Welcome to “All In or Fold”, our weekly segment where we review the start of a manga or comic series of our choice as if we just picked it up off the shelves. Our goal is to offer potential readers a brief understanding of the content presented, and help them decide if it is a good idea to pick up the series for themselves moving forward. So let us jump in and decide, should we go All In on this one?
Let me be upfront about this. This article is longer than usual because Scooby-Doo was, is, and always will be my childhood and I just really want to talk about this comic. When I happened upon a rogue issue of Scooby Apocalypse in my local comic store back in January, I was brimming with excitement, just as I’m sure many fans of the classic cartoon were when they first came across the comic. Scooby-Doo? In a mature apocalyptic story? Yes, please.
Scooby-Doo is one of four Hanna-Barbera titles to have received a massive overhaul in comic form last year, the other three being The Flintstones, The Wacky Races, and a crossover series featuring characters from multiple series, perhaps most notably Johnny Quest and Space Ghost. At the time of this article, Scooby Apocalypse stands as the only one of the four not to have received the axe. The dystopian racing series The Wacky Raceland was cancelled after only six issues, and the other two series are being chopped after Issue 12. Scooby Apocalypse is nearing its fourteenth issue, but with sales failing to stabilize the series could be facing cancellation after its eighteenth issue.
And that would be a travesty. Scooby Apocalypse is by no means a brilliant piece of literature, but it is far from unreadable and unenjoyable. The fact that the series incorporates a slow burn type of pacing would work well if it was guaranteed an extended publication life, but unfortunately that style falls flat with many audiences who desire more immediate action. The series seems to in fact have a story to tell, but it might lose its audience and get canned before it gets to unravel all of its mysteries.
Scooby Apocalypse, if you couldn’t tell from its name, features the reimagined cast of the classic cartoon fighting against real-life monsters after what can essentially be described as a Halloween-style doomsday. These first six issues, collected in the series’ first trade volume, follow the gang as they grudgingly form a ragtag gang and try to survive against hordes of deranged monsters in similar fashion to The Walking Dead. A group of scientists, known as The Four, released nanites into the world to infect the human populace and supposedly root out typical human vices. But somehow the end result is almost everyone in the world transforming into every gruesome creature imaginable. Coincidentally, all five of the primary characters, Scooby-Doo, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, Daphne Blake, Fred Jones, and Velma Dinkley, just so happen to be shielded from the effects of the nanites and thus remain human while almost everyone around them transforms into horrific nightmare fuel. Despite most of the characters never having met before, they must work together to survive and (maybe) try to save humanity. I don’t actually know if they care about that or not.
On the characters themselves, I thoroughly enjoyed them, both as original characters and complete re-imaginations of their more classic versions. Daphne and Fred experience a role reversal in this comic. While there’s no clear leader of the group yet, the tough and hot-tempered Daphne might as well be in the running. Fred, meanwhile, is constantly the poor victim of injury or mishap, taking on Daphne’s patented damsel-in-distress role from the cartoon. Let’s check out a quick overview of who we’re dealing with here.
- Velma Dinkley is the cold, calculating (and vocally introverted) scientist of a government complex. Despite genuinely wanting to assist the others in both their survival and their desire to fix the world, she keeps to herself and tends to not be completely transparent with everyone about her knowledge regarding the incident.
- Norville Rogers (but all his friends call him Shaggy) is the government complex’s super relaxed dog trainer in charge of the cybernetically enhanced canines, including Scooby-Doo (and Scrappy-Doo). He’s just all-around relaxed and benevolent. While he offers few skills that come in handy, he helps keep the group together by being a sort of mediator during conflict.
- Daphne Blake is a former journalist now hosting her own show “Mysterious Mysteries” (the comic counterpart to “Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake”) in which she reports on legends and myths. She’s extremely hot-headed, but with that comes a commanding and perceptive nature that helps propel the group forward.
- Fred Jones is the neurotic, rarely serious cameraman accompanying Daphne. He’s fairly submissive to everyone else and as a result ends up with a lot of the tasks that no one else wants to do.
- Scooby-Doo is one of the prototype cybernetically-enhanced canines, ultimately deemed a failure as his vocabulary never advanced past that of a young child. Despite being overall cowardly, he displays great loyalty and care for his companions that results in feats of bravery.
Everyone’s pretty interesting and dynamic overall, though it’s a shame they don’t really have any specialized skills besides Velma. Still, they’re fun to watch as a team, and I can’t deny that it is enjoyable to see these classic characters re-envisioned as they are here. Even if they’re just shells of their former selves, they’re far from hollow. But more on the characters in a bit.
