A scant few months ago, DC Comics released four oversized crossovers between some of their biggest franchises and the cartoons of the famed Hanna-Barbera studio. Our verdict: not bad! This month, DC Comics is getting a bit…loonier. Across three weeks in June, DC is dropping mash-ups of premiere DC franchises and Looney Tunes characters, including Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian. They’ve recruited top superhero talent, including current Batman writer Tom King, and paired them with both DC stalwarts and Looney Tunes animation talent. Each special dedicates the bulk of its page count to a “serious” (barely) story styled after DC superhero comics, and the rest of its space to a Looney Tunes-inspired short that leans more heavily on the comedic. The results: read below! We didn’t type up all of this detailed analysis just to give away our findings in the intro paragraph. Yeesh. You people.
Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Lee Weeks, Byron Vaughns
To this point in his career, writer Tom King has stretched genre comics into uncomfortable real-world issues that defy escapism. He transformed the goofy sci-fi footnote of The Omega Men into a dissection on terrorism, made the pink-and-green android The Vision a mascot for PTSD and promises more literary melancholy in the near future. He’s a capital S serious, capital W writer, and you can base college theses on his work.
Or so we thought.
“Youwr succotash definitely seems to be…sufferwing,” is just one symptom of King having a damn fun time in the Batman/Elmer Fudd Special, illustrated by Lee Weeks. King—who also writes DC’s Batman monthly series—combines Looney Tunes’ bumbling small-game hunter with the Dark Knight by creatively tossing them both into a noir underworld, which makes far more sense than it should. Historically, the golden age of cartoons coexisted with the emerging era of booze-and-broads literature and film. The noir genre’s godfather, Raymond Chandler, published his first story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” a brief three years after the 1930 debut of Looney Tune’s “Bosko, The Talk-Ink Kid.” Even the most notable film in the arena—Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep—was released in 1946, the year that saw the final cartoons from Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies pioneer and character creator Bob Clampett.
King uses that parallel to recast Fudd as a shotgun-welding contract killer, Bugs as a conniving low-life and Porky as the owner of a dive bar frequented by other cartoon analogues. These scenes vibrate with giddiness, and Weeks retains the characters’ energy under a filter of sodium-lit, bar-piss malaise. And yes, Martian Manhunter even makes a sad, hilarious cameo.
The overarching plot pits Fudd against Batman after the huntsman becomes convinced that Bruce Wayne killed his paramour, “Siwlver St. Cwoud.” King hews tight to noir plot design and superhero team-ups, with an ending that could make a grown man laugh out loud. It’s an irresistibly fun time, especially for pop-culture junkies familiar with all the references informing this mix. Weeks also deserves credit for a five-page fight sequence that choreographs Fudd as a capable brawler who knows how to toss the butt of a shotgun, rendered in sketchy, Silver-Age darkness complementary of Neal Adams’ art run in the ‘60s.
In addition, King pens a backup story illustrated by Byron Vaughns that drops Batman into the exaggerated whimsy of the cartoons. The eight pages assume the frantic rhythm of the Duck Season trilogy (“Rabbit Seasoning,” “Duck! Rabbit, Duck!” and “Rabbit Fire,”) as Bugs and Bats attempt to convince Fudd which hunting season is active to avoid non-fatal gunshots to the face. King indulges in the dialogue spits, wordplay and slapstick of the source material effortlessly, with possibly the most brilliant cameo of Calendar Man in the history of the villain. Vaughns’ art is serviceable, but a thinner, sketchier line to replicate the cartoon would have been far more immersive. Jannon Calloway
Jonah Hex/Yosemite Sam Special #1
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti, Bill Matheny
Artists: Mark Texeira, David Alvarez
Context is a funny thing. Take a beloved character from decades’ worth of stories told in a certain vein and place them in a wholly different milieu—what had looked serious might suddenly turn comic; what had been hilarious could come off as terrifying. In the context of a cartoon in which he faces off against Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam is mouthy and antagonistic, quick to draw his gun and quicker to pull the trigger. Put him in a more traditional Western, though, and the red-mustached prospector comes off as someone who might’ve made the characters of Deadwood look askance. And put him in an even more stylized take on the genre—the surreal and horror-tinged world of Jonah Hex—and he becomes even more of a nightmarish figure, a borderline sociopath with a seemingly unlimited supply of ammunition. And in this story, mind you, Yosemite Sam is one of the more likable characters the reader will encounter.
As it opens, Yosemite Sam has struck it rich at a mine, and the men working for him want more than their share. But their plot to kill Sam and take the mine for themselves doesn’t take into account his temper…or his skill with a revolver. Soon enough, Sam has sought out a gun-for-hire to defend his claim: the scarred and grim gunfighter Jonah Hex. The third lead here is a prizefighting sideshow attraction of mysterious origins and a distinctive manner of speech, who ups the weirdness quotient significantly and serves as a reminder that this story isn’t simply a darker take on Yosemite Sam.
