Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Guide to Werewolves, Part 2: Robin Plus Fang #2

 DC proves that they have no idea how to cross promote either

In the quest for additional market share, DC introduced a new series in October of 1996 that took a unique twist on the standard superhero team. It was to be a team of teenagers with powers and abilities beyond those of normal men. Normally they would be hated and hunted by the ordinary public so they were forced to masquerade as a Rock and Roll band. Sounds almost X-Men-ish, doesn’t it. I’m sure that DC hoped for sales of that nature. However, the final twist on all this was that these young “heroes” who were hated and feared by the normal populace were hated and feared for a very good reason. They were monsters!

The team book was called Scare Tactics. While the concept was novel for comics (I think The Groovy Goulies, Monster Squad and Drak Pack did the same things on TV in the 1970s-80s), sales of the book must have tanked pretty quickly. So in December 1997, DC tried to jumpstart the title's flagging sales by cross-promoting the book with one-shot team-ups featuring Scare Tactics members and some of DCs more popular characters. Catwoman got paired with Scream Queen, the team’s vixen-ish vampire. Impulse joined up with Grossout, a young boy who had been mutated by a meteor into an 8-foot tall tumorous hulk with an eating disorder. Superboy got to know Slither, a kid that’s been genetically altered into a reptile with a venomous bite. Robin, meanwhile, was introduced to Fang, the resident werewolf and the group’s unofficial leader. Each book featured a backup origin story showing how Fate assisted Scare Tactics in breaking free of the secret government R-Complex who held them all captive and a two page write-up on the origins of each team member to help spur interest in the main title. These team-ups took place between issues 9 and 10 of the Scare Tactics series. The series was cancelled on issue 12.

So how does this tie-in fair? Not so well. The idea is for Robin to meet Fang and his alter ego Jake but not realize they are one in the same. Also his impression of Fang is that he’s a rock star who wears a costume, not that he’s a supernatural creature. In essence the storyline is to make Robin appear slightly dim-witted for comedic value. In the right hands this might make for an enjoyable story yet the execution here is so flat-out boring that it comes off as dull and uneventful. While Robin does get in a few kicks, it is Fang who is shown as some kind of werewolf powerhouse. A powerhouse who’s mere presence causes hordes of werewolves to flee in panic, especially if the writer has painted himself into a corner.

And who might that writer be? None other than Chuck Dixon, longtime friend of all things Bat. Dixon’s resume reads like a pull list for a fanboy of the Dark Knight. He’s written Batman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Robin’s limited and ongoing series and a bunch of other Year One/limited series for various Batman Family members. So you go into the book expecting Robin’s character to be spot-on. For the most part, he is. It’s the shoehorning him into this particular story where we run into problems. Mainly because he has very little to do.

We start “The Lycanthropy Bop” with Jake a/k/a Fang running down an alley in human form. Jake is one of the new fangled (sorry, pun not intended) werewolves who can change form at will and are not subject to “Full Moon Fever.” This kind of cheapens the whole idea for me. Jake’s being chased by a bunch of guys on motorcycles when Robin happens to swoop in. He lends a hand, or maybe I should say that he lends a batarang.

No, actually that panel isn’t too bad. At least Robin is drawn fairly well. I’m settling in for what I hope to be an enjoyable story at this point. And I might have, had this just been a straight Robin story. But we have to throw in Fang at this point.

Ahhh, that’s a fine bit of foreshadowing there. See the thugs don’t know he’s a werewolf, yet they say they are going to beat him like a “dog” and “his own mama won’t recognize him”. I’m hip to the inside joke here, Mr. Dixon. Oh so clever. Should I stop with the sarcasm? 

Anyway, Jake and Fang both sport what was considered in the 90’s as the latest in “edgy youth” wear: black leather biker jackets, torn blue jeans, scruffy almost-goatee (for Jake anyway) and A NOSE RING. I guess my sarcasm button is stuck in the on position today. Am I really so out of touch that I didn’t notice the “boys with nose rings” fad? Girls, yeah. I’ve seen lots of girls with nose rings. Not so much the boys. Maybe it’s just me showing my middle American level of attention to style. I think it just looks silly. And if you think it looks silly here, wait until you see it on a werewolf.

I had a protractor in middle school shaped exactly like Robin’s mouth in that panel. Be glad this panel is underneath several really good shots of Robin kicking most of the biker gang’s butts or I wouldn’t be so forgiving. That “Aaarrrooo” sound can be none other than Fang making his first appearance.

Aw! And what an appearance it is. I have a problem with the drawings of all werewolves in this book and I’ll state it very plainly right now. Their ears are too damn goofy. This is not a Wallace and Gromit movie. He’s not a werebunny. Why give him ears longer than his head? Note that he retains the nose ring while in werelepus form. How very “edgy”.

Robin finishes up the bandito gang members he’s wailing on and goes to find the young man he saw being pursued. Lucky for Jake, he’s had time to mop up the few that tailed him and transform back into human form. Otherwise Robin might have thought that Easter had come early this year.


Did I mention that Robin in this series is being portrayed by Keanu Reeves? “Whoa” indeed Robin. I thought you were trained by the Dark Knight himself? Since when did a guy stepping out of a doorway cause you to be shocked?