The storytelling is the series’ weakest point. I’m generally lenient with ridiculous expositions and premises because, hey, the story’s gotta get started somehow. But after six issues, nothing is becoming any clearer. We have no idea why people transformed, how they transformed, or why there are so many variations of the transformation. Someone turning into a werewolf? Fine. I can buy that. But a mummy? Come on now, where did all that wrapping come from? The fact that people transformed into all these different monsters seems like a forced attempt to make the comic feel more Scooby-Doo-ish. Like I said, the series is a slow burn, so I’m hopeful we will get answers eventually, and Velma especially is making progress towards that end, but the audience is left without much of an explanation for what is going on other than, “Something went wrong with the nanites.” That’s fine for now, but I do want something more solid soon so I can buy into these creature variations more easily without just having to pass them off as, “Oh, it’s because it’s Scooby-Doo.”
Besides its premise, the story also struggles a bit with how it sets up its story each month. The comic is following a sort of monster-of-the-month format right now with each issue featuring a new type of creature trying to kill them, a storytelling tactic often used in the early stages of series like this, especially manga. But if it doesn’t escape from this format soon, it risks becoming stale. The key to getting out of this is for Scrappy-Doo’s gang or The Four to enter the story soon to be lasting antagonists. Yes, Scrappy-Doo is (unfortunately?) in this too, and let’s just say he’s not at all on friendly terms with our favorite canine user of kindergarten-level vocabulary.
The pacing is another fairly week point of the series. The middle of the volume, particularly issue three, does a good bit of jumping around between the past and present, and it gets a bit confusing. This is compounded when issue two ended with the gang being surrounded by monsters but issue three begins with them safely on the road and out of danger. All the tension just evaporated, which is not something that a comic should aim to have happen. Besides that, I was under the impression that the events of these first six issues took place over maybe two days at the most, but there are multiple references to it having been days since the doomsday incident. A few more concrete details regarding the passage of time would have been both helpful and appreciated.
Besides the temporal jumping around, we also receive minor backstories for both Shaggy and Velma. Shaggy’s comes at the end of the first issue as an aside story just after the nanites are activated. The placement of this side story after such a pivotal moment is weird, as the story is just about how he came to work at the complex and how he met Scooby-Doo. It is just jarring to shift from the panic of doomsday to Shaggy’s fairly laid-back tour of the complex. The content is humorous and enjoyable, but better placement might have helped it mesh more. That being said, I can’t really think of any spot in the first six issues that might have worked any better, so this might have just been the least intrusive way the writers could find to include it. One thing that stood out is that in his backstory, characters looking extremely similar to the rest of the gang are seen in the background. Whether this is just an easter egg or if it will ever have relevance remains to be seen. We already know Velma worked at the complex during the time (as she was also briefly seen in the flashback story), but Daphne nor Fred should have been anywhere near. Something else to note is since Shaggy and Velma worked in the same complex, it is clear that they already know each other, but the level to which they previously associated seems to shift throughout the comic, with Shaggy at one point claiming Velma knows him pretty well and at another point him being quick to write her off as some crazy person (implying they were not very close). This inconsistency is largely inconsequential, but tightening up on these sorts of character details could help strengthen the comic overall. Velma’s backstory is fairly strong character writing that ultimately seems it would have been more beneficial if withheld until later in the story. The first part regarding her schooling experiences work well enough are since they somewhat justify her awkwardness, but the last few pages seem more like a revelation that should have been built up to later for larger impact.
While the story fumbles, the characters might be the series’ strongest point if one overlooks the fact that they are supposed to in some way represent the members of Mystery Incorporated from the cartoons. While I’m personally loving seeing these characters appear in this format (except maybe Scrappy), I can’t help but feel the Scooby gang was slapped onto the premise as a marketing ploy. The characters aren’t really doing anything that would ever give off Scooby-Doo vibes, and the series probably would have worked just as well inserting any other franchise into it. Josie and the Pussycats? Speed Buggy? Both would likely have worked just as well. Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Velma are the Scooby-Doo cast in name only. Aside from a few admittedly delightful references, these might as well be completely new characters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it just questions why these characters were used for this series when they don’t really relate to the comic’s plot. There’s no ghost haunting an old mansion or any robot chasing people around a theme park. It’s just an apocalyptic survival storyand solve where the gang has to solve the mystery of why the nanites went wrong and basically eradicated humanity. Oh. There’s the tie-in. Yeah, that’s totally the same kind of mystery from the cartoon. Absolutely.