Jimmy Palmiotti had a long stint writing Hex’s adventures, so it’s not surprising that he captures the character’s voice perfectly. Where Hex is taciturn, Sam is verbose, and the contrast between the two turns what could have been a one-note joke into a surprisingly effective (if archetypal) Western tale. Mark Texeira’s gritty artwork conveys action well and lends plenty of atmosphere to the story. And his design for this version of Yosemite Sam keeps the character’s trademark mustache intact without making him look wholly out of step with the rest of the cast.
The backup story by Bill Matheny and David Alvarez takes the opposite approach—it drops a borderline-handsome Hex into a Looney Tunes-style adventure, and lets hilarity ensue. Here, the artwork is much more cartoonish, with scenes of slapstick comedy in abundance. As a companion and counterpoint to the first story, it’s effective, but Hex fits somewhat awkwardly into Yosemite Sam’s world, as opposed to Sam’s surprisingly effective appearance in Hex’s. Context can lead to some surprising narrative realizations—and can also remind the reader that Yosemite Sam is a lot scarier than you might think. Tobias Carroll
Legion of Super Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special #1
Writers: Sam Humphries, Juan Ortiz
Artists: Tom Grummett, Juan Ortiz
This one-shot brings together the main event of Looney Tunes and a team that rarely appears at all in the main DC Universe, and the results are amusing and charming, if not remarkable. Writer Sam Humphries and illustrator Tom Grummett are clearly having fun, as they should with such batty (or should I say buggy?) material.
The story involves mistaken identity, a classic comedy trope dating back to at least Shakespeare, who would appreciate the wit of Bugs Bunny. To cure an ailing Supergirl, the Legion needs the help of their old pal Superboy, but when they reach back to the 21st century, they somehow nab Bugs, who was just minding his own business, planting carrots. As they say, wackiness ensues. The initial conflict with Bugs and the Legion is wonderful. Seeing the Legion turn into dopes on the level of Elmer Fudd is a sign of the mind-boggling power of Bugs Bunny: his reverse psychology mind tricks would make a Jedi proud.
Grummett’s art is terrific, full of energy that helps bridge the gap between these characters. The facial expressions for Bugs are exaggerated but somehow more human than the various members of the Legion. Also, Grummett’s depiction of Brainiac 5’s examination chair is appropriately scary and absurd. The writing is solid, but at times seems to be trying a little too hard. There’s some clever spoofing of overbearing editor’s notes and navel-gazing teen heroes, but the humor is only clever at a certain level, making this feel disposable rather than re-readable. Looney Tunes cartoons are famously pleasing to kids and adults, but this comic feels aimed only at adolescents.
The backup story retells the main adventure in a style more like the original Legion comics, as writer/artist Juan Manuel Ortiz puts the same story in a retro blender, with some added gags and plot elements. This is a strong addition to the comic—the fun gets fun-er when the Looney Tunes characters dominate. Something about their brand of insanity just fits this kind of crazy crossover. Mark Peters
Lobo/Road Runner Special #1
Writer: Bill Morrison
Artists: Kelley Jones, Bill Morrison
There’s something powerfully disturbing about seeing Wile E. Coyote rendered in the horror-tinged stylings of famed Batman artist Kelley Jones. And given the right concept, it may be possible to tell an interesting story about the scheming Looney Tunes character and his endless hunt for the Road Runner in that mode. [Editor’s Note: Skip this comic and read Grant Morrison and Chaz Truog’s “The Coyote Gospel” from the pages ofAnimal Man. There’s yer’ mature examination of Wile E. Coyote.] Perhaps there’s a writer out there who’s currently concocting a story reminiscent of The Island of Doctor Moreau featuring human/beast hybrids yearning for a shot at humanity. Kelley Jones would be perfect for a story like that. But that’s not what Lobo/Road Runner Special #1 is. If anything, Bill Morrison’s script is a faithful attempt at capturing the feel of the classic cartoons, with the mandated addition of Lobo and the Green Lantern Corps. But Wile E. Coyote is a science-freak here, composed of veiny muscle and very human desperation. The effect is more unsettling than it is cheeky. The book is redeemed when Morrison takes over art duties in the backup featuring Bugs Bunny, this time opting for a more classic look and feel. It’s here that Lobo makes the most sense as a Coyote surrogate, eventually opting to try his luck with an ACME A-Bomb and exploding himself in the process. Lobo’s regeneration powers are perfectly suited for the cartoon physics of the Looney Tunes world, and at least in these final pages of Lobo/Road Runner Special #1 we’re finally laughing along instead of recoiling in uncanny terror. Jakob Free
Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian Special #1
Writers: Steve Orlando, Frank J. Barbiere, Jim Fanning
Artists: Aaron Lopresti, John Loter
The team-up of Martian Manhunter and Marvin the Martian is a dream come true for all fans of, well, Martians. This is the most natural of all the DC Comics/Looney Tunes crossovers and seemingly the most promising. Like the other specials, the comic features one tale in the style of a typical DC comic, and another in the style of a Looney Tunes cartoon. The lesson? Martian Manhunter fits better into Marvin’s world than vice versa.
