It’s official: thanks to a new comic book, I have finally stopped caring about SCOOBY-DOO, but I mean that in the best possible way.
Let me explain.
No pop culture entity makes me feel more like an old man yelling at a cloud than SCOOBY-DOO. The original cartoon series debuted well over a decade before I was born, but that just meant that all the episodes were primed and ready from the moment I first cried. I grew up watching SCOOBY-DOO. The show had my fealty. SCOOBY-DOO meant as much to me as any Saturday morning cartoon did, especially at the time, and that’s saying a lot.
It’s a series, as if you didn’t know, about a team of mystery solvers and their cowardly Great Dane, who in one episode after another save the world from capitalist crooks who try to scare people away from profitable business investments by dressing up as monsters. There were exceptions to that rule, but the overwhelming takeaway was that the rich and powerful have a nasty tendency to use fear as a weapon in order to get what they want, free of consequences.
And then something happened. Something that aged me prematurely (and I was only six at the time). A film came out called SCOOBY-DOO AND THE RELUCTANT WEREWOLF, in which the plot revolved around Dracula turning one of the heroes, Shaggy, into a werewolf so he could participate in a “Monster Road Rally.”
There was no twist. Dracula wasn’t a crooked automotive entrepreneur, and Shaggy didn’t just have a hormone problem. Vampires and werewolves and witches were officially real in the SCOOBY-DOO universe. (This may very well have happened even earlier, but I wasn’t aware of it until that moment.) It was clear to me, even though I couldn’t articulate it, that something was very wrong.
Eventually I could speak my mind, using the awe-inspiring power of the internet (hear my opinions about popular culture, ye mighty), and one of the things I complained about most often was that – in the years that followed – SCOOBY-DOO cartoons took place in a world where magic was real. Monsters were real. Children weren’t being taught overcome their superstitions, they were being distracted by superstition, and what’s more – on the handful of occasions in which I actually tried to give the newer episodes a fair shake – these cartoons weren’t particularly good.
So I had written off the SCOOBY-DOO series altogether until last week when, rather on a lark, I bought the first issue of SCOOBY APOCALYPSE. I picked it up to rifle through it, just to see if it was as bad it looked, but then I held onto it because it was written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, the writers of I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT THE JUSTICE LEAGUE and HERO SQUARED, amongst a truckload of other intelligent and funny comics I had admired over the years.
So then I read it, and I realized that I don’t really care anymore. And in this particular context, that’s a compliment.
This isn’t one of those wistful editorials about how I have put away childish things. In fact, I just wrote an editorial about the importance of doing the opposite. I don’t mean to say that I no longer have any affection for SCOOBY-DOO because of SCOOBY APOCALYPSE. What I mean is, I no longer feel as though “my” version of SCOOBY-DOO is any better than anybody else’s, because this comic proves that SCOOBY-DOO is more than a cartoon series. It’s an institution.
The comic, with art by Howard Porter, introduces an all-new version of the Scooby Gang. Daphne is an intrepid reporter with a flailing TV series, and Fred is her naysaying cameraman. Velma helps run a scientific research lab and tries to blow the whistle on a nefarious plot by contacting Daphne. And then there’s Shaggy, one of Velma’s employees, who trains dogs that have had their intelligence increased through science, and who are gaining the ability to talk. And then of course there’s Scooby-Doo, a Great Dane who isn’t exactly the brightest pooch in the bunch.
It’s a major retcon of the SCOOBY-DOO premise, but in the hands of Giffen and DeMatteis it feels reasonable enough. It feels as though they’ve thought through the characters and come up with radical new interpretations that change the storyline, but not the dynamic. The characters are holding up even though the original theme has changed. It’s obvious that Giffen and DeMatteis are having fun reworking the basic premise for the umpteenth time. Heck, they even bothered to come up with a reason why Scooby-Doo could talk.
And that right there is what finally got me, and made me realize for the first time that I have been either an enormous hypocrite or at least consistently obtuse. Because you can’t really argue that the original SCOOBY-DOO cartoons were bastions of secular reasoning when every single episode had a talking dog in it. Add in the fact that Scooby-Doo also teamed up with reality-challenging oddballs like Speed Buggy and the Adam West Batman, and you’ve got a show that probably never should have been taken all that seriously by my generation in the first place.
Besides, SCOOBY-DOO is nearly 50 years old now, and it still plays a consistent and significant role in our popular culture. Any story that lasts that long is a reasonable target for reinterpretation. Batman, Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan can survive a variety of unusual reboots, each designed to keep the character “fresh” and “relevant” for new generations. Sometimes they go back to the original version, sometimes they just pick up new iconography over time.
To put it another way, after decades of cartoons in which Scooby-Doo squared off against actual monsters, complaining that the show doesn’t dispute the existence of monsters anymore is a bit like complaining that Superman learned how to fly in the 1940s. Yes, he only used to be able to jump really far, but no, that’s not the version most people care about anymore. You’re still allowed to prefer the original if you really want to, but by this point the majority of the fanbase has grown up with another, equally legitimate version of the character.
I still wonder what the exact point of SCOOBY-DOO is nowadays. The idea of debunking childhood fears and replacing them with very real, very solvable problems was a unique theme amidst the din of Saturday morning madness, and it doesn’t seem to have been replaced with an equally relevant motif. I still prefer my original version of SCOOBY-DOO, and I suspect that if I live long enough, maybe I’ll one day see that version become popular once again. Maybe when some sort of “legitimate” director tries to tackle an adaptation, Christopher Nolan-style. Then again, maybe not. Either way, I won’t lose sleep over it.
In any case, my version still exists, and that’s enough for me. I’m through yelling at clouds. My SCOOBY-DOO is valid, your SCOOBY-DOO is valid, and when your kids have a version of SCOOBY-DOO that exists entirely as a hologram on the planet Blort, that version will probably be valid too.
We joked about it when the series was first announced, but after one fun issue and a whole lot of soul-searching, I feel like I can officially declare that SCOOBY APOCALYPSE isn’t the end of the world. And if you’re not with me… then let’s split up, gang.
Scooby Apocalypse Cover Art by Jim Lee