There is one notable downside to using these characters that could actually affect the impact of the series in the long-run. All five are required to make this work as a Scooby-Doo comic. In an apocalyptic setting, casualties are expected, but it seems unlikely for any of the main characters to bite the dust. Everyone having plot armor could prove problematic as the story continues, causing dire situations to be predictable in their outcomes. Time will tell if the writers have a plan to keep things interesting.
While these characters in the cartoon were generally amiable, such is not the case here. Shaggy and Fred are pleasant enough, but Velma and Daphne are both rather rude and combative. This adds some interesting dynamics to the makeshift team as everyone struggles to get along and work together. After all, it’d be boring if everything was hunky-dory between them! The exchanges between everyone are interesting as a result of the myriad of personalities, often leading to snappy dialogue or long-winded rebuttals as characters get frustrated with each other. While the dialogue is usually pretty specific to the characters and their unique mannerisms, there are a couple of instances of characters using more generic, stilted sentence structures. Velma is the most obvious case of this, where she trades her ten-dollar words for more average phrasing. Those instances are few and far between and really shouldn’t impact the story much if they remain as infrequent in the future.
Speaking of dialogue, the humor, brought in a different form by everyone except Daphne, is genuinely funny in almost every instance and has to be one of the strongest points of the series. It’s mostly low-key exchanges that won’t cause anyone to laugh out loud, but they’re especially useful in breaking up info-dumps and causing them to be less…tedious. The hilarious callback to Fred’s paranoia regarding mole people from A Pup Named Scooby-Doo is possibly the most apt and well-timed reference in the book, though it does overstay its welcome. Also dragging on too long on the less-funny side of things are the exchanges between Velma and Daphne regarding Daphne’s lack of trust. While these started as strong, characterizing conversations, they become tiring and repetitive after a point. It almost feels as if they are being used to just take up space each issue to reach a page count.
Another strong point of the series is its art. Compared to the busy style or lack of defined features in other comics, Scooby Apocalypse’s art is simple enough with heavy outlines to still give off cartoon vibes but detailed enough to fit the mature tone. The detail given to the settings is appreciated, as we rarely get just blank-space filler backgrounds. And honestly, those might not be much of an issue with American comics. My experience with those is rather lacking since I’m just now entering that realm of literature, but compared to manga this is a welcome change. If there’s any gripe with the art, it’s that Fred looks off-model throughout the series. Sometimes he looks hard and stoic and other times he has a baby face. Not to mention his biceps are sometimes drawn larger than his torso. But besides that and the fact that Velma seems to shift from cartoonishly short to just around five-feet tall, the aesthetics of the series work well for the comic’s dual natures of comedy and dark thriller.
Overall, this is an enjoyable, but slow, start to what is a fun apocalypse-survival story. The variations of creatures the gang faces makes the whole thing feel more Scooby-Doo-ish, but in the long run, it would be easy to forget that the story is following the classic cartoon cast if they weren’t spouting their respective catchphrases every now and then. For those more familiar with the original franchise, there are enough references to it to please, but if you’re going into this looking for a canon Scooby-Doo story about four young adults and a talking dog solving mysteries together, you may want to look instead at the DC Kids offerings. The fact that most of the variant cover arts, and some additional pieces, are included in the collected volume is a nice treat making it worthwhile to wait for the trade paperbacks instead of buying single issues (even if the series desperately needs to increase its single issue sales in order to survive). The first volume also has a few minor editorial problems, such as a speech bubble being given to Fred instead of Shaggy, even though it’s clearly Shaggy speaking, but overall it’s pretty solid all around. I’m personally continuing with this series, and I’m hoping there will be a good change of pace in store in the coming issues. While I wouldn’t urge anyone to go all in just yet, I do think the series is worth checking out to see if it’s your cup of tea. Because if it is, you’re probably gonna have a pretty good time.
Read if you like: The Walking Dead, humor and action combined, slow build-ups, ridiculous monster designs, Scooby-Doo but not Scooby-Doo.
Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1
- Dynamic re-imagining of classic characters
- Smart, funny dialogue
- Art successfully blends cartoonish and serious styles
- Small details are a treat for long-time fans
- Story format risks getting stale
- Lack of explanation for almost everything
- Jarring time skip between issues 2 and 3
- Inconsistent moral dilemmas regarding killing