Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer #1 (1986)
“I Knew I Shoulda Taken That Left Toyn Back in Albakoyky”
“Night of the Living Doll”
Plot & Pencils – Keith Giffen
Script – Robert Loren Fleming
Inks – Bob Oksner
Colors – Anthony Tollin
Letters – John Costanza
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $1.25
When I decided to do this whole Christmas in July project, this was the first issue that popped into my mind. This was one I’ve been looking forward to discussing/sharing. It is also one that I have been dreading. People familiar with this issue can attest, this bugger (no pun intended) defies explanation. It’s amazingly entertaining, don’t get me wrong… I’ve just been wrestling with how to go about covering it.
Well, I suppose it just comes down to giving it the ol’ college try! Here goes….
We open with a suitably odd scene. Ambush Bug is getting ready for a fun-in-the-sun beach day. He’s tunneled there like Bugs Bunny, and in true Bugs Bunny style, may have just taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. He runs into Hukka from the recently (or soon-to-be) cancelled Atari Force comic, and begins having Vietnam flashbacks. He finds himself a tank, and readies for battle…
… when, Keith Giffen’s artist brush gets involved. First, he erases the all the Hukkas but one… then he inflates the remaining Hukka to the size of a planet… which gets landed on by a United States spaceship… and impaled with the ol’ stars and stripes!
We then shift to a one-off page that promises 1,001 uses for a dead Hukka!
We shift immediately to a shot of Ambush Bug bellied up to the drawing table. He has a few choice words for the poor readers of Atari Force, and introduces our feature presentation… after all, we’re eight pages in, and this doesn’t seem altogether Christmas-y…
We join Ambush Bug as he gets ready for the Christmas holiday. He’s stuffing a turkey, and wrapping gifts… all the while unable to stop thinking about his old friend Cheeks, the Toy Wonder. In a cute bit, he has a flashback to Cheeks’ death… and winds up choking on the flashback smoke cloud. He’s visited by a pair of Jovial Witnesses who flood his room with literature pamphlets… and take all of his wrapped gifts in exchange. The “witnesses” both look as though they may run for President of the United States some thirty-years later.
At a nearby toy store, the poor shop owner (and very Italian) Luigi is trying to explain a strange occurrence to the authorities. He claims’a that the dolls’a have’a been cannibalized by a living doll.
We shift to Ambush Bug who is showing his respects at Cheeks’ grave site. He is so lost in thought that he doesn’t even realize that the coffin appears to have been dug up! He returns home to find a crudely written note on his desk… begging him to “stop me before I eat again”.
Back at the Police Department, the officers are working away on the cannibalized doll case. This is such a great scene. The officers are sweating and getting sick as they inspect the “cadavers”.
Later, we pop in on the Bug while he’s taking in a movie at the nearby theater, which just so happens to be running a zombie movie marathon. AB starts connecting the dots… could Cheeks be back… as a Zomb??? He pops out of the theater, and we watch as poor Luigi gets’a committed.
We finally get a good look at the living-Cheeks. He’s missing an eye and looks a bit rough… and hungry. As it happens, he’s loitering the neighborhood looking for his next snack, and someone just happens to throw a copy of Who’s Who in the DC Universe at him! It’s probably issue #3, as it contains a bio that catches Cheeks’ eye… a big doll he can eat… Brother Power the Geek!
Next up is a very strange scene, where Cheeks has stolen (and eaten!) Sugar’s doll… Yeah, Sugar, as in Sugar & Spike. I wasn’t expecting to see them. Wonder if Giffen will ever revisit those characters? Anyhoo… Cheeks is hiding in the bushes in Sugar & Spikes backyard.
Next up is another very strange scene. We meet Jonni DC, who is apparently DC Comics’ continuity cop! She’s been overworked due to the Crisis on Infinite Earths and is doing a spot-audit on a local graveyard… trying to make sure that the dead stays dead (Boy, we could use her now! Maybe she’s got a cousin named Betti Marvel? Nah, that’s too much to hope for!).
|I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw Thriller there…|
Ambush Bug frantically calls around the DC Universe in hopes of finding somebody… anybody (except the Outsiders) to help him with his Cheeky dilemma! He is sadly, unsuccessful in his endeavor. The page is friggin awesome, however.
|Poor Metamorpho… No Respect…|
We finish up with Cheeks being recognized as the Greatest Living Doll… by a group of other living dolls… and we are outta he–, wait what? Mr. Giffen is advised he’s still got 15 pages to fill! This is a great scene, where we meet a chibi version of Ambush Bug. Not sure if Giffen was comparing himself to a mangaka who has to pump out a huge amount of pages here… but, if that’s the gag… it’s pretty funny.
