Thursday, December 11, 2014

Unearthed: Secret Origins #48

In my previous Unearthed entry, I looked at an issue of DC Comics' Secret Origins which interested me because of the two characters who were featured; this time, I have an issue which features four characters in short stories - only one of which I had an actual interest in.

Secret Origins#48 assembles four stories which editor Mark Waid (yes, he was an editor circa 1990) helpfully places in context on the editorial page. There's nothing in particular which weaves Ambush Bug, Stanley & his Monster, Rex the Wonder Dog & the Trigger Twins together, but heck, why not cover them? While I'm a big fan of Ambush Bug - and sought this issue out to complete my collection - the other three I know only of primarily via their Who's Who entries. Let's learn their stories together!

There's not much point in describing the plot to an Ambush Bug story, but here we go...

We open with "The Secret Origin of Ambush Bug: We Thought Him Up," by the same team who delivered the Ambush Bug mini-serieses - Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming. Here, the Bug is approached by an agent of the National Bureau of Origins (N.B.O.), who demand he comply with the laws of having a "credible origin story." The Bug sends the agent packing to Kansas to find a rocketship while Ambush Bug himself tries to dredge up memories of his origin. Instead, he finds himself before another agent who isn't fooled by his claims of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Ambush Bug tries again to remember his origin, this time by returning to the warehouse where he first fought crime with Cheeks, the Toy Wonder (his toy sidekick from Ambush Bug#1). Instead, the Bug finds the warehouse now full of leftovers from Giffen's recent Invasion! crossover and he has to scour every DC comic just to make sure Cheeks wasn't misplaced during a tie-in.

Ambush Bug finally concludes that the secret of his origin can only be found with Cheeks and that since Cheeks is dead (again, Ambush Bug#1), he'll have to find him in Heaven. To accomplish this, the Bug taunts one of the Lords of Order (from Giffen's Dr. Fate, I think) until the Lord of Order kills him. We then switch to "The Origin of Ambush Bug," drawn in Giffen's stick-man style, presenting Ambush Bug as a being sketched into life by Irwin Schwab who leaves the printed page in order to save Irwin's class from a rampaging dinosaur. From there, we move to "The True Origin of Ambush Bug" as Vril Dox (of L.E.G.I.O.N. - not sure why he's here) tries to interrogate Ambush Bug's charred remains. We switch again, this time to "The Honest-to-God, Swear-on-Our Mothers'-Graves, Real Origin of Ambush Bug," wherein a bat splatters itself on a window pane next to the Bug's ashen remains.

Meanwhile in Heaven, Ambush Bug finds out he's due to be sent into a new life and is routed back to Earth, landing in an alley (where a newspaper can be seen displaying: "Lord of Order Gets the Chair"). Ambush Bug realizes now that he's on a new life the N.B.O. won't be able to find him and he can have a new identity; unfortunately, that identity is as one of the "Big Fat Freakin' Frogs" (this was 1990, after all) and he's horried to discover "I've come back as the one thing even lower than a comic book character! I'm... merchandise!" Not unlike Giffen's own Rocket Raccoon, come to think of it. Anyway, the N.B.O. collect Ambush Bug and send him to Belle Reve, hoping he'll be sent on a mission with the Suicide Squad and quietly killed without having to deliver an origin story. Then we learn that Cheeks is still alive, and running the N.B.O.! It's a twist ending worthy of a 1990s comic book!

It's funny that Giffen often likes to take shots at comics fandom when he's perhaps the second greatest fan of DC's Silver Age in the business (the top spot belongs to this comic's editor). I don't always understand Giffen's references, though, as noted above, I have at least a hazy idea of who Vril Dox and the Lords of Chaos are (my main DC Universe interests are the Suicide Squad & Ambush Bug; I still don't know much about Invasion! and that's despite having read tie-ins). This story was best enjoyed by audiences in 1990 and even then it wouldn't have been to everyone's tastes. You've really got to love comics to enjoy seeing them mocked Giffen-style. Giffen evidently trusted that his readers - recognizing Ambush Bug was a character without a real status quo - wouldn't expect an origin and simply wanted another Ambush Bug tale; thus, so he did deliver.

