As part of DC's slate of new takes on classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, writers J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen (with some help from Jim Lee) are giving Scooby and the gang a new context, placing their wacky, humor-filled escapades within a science fiction, apocalyptic world.
Scooby Apocalypse, one of several new Hanna-Barbera series announced by DC, is being drawn by DeMatteis and Giffen's frequent collaborator, Howard Porter. DC is hopeful that the new status quo for the redesigned characters will give the Scooby franchise — and similarly, a slate of other Hanna-Barbera characters — new life.
Yes, Scooby still talks, and yes, he's still best buddies with Shaggy. Velma is still super smart and Daphne and Fred are still scoping out new investigations. But the team is placed within a new premise, a new mystery surrounding a scientific facility called the Complex.
With the first issue of Scooby Apocalypse debuting this week, Newsarama talked with DeMatteis, Giffen and Porter to find out more about what those meddling kids have been investigating this time.
Newsarama: Howard, let's start with you, because I keep seeing your name with these two. Did they chain you down and tell you that you could never work with any other writers? Or is this something you really wanted to do?
Howard Porter: It's me following them wherever they go. I really enjoy working with them. As much fun as I've ever had in all my career has happened in the last few years.
Keith Giffen: You know how, with Marc and I, it's always "Giffen/DeMatteis," "DeMatteis/Giffen." I figure eventually, it'll be "DeMatteis, Giffen and Porter," and then we're all set.
Nrama: It's so much fun to see these characters in comic books. But you've updated them a bit for modern audiences. What was that process like?
Giffen: It's odd because people seem to think we're going to gut the characters and do grim and gritty stuff, or just change the entire atmosphere of the book. And yet, when I get into the book, Shaggy and Scooby and Fred and Velma and Daphne pretty much insist on being who they are. We can play around with their personalities a little bit — like Daphne might be a little bit more aggressive than we've probably seen her — but when it comes right down to it, if you're doing Shaggy, you're doing Shaggy.
The characters demand the story, rather than the other way around.
J.M. DeMatteis: It's very much like, you look at Batman and or you look at Superman, there are so many interpretations of those characters that have done over the course of 75 or 80 years or whatever it is not — from Adam West to Frank Miller to Michael Keaton to, you know, God knows what. But in their essence, it's always Batman. No matter how far you bend and twist and spin it around, there's an essence of Batman that's always there.
And I think it's true of these characters as well. These are, on one level, very different versions of these characters than we've ever seen, because I think we're taking them more seriously than we ever have before – as full, fleshed-out human beings — but at their essence, they're still the same characters.
And let me clarify that when I say "taking them more seriously," I don't mean grim and gritty. This is Keith and I writing this book. So it's filled with humor and character banter. It's what we do. And we're doing it here too.
The horror elements are very, very real. The characters, though, are very human and very funny.
Nrama: Howard, they look a little different. Were you involved in the designs at all?
Porter: I would like to take credit for how awesome they look, but Jim Lee came up with their designs. I fleshed them out a bit to work with the way I draw.
The one character that was a bit of a challenge to draw was Scooby-Doo. I was initially trying to draw him like a realistic great dane. But he didn't have the same charm and it just wasn't Scooby if he wasn't a bit exaggerated and able to convey those emotions that we love from him.
I was able to design the Mystery Machine — or the whiz bang thing (that's what Keith calls it).
Giffen: I can never remember the name.
DeMatteis: Not the whiz wagon, right?
Porter: Oh, please, not the whiz wagon.
But yeah, I spoke with Keith and he had an updated version of that. It's a military vehicle. An armored vehicle.
DeMatteis: I've seen people being concerned about how Shaggy looks. But if you go all the way back, a lot of what these characters are were actually ripped off from an old TV show called Dobie Gillis. And Shaggy is based on Maynard G. Krebs, who was a 1959 beatnik. So it's been aw hile.
And the idea of Shaggy still being a 1959 beatnik — you've got to change a little bit to reflect contemporary times.
Porter: And there are some good lines in there, in the first issue, about the way he looks. I got a real chuckle out of it.
