I don’t have a lot of faith or interest in DC Comics lately. My impression is that a lot of other people don’t, either. Oh, I still read and look forward to Scott Snyder’s Batman every month, and I stuck through Batman Eternal for all 52 issues as well. It’s really hard to get Batman wrong, though, and DC has a tendency to put top talent on the Bat-titles and market the hell out of them. However, Batman’s been a sales juggernaut since 1989 and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
It’s the rest of the company that leaves readers like me angry and confused. The “New 52” relaunch of 2011 was a half-assed attempt at jump-starting the company, but a select number of books continued their pre-Flashpoint storylines and it was difficult to discern what still “mattered” and what didn’t. James Robinson launched a neo-classical Justice Society in Earth-2, but problems between him in the company resulted in his early departure and the book quickly changing into something that nobody enjoyed. Futures End was a year-long effort at truly mediocre storytelling which climaxed in a self-deleting story which equally pissed off fans of Batman Beyond and the Tim Drake Robin. Convergence was supposed to be an outreach to long-term fans by giving them a callback to various beloved eras, but the final product was weak, confusing, and it suggested that DC quickly slapped the story together without any regard to whether it would be any good.
And these are just a few examples. We could go on and on about things like melting 3-D covers; Catwoman’s impossible anatomy; refusing to have married characters; whitewashing minority characters; alienating the acclaimed creators on Batwoman; replacing the classic Lobo with a slender, sexy guy who looks nothing like the original; accusations of sexual harassment in the company, and so forth. If it weren’t for the Bat-titles, DC would probably be an anemic third-place company behind Marvel and Image.
So a few weeks ago, my nine-year old daughter was hospitalized overnight following a bad asthma attack. (She’s fine.) Fortunately, the hospital is across the street from my local comic shop, so like any good dad I ran over there to get her a stack of kid-friendly books to cheer her up. Part of what I ended up getting her was DC’s entire run of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, mostly on a whim. In retrospect, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
You see, Scooby-Doo Team-Up has everything I’ve missed about DC, and I’d rather introduce my kid to this type of book than most of the other product they’re putting out right now. (As much as I like Snyder’s Batman, it’s not a kid-friendly book.) This is remarkable for the sheer fact that it’s Scooby-Doo Team-Up, a book which by all rights shouldn’t appeal to anybody. I’m trying to figure out why the Scooby-Doo half of this equation even has any relevance in the year 2015, when the concept of burned out hippie teenagers and their cowardly dog solving the same mystery every month should have long worn itself out. Scooby is undergoing a weird revival right now, with a new animated series and a line of Lego sets, not to mention the fact that DC is publishing two Scooby comics. Somebody still sees something of financial value in the character, and kids must still dig it.
Anyway, it’s the Team-Up half of the title which is of interest to me. The comic is premised on the Scooby Gang joining with a different Warner Brothers property every month. The authors mostly rely on characters who have some kind of Hanna-Barbera or Cartoon Network connection, but to me, the real fun is in the issues where the Scooby Gang meets up with classic DC characters.
You see, the superhero issues don’t make any effort to be controversial or avant garde. Writer Sholly Fisch has no need to use Scott Snyder’s “bat-bunny,” Grant Morrison’s “T-shirt” Superman, or any of the other controversial New 52 makeovers of the DC characters. Instead, he turns to what works for a mass-market, kid-friendly book that appeals to a broader audience than regular comic readers out there. Generally, this means using the Pre-Crisis, Hanna-Barbera versions of the heroes since their version of Batman and Robin actually appeared on Scooby’s show in the 1970s.