The second feature is Stanley and His Monster, written & drawn by Phil Foglio. The story concerns a demon whom Lucifer has to expel from Hell because he "brings sno-cones to the souls in the inferno... knits mittens for those entombed in the plains of ice... sings hymns in the great wasteland of the TV evangelists" and spreads "Have a Nice Day" stickers everywhere. Lucifer's reasoning is that being amongst humans, the demon's true nature will be unleashed due to the cruelty humans heap upon each other. However, this doesn't work because the demon meets Stanley, a friendly and adventurous young boy who welcomes the monster into his home. It's a brief tale, but it's gentle and works well; Foglio revisited the characters in a 1993 limited series.

Next we have "The Birth of Rex the Wonder Dog" which, unfortunately, requires a few words. Written by Gerard Jones and drawn by Paris Cullins, the story opens in World War II (a strange place to start given that Rex dates back only as far as 1952) as Dr. Anabolus has designed a Super-Soldier formula; anyone with a smattering of comics knowledge will recognize this as a parody of Captain America, but we have no choice but to read through all 8 pages (or leave now! it's not too late! I warned you!!!), rather than Giffen's super hero origin parodies in the lead story which sometimes took up all of one panel (don't bring your weak sauce Captain America parody to an anthology with a Giffen lead feature; just don't). The one and only good gag in the story is the Airplane!-like bit above: "But where did you learn to draw so well?"

Anyway, all you need to know is that the Captain America origin is faithfully recounted, but with Rex the Wonder Dog in his place for some reason. If you find that inherently funny, please tell me before I have to sit next to you on an airplane. One Lt. Dennis (who looks vaguely like Bob Hope) brings Rex (and his son Danny) to Dr. Anabolus where the pooch is tranformed by Anabolus' serum into a Wonder Dog (complete with Kirby crackle, seen above). Dr. Anabolus is killed by a German agent and because he didn't write down his formula, Rex is a one-of-a-kind. Lt. Dennis suggests to Danny that after the war they could travel the globe: "We'll work for circuses and rope wild horses and solve strange crimes and find lost civilizations..." which Danny thinks is "a lotta hooey." The joke is that that's exactly what they wind up doing in Rex's 1952 adventure series. Get it? That's the joke! THAT'S THE JOKE! It's funny! You're supposed to laugh! It's hysterical because the ideas Lt. Dennis suggests are so unrealistic next to the entirely grounded and believable story we just suffered through. Ha. Ha. Much like Power Pachyderms, this story is comic book humour on life support. Even the writers of Spider-Ham knew there had to be a joke beyond "Spider-Man, but a pig!"

Gerard Jones would go on to inflict Wonder Man on readers, but I understand his Justice League was a cult hit and I know his various non-fiction books about comic books such as Men of Tomorrow are very good. Plus, I'm sure he'd hold the door open for you at the gas station.

The Trigger Twins close out the book with their origin, as presented in eight pages by William Messner-Loebs & Trevor von Eeden. There's very little I can say about it; twin brothers Wayne & Walter Trigger are followed through their birth to fighting in the US Civil War, to Walter becoming a gunfighter and sheriff of the town where Wayne works. Wayne helps out Walter in a gunfight by pretending to be him and from then on, they are the Trigger Twins. On the editorial page, Waid admits he was a great fan of the Trigger Twins stories, hence their inclusion here - they don't fit the humourous tone of the other entries. Von Eeden's art is totally solid - evocative of 1950-60s Gene Colan here in his silhouettes. DC could have printed this story in the 70s and no one would have batted an eye - I mean that as a compliment. After the previous 8-page tale, the Trigger Twins are more than welcome to close the issue out.

One great story, one lousy story and two okay tales; but really, if you're an Ambush Bug fan you won't care what's on the other pages.

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