Wednesday, 16 May 2012
On Scooby-Doo Where Are You #21: Reader's Roulette #3
I may be wrong, but I strongly suspect that this is the first time the answer to "Scooby Doo, where are you?" is, "He's in the crapper with Shaggy". And no, I'm not speaking metaphorically, though I might as well be. Strangely enough, writer Scott Peterson and artist Vince Deporter's The Dragon In The Bathroom wasn't the one of the comic's three tales which DC chose to use in its solicitations for the issue, preferring to tease the readership with "Can the gang get to the bottom of the haunted stadium in time for kickoff?" rather than "Will Shaggy manage to complete his number twos before the ghost in the abandoned house's toilet gets him?". I say this not because I'm offended by the whole business, though I could have done without the scene of an apparently pleased-to-be-relieved Shaggy as he sits and enjoys the - shall we say - termination of an intensely compelling physical process. (It's been as tastefully presented as such a tasteless scene can be, but sadly the mind's eye doesn't tend to stop at the edge of a carefully cropped frame.) But unless you're in the market for a tale whose whole point is that Shaggy needs a poo not once but twice, The Dragon In The Bathroom is a perfectly pointless exercise. Worse than that, there’s an air of smugness when the toilet-occupying Shaggy declares, "Scoob! You scared me witless!". How that must have made writer Peterson and editor Michael Siglain giggle. Yes, Shaggy's on the porcelin bowl, and yes, witless rhymes with shitless, and yes, the "s" word usually does follow on from "you scared me". It's all very impressive stuff.
Perhaps if the rest of the chapter had reflected an ambition to achieve anything more daring, or even more entertaining, than a few jobby jokes, the scatological wonder of it all might have passed as an earthy contrast to some genuinely smart-minded writing. As it is, there's just the sense of the long way round having been taken for a profoundly unimpressive view. If only Vince Deporter's well-judged and evocative artwork had been polishing a - wait for it - tale which felt just a touch less pleased with itself, that offered just a little more of substance to pad out the sniggers. Never mind, any nipper, or comics creator, who enjoyed the haunted bowel-movement scene will undoubtedly howl at the tale's conclusion, in which the traumatised Shaggy and Scooby race off in desperation because "now (they) gotta go worse than ever!". Is this the first Scooby tale which revolves almost entirely around the urgently-needed use of a privy? Is this even, perhaps, a daring touch of satire? Kids today, ah? And some comicbook creators and editors too.
At least Peterson knows that a tale with only a few pages to fill can't afford to be clogged up by great ill-digested mounds of exposition. Scott Gross, the writer and artist of lead feature The Case Of The Haunted Huddle (*1), obviously missed that particular afternoon in Comics 101. As a result, his tale opens up not with an eye-catching scene designed to appeal to readers young and old, but with text-crowded panels featuring static characters eating cereal. Obviously the story's editor - Kwanza Johnson - had a different take on the comic's audience to Michael Siglain, since it seems doubtful that the same readers who'd be laughing at the feces gags in The Dragon In The Bathroom would be willing to plough through the log-jam of wordage in The Case Of The Haunted Huddle. The repeated stodginess of Gross' script isn't helped by his own habit of avoiding clear establishing shots, meaning that the very first page, to take but one example, features 5 characters talking to each other who are never actually shown occupying the same space. It did used to be a given that the reader, and the younger reader in particular, was granted the courtesy of seeing where everyone in a scene was in relation to both each other and the situation they shared. This isn't a convention which Gross always subscribes to, and when he does - with the exception of a perfectly transparent panel introducing a scene in a gym - it's often hard to grasp exactly where we are and who's involved. True, Gross has a genuinely impressive knack of suggesting that his by-necessity broadly-drawn characters have a physical presence and clearly-recognisable emotions, and there he proves to have skills which many cartoonists would struggle to match. But there's far too much going on in the story and far too little made of most of it to leave The Case Of The Haunted Huddle as anything other than a curate's egg, and not, I regret, in the modern sense of the phrase.
* 1:- I'm horrified to find my skill with typos resulting in my giving the wrong title to The Case Of The Haunted Huddle, and my shameful thanks to Mr Gross for correcting me with such tolerance.
Finally, there's John Rozum, Leo Batic and Horatio Ottolini's Gridiron Ghoul, which manages to compactly express the banality of a typical old-school Scooby-Doo cartoon. The readers who warmed to the weight of exposition in Gross' opener may well find themselves somewhat alienated by this perfectly serviceable, easy-to-digest tale of a fake zombie hiding in the bowels of a football stadium. (There's a few text-crowded panels, but Batic and Ottolini keep everything clear and moving forward.) Similarly, those looking for infant-school milk-through-the-nose hilarity may be disappointed by Rozum's straight-forward tale of an unconvincing mystery solved through a minimum of wit and effort. Still, perhaps the youngest of readers might not feel let down by the fact that the unmasked villain had never been seen in the preceding pages at all. For a gentle whodunit, that reveal certainly carried the virtues of surprise. Our mystery villain's motive had been cleverly set-up, I'll readily admit, but there was just that minor matter of our never having seen him before. Since it can't spoil the reveal, I'll let you into a secret; he's the bloke who sold Shaggy the hot-dogs before the story began. You know, the one we never see. Or hear about. What a shame that previous panels in the tale featuring the cast watching the game couldn't have featured a hot-dog or two rather than pizza and popcorn. They could even have shown us a hot-dog salesman too. Even those little details which might have established a smidgin of foreshadowing often seem to go astray in DC's Scooby-Doo, and once again, it’s tempting to wonder what a modern-era editor actually does.
We need look no further than the wonders of Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge or, closer to the 21st century, Paul Dini and Bruce Timms' Batman: Mad Love to remind us of how the animation tie-in is capable of inspiring work of the very highest quality. (*1) Scooby-Doo Where Are You # 21 doesn't seem to reflect the slightest trace of any such ambition, despite the strength of some of its artwork and the consistently excellent colouring by Heroic Age and Jason Lewis. Perhaps the terms of the property's licensing or the constraints of the book's budget precluded anything other than what's on offer here. Oh well, never mind. I'm sure Warner Bros will be particularly pleased as punch at The Dragon In The Bathroom’s approach to nailing the currently untapped comics audience of undemanding kid compulsive-gigglers and teen slacker-stoners looking for some light reading to accompany their munchies. Crikey. File under low ambitions, generally mediocre work and lost opportunities.
*1:- Of course, Scott Peterson was one of the two editors who worked on Mad Love.
Reader's Roulette will return next week. I hope you might consider popping in and nominating a comic or two when it does. Indeed, please feel free to mention interesting titles from this week too in the comments below, show the mood take you.