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Scooby-Dooby-Doo what are you…doing in a horror story?

By Staff | Aug 1, 2016

A little over a year ago here, I lamented the unnecessarily dark turns comics have taken in recent years, especially with once-lighthearted characters.

I scoffed at the decision in a 2012 comic to explain the trademark nervousness of Cringer, aka He-Man’s Battle Cat, as the result of horrific trauma, and dismissed the idea of going “grim and gritty on, essentially, the feline Scooby-Doo.”

I quote myself to acknowledge the apparent hypocrisy as I write about how I am enjoying DC’s dark reimagining of Scooby himself in “Scooby Apocalypse.”

Released in May, the series takes the familiar gang from Mystery Inc. and recasts them as strangers brought together by a bizarre conspiracy.

Brainy Velma is a world-class scientist with virtually non-existent social skills. Perennial victim Daphne is an investigative journalist whose crusading ways have exiled her to tabloid television, where she is assisted loyally by Fred, who has popped the question multiple times despite her insistence that they’re just friends. Shaggy is a dog trainer for the top-secret project that employs Velma.

Then there’s Scooby, a genetically altered dog whose speech is the result of experiments that failed to make him a weaponized canine.

The group finds themselves trapped in a high-tech underground complex when a plot to force world peace through behavioral manipulation goes wrong, transforming people into monsters whose masks do not come off.

They’ve essentially turned Scooby-Doo into a zombie movie, a violent one in which familiar characters from my childhood battle their way – with automatic weapons, no less – though the monstrous horde.

And I kind of like it.

“They” are writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, still fondly remembered for their comedic handling of the Justice League in the ’80s. In 2013, they teamed with artist Howard Porter for “Justice League 3000,” a continuity-light series resurrecting familiar characters in a far-flung future where the League consisted of incomplete clones. The series was simultaneously violent, funny, irreverent and serious.

That’s the tone Giffen, DeMatteis and Porter bring to “Scooby Apocalypse.” No one’s trying to get you to swallow the idea of Scooby-Doo as edge-of-your-seat suspense that you should take seriously, yet that’s exactly what’s happening. When a monster appears early on and Velma shouts “Jinkies!” they’re laughing with you – but the threat still feels real.

The violence is dealt with head-on. In issues 2 and 3, Daphne struggles with the idea that to save her own life and others’ she has to kill someone who a few hours before was a human being and is in no way responsible for the threat they now pose. And she pours that confusion and fear into anger toward Velma, whom she holds at least partly responsible for the crisis.

No Scooby Snacks are going to fix that.

Scooby isn’t heavily featured, yet he justifies his name in the title by being the most likable character. Though his familiar fear is also grounded in the story, he doesn’t turn tail and run when his newfound friends are threatened.

I’d probably have more trouble with the concept if DC wasn’t still putting out traditional Scooby-Doo comics, featuring the humor kids enjoy and adults know. “Scooby Apocalypse” is just a variation, an idea so off-the-wall that it leaves a small window for mediocrity. Something this crazy, if done right, can be terrific. If done wrong, it becomes a punchline for years.

So far, Giffen, DeMatteis and Porter are doing it right. No one will mistake this for “The Walking Dead,” but the first three issues show me it has the potential to last a lot longer than most people would have predicted.

Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”