Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug

With 20 issues reprinted, Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug is unreadable in only one sitting: you’ll be laughing too hard to continue.

Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug cover
Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug
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In his first appearance in DC Comics Presents #52, Ambush Bug was a somewhat normal villain in a teleportation suit, not yet the anything-goes goofball he would shortly become. It’s a standard, forgettable superhero teamup, written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Keith Giffen, in which Superman and the new Doom Patrol stop the Bug from destroying a parade.

But by his second story, it’s all-out craziness as Bug becomes a less-powerful version of Mr. Mxyzptlk, sowing mayhem wherever he goes. Keith Giffen takes over writing and drawing the character as he time-travels with Superman to the 30th century, where Ambush Bug bedevils the Legion of Substitute Heroes (those kids who weren’t good enough to get into the Legion of Super-Heroes).

This issue has some classic one-liners and outrageous situations:

  • The subs putting Ambush Bug in a futuristic aquarium because their holding cell was broken.
  • “The cape will let you fly. You’re supposed to flap your arms … or something.”
  • “Unhand those ears!”
  • “Not… ready… for… membership… in… the… substitute… heroes. Lord give me strength!”
  • “One wrong move and I kill the cake!”
  • And my favorite, Stone Boy winding up stuck head-down in the plaza, while his teammates stand around trying to figure out how to get him out.

Plus, Giffen draws Superman in an old-school squinty-eyed style that’s both nostalgic and majestic.

Paul Kupperberg gets the Bug back in Supergirl #16, a forgettable story where he tries for the humor but doesn’t quite get it. After that, Ambush Bug winds up with Giffen plotting and drawing and Robert Loren Fleming scripting, and hilarious history is on its way to being made. The team creates the rest of the stories collected here, in which the Bug sets up as a private eye/superhero for hire, a loose framework that allows for unchecked weirdness.

Ambush Bug is the only one who sees Superman and Clark Kent as the same, since he has no respect for any rules (of society, of logic, of fiction). Yet he also arrests a car for invalid parking. The whole thing is a way to make fun of comic book trends. Giffen and Fleming indict those who seek to be meaningful instead of entertaining.

At the same time, they wallow in the weirder aspects of comic history, whether some of Superman’s dumber Red Kryptonite stories; the return of Jonni DC, Continuity Cop; or including editor Julie Schwartz as a character. There’s a whole issue dedicated to some of DC’s more forgettable characters, such as Wonder Tot, the Green Team, Binky, Mopee, and Itty. Nowadays, I’m sure they all have fan pages online, but back in 1985, when DC was working hard to clean up their universe, it was refreshing just to know someone else remembered them. Other guest stars range from Darkseid and Lobo to Death and Sugar and Spike.

Now, this book is not quite the same as reading the originals, since you don’t get to see the Bug’s ugly green mug the same way in black and white, and he doesn’t contrast at all with Superman’s red and blue. (Plus, Color Kid’s presence or the page making fun of their colorist makes no sense at all.) But Ambush Bug succeeds, especially when going up against the super-types, because he pokes them in their sacred dignity. The Bug’s surreal satire brings an often-needed sense of perspective when superheroes and their creators are taking everything much too seriously.

And hey, now I finally understand those Mitsu Bishi jokes! Back in 1984, Giffen was too much ahead of the manga trend.


5 Responses to “Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug”

  1. Ed Sizemore Says:

    I loved Ambush Bug exactly for the humor. I remember getting his first mini-series and being utterly captivated by the maniac energy. It was a welcome change of pace from most superhero books.

  2. Joshua Macy Says:

    Reading these was a real can’t go home again moment for me.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Sounds like you were disappointed in the book, Joshua. There’s definitely an “it was better at the time” feeling to it for me.

  4. jdh417 Says:

    Given all the incomprehensible crossover crap going on at Marvel and DC, a new Ambush Bug series is clearly in order.

    How about the Secret Blackest Night of Infinite Crisis War, in 52 parts, no less?

  5. Johanna Says:

    There was a new Ambush Bug. Sadly, not very good. But then, as Joshua points out, you can’t go back.




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