Sunday, October 1, 2017

REVIEW: Scooby-Doo Team-Up #30

Publisher: DC Comics
Cover date: November

On-sale: September 27, 2017
Cover price: $2.99
Pages: 36 (including cover)
Advertising: 30.6% (8.33% paid)
Format: Standard, glossy paper
Variants: None known

“Did Somebody Say Team-Up?” (20 pages)

Writer: Sholly Fisch
Artist: Dario Brizuela
Colorist: Franco Riesco
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Editor: Kristy Quinn 

ISSUE SCORE: 72.25 (out of 100)

THE BOTTOM LINE (UP TOP): An enjoyable tale that may be a bit more amusing to long-time DC Comics fans than its target audience.


STORY SYNOPSIS: When FEMA agents mistakenly call both the Scooby Gang and the Challengers of the Unknown to help track down ingredients needed by a mysterious Gnome-King for an elixir to save the world (from what, exactly, is never made clear), our meddling kids must overcome the dismissive attitude of the Challs, as they meet several other heroic teams they meet along the way. Guest-starring the Sea Devils, Cave Carson and crew, and the Secret Six, along with Rip Hunter and his Time Masters.

COVER (5.75/10):
There's not really a lot going on here — it's just a line-up of the characters reacting to something that appears to be coming from everywhere. However, it's not really clear if there's some monster off panel in the direction Freddie is pointing to (and most of the Challs are looking), or, based on the smoke and dust and some of the characters looking elsewhere, if our heroes are just in the middle of an earthquake. 

Also, in order to get all the characters in on a horizontal axis, they actually don't take up much of the cover real estate. The computer-drawn nature of the characters renders them all with little line weight, and, thus, almost zero depth, such that they kind of blend into each other and the background.

Worst is that I tend to doubt the target audience is going to have  any idea who the Challs are, even if they are identified by the old-timey logo that fills the dead space over their heads. So, some sort of action might have been called for. At the very least, I would've had the artist add in a shadow of some monster showing that the characters are indeed being backed into a corner by something menacing. I might also have asked that the characters be placed on a series of stone steps on this mountain/desert setting, allowing a few to be placed above and below the others, rather than squeezing them all along what amounts to the horizon line.

It's not a bad cover, I just wonder what about it would attract kids to pick it up off the stands — apart from the words "Scooby-Doo," of course. 

PLOT (7.5/10):

Like most Scooby comics, the plot is fairly thin, but it still stands out from other comics on the stands these days by having any semblance of a plot at all. I seem to recall that the two FEMA agents approached by the Gnome-King have appeared before, and the fact that one would call in the Scooby gang while the other would call the Challs makes for a natural springboard. One of the things that has always impressed by about this title is how deftly the creators make the team-ups happen. In a standard super-hero comic, it'd take half the book just to bring the characters together and set the stage. 

Also skipped over, and for good reason I think, is what exactly the ingredients are to Gnome-King's magic elixir, and how, exactly, it will boost Multi-Man's powers — you see, the Gnome-King is a tiny, bobble-headed Multi-Man in disguise — or even what his current and future powers might be. We're told the elixir will increase Multi's powers "beyond all comprehension," and that if he dies, he'll come hack with new and stronger powers, but we never get any inkling of just what those powers are. Just as well, the actual powers are of no more import to the point of the story than are the ingredients of the elixir — best to just have Velma spot some colored goop on the floor, scoop it up, and move one. And so with the power set and such.

Of course, the elixir MacGuffin does beg the question — why does Multi-Man need an serum to boost his powers at all? His threat to kill himself so he can come back with greater powers makes it appear as if he has little fear in doing so . . . at least until cowardly Shaggy plants some doubt into his mind over just how long that trick will work and when dead = dead. But until then, Multi was practically suicidal. One wonders why he had to trouble with a power-boosting elixir at all — indeed, why he needed others to gather the ingredients for him — and why he didn't just kill himself over and over until he came back with the power-set he wanted.

One final thing worth noting, and it didn't occur to me until I sat down to bang out this review, but with all the characters that needed to be trucked on and off stage, there's actually not a whole lot of Scooby-Doo doing Scooby-Doo stuff in this Scooby-Doo comic. But I'm okay with that. The issue was enough fun that I'm happy to give the dog his day off.

