Last year, DC Comics published crossover comics as a tie-in with their Hanna Barbera Beyond imprint, a modernization of the classic cartoon characters. Space Ghost and Green Lantern patrolled the spaceways, Adam Strange adventured with the Quest family, the Suicide Squad met the Banana Splits (still scratching my head on that one), and finally, Booster Gold had a yabba-dabba-doo time with The Flintstones. Based on the success of the first four issues last year, DC Comics has rolled out four new one-shot issues combining DC superheroes with Hanna-Barbera childhood characters in new, unique ways.
Written by Dan Abnett
Pencils by Paul Pelletier
Sightings of a "rogue shark" draw Aquaman in to investigate. There he finds everyone's favorite Curly-Joe-quoting-Rodney-Dangerfield great white shark, Jabberjaw. According to the shark, he's stranded in 2018, thinking he'd been abandoned by his band, The Neptunes. After encountering a school of artificially enraged sharks, the two heroes follow their quarry into a portal, leading towards Jabberjaw's home of Aqualand in the year 2076. What the King of the Seas discovers while on this extra-dimensional excursion could drive him mad.
It doesn't take long to see that aside from the aquatic connection between the two characters, Aquaman and Jabberjaw have only one other thing in common: A lack of general respect. Jabberjaw is quick to toss out his catchphrase "I don't get no respect." Even Aquaman tries his hand at it (more than once). That all having been said, it leads into one of the big problems with the issue.
Aqualand, JabberJaw's home, is shown to be a place where humans treat sea-faring animals as second class citizens. It's brought up and explained in several different scenes, like where Aquaman and Jabberjaw go to a bar for a drink and get told by a robotic "Ejector" that they, as water-breathing creatures, weren't allowed inside. It's enough to dash Aquaman's hopes for a bright future of unity between land and sea. But then when Aquaman, Jabberjaw and, eventually, The Neptunes find the culprit creating rage sharks, the villain is a bit of a strawman conservative extremist who's trying to destroy Aqualand because he thinks that it's too "liberal and inclusive." It's already a poorly explained allegory for racism and bigotry, and yet that isn't enough. Throw in a Star Trek V-esque alliance with Atlanteans that are more Shape-of-Water than hunky humanoid, and you have a gigantic mess.
All of that aside, this issue isn't without decent moments of levity. Aquaman shows very quickly how outmatched the villains are with his fighting skills. The Neptunes and even the bad guys seem gobsmacked and Arthur replies with a simple, "What?" He even argues with the villain, who calls himself "Ocean Master," which said bad guy rebukes in a childish fashion. Also, the overall absurdity of the events seem to catch everyone off-guard, which would be fine on its own, if that classism/racism allegory hadn't been crow-barred into the narrative. Overall Aquaman/Jabberjaw could've been a fun little romp, but the social commentary comes out of nowhere and is given lip service while the plan by the villains is not only idiotic, but is shown to not even work. Sealab 2020 plays an integral part in the story which is a nice reference for long time cartoon fans.
Another saving grace of the issue is the Captain Caveman written by Jeff Parker with artwork by Scott Kolins. The wizard Shazam and The Spectre argue the notion of whether heroism is a recent notion or a part of the fabric of humanity. Shazam argues humans have always had an altruistic spark to them, while The Spectre contends that social evolution has made it easier for mankind to nurture its better angels. Shenanigans ensue and many robots are smashed. It's a fun little jaunt and aspires to be nothing more than such.
Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey
Written by Bryan Hill
Pencils by Denys Cowan
In 1976 Metropolis, Bronze Tiger, Cheshire, and Professor Presto are seeking out three scrolls that are said to contain the secret to an ancient technique called "The God Fist." Outmatched and seeking answers, Black Lightning seeks help from an old friend of his named Penry Pooch; none other than the Crime-fighting Kung fu Canine himself, Hong Kong Phooey: number one superguy.
The pacing, tone, and atmosphere lend itself to a bit of a blaxploitation art style which befits the time where the story is set as well as our two main characters. It's an interesting contrast from the usual cartoonish bumbling that Hong Kong Phooey is known for. In this story, he's incredibly competent, as well as showing an encyclopedic knowledge of ancient Chinese magic and martial arts. It's a refreshing change of pace even though it eschews the comical nature of the original show. That being said, I still hear Scatman Crouthers's voice when I read Penry's dialogue and I'm a kid again.
The artwork is very rough and gritty but not to where you can't make anything out. It's stylized in all the right places to where each punch, kick, and setting can be made easily distinctive. The end battle especially between Hong Kong Phooey and Professor Presto gives off a "Last Dragon" feel to it with both characters exhibiting respective glowing energy. I also really enjoyed that everyone just accepted that Hong Kong Phooey was a talking, humanoid, martial arts master with his own dojo where he runs it as sifu.
