People complain about needing a DC Encyclopedia in order to understand Final Crisis. I really don’t see what’s so inpenetrable about it, though our own David Uzumeri and Douglas Wolk provide some invaluable context, background and observations. I still think you could go into FC blindly and follow and enjoy the story.
Ambush Bug: Year None, not so much. Maybe it can be enjoyed in the same way I enjoyed old Looney Tunes cartoons back before I knew who Peter Lorre or Carmen Miranda were, but the lion’s share of the jokes (and plot) seem heavily steeped in DC Comics nerdery. So for the perplexed:
Page 1: The Source Wall’s mention of Big Barda kicks off the issue’s theme of “DC Killing All Its Women”, as Barda was killed off in Death of the New Gods #1, by a murderer that ended up being… well, basically the Source? I wouldn’t really call that a draw. Barda’s death and its treatment inspired anger in many fans. It’s also worth noting that the Source Wall appeared back in Ambush Bug #1, comforting him after the death of Cheeks by reminding him that “DEAD HEROES SELL”.
Page 2: Jonni DC, another dead woman. Jonni first appeared in Ambush Bug #2, as a “Continuity Cop” that functioned more or less like the Monitors did in Countdown . Ambush Bug #3 reveals that, just like Soloman the Gun Toting Monitor, she murdered countless characters who had “no place” in the newly unified “Post-Crisis” DCU. At the end of AB #3, Jonni herself is murdered by Darkseid in what was billed as a sales-boosting guest appearance. She’s returned from the dead repeatedly since then.
The Character of Jonni DC is itself a take-off of the 1950s DC mascot “Johnny DC”, which in recent years has been revamped into DC’s current line of kids-oriented comics. The contemporary “Johnny DC” line has a stylized mascot whose torso is the new “DC Swirl” logo.
On Jonni’s shelves are various momentos of DC’s “forgotten” Silver Age past:
- a photo of Jonni and a Dick Sprang-styled Smilin’ Batman
- a ragdoll of The Anti-Matter Man, villain of the first “Crisis on Earth One & Two” story that really started this whole Multiverse mess
- A wooden Flash puppet, from Abra Kadabara‘s first Silver Age appearance
- A fuzzy white top hat with a pound symbol on it. I can’t identify its source, but hopefully some loyal reader can!
As we will soon see, it’s a spectre of that Silver Age Multiverse era that has put the screws to Jonni this time around, but might there be a deeper conspiracy?
Page 3: Another dead woman, this one explicitly referencing Women in Refrigerators , a site/meme created by Gail Simone to focus on the poor treatment female characters receive in superhero comics. “Women in Refrigerators” has become a shorthand rallying call for all questionable portrayals/treatments of women in superhero comics. If you don’t believe me, check out the fridge jokes in that Big Barda thread.
Page 5: Introducing Cheeks, the Toy Wonder! Cheeks is essentially a Cabbage Patch Kid doll AB stumbled upon in Ambush Bug #1, and who he believes is his laconic, languid adopted son. Cheeks dies all the time, but usually comes back, either as a cotton-eating zombie, an angel, or because Ambush Bug finds an identical doll. Cheeks’s deaths were often promoted as sure-fire sales boosts.
Page 7: As discussed in part none of these annotations, this sequence reveals the real motivation for the murders in Identity Crisis. Jean Loring wanted to win back Ray Palmer (aka the Atom, aka her ex-husband, a husband she herself divorced years earlier, and who makes it clear in IC that he still carries a torch for her) by accidentally murdering and incinerating a longtime friend in order to attract her ex-husband. She does this at the exact time she has scheduled a meeting with her ex-husband to sign some legal documents. Somehow this plan nearly works, until she slips up and reveals her crimes in the style of an Encylopedia Brown villain. Honestly, AB:YN‘s explanation makes as much sense as anything. Jean is later possessed by Eclipso, God’s Evil Instrument of Vengeance and apparently killed by a Darkseid-influenced Mary Marvel. Even if she somehow survived, she’s another great example of how female characters are often treated.
Page 8: Argh!Yle is Ambush Bug’s long-time menace. In Son of Ambush Bug, Argh!Yle was apparently killed after his orbiting Bureau lair was destroyed by DC Editorial, upset that Argh!Yle had kidnapped and brainwashed Superman’s boot without properly clearing the storyline with the Superman editorial office, a move that apparently mirrored the actual Superman office nixing the storyline. He really does re-tell his origin a lot.