SCRIPT (8.25/10):
One other thing I've always enjoyed about this title is that it does not scrimp on the script. Although SDTU is nominally directed at young readers, there are as many words per page here (109.1 to be precise) as in most comics intended for older readers. More even. In fact, this month's issue of the mature readers KILL OR BE KILLED sported 100.5 words per page, while ACTION COMICS had a comparatively paltry 85.2. So, we're giving the kiddies some credit, it seems. 

My only fear is that some of the jokes, while meaningful to an old fanboy like me, might sail right over the kids' heads — not so much in the sense of providing a comic that works on two different levels, but of frustrating the young readers who have no idea what the references could possibly mean. After all, when Freddie says to Cave Carson, "I'd heard you had a cybernetic eye," does anyone, kid or adult, except the 12 people who actually read Cave's Young Animal title get the joke? Other gags work better, such as when Velma observes the pattern in the various teams of leader, big guy, girl, kid brother. Of course, that too, requires some fore-knowledge as we spend the most time with the Challs and the Secret Six — the two teams that don't fit that mold — while no member of any team is introduced as a kid brother. We only know such is the case from Velma's punchline. Meanwhile, the reader of this tale might easily presume June is the leader of the Sea Devils. 

I'm also not sure we needed a full name and area-of-expertise roll call on the Secret Six except that we had to cover that ground in order to get to the very excellent "Who is Mockingbird?" joke [I won't spoil it] and to establish that one of the team is a make-up artist, thus explaining how they came to be disguised as the Challs. WHY, is a different questions, but the short answer seems to be: To get them on the scene at Challengers Mountain. 

Still, overall, the dialogue reads well and little bits, like Biff mentioning that *of course the Sea Devils came prepared with a titanium net* demonstrate that writer Sholly Fisch and editor Kristy Quinn are thinking things through critically and not just hacking out a job they presume no one of import to be reading. 

Oh, and I also like that Fisch treats the Scooby gang and the Challs both with respect. He portrays the Challs as genuinely concerned about the kids safety and (for the most part) not dismissive of them as mere meddling kids. That could have been an ugly scene handled as many might have written it. And he also does not turn the gang into whiners. They present a few quick counter arguments, then simply get about their business, prompting the Challs by the time they get to the third quest to accept the kids as genuine peers. So, everyone comes off looking capable, responsible, and heroic. Good work!

LAYOUT (7.5/10)
Overall, the characters are on model with only a weird quirk here and there, like June (this one the Challs' token chick, not the Sea Devils' June) on Page 4. As with most issues of this series, the medium-distance, waist-up shot predominates, but this outing does feature more background work that usual. More often than not in this book, we can go pages with zero background after the establishing shot. But, hey, at least we get that establishing shot, so, another way this title beats many non-kiddie comics out there these days. I grant you, there are some sparse backgrounds toward the end of this issue, but, in fairness, that scene seems to take place in a hallway. Not much to work with there.

My only real disappointment was the panel in which the Scooby gang enters the cave, prompting Velma to exclaim, "Jinkies! It's like a whole new world down here!" With a statement like that, we might have expected more of a fantastical panorama, but what we get is a panel that looks like it had been inked by Tex Blaisdell, famous for the saying, "When in doubt, black it out."

ARTWORK (7.0/10)
Again, everything is on model, with the DC characters done in a Scooby style. Everything works. My only complaint is another running-frown I've had with this series — that is, while the art is fine, it looks like it was drawn on a computer. The result is uniformity of line weight that gives most everything a lack of depth, or texture, along with the appearance of characters pasted into the scene and reduced to fit, thinning the lines more than might otherwise seem appropriate for the panel. And occasionally, the reverse is true. The lower left panel of Page 5 has the standard Freddie pose — 3/4 view, playing pocket pool — that looks as if it was taken from elsewhere and enlarged to fit. The result is a line weight that is, for no apparent reason, far heavier than any panel anywhere else in the book, even on extreme close-ups. 