However, Fisch doesn’t restrict himself to some kind of static 20th century cartoon universe. Rather, he and artist Dario Brizuela openly pick from whatever aspect of DC Comics’ rich history allows for a basic, fun story. The first issue of the series transparently uses the Batman and Robin from The New Scooby Doo Movies, but the crew fights a version of the Man-Bat who closely resembles the character from Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe. The third issue sees Batman and the kids dealing with the antics of Bat-Mite, who resembles Paul Reubens’ version of the character from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. By issue 12, the Scooby Gang gets fully immersed in the DC Animated Universe as they encounter Paul Dini’s “Gotham Girls” Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. They also manage to pepper in appearances by all the ridiculously loveable characters from DC’s rich 70+ years of history, with appearances by Ace the Bat-Hound, detectives like Roy Raymond and Slam Bradley, and even the Spectre, Deadman, and Phantom Stranger are appearing in next month’s 13th issue.
In other words, Fisch throws continuity out the window for the sake of just telling a fun story. He makes an amusing meta-reference to this problem in issue #4 when the gang meets the cast of Teen Titans Go! and Fred remarks that Robin acts differently with the Titans than he does with Batman. Yes, this comic makes no effort to hide that the classic “adult” Dick Grayson and his tightly-wound chibi counterpart coexist in the Scooby-Doo Team-Up universe, and there’s no effort to explain how that’s possible. Similarly, the DCAU’s Scarecrow appears in issue #2, but the Super Friends version appears in #6. And really, if you find yourself trying to reconcile how conflicting Robins and Scarecrows can exist in the same universe, you’re kind of missing the point of the story.
I wouldn’t say continuity is killing comics, but it is one of those things on which the typical comics reader can get so overfocused that it damages their ability to enjoy the story. Stan Lee’s earliest concept of a “shared universe” is great, because it allowed the Fantastic Four to walk into Daredevil’s office for legal advice or Spider-Man to swing by an Avengers battle. It gave readers a sense that these characters existed in a larger world, and made us feel like this unreal world was just a little closer to reality. That’s great, but somehow we reached a point where people obsess if a single line of dialogue doesn’t match between two issues that have a shared scene, or if a minor character appears in one book even though he recently died in another. We demand continuity consistency without pausing to consider for a minute that it’s a comic book at a large company and these goofs sometimes just happen.
The other thing that hurts DC Comics is the need to constantly be “on.” Big events and controversial storylines are so frequent, they’ve become the default state of comics. (Marvel has this problem, too, but let’s talk about DC for now.) It’s like if comics were baseball, then almost every issue is treated as though it’s the World Series with all the associated hype. Fans are schizophrenic about this: there’s growing complaints of “event fatigue” where we’re getting tired of events which go on for months and detract from the story being told in the main titles. Worse, even the main titles are driven by their own large events, such as Batman having the months-long “Endgame” which fed directly into the “robo-Batman” story immediately after the Convergence break, which was also published alongside the 52-issue Eternal series.
Granted, comics live and die by their sales, and big events sell more than single issues. They sell because they’re big, loud, and controversial, and finish with a shakeup to the status quo that results in dead characters, changed identities, and new costumes which result in a lot of short-term press. Then again, their ramifications never last very long either. Batman’s been temporarily replaced by Jim Gordon in a robot suit, but we all know this won’t last. Scott Snyder has said as much in interviews. Still, we’re largely fooled into buying these books because we’re convinced that they “matter,” even though five years from now these stories will likely be forgotten and a new controversy will have taken their place.
Scooby-Doo Team-Up does the unthinkable (these days) and mostly sticks to the “done-in-one” format: one issue, one story. The rare exception was a pair of issues where one fed into the other: issue #7 saw the Scooby Gang traveling to the past to meet the Flintstones, then to the future in #8 to meet the Jetsons. Even then, the ending of the Flintstones issue was really just a lead-in to the next issue; the main story itself was pretty self-contained. Otherwise, you can read a single issue of this comic without being “required” to come back for the next.
The third issue intentionally pokes fun at the “event” phenomenon by having Bat-Mite put the Scooby Gang through a series of ridiculous transformations to make them bigger and more exciting. Among other things, he changes them into chimps, toddlers, Batmen, ghostbusters, secret agents, and My Little Ponies, all before deciding they should just fight zombies because that’s what everyone’s into these days. He ultimately creates an army of dogs for a multiverse spanning “Crisis of Infinite Scoobies” before someone suggests that maybe Scooby was better off left exactly as he was, and that we should just go home and enjoy that. It’s an obvious joke, but also a necessary one: you don’t need big crazy stories to impress your audience; you just need good ones.
