In Paris, a bespectacled young woman releases something sinister into the air. One year later, at the Blazing Man alternate culture festival, a TV reporter and her cameraman are looking for a way to boost ratings. Nearby, a shaggy young man and his massive Great Dane are taking a walk, and if said walk leads to food, all the better....
When the first art for Scooby Apocalypse dropped at the comics news sites, many people assumed it was a gag on the part of DC. Hyper-hipster versions of Daphne, Velma, Fred and Shaggy, Scooby with an emoticon-spouting headset... monsters with no janitor qualifications? But DC insisted it was genuine, solicited a series, and here it is
And it's rather fun. The redesigned Shaggy I could do without, he looks far too cool to be the sandwich-snacking shirker loved by generations of TV viewers. Everyone else, though, is close enough to their regular selves to be non-jarring, and if I can take Scooby in female drag - and he's always been a regular Bugs Bunny in that department - I can go with some story-driven cyber gimmickry.
Said story, by Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis, is an origin of sorts, as dog trainer Shaggy and scientist Velma, who work at the same secret complex, meet action woman Daphne and camera jockey Fred, who produce a low-rent scare show. Velma wants to whistleblow on a threat to the world, but the other three need some convincing...
Giffen and DeMatteis, and artist Howard Porter, have been at this a long time, they know how to craft a compelling comic series. They've just done it, as a team, with Justice League 3000/3001. So it's no surprise that Scooby Apocalypse is a riveting read, even without all the monsters pre-publicity led me to expect (don't worry, they're on their way). The character work alone, the setting-up of story points, grips, while the Blazing Man festival gives Porter plenty of opportunity to dot the panels with non-supernatural grotesqueries.
This is a gorgeous book, with Scooby looking far better than his live-action translation, and Velma, specs so thick we can't see her eyes, a pint-sized treat. And when we do get an action sequence, Porter sells it superbly.
I like funny Fred, I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting the bubble machine-style emoticons to replace Scooby's wonderful r-speak, but I was wrong. Giffen and DeMatteis do provide a story-related reason, and given this, I can easily see the hopelessly trendy emoji stuff being set aside.
This extra-length opener also has a second story, a short entitled 'When Shaggy met Scooby', showing us the day canine trainer Norbert Rogers met experimental 'smartdog' Scooby Doo.
I'm not down with its scene of cyber-enhanced dogs attacking pack runt Scooby - it's a tad We3 for a Hanna Barbera book, even a non-all-ages offering - but there's a lovely touching moment to balance things out. And while Shaggy is surprisingly brave here, I'll assume it's only spooky things that really scare him.
The colours of Hi-Fi and letters of Travis Lanham and Nick J Napolitano - now styling himself 'Nick J Nap', which is cute - also add to the visual appeal.
The issue does beg one question - what the heck is going on in Giffen's personal life? Reviewing Legends of Tomorrow, I've been perturbed by how his otherwise lovely Sugar & Spike strip has the former treating the latter like something she trod on.
And in Scooby Apocalypse we have the exact same uncomfortable dynamic with Daphne and Fred - I'll-tempered female constantly belittles puppyish male, belts him one and there's no emotional comeback, no protest.
At least Velma is a tad sweeter towards Shaggy, and it turns out he has a crush on her - awwww. Any Shaggy/Velma shippers out there?
Were this series replacing DC's existing Scooby-Doo books I might like it a tad less - Scooby-Doo Team-Up, especially, is sheer delight, every issue - but it isn't. It's a sci-fi spin on some beloved characters, and if Shakespeare plays are game for constant reinterpretation, there's no reason Scooby-Doo can't be playfully tweaked.
And it seems other artists are itching to join the fun, with this issue featuring variant covers by Joelle Jones, Neal Adams, Dan Panosian, Ben Caldwell and Howard Porter. Jim Lee provides the main cover, he having come up with the series concept and character designs (insert 'so where's Scooby's Mandarin collar gag' here). I don't think Lee's contribution merits the top cover credit, but he's gotten away with it thanks to those meddling lawyers. And I am grateful to Lee for initiating this rather fun read.
I was expecting this to be an Afterlife With Archie rip-off, but it's no more a swipe of that series than early Batman was of Superman - it's a matter of related concepts going off in different directions. Different characters, different tones. And I'm as hungry for both series as a certain ralking rog is for a Scooby snack.