The first story, written by Steve Orlando and Frank J. Barbiere and penciled by Aaron Lopresti, is the DC-style team-up, and it’s a bit trite, playing on the overdone loneliness of J’onn J’onzz as the only Martian on Earth and, possibly, the universe.
J’onn is more excited to discover Marvin, a Martian from another part of the multiverse, then disappointed to learn that Marvin wants to wipe Earth off the space map. Even more disappointing is how boring the story is, with little of the giddy fun of wacky crossovers such as Archie vs. Predator. There’s a very “woe is me” adolescent tone, and Lopresti’s variation on the DC “house style” of superhero art does nothing to elevate it, though it does have a clever ending.
The second story, written by Jim Fanning and illustrated by John Loter, is a much shorter and better read: the Looney Tunes-style art brings a sense of giddy fun to every panel. The plot involves Marvin searching for U.D.O.s—Utterly Destroyable Objects—when he has an amusing meet-cute with Martian Manhunter.
This comic brings the full gonzo craziness that a meeting of the Martians deserves: the story and art work together perfectly, channeling the energy and inventiveness of the cartoons at their best. Clichéd woe-is-me-ness is played for laughs, which is much better than taking it seriously. Also essential to the story: K-9 the Martian mutt, Marvin’s electronic extrapolator and poignant cookies. Overall, this special isn’t as zany or fun as it should be, but the second story is almost worth the cover price. Almost. The struggle for comics that represent the true glory of Mars will go on. Mark Peters
Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil Special #1
Writer: Tony Bedard
Artists: Barry Kitson, Ben Caldwell
As with the Hanna-Barbera crossovers, the Looney Tunes specials employ different tactics to mash up their component parts, from multiversal shenanigans to breezing past the illogic of it all. DC veteran Tony Bedard and recent Avengers contributor Barry Kitson opt to find a place for the Tasmanian Devil in Wonder Woman’s sprawling rolodex of mythological foes, and the result is a passable monster-of-the-week tale that feels a bit like a fractured fable. Recurring Wonder Woman foe Circe has stormed the island of the Amazons and turned Diana’s sisters to stone, and the only cure is a pendant held by the Minotaur of Greek myth. Unfortunately for Diana’s battle-sisters, the Minotaur is all but impossible to find; in the issue’s cleverest twist, Diana explains that the famed labyrinth is a doorway with portals all over the multiverse, not merely a maze located on the island of Crete. To track down the bull-headed guardian, Diana must first find a labyrinth “mini-boss” she tricked as a young woman.
Enter the Tasmanian Devil, and this special’s most glaring problem. Taz (and he is dubbed by issue’s end) simply doesn’t translate visually to a more realistic medium. As with Jim Lee’s cover, Kitson can’t seem to bring the squat, ever-spinning Looney Tunes favorite into a more three-dimensional space. The cartoon Taz’s head and chest are essentially one and the same, and the introduction of a neck and defined skull results in a sort of generic werewolf/beast-man. Kitson’s Taz feels like the sort of non-legally sanctioned homage that comics often make, not a genuine attempt at bringing the character into Wonder Woman’s orbit. Unfortunately, Kitson’s weaknesses extend to Diana, who has an oddly undefined and too-young face throughout. His work on titles like Legion of Superheroes with Mark Waid and The Order with Matt Fraction showed much stronger sides to his figure work, and it’s unfortunate that he brought his B-game to this book as its star dominates wider pop culture.
Bedard’s script for the main story is a capable one-off, but his transition to the Looney Tunes-style back-up falls flat. In the DC-style story, Taz “speaks” in pictograms that nicely approximate his guttural mutterings. In this short, drawn by Ben Caldwell, Taz and the rest of the cast sing a loony version of the Trojan Horse saga. The transition itself is neat—the back-up is Taz’ food-coma dream—but Bedard’s rhyming lyrics grate even in these scant few pages. Caldwell, who collaborated with Bedard for the surprisingly great Suicide Squad/Banana Splits team-up, ably matches the elasticity of WB’s most famous cartoons, but even he can’t save the short from lines like “But, wow! Such a beauty! I cannot deny, that face and that booty have sure caught my eye!” and a bad-taste Bechdel test joke. Bonus points for a decent Fudd-as-Trump gag, though. Steve Foxe