EDITING (7.0/10)
As stated above, it does seem as if Quinn is actually editing and helping Fisch make choices, as opposed to the standard rule these days of editors being mere production cops. So, I've got very little issue with the editing that is not already mentioned above. Well, except that I always thought Red's shtick was daredevil mountain-climber, but here it's pretty clear he's an acrobat. Maybe if Kirby invented the Challs today he'd split the difference and make Red a champion parkour dude? Oh, and now that I think if it, has Multi-Man always been a midget? I don't recall that being the case. So, I guess I could have used a primer on how he's able to pass himself off as a gnome.

What I do knock points off for in this section may be something Quinn has no control over. Still, I presume the editor has some role in the supplementary material, and I cannot for the life of me understand the reasoning behind character profiles of Aquaman and Aqualad Jr., or of the "Robin's Test" riddle page, especially as these seem to feature the regular DCU iterations of these characters and not the GO! versions in the young readers line. 

If it were me and I had any say, I would've made the profile page feature the Challengers, to better flesh out the team and introduce them to young readers. I mean, who knows, maybe kids might write in wanting to see more, opening up a whole new avenue for these characters (More on that potential here). Without a profile page, what we know about the Challs from the story is fairly thin. We never even get June's name, although that may be purposefully done to avoid confusion between purple jumpsuit June and red wetsuit June. I also would have give "Robin's Test" a makeover as "Velma's Test," with her posing the same riddles to members of the various teams encountered in this issue.

Usual high standards apply. Colors good. Letters good. Packaging good. In fact, as far as colors go, it seems to me this book is often a lot of oranges and tans, but perhaps because of the underwater scene, we get some variety this time out. 

I do say, as always, that I wish this title (as well as all of DC's young reader comics, at least) was done on something closer to the newsprint of old. The main reason for that is not just that I think a paper the inks can kind of sink into would compliment this art style. My main concern is that glossy pages can stand next to no physical handling. Where newsprint is more supple and pliable, these high-gloss pages are thick and unforgiving. That's okay with regular DCU comics, I guess, as they are made and marketed these days as collectibles. But comics like this one are supposedly made to be read, and by customers who may not care if their comic remains in strict pristine mint. Hell, I do, and my copy has one minor bindery tear just in getting it home from the comics shop and reading through it carefully once or twice.

Oh, one demerit, speaking of binding — turns out my copy has a half-inch tear across the top outer edge of several interior pages. It looks more like a printing and binding defect that something that happened during distribution and display.

What can I say, I think comics are too expensive these days. This one, at $2.99 is a better value, and has enough meat to it that I don't feel cheated for that money. Still, I'm not sure most parents would love spending $3 for something that will undoubtedly look like a zombie corpse after a child has read it once.

Well, given the circulation of this series, it may not be easy to find an issue on the back market if you happen to miss one, or decide too late you want it for the appearance of the guest star. I'm STILL looking for Nos. 4 and 17, which I missed. Sure, but for the occasional Harley issue, this is never going to be a big ticket item. Still, this series has a high degree of charm. So, if this is the kind of thing you're at all into, you're not likely to look at it 10 years from now and think, "Jesus, why did I ever buy that?!"

Okay, so this series is a little too juvenile to truly awaken my inner 12-year old, if you know what I mean. Still, it was a hoot to see all of these characters presented in the manner they were intended, and not the brooding, gritty, post-modern sour-pusses they've morphed into over the years in efforts to keep them relevant. Can these characters work today in their classic presentations? More on that, here.

And finally, let's close out with my Top 10 request list for future Scooby-Doo team-ups! There are five — count 'em, FIVE! — different house ads in this issue for the DC Super Hero Girls line, so I imagine we'll be seeing them pretty soon. But if I had my druthers, here's who I'd pick for future team-ups with Scooby and the gang.

(listed in alphabetical order)
1. Angel and the Ape
2. Blue Falcon and Dynomutt
3. Clue Club
4. Detective Chimp
5. The Dingbats of Danger Street
6. Funky Phantom
7. Goober and the Ghost Chasers
8. Jabberjaw
9. Speed Buggy
10. Stanley and his Monster

BONUS (although I doubt the licensing would work)
Sigmund and the Sea Monsters
The Bugaloos

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