials, the approach takes a 90-degree turn, towards the fourth wall. Within the stories, Ambush Bug is now considered a hero of sorts, trying to find his place in the DC Universe. But at the same time, Ambush Bug starts interacting with the reader, as well as the comic book creators themselves. Conversations are had with Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, and Bob Oksner via word balloons. Even longtime DC editor Julie Schwartz gets into the action and the stories as a disembodied head inserted into tales.

Along the way, we find out parts of his origin – we think! We meet Ambush Bug’s sidekick/best friend, Cheeks. We meet the personification of Johnny DC in the stories. and we come across the most nefarious of villains ever conceived, Argh!Yle!, who happens to be a sentient sock. Yes, a sock. Trust me, this book is just one pun after another. You should expect nothing less when dealing with one of the most offbeat characters in the DC Universe.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Giffen has been a mainstay at DC for years and has contributed greatly to the history of the DC Universe with his work on Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League, and, yes, even Ambush Bug. (And yes, he’s had his share of issues over that time as well.) Depending how long the Showcase Presents line runs, we may eventually see his work in LSH. I could also see DC skipping ahead and starting a Showcase Presents Justice League line, to go along with their other collections from the 1980s. Until either of those happen, this will serve as Giffen’s contribution to the Showcase Presents line. At his peak, Ambush Bug was a very popular character in the 1980s, so yes it should be showcased like this.

Footnotes: Several times in this book, scripter Robert Loren Fleming makes reference to a previous DC Comics series of his, Thriller, which ran for 12 issues in 1983 and 1984. Thriller was a direct-market only book, meaning that it could only be found in comic book stores. This series has never been collected, so you will need to dive into some back issue bins to track this one down.  

If you like this volume, try: the issues of The Tick from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Created by Ben Edlund to serve as a mascot for his local comic book store, the Tick soon moved into his own comic strip and then his own book. The Tick served as a spoof of the superhero comic industry, mocking the latest trends with exaggerated caricatures. Like Ambush Bug, the Tick would often break the fourth wall to interact with the reader. His popularity earned him a Saturday morning cartoon series from 1994 to 1997, and later a live-action TV series from 2001. These issues have been collected multiple times in trade paperbacks and omnibus editions, so they should be easy to track down.

Showcase Presents SHAZAM! Vol. 1

Showcase Presents SHAZAM! Vol. 1

Showcase Presents SHAZAM! Vol. 1

First Published: December 2006

Contents: SHAZAM! #1 (February 1973) to #33 (February 1978)

Key Creator Credits: C.C. Beck, Denny O’Neil, Elliot Maggin, Kurt Schaffenberger, E. Nelson Bridwell, and Bob Oksner

Overview: Newsboy Billy Batson is led down an abandoned subway tunnel, where he encounters the ancient Egyptian wizard known as Shazam. Shazam is looking for a new successor to protect the earth, and has chosen Billy Batson for this role. When Billy speaks the name “Shazam”, a bolt of lightning strikes down and he is transformed into Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal. 

As shown in nearly every Captain Marvel story, the hero gets his powers and abilities from six mighty heroes:
Solomon gives him Wisdom
Hercules gives him Strength
Atlas gives him Stamina
Zeus gives him Power
Achilles gives him Courage, and
Mercury gives him Speed

As our story begins, Captain Marvel, as well as his friends, family, and even foes, have been caught in a time bubble for twenty years. Returning to Earth in 1973, they all quickly integrate themselves into the new world, albeit in slightly different roles. For example, we see teenage Billy Batson give up hawking newspapers on the street corner to become a TV news anchor. All of the familiar faces from the Fawcett Comics run make a return in this volume. The full Marvel Family re-assembles: Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, Uncle Marvel and even Mr. Tawky Tawny. Captain Marvel’s rogues gallery, which rivals that of Batman or the Flash, returns in full wickedness: Dr. Sivana, Black Adam, Mr. Mind, and the dreaded Monster Society of Evil!

Towards the end of the book, the storyline changes to match the events of the Saturday morning TV show and to bring the characters more into the DC Universe proper. Dudley H. Dudley gives up his Uncle Marvel identity to drive Billy Batson across the U.S.A. in a motor home, so that Billy can file news stories from around the country, and Captain Marvel can be in new locations to stop evil.

Superman v. Captain Marvel: Captain Marvel was originally created in the early 1940s by Fawcett Comics, and quickly became one of the most popular characters on the newsstands. National Periodicals (DC Comics) felt that there were too many similarities between their character Superman and Fawcett’s character, so the two companies went to court to decide the matter. This was a prolonged fight across many courts, but the final ruling in the early 1950s was that Fawcett was violating the copyrights of the printed material. A final settlement was made out of court, and Fawcett agreed to pay National $400,000 and would cease publication of the Captain Marvel comics. (At this time, in the early 1950s, super-hero comics were in a sales decline, so it made financial sense to agree to that decision.) These characters would not be seen or used for two decades.

In a strange turn of events, in the early 1970s, DC Comics licensed the rights for Captain Marvel and friends from Fawcett Comics to produce these comics collected in this Showcase. Finally, DC Comics bought the rights to all of the Marvel family of characters outright from Fawcett in 1980.

Captain Marvel v. Captain Marvel: So while the Fawcett Captain Marvel was in settlement hibernation, Marvel Comics took off in the early 1960s. As their universe expanded, one of the new characters introduced was the Kree soldier known as Captain Mar-Vell. He quickly got his own title under the banner “Captain Marvel” (See my review for Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1). Fawcett Comics had led their trademarks slip on their characters, and Marvel Comics was able to get the rights, and have held onto those rights ever since. As a result, any Fawcett/DC comic cannot use the title “Captain Marvel” on the comic, which has led DC to begin using the magical word of “SHAZAM” as the title of the books featuring their Captain Marvel.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Well, I really want to give this book two thumbs up and advise anyone and everyone to get a copy, but I can’t. These are so-so stories, done in a way to mimic the Captain Marvel stories of the 1940s. If that is what you like, then go track down the DC Archive editions that reprint those 1940s books.

Footnotes:  Issues #8, and #21 to #24 contained reprint material from older stories. The only new material in those issues were the covers, which are included in this Showcase volume.

This collection ends with issue #33, but the series ran for two more issues. Beginning with #34, the stories took a more realistic approach to the stories, to integrate it more into the DC Universe proper. The art went away from the animated style of C.C. Beck. After this title ended, the Captain Marvel storyline continued as a feature in World’s Finest Comics and in Adventure Comics.

If you like this volume, try: Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil from 2007. This is available as both a hardcover and as a trade paperback. Written and drawn by Jeff Smith (BONE), this was a fresh take on the classic storyline. Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel unite to stop the powerful Dr. Sivana and his evil allies from taking over the world. This book is a much better homage to the 1940s work of Otto Binder and C.C. Beck than the 1970s series collected in this Showcase.