Nrama: Can you describe the new premise? And what the roles are of the characters within this new premise?
DeMatteis: Right, although the characters haven't really changed — they're still the characters you know and love — the context around who they are has changed.
So Velma is still Velma, but when we pick up her story, she's a brilliant scientist who's part of this top-secret place called the Complex.
Fred and Daphne have this late-night cable show, Daphne Blake's Mysterious Mysteries, that's kind of bottom-of-the-barrel. She started out as a serious journalist and it's been downhill ever since. And she's obsessed with the supernatural mysteries and conspiracies and all these things.
And Shaggy also works in the Complex — he's a dog trainer, basically.
And Shaggy has this relationship with Scooby. I don't want to give too much away about him. But he's one of the dogs in the Complex who's been experimented on.
So the context is different, but the essence of who they are remains the same. And what's different is the interaction is based on the context of the world that we're putting them in.
Giffen: Yeah, even when I push the plot of kind of stretch one character or another, normally I end up going back and redoing it. Because Daphne's going to be Daphne, and if I go too far afield, it just feels wrong. So we're lucky, in that we got such well-established characters, characters who embedded themselves in our head like that.
It's not like doing a book like Justice League 3001, where we're kind of creating the characters. These characters existed. And that makes the job a lot easier.
Nrama: You mentioned that you don't want to give away too much about Scooby, but does he talk? Will he still say "Ruh-Ro, Raggy?"
DeMatteis: He does!
Porter: And that's explained in the book.
DeMatteis: Yeah, it's explained in a plausible way. Or rather, as plausible as science fiction stuff gets. There's a plausible scientific reason for the fact that Scooby can talk. He does not have a large vocabulary, but he does talk.
And maybe Howard you want to explain about the emoticons?
Porter: Yeah, he does talk the same way he does in the cartoons. But also, he has a headgear that spews out emoticons like you would see on Twitter or an iPhone, related to whatever's happening or whatever he's reacting to.
DeMatteis: His vocabulary may be limited, but we have this headset that translates his emotions into these emoticons.
Nrama: Do you have some type of ongoing story over the issues?
Giffen: It's an ongoing book, and we're approaching it as a longer story. But we visit different things along the way.
Porter: There's a big mystery about who's behind all this that will carry through the comics.
Giffen: Yeah, there's something we're moving toward, there are story elements that we'll have to hit as we go along. But we're having fun with the comic books along the way and being more spontaneous with it. I'm not a fan of over-planning the story.
DeMatteis: The way we work, on the writing end, is very spontaneous. Keith and I discuss story, and he'll tell me what's going to happen. But then he goes off and does whatever he wants to do. And he throws it over to me and gives me the freedom to spin plates the way that i want to spin, so by the time it's over, we're both kind of surprised by how the story plays out.
But to get back to your original question, this is an ongoing series, so the stories continue issue-to-issue. If people are expecting a Scooby-Doo mystery every issue with a beginning, middle and end, and somebody getting a mask pulled off, that's not what this is.
It's a pretty big, epic story. The entire world has been transformed, and our crew is out there trying to figure out what the hell happened and what they can do to fix it.
That's the over-arching thing.
Nrama: With your Justice League run, you had a lot of humor with your action and drama, but you also had a lot of heart. And I think that's what made it work. I noticed with this first issue that you've got the same kind of character work going on, especially with the relationship between Shaggy and Scooby.
DeMatteis: For me, on the script level, the most important part of it is when the characters start talking to each other. That's when they reveal themselves to me. And the Scooby/Shaggy thing, even though intellectually you know they have to have that relationship, I don't feel it until the interaction's happening. And Keith sets up these wonderful interactions in the plot. And I get to explore it further in the dialogue.
And we have a nice back-up story in the first issue called, "How Shaggy Met Scooby," and that's actually my favorite part of the whole issue. Their relationship, right from the get-go, it just had the right resonance.
It's very much in line with their classic relationship and yet it's in a new context.
Shaggy right now is my favorite character. But they're all really interesting and quirky and different and exactly the same at the same time, which is the fun of it.