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 moustache 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 realised 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 vocalise 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. Though some people 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 that 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-kilojoule phenomenon to be riffed on and referenced.
This new version of Scooby-Doo isn't running away from the dumb. Writers Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis take the raw, talking-dog-and-stoner-buddy clay and mould 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 me of 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.