The backup story in this issue features The Funky Phantom, whose skeleton is encased in a grandfather clock and being put on public display. In this morbid bid for publicity, Jason Blood has been asked to summon the spirit of Jonathan Wellington Muddlemore (aka Muddy), to return from the land of the dead and settle the issue of the second amendment. Anyone looking for a nuanced debate on the topic of gun rights will leave disappointed. The story settles for mild satire of the way modern society would go to excessively absurd lengths to justify their positions on certain issues that may require a bit more finesse and nuance. There's the strawman "moar gunz" type whose arguments are more or less dispelled pretty easily. Regardless of my opinion on the matter, the topic is more or less, like the issues brought up in Aquaman/Jabberjaw, little more than lip service.
Written by Scott Lobdell
Pencils by Brett Booth
During a battle with Kilgore, a sentient robotic building (try to keep up), Wally West runs into Dr. M. Blanc, a S.T.A.R. Labs physicist with a dune-buggy capable of entering the Speed Force, the dimensional energy that powers all speedsters. After defeating Kilgore, Wally helps Dr. Blanc test drive his "Speed Buggy" to see how long it can stay in the Speed Force. But unforeseen interference threatens to ruin their best laid plans.
This book has silver age written all over it. From battling a sentient "building" to fighting two evil dune buggies, to a loose grasp on time travel, this issue is straight up silly with how serious every character takes the circumstances. But its earnestness is endearing and makes you want to see where it goes. The interactions between Wally and Blanc showcase a healthy bit of respect combined with a hint of competitive rivalry.
The backstory with the creation of Speed Buggy is a bit on the strange side, but it adds a small bit of tragedy when it shifts focus to the human characters of Speed Buggy's crew at the end. It's an interesting idea, a non-speedster scientist trying to enter the Speed Force and the consequences of such meddling being disastrous.
The artwork holds up nicely, making the colors pop, especially when Speed Buggy engages in the Speed Force. The design of the four-wheeled speedster fits right in with the more grounded DCU style. There's also an epilogue where other Hanna-Barbera characters like Grape Ape, Space Ghost and the Herculoids show up alongside the rest of the DC superheroes to watch Wally and Speed Buggy race for charity. It's dumb, silly fun and I'm here for it.
Written by Peter J Tomasi
Pencils by Fernando Pasarin
While in Big City attending the funeral of a deceased Daily Planet colleague, Lois, Clark, and Jon Kent all come to pay their respects. That is, if Jon can sit still for two seconds. He's not a big fan of funerals, so when Damian Wayne arrives to help alleviate the uncomfortable feeling of impending death, he jumps at the chance. As it turns out, a damaged Dynomutt happens upon the pair which leads to a harrowing mystery that could chill their young bones. Blue Falcon has gone mad, but why?
This issue is perhaps the darkest, strangest, and most unintentionally horrifying of the four. The brutality and sheer dour tone of the story took me by surprise. Watching Blue Falcon go all Bane on Dynomutt as well as his fights with Jon and Damian are pretty violent and tough to see. Even with Damian's training and Jon's powers, Blue Falcon seemed more than a match for the both of them.
It isn't the first time that a "Blue Falcon goes bad" story has been done, either. Just last week Scooby-Doo Team Up#38 had Blue Falcon seemingly "go dark" only to find it was part of some villain's evil plot. The differences in tone and execution are like night and day. Both of these stories handle the premise well for the tone of each book.
Also going into the backstory for the creation of Dynomutt was both heartbreaking and scary at the same time. Speaking as a person who lost a pet a long time ago, I can empathize with the death of a beloved dog, especially one you poured a decades worth of love into. However, the lengths to which Radley Crowne goes to reanimate his "dog wonder" makes him something of a more sympathetic version of Dr. Herbert West mixed with Pet Semetary. The parallels become more apparent particularly at the very end of the story. It's as sweet as it is morbid and frightening when you really stop and think. The juxtaposition of Jon Kent learning how to deal with death to Radley and Dynomutt's steadfast refusal to accept one another's passing is a nice contrast in how one tends to deal with loss.
A big surprise for me was how Damian revered Blue Falcon and Dynomutt to the point of almost hero worship. Anytime Robin brought up Blue Falcon, it was with the utmost respect, proclaiming once that Dynomutt saved his life. But it didn't stop there, Damian spoke of how Blue Falcon and Batman were friends, even working together during Batman Inc. He also told Jon about how Blue Falcon's rogues gallery was full of "psychos even crazier than Gotham's." Keep in mind, among Blue Falcon's villains were a literal Jekyll-Hyde criminal, a thug in a robotic exo-skeleton and a woman whose plan to rule the modeling world was to turn model's faces into that of an ape. I was expecting Damian to throw out the word "pretender" or "knock-off" (well, he does, but not in regard to Blue Falcon).
Interesting, at times fun, and at one point freaky, DC/Hanna-Barbera's latest crossovers were certainly ones to talk about. While I won't say they're as good on the whole as the first four were, they weren't horrible or boring, even if some were either a mess or surprisingly unsettling.