Saturday, January 11, 2014

Team Works!

Growing up with Scooby Doo, it caught my attention that on top of a monthly Scooby Doo, Where Are You? all-ages comic book, DC was launching Scooby Doo Team-Up. Originally it was conceived as a mini-series. Scooby Doo Team-Up would be all about the Mystery, Inc. gang working with The Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin. I have fondest memories of Scooby Doo Meets Batman, as well as the episodes where they met celebrities of the time like Dick Van Dyke, Sandy Duncan, Don Adams and The Harlem Globetrotters. Something like that would be almost impossible to pull of today. Celebrities have a different public image today. I couldn't see Scooby teaming up with say Paris Hilton, The Kardashians, Brittany Spears or Jessica Simpson. The Pamela Anderson cameo in the first Scooby Doo live action movie was hilarious, though.

Scooby Doo Team-Up is a nice melting pot of styles. It brings the old school '70's Hanna-Barbera look together with the '90's Bruce Timm-Paul Dini approach to Tiny Toon Adventures, The Animaniacs and the Batman, Superman and Justice League animated series. That's a credit to artist Dario Brizuela.

After the 1966 live-action Batman television series starring Adam West was cancelled, the character returned to his dark, Gothic roots with a vengeance. Writer Dennis O'Neil was teamed with artist Neal Adams and the "New Look" Batman took on a darker tone. Stories were more suspenseful and almost horror-style. Dick Grayson was sent off to upstate Hudson University and full time duty with the Teen Titans. Bruce Wayne shuttered Wayne Mansion, and he and butler Alfred Pennyworth relocated to downtown Gotham in the Wayne Enterprises Building.

But, in cartoons like The New Adventures of Batman and Super Friends, Batman was still somewhat kid-friendly. That's what Scooby Doo Meets Batman and Scooby Doo Team-Up captures.

Writer Sholly Fisch, former Vice President for Program Research at Sesame Workshop and the President and Founder of MediaKidz Research & Consulting, pairs the Mystery Inc. gang with the Dynamic Duo against one of the finest characters from that 1969 era of Batman: Man-Bat! Kirk Langstrom is a chemist working with bats to find a cure for deafness. He develops a formula for bat-sonar. He tests it on himself and transforms like Jeckyll into Hyde into Man-Bat. In early appearances he is more a tragic, tormented figure, like Bill Bixby's David Banner; or, The Avengers' Hank Pym. In the '70's he was part of The Batman Family comic book. From the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series on, he was transformed more into a full rogue.

Here he's back to his roots. Writer Fisch is brilliant in how he doesn't demonize or "over-villainize" anyone. Heroes are heroic and good people can do bad things. Hate the sin, love the sinner. That's a lesson that needs to be taught and passed on more. The old Scooby Doo cartoons really made bad people evil, rotten and nasty. Mostly unrepentant and irredeemable.

Scooby Doo Team-Up #1 is a fun romp for the Mystery, Inc. gang.

The second issue of Scooby Doo Team-Up features another Gothic great, The Scarecrow. The Man-Bat origin from Detective Comics #400, June 1970 was part of the whole era of returning Batman to his dark roots. Fans decry the "grim 'n' gritty" tone of comics from 1985 forward, but dark comics have always been around. One of Batman's many great Gothic stories was "The Mystery of the Waiting Graves".

There's some really nice touches in Scooby Doo Team-Up #2. A nice homage to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a nod to the 1966 live action Batman film, and a tip of the cowl to Carmine Infantino's classic rendering of the Dynamic Duo.

Scooby Doo Team-Up #2 teams Scooby and Ace, the Bat-Hound. You may have seen Ace on the Krypto animated series awhile back. For a loner like Batman, it is interesting to see how many people he ends up working with. A Boy Wonder, Robin; Batwoman; Bat-Girl; Batgirl; Man-Bat; and Huntress just to name-drop a few. He's even been known to work with Catwoman, who is more of an opportunist, now, than a villain. Ace was a lost dog that Dick Grayson took in, that developed a nose for crime-stopping.

The Scarecrow attacks the members of the Mystery Analysts of Gotham, which brings together in one room more detectives than you can shake a Scooby snack at. It's almost hard to keep track of all the cameos of great DC detectives, but Fisch does a fine job. He doesn't lessen the heroes to make Scooby and Ace look good and he doesn't over-criminalize The Scarecrow.

It's another fine romp.

Scooby Doo Team-Up promises more characters beyond Batman team-up with the Mystery, Inc. gang. Currently there is a void in team-up books. It has been a long while since there was a The Brave and the Bold for Batman team-ups; and books like DC Comics Presents with Superman team-ups, Marvel Team-Up for Spider-Man match-ups and Marvel Two-In-One that featured The Thing from the Fantastic Four alongside other super-heroes are just distant memories.

Memories that have been kept alive online by The Lost Issues web-blog. The Lost Issues started as a daily blog featuring "lost" covers to The Brave and the Bold. Unlimited team-ups that never happened, but should have. It segued to Marvel Two-In-One match-ups; and currently features untold cover tales from Super-Team Family. If you haven't book-marked it yet, you should. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The Lost Issues manages that and then some on a daily basis.

Comics should be fun. Team-up books usually are. I enjoy re-reading the scant Batman: The Brave and the Bold issues that were produced to tie-in to the animated series. The best part of those issues and the issues of Scooby Doo Team-Up is that there is a lesson and moral to them. It's a shame that more comics can't pass on a value or moral lesson.

Scooby Doo Team-Up is one of my must-read comics. It's "fun-demental."          

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