Son of Ambush Bug #1, July 1986, DC Comics
co-writer/penciller: Keith Griffen
co-writer: Robert Loren Fleming
inker: Bob Oksner
colorist: Anthony Tollin
editor: Julius Schwartz
Yes, Son of Ambush Bug. Did you think I was joking?
I’ve never read an Ambush Bug adventure, and in fact, I’ve only ever heard of Ambush Bug when the character is referenced as an inside joke among well-read DC fans. (I think A.B. cameoed in JLA: Welcome to the Working Week, written by comedian and confessed geek Patton Oswalt, heretofore my only legitimate encounter with the hero in print.) Despite the character’s laughable qualities, I didn’t think Ambush Bug would be so self-depreciating, but with Giffen’s name on the cover, I should’ve anticipated the bwah-ha-ha factor. So, did Ambush Bug die in Infinite Crisis? That is Giffen’s legacy, right?
In Son of Ambush Bug #1, Ambush Bug laments his declining popularity as a comic book character – yes, he knows he’s a comic book character – and just he assumes his life couldn’t get much worse, a cosmic interloper dubbed the Interferer threatens to alter his continuity forever. Indeed, in this first issue alone, Ambush Bug is manga-ized and Kirby-fied, and his sidekick, the stuffed animal “toy wonder” Cheeks, is abandoned to a wartime comic, appropriately entitled Combat Cheeks. Obviously, Giffen is operating on a satirical level, and his genre-bending interludes stretch the bounds of his artistic skills and make for an eclectic read. In Justice League International, Giffen’s outrageous story arcs were often anchored in reality by the nature of the hero’s past continuities (although the introduction of Guy Gardner’s comic book hero as a genuine supporting character pushed the limit), subject matter like Ambush Bug obviously opens the floodgates for Giffen’s well-established cynicism.
At the same time, experiments in breaching the fourth wall of comics strike me as either too reserved or too over the top. In this case, I’m opting for the former; although Ambush Bug leaps from genre to genre, his acknowledgement of his two-dimensional existence doesn’t really set him apart from his other panel-to-panel peers, sans his overwhelming depression regarding his apparently low sales. We’d never expect Superman to break that fourth wall and talk to his readers, but Ambush Bug can – if he knows he’s a comic book character, why not curse his writer for condemning him to such an ill fate? Then again, if I remember correctly, She-Hulk played with these themes a bit back in the day, to no real avail. Like the Hulk family needs another level of dementia to make their characters compelling. I’m just saying, you can transplant the concept of comic book character with superhero – the connection to other genres with other timelines or parallel universes – and the story is just like another other kooky hero-down-on-his-luck fable. To establish and implement the balance between exploitation and exploration of the comic book as a world unto itself would be a very interesting and interactive reading experience.
In the meantime, Ambush Bug remains another forgotten son of the DC Universe. Unfortunately, in this issue, he’s already accepted his fate, and aside from a few laughs, Giffen’s efforts really don’t offer us any reason why we shouldn’t, either. I’m not holding my breath for All-Star Ambush Bug or Ambush Bug/The Heckler: Hard-Traveling Losers – but honestly, I wouldn’t be disappointed, either. Then, at least one hero would’ve escaped the supposed Giffen curse. Or have I finally discovered the reason why DC opts to slaughter his pet projects? Did Paul Levitz dig up this issue, scoff at the satiric Interferer and all that he implies, and decide enough is enough?