Page 9-10: Alongside Silver Age staple “Thought Balloons”‘s headstone, the “Robert Loren Fleming” headstone is a joke calling back to a misunderstood joke Giffen made promoting Lobo Unbound about his Ambush Bug co-writer, “the late Robert Loren Fleming”. The rumor persisted (persists?) despite becoming the subject of a Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed column.
Cecil Sunbeam and Abdul Smith are two members of The Green Team, a group of Richie Richesque millionaire boy adventurers created by Joe Simon and Jerry Grandenetti for DC 1st Issue Special #2 in 1975. They didn’t appear again until Ambush Bug #3, where they were implicitly killed off by Jonni DC.
Yankee Poodle is a member of the Zoo Crew from Captain Carrot & his Amazing Zoo Crew. That title ran for a few years in the 1980s, existing on the Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-C. Captain Carrot & the Final Ark was published last year as a tie-in to Countdown to Final Crisis and showed that Yankee Poodle and company existed on Earth-26, which was destroyed by Starro. Yankee Poodle and several other characters escaped through a dimensional breach onto New Earth, but were transformed into normal, non-anthropomorphized animals. If the series wasn’t meant to be a metaphor for the spirit-crushing destruction of the joy and sense of wonder of old comics as seen through the lens of Countdown and its related tie-ins, it certainly did a great job of doing so. Jonni DC never attacked the Zoo Crew, though in Ambush Bug Nothing Special Captain Carrot was one of several “obsolete” characters murdered by the renegage severed head of Ambush Bug editor Julie Schwartz.
There’s also another dead woman floating in the pool, who appears to have had one cup of her bathing suit miscolored.
Egg Fu is probably best known from his recent star turn in 52, (“I finally did it! I rehabilitated Egg fucking Fu! My evil work is done…” – Grant Morrison) but before that he was just another victim of Jonni DC:
Ace the Bathound was also wiped out by Jonni DC, but don’t look to Morrison to save Ace: despite his love of cats and dogs, Morrison “think[s] he’s dead” and stuffed in the Batcave, according to a San Diego panel. Like Merryman says in Animal Man #25, “A lot of these people will get out [of "Comic Book Limbo"]… It’s the animals I feel sorry for. They’ll never get out of here.” Ace can take solace in the fact that he co-starred in the Krypto the Superdog cartoon, at least!
Sugar & Spike were the subject of a long-running series of kids’ comics by Sheldon Mayer. They weren’t wiped out by Jonni DC in AB #3, but that didn’t keep them from being put through the wringer in past Ambush Bug stories. Sugar’s dolls were eaten by a zombified Cheeks in Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer, and Spike appears as a mustachioed “adult” baby and author of Sheldon Dearest, a tell-all memoir in Son of Ambush Bug #4. In Nothing Special, Sugar was an agent of DC Comics Inc. modelled after Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, and enlisted Ambush Bug to help her track down “her partner” Spike’s murderer, the renegade severed head of Julie Schwartz.
However, in this issue we learn that Julie Schwartz’s head was just a patsy, and Sugar had conspired with ‘Mazing Man to murder Spike. This is a rare inversion of the Women in Refrigerators model, especially in this book.
The Glop is yet another Jonni DC victim from AB #3:
Go-Go Chex is a new character, obviously inspired by DC’s short-lived attempt to re-brand themselves with a black and white checkered border on their books:
The theory was that putting a distinctive checkerboard pattern along the top of the comic would make the books stand out on the shelves, but with DC far from its creative peaks and Marvel in its heyday, this may well have served as the proverbial Scarlet Letter to would-be buyers. (Man, if only they had used red and black checks, then David could work this into his “Batman R.I.P.” annotations!) The “Go-Go Checks” initiative lasted barely a year in 1966-1967, but it permanently associated black and white checkerboard pattern cover (like the one on page fifteen) with goofy “Silver Age” nostalgia:
Mark Waid even invented a “Dial H for H-E-R-O” persona in his Silver Age fifth-week event named “Go-Go” who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Chex:
Anyway, Go-Go Chex is obviously the embodiment of goofy “Swingin’ 1960s” nostalgia, even though Lava Lamps and Smiley Buttons seem more like 1970s icons. For some reason Chex calls everyone “Wonder Chick”, the very pre-1970s pre-feminist nickname seemingly everyone used for Wonder Girl in the original Teen Titans series. As DC’s continuity cop and cultural gatekeeper, Jonni DC is a natural target for a character obsessed with bringing the 1960s back; it’s less clear why such a man would team with Argh!Yle to kill Ambush Bug, but it’s not as if most Silver Age villains had a lot of internal consistency.