Sadly, Scooby-Doo Team-Up is an overlooked title despite the fact that it presents the fun, happy, classic DCU that many readers pine for. In July, its 11th issue was ranked #289 on Diamond’s charts and only sold 6,809 units, while Snyder’s Batman was in the top 10 with over 100K in sales. Then again, it’s not like DC as a whole is dominating the market; its big sellers tend to be in the Batman, Justice League, and, sigh, Harley Quinn families. Most other mainstay books tend to fall much lower in the top 100 rankings.
I honestly don’t know that Scooby-Doo Team-Up is the solution to DC’s credibility problem right now. The advantage of the book is that it presents fun versions of the DC Universe that longtime readers keep saying they want. The disadvantage is that it’s a kids’ book, so it lacks a certain seriousness to it. Mainstream readers want more of an edge to their Superman and Batman: more adult themes, sex appeal, real-world problems, and violence, and they want it all the time. That is, unfortunately, completely antithetical to the lighthearted nature of Scooby’s world. You introduce sex and violence to Scooby comics, and it becomes something it’s not supposed to be.
I do know that many of DC’s characters have been taken past the point of recognition, and it’s affecting many readers’ ability to relate to and enjoy the characters. Some change is necessary. I get that. The recent revamps to Batgirl and Grayson are a little out of the norm, but they still keep with what people know and like about the characters, so they’re working. The recent changes to Superman or Green Lantern…maybe not so much. Superman is probably DC’s highest-selling non-Batman or Justice League book, but its sales are well below those other books’ numbers, and those it does have are riding on the controversial decision to expose Clark Kent’s identity.
That’s Superman we’re talking about. The guy who was the public face of the company for decades, until Batman surpassed him in mania. He now just has “OK” sales numbers.
My point is that while Scooby-Doo Team-Up might be too far on one side of the pendulum (showing the DC characters as too cutesy and kid-friendly), most of the company is too far to the other side with the characters having been taken too far from their roots. Me, I yearn for a Wonder Woman who isn’t a member of a tribe of murderers, a Superman who wears tights with red underwear, and a Batman who can plausibly run around with a canine partner in a mask. Scooby-Doo is strangely the only place I can find those things which doesn’t show some twisted version of what I enjoyed about the company. I get that refinement of these characters has been necessary from time to time, but the complete, “adult” overhaul of the company wasn’t the way to go.
But then, if you want DC to get back to its basics, you need to send a clear message with your wallets. I’m not saying “Buy Scooby-Doo Team-Up,” but…you need to buy Scooby-Doo Team-Up. Or at least something like it. It’s not like DC is burying the book, as it was pushed both at last years Halloween ComicFest and this year’s Free Comic Book Day. You know it’s out there, but you’ve either ignored it or you’ve passed it over for something more controversial.
Stop doing that. This book presents the fun side of DC Comics. Buy it for yourself, buy it for your kids, for your nieces and nephews, or for the trick-or-treaters coming to your house in a few weeks. (Comics last longer than candy anyway.) 6,800 units sold for a book of this quality is pathetic, but that falls on readership as a whole for ignoring it. And if you’re not into this book, try a different one that’s reflective of the DC you want to read. If DC is guilty of over-selling controversy and nonstop multi-part epics, then we’re equally guilty for buying them and passing over the good stuff.
My daughter says that she loves Scooby-Doo Team-Up because it shows the fun version of the superheroes she loves, including her beloved Teen Titans Go! characters. That’s enough an endorsement for me to keep getting this book for her and to, sadly, pass over the regularly panned Teen Titans book. Maybe DC should consider that when they wonder how to get more kids to be reading more of its titles. Maybe readers, too, should consider that when they complain that the regular Teen Titans title isn’t fun anymore either.