After several one-off pages (which I’ll include at the end of the piece) we return to the story. Ambush Bug has opened a Bar-B-Que Dolls stand in hopes of attracting Cheeks back to him. This proves futile, and before long Ambush Bug is approached by his “guardian angel” (in the form of a wino). The wino writes a message in the snow… with his drink… telling ol’ Schwab that Cheeks is back on page 19… hiding in Sugar & Spike’s bushes!
As AB readies to go back in time some dozen pages, Jonni DC is awoken from her slumber. Ain’t nobody messing with her time stream!
Ambush Bug has retrieved his Toy Wonder, and is trying to “bring him (him?) back” by force-feeding him Gilligan’s Island reruns. This is a short-lived effort, as Jonni (DC) on the spot shows up and suspends the storyline pending a hearing in continuity court! Crazy! She gives Irwin the plot-as-written, and tells him he’s four-pages late for Santa’s Workshop in the North Pole!
Up at Santa’s, the Bug realizes he never got the script. Luckily the disembodied voice of Robert Loren Fleming guides the way. The story’s intended ending is Ambush Bug getting clobbered by a pile of snow!
But… that’s not the end. Instead we see the Bug dealing with the horrible cold he’d gotten from his time in the snow. He expresses disdain for his creators, and asks what more they can do to him… and so, they burn down his building. Amazing.
As Bug walks his neighborhood it just so happens that a Cheeks doll falls in the snow before him. He takes it as a Christmas miracle… when in fact, Santa accidentally dropped one of the dozens he was hauling for all the good boys and girls of the DC Universe.
We actually wrap up now with the promise of an Ambush Bug/Joker confrontation?!?
This book is bananas… buy it, read it, love it.
Seriously though, this book is amazing in such a way that I’m having difficulty putting it into words. Ambush Bug embraced so much of the self-referential, knows-he’s-in-a-comic-book type of approach… but does so in a way where he’s not actively putting down the reader for reading comics. It seems so often when a character does the whole “breaking the fourth wall” thing, they do so to point out just how silly comics are… Well, we know comics are silly, but we don’t need to feel silly reading them! The Bug here is basically at the mercy of his creators… they’re able to play with the limitations/possibilities of the media and weave a compelling (and perhaps convenient) story, without ever mocking the reader for plunking down their buck ‘n a quarter.
We get a lot of “inside baseball” stuff here, that with the benefit of hindsight (and the Internet) I can get a more complete appreciation for. I can only imagine how crazy this would have been to read when it hit the racks. Mentions of Marvel’s Secret Wars… joking about Crisis on Infinite Earths, Atari Force, and of all things Steve Ditko’s Mr. A… this is unlike anything a DC reader would/should expect!
|C’Mon, this is awesome!|
The Christmas theme is pretty much kept in the background for the most part, however comes into play when needed. There’s a great balance of Christmas to comedy (and vice versa).
This book comes packed with so many extras that it’s hard to keep ’em straight. There are a bunch of one/two-page gags that help to break up the story… and make the overall package feel more special. This could have just as easily been a 22-page comic, but instead it’s a 40 (mostly ad-free!) pages! You’re definitely getting your money’s worth here.
Keith Giffen absolutely shines here. His art adapts to a number of different styles throughout the issue, and never looks less than impressive. There are some very Giffen-y pages… ones with the 12-15 panel grids and more angular art that we’ve come to expect from him… however, there are also several pages where he adopts over styles, dependent on what characters he may be drawing. Excellent stuff all throughout.
This is definitely one worth tracking down. I’m sure my synopsis did it absolutely no justice (I did say it defies explanation)… this is just one ya gotta flip through yourself. As far as I know, this has only been collected once… in the SHOWCASE Presents: Ambush Bug trade paperback from about 6-7 years ago. It’s apparently out of print, but you can find it at Amazon (at an inflated rate)… I know I’ve seen it locally in comic shops… shouldn’t be too difficult to track down if you are so inclined. You’ll not only get this issue, but you’ll get a whole lotta awesome (advantageous?) Ambush Bug material as well!
Anytime I talk about our pal Schwab, I would remiss not to mention Mike Carlyle’s piece on the fella. Be sure to check it out, if’n you haven’t already!
|Are you sure this is how Constantine got started?|
|Haley’s Comet was a big deal when I was in first grade!|