Page 17: Another staple of 1960s DC books were “Cap’s Hobby Hints” by Henry Boltinoff, helpfully annotated here by AB himself. Some examples of the original strips have been posted by DC creator Terry Beatty .
The Batgirl here is Bette/Betty Kane, who was phased out near the end of the Silver Age in favor of the more familiar Barbara Gordon Batgirl. Her history of phasing in and out of continuity is nearly as tortured as your Supergirls and Hawkmans, though on a much smaller scale, as Barbara Gordon is pretty popular so there’s a less frequent impulse to “work out” Bette Kane’s issues. No idea where the “Phantom Stranger, Serial Impregnator” gag comes from/is going.
Page 18: There are two background characters in panels three and four; who they are isn’t entirely clear. If we allow for miscoloring, then the little fellow giving AB a Bronx Cheer might be Answer Man/Genius Jones, a long-defunct character who recently turned up in “Comic Book Limbo” in Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s “Dr. Thirteen” serial in Tales of the Unexpected. The hooded guy colored like the Spectre looks a lot more like Jack Kirby’s Atlas, who is also back in James Robinson’s Superman run. Everyone is coming back! And Argh!Yle has moved onto literally using women (not just their imperilment) “as a weapon against the hero”.
Page 19: As AB again self-annotates, this is the “Jack Kirby Sandman“. This is another character with a ridiculously byzantine backstory, so if anyone really wants to know the connections between Wesley Dodds/Garrett Sanford/Sandy/Dream/Flint Marko/that guy from Punch-Out/Sandman Sims, follow that Wikipedia link. The ugly purple monster is presumably Brute or Glob, the two “nightmares” that assisted “Jack Kirby Sandman” in his crimefighting, and who I think ended up turning up in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series too.
Interesting story about Ambush Bug and Sandman: Dream and Death both appeared in 1992′s Ambush Bug Nothing Special, just a few months before Vertigo was spun out into its own imprint. The gimmick of Nothing Special was that Ambush Bug wanted a job as a supporting character in an ongoing series, and he dressed as “Jack Kirby Sandman”, hoping to add some comic relief as Dream’s sidekick in Sandman . When he couldn’t find a job, he worried he might be dead, and tracked down Death to try to get resurrected or something. She informed him that he wasn’t even dead, he was just unwanted:
Supposedly this issue, alongside an earlier cameo by Death and Destiny in Captain Atom led Gaiman to request that no one be allowed to use the Endless, unless given his express permission. Since then, DC seems to have instituted a “Vertigo Embargo”, where the traditionally DCU stars of now-Vertigo books (Swamp Thing, John Constantine, the cast of Sandman , etc.) are barred from appearing in DC Universe titles. Given that, I cannot imagine the “DC Powers that Be” being any happier to see Dream turn up in the book, and I assume that bit was a jab at them.
Page 20: Ben Franklin is like the 18th century George Carlin; not because he likes cusswords, but because people will attribute any damn thing they like to him. Though I guess I am citing a dubious Wikipedia article, and apparently B-Frank was credited with “There’s many a slip twixt a man and his ship” in a book before the Wikipedia article claims “cup and lip” was first put to print; then again, it looks like at least a dozen people used it in print prior to this Charles Reade guy did it. I think I might have found something less interesting than Batgirl’s continuity to extensively annotate here.
Page 22: I can’t place the Bobblehead with the red-and-white costume. Anyone else? I’m wondering if it’s an Earth-2 character, since AB’s Supergirl poster(s?) is now a poster of Power Girl.
The “Stephanie Brown Lil Dickens Power Tool Playset” is a reference to Stephanie “The Spoiler” Brown who was tortured with power tools before
dying at the hands of Black Mask I mean dying at the hands of Dr. Leslie Thompkins’s medical neglect to teach Batman a lesson I mean not actually dying but going to live in Africa with Leslie for awhile. DC’s treatment of her character pretty much inspired the entire site/collective Girl Wonder .
Anyway, that’s more than anyone wanted to know about Ambush Bug , probably. If anyone has a better idea about who/what some of these cameos were, or corrections in general, please let me know.
Stay tuned for AB:YN Annotations: Part None and a Half!