24 July 2006

Ambush Bug

Okay, it's difficult to imagine a geekier subject than Ambush Bug, who is a peculiar and very silly inside joke in DC superhero comics. But Professor Fury at Pretty Fakes makes a game attempt at saying something almost serious about him.

See, the folks at DC comics are currently making yet another attempt to make sense out of grand narrative of the universe of all of their superhero comics. If you are a hardcore superhero comics reader, it's satisfying when the Joker drops by Metropolis to give Superman a hard time in Adventures of Superman #67 and there's some dialogue explaining that Batman isn't on the case because he's busy in Istanbul fighting Ra's Al Ghul at the moment—which is what you're reading about in Batman #114, published that same month. Now you remember that in Batman #113, you caught a glimpse of the Joker in his cell at Arkham Asylum when Batman was there questioning Poison Ivy, so obviously the Joker escaped after that. The trouble is that if you then read in Batman #115 that Batman has returned to Gotham after foiling Al Ghul's lastest plot and the Joker is still locked up, well, that's kind of annoying.

After a few decades of the heroes teaming up this way and that, and travelling the world, and visiting parallel universes, and getting into time machines, and so forth, this stuff gets really tangled and maddening. Yeah, it's only a superhero comic, but either Lex Luthor has met the Swamp Thing or he hasn't, okay? Let's get our stories straight, here!

So, the Prof reports, DC are cleaning things up.

DC has (supposedly) finally consolidated all its multiverses and hypertimelines into one earth, New Earth, a stable and coherent place where everyone’s origin makes sense in terms of everyone else’s origin, where history flows in a clean, straight, single line. Smooth surfaces, sharp angles, and hospital corners—that’s the new DC. For now.

Of course, the Redactor tried this trick in rolling the stories of E and J and P and the gang into the Torah, and look how that worked out.

But unlike the Torah, the DC Universe actually contains a character who recognizes and enjoys the inconsistencies in the story. Ambush Bug.

He’s a walking, talking, teleporting, trickster reminder of the foolhardiness of attempting to maintain a stable, consistent shared universe in a medium as persistently ramifying as superhero comics. There are thousands of events happening every month, often with the same character having simultaneous adventures written by different creators in different contexts, and no attempt to force all of these divergent stories into one large narrative can ever be entirely successful. There is always excess, something left out or left unattended, some contradiction that doesn’t make sense, and Ambush Bug is the symbol of that excess, as well as a kind of lay historian of the characters, stories, and even storytelling styles that are constantly being eliminated from the official history of the DCU in favor of an alleged coherence. Ambush Bug points out the bumps and cracks and fissures in a historical narrative that strives to present itself as smooth as glass.

The Prof describes Ambush Bug as sort of the personification of the wacky, dusty corners of the DC universe's inconsistencies. If you have any love for superhero comics, do follow the link; some of the examples of the Bug's adventures are surprisingly witty.

All of which makes me wonder: maybe the Redactor should have included Ambush Bug in the Torah. And more importantly, is there an Ambush Bug out there clowning with the inconsistencies of the real world?

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