When the reveal of DC Comics’ post-apocalyptic reboot of Scooby-Doo hit months ago, it featured images of Fred carrying a Big Freakin’ Gun, Velma holding a bizarre gamepad, and Shaggy wearing a lumbersexual-style waxed mustache and beard. Fans everywhere went “ruh-roh” upon seeing the cover for Scooby Apocalypse #1. Don’t worry; the story inside is much better than the cover implies.
The series’ first issue kicks off a complete reboot of Scooby-Doo, re-introducing the mystery-solving gang as 20-something grown-ups who don’t know each other yet. Daphne Blake is an enigma-obsessed TV show host who’s washed up and looking for the road back to fame, with crush-laden cameraman Fred Jones in tow.
Scientist Velma Dinkel works at a top-secret research facility that’s been developing smart-dog technology. Scooby, of course, is a test subject in trials of her work, taken care of by new-guy dog trainer Norville “Shaggy” Rogers. Readers see them meet each other at the Blazing Man alt-culture fest, where Velma divulges she’s realized her work with nanites is going to damn the world instead of saving it.
I went in expecting the worst for Scooby Apocalypse. Terrible updates to old pop culture icons have happened so often that the phenomenon has become a trope unto itself. The cyber-hep redesigns teased in advance of the first issue of DC Comics’ new Scooby-Doo series seemed predestined to suck. Yet, somehow, Scooby Apocalypse #1 does every tacky thing that you were afraid of and still makes it hilarious.
Worried that the new version of Shaggy would be a foodie hipster stereotype who goes to Burning Man? He is and isn’t. Shuddering at the thought of Fred being a douchebro? His kinda-sorta relationship with Daphne has an astringent tension that feels refreshing. Concerned about a ‘realistic’ explanation for having a talking dog? The tech that lets Scooby vocalize and broadcast hologram emoticons opens up an avenue for sly sight gags, like when he tells Shaggy that gluten-free, rice-crust pizza smells like shit.
Yes, Scooby says his equivalent of “fuck” in that panel, too. [Note: Let the record show that some of you gentle readers think Scooby’s saying “yuck.” He’s a dog; who can say for sure?]
Old-school Scooby-Doo engenders a lot of affection from the generations that watched it by virtue of the repetitive plots and composition of its episodes. It was comfort food television. At its heart, the Scooby-Doo concept is just a bunch of dumb kids—Velma excluded—who bumble their way around nefarious doings. Pratfalls ensue until they, for example, manage to stop the nasty insurance salesman trying to buy a ‘haunted’ house on the cheap. The fact of the matter is Scooby-Doo is inherently dumb. When the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer called themselves the Scoobies, they were referencing the template of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon to point at the absurdity of their own evil-vanquishing activity. It can be argued that Scooby-Doo’s best form is as an empty-calorie phenomenon to be riffed on and referenced.
This new version of Scooby-Doo isn’t running away from the dumb. Writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis take the raw, talking-dog-and-stoner-buddy clay and mold it into a new sort of goofiness. All of the characters have blindspots where they’re a little clueless, but they don’t come across as incompetent. There’s actually a touching bit of tenderness in the backup story that shows Shaggy and Scooby’s first meeting, where the beardo saves the Great Dane from cold-blooded euthanasia.
Overall, the tone of the proceedings reminds Giffen and DeMatteis’s work on the 1990s bwahaha Justice League series. Characters bicker and snipe at each other in sitcom-style exchanges and penciller Howard Porter’s detailed linework makes it feel like they’re actually emoting with big, broad expressions.
Scooby may be the runty result of a program designed to mollify humanity and created hypersmart attack K-9s but this opening chapter of the new series doesn’t feel grim-n’-gritty. The stakes are clearly higher in Apocalypse than in any given 1970s episode of Scooby-Doo but it doesn’t feel bleak. The laughs are still there; they’re just happening for reasons that are slightly more mature.