Saturday, November 15, 2014

DC Comics Presents #59

DC COMICS PRESENTS #59,  (July, 1983)
"Ambush Bug II"
Story & breakdown: Keith Giffen
Additional dialog: Paul Levitz
Finishes: Kurt Schaffenberger
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Reviewer: Siskoid

The first comic book I ever bought (The Context)
I've been reading comics since before I can remember. My relatives fed me a steady diet of French (actually, Belgian) bande dessinée as a child (Tintin and Astérix were the stars here), and my English teachers were Richie Rich and Archie (so as a result, I know a lot about dating in the '50s and how to spend googles of money). But it wasn't until the very early '80s, when I was 10 or 11, that I discovered super-hero comics. At first, these were black and white French translations in thick trades and featured a truly random array of Marvel and DC Comics, padded with old House of Mystery-type shorts.

Soon enough, I was into the original-English mags invariably sold at convenience stores with moons, stars and rocket-ships on their signs, like Apollo News and Tabagie Astral (I don't know what it is about my home town, must've been the hippies). Proper comic book stores were still almost a decade away, but comics were cheap, colorful and spread through my consciousness like sweet, sweet heroin. The first comic I ever bought with my own money (yeah, like my mom didn't give it to me right there in the store) was DC Comics Presents #59.

Now, DCCP was Superman's team-up book and I found that whenever Superman starred with another headliner, like Flash or Green Lantern, the comic was boredom incarnate. But when some obscure loser who didn't even live in Superman's normal continuum showed up, it really sang. But that's me. It said something about the variety and longevity of the DC universe which appealed to me.

And what better losers than the Legion of Substitute-Heroes? (The Stars)
These are the guys who couldn't make it into the superhero team that accepted Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad as their own! For God's sake, the real Legion has a member whose power is to DREAM. I do that too and they never gave me a frickin' flight ring. So, no question, all these guys are incredible losers (except maybe Polar Boy who never deserved the treatment, in my opinion). The villain of the piece is Ambush Bug - one of my favorites - who's not quite the king of parody he would later become, but is already talking to himself. Judging from this monologue, he's not too far from (rightly) believing he's a character in a comic book:
"Ambush Bug II" (yep, that IS the title) has a simple enough plot. Ambush Bug hops on Superman as the Man of Steel is flying to the 30th Century (back when he could "Do the Delorian") and gets left in the Subs' custody (the LSH are out of town) while Supes takes care of some business. Of course, they screw things up and he escapes. Now, the 30th Century was a groovy place. Something right out of Flash Gordon or '60s Doctor Who. There are signs in Interlac all over the place (I wonder if this is the "additional dialogue" attributed to Legion of Super-Heroes scribe Paul Levitz*... you probably couldn't do a Legion story back then without him getting his fingers all over it).

Let the comedy begin (The Write-up/Review)

Ok, as you can tell (from the cover, if nothing else), this is all gonna be pretty goofy, but I like goofy. Keith Giffen writes and draws, and he's the master of goofy. He's one of the guys who sold us the Sitcom Justice League after all. And we bought it like it was a bag of Oreos. And he's making us buy stuff here too. I mean, Superman is time traveling, right? But he's going to the 40th century and has to drop Buggy off in the 30th because... why? It would take too long to get back to the 20th? Do detours matter when you time travel? From all accounts, the 10-century trip he just made took only a few seconds.

But we need this to happen for the hilarity to ensue. Well, I wouldn't call the issue a laugh a minute, but at the time, the simple idea of these ridiculously lame super-heroes was good enough for me. Highlights include Fire Lad and Chlorophyll Kid discussing ad infinitum how to take Stone Boy (those damn hippies again) out of a hole without breaking his head off...

...and Color Kid throwing harmless technicolor beams at Ambush Bug.

Waitamminit, is that Bouncing Boy just standing around (in panel 2) letting this happen? And HE made it into the Legion? Something else I like is that Giffen and Levitz don't particularly care about continuity. Check out the editor's notice in this scene with Chief Zendak sitting on the throne:

Paul Levitz on board and even HE can't find where this story fits? Lot of good that additional dialog is doing us now, Levitz! Anyway, it all comes to a head at the Superman Museum, a building that could only have been designed to give Superman a super-ego. That's some powerful branding:

Superman'll finally get to do more than frown like Kirk on shore leave at Station K-7 (sorry, "The Trouble with Tribbles" just annoys the hell out of me sometimes). He's of course worried that Ambush Bug will learn his secret identity there. So what's in this museum? Let's see...

Mmm, I wonder what case this piece of cake comes from? Must be important for Superman to rescue it. The last lunch Ma Kent ever packed him? The likely suspect:

The Superboy story in Superman #97 (May 1955) has the Boy of Steel bake a giant cake for the citizens of Smallville on his last day before leaving for college. At least some pieces were saved under glass. One apparently survives to the 30th century. What other priceless artifact can we find?

Look! It's red and green kryptonite! Is that a safe thing to have around in a city defended routinely by LSH members Superboy and Supergirl? Probably not. But then, this is a Substitute Heroes story. Safety is... let's say "optional". Oh Porcupine Pete, it's enough that you try. And Superman's secret identity? Is it in there?

Right under your nose, in fact. One thing I quite like is that the main Subs are out of commission rather quickly, leaving the Superman Museum climax to the team's more recent (and arguably lamest) members. Is this Double-Header's greatest hour?

That's the power to be kind of gross. At the end of the day, Ambush Bug sends himself to the Phantom Zone to bother Terence Stamp, which is one of several references to the Donner film (and so, the title). And all's well that ends well.
Almost. They'll get him out eventually. Probably.

As first comics go, I could have done a lot worse. This cemented my life-long interest in both Ambush Bug and the 30th Century, though the Legion proper would still be a few months in my future (and funnily enough, it was a Legion Academy story... does the Legion DO anything?!).

*I'm being facetious (what? moi? never!) of course. For most of his career, Giffen plotted his stories but left the scripting to others. It's possible he suggested enough dialog/jokes for Levitz to graciously accept a downgraded credit.


  1. One thing I always liked about this issue was the slick finishes from Kurt Schaffenberger. It gave Superman a very Joe Shuster-ish look, much like the Giffen/Wally Wood issues of All-Star Comics a few years earlier.

  2. I really enjoy Ambush Bug coming upon a Phantom Zone projector and pressing the black button which sends him to the Phantom Zone.To release him from the Phantom Zone someone had to press the projector's white button.