Jake/Fang relates a very abbreviated backstory about how there’s a $50,000 pricetag on his head because he wouldn’t kill someone. Jake leaves out the fact that the bounty is being put up by members of his fiancĂ©e’s clan following her death, or that they are werewolves or that he was kicked out because he wouldn’t sacrifice someone to their elder god in exchange for the eternal youth of all the clan members or that he himself is a werewolf. Robin doesn’t catch on to any of these omissions and agrees to help him find his friend Nina, a/k/a Screamqueen. The page ends as a sniper sights down on Jake’s chest.

Meanwhile our beat-up biker gang heads back to the guy who sicced them on to Jake. They are upset because the job was suppose to be easy and not include any giant fanged bunny attacks. Or something along those lines.

There’s far too much cleverness happening in this panel. Not only do we have the pun about Fang “playing rough”, we also have this pig creature christened with the overly appropriate name of “Swindon”. I’m taking it on faith that it’s pronounced “Swine-done”. Anyway the bikers aren’t too happy, but their displeasure is quickly squashed as a new and mysterious biker set rides into town.

Meanwhile, Jake is shot through the chest and plunges three stores off the balcony of a building while Robin just stands there. And then is left for dead while Robin goes to beat up the “false face” goons responsible. Does this sound even remotely like the Robin character in the Bat books? I curious to know how often Robin just abandons a shooting victim to go crack some heads. The “behind the scenes” reason is that Jake isn’t dead and this allows him to turn into a werewolf to go kick butt. Robin can’t see this change if the joke at the end of the story is suppose to work, so it’s written that he just leaves Jake sprawled on the pavement instead of rushing to render aid. And all this so that they can make what will amount to a single quip out of Robin not knowing that Jake/Fang are one in the same. It’s plotting like this that causes fans of a character to bash their heads into solid objects.
Much to Robin’s surprise, Fang appears and starts messing up the false-facers. Two of them seem to get the jump on Robin, until he turns the tables on them in a nicely done panel sequence.

What you can determine here is that if Chuck Dixon were free to write a really good Robin story without the added complication of shoehorning in a werewolf and the additional baggage of the Scare Tactics back story, we would get an above average Robin book. Also the art chores by Anthony Williams and Andy Lanning are great for Robin action, even if they tend to draw rather silly-looking werebeasts. Jake catches up to Robin here uninjured and back in human form. Robin asks him zero questions about how he survived the fall and the gunshot wound. None. Trained by Batman yet not even curious. And the fact that Jake’s clothes look similar to the wererabbit’s?

Hope you the reader are not tired of the writer having to come up with ways to separate these two when Jake has to change. Because we’ve got one more coming up.

We switch back to Swindon getting roughed up by no less than six werewolves. These …er, guys? turn out to be Jake’s cousins who aim to take Jake into the fold or kill him for the reward. Swindon squeals about where Jake can be found and they promise not to turn him into pork roast.

Meanwhile Robin gets to know Jake a bit more while they hang out around one of Gotham’s bridges. Jake claims to be a roadie for the musical group Scare Tactics, which wins him points with Robin. He even mentions that Fang is a real close friend, Fang being the bass player in the group. It’s just about this point that Fang’s cuz and his biker boys show up. Robin starts duking it out while Jake confronts his extended family. When his cousin hears that Fang won’t come back willingly, he musters up his boys to put a silver bullet in him. Since Jake will need to turn into Fang to fight back, that means that Robin must make an unplanned exit. Running out of ideas, Dixon throws the boy wonder off a bridge.

Fang transforms and gets a reaction shot that almost rivals a panel from Rabid Rachel. Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh, but just look at the side of his head and ears in that panel. That’s not a wolf, it’s a donkey.

Robin falls on a garbage scow, while Fang is about to eat a silver-plated slug. Fang fights them off for a bit but the odds are too uneven and he’s caught. So all is lost, until suddenly without any warning or explaination…

Robin’s back! Guess he flew from the boat back to the bridge. Robin can fly, can’t he? No? Then how did he get back?…never mind, I’m sure it’s not important in a book where he can’t even figure out that Jake and Fang are the same guy.

A two panel battle ensues and then all the werewolves run away like sissys. Not because there is a logical reason for six or more werewolves to be brought down by one of their own and a teenager with martial arts skills. But they run away because of page constraints. It’s so obvious, the editor could have put in a note saying “We’re sorry but we don’t have enough space to show what happened here. Enjoy the joke on the next page at Robin’s expense and the -nine page backup feature and the two extra written pages about the Scare Tactics team that we are forcing on you, dear fan of Robin.” Oh and that joke is something too:

After these two panels, Batman walks into the room and slaps Robin in the face. Hard. I know I would have. Robin’s face in that last panel makes me think he would really like to punch the writer at this moment. And in the end, Jake rides off on one of the motorcycles into the moonrise.

But what of the backup feature? Could it some how redeem the book from its own awful, uncomical finale? The short answer is no. The long answer involves a guy named Anthony breaking the future Scare Tactics out of the secret government facility where they’ve been taken captive. He gets some help from fate. I mean from Fate.

Fate fights a delaying tactic and is killed. Or left for dead, maybe. I think in some way I’m hoping he was killed for desecrating Dr Fate’s objects of power. Either way this is the first and last we see of him. Then Anthony realizes he’s alone with the teen monsters and that they are all counting on him or some nonsense.

With all these tie-in’s, you’d think that Scare Tactics might have picked up enough readers to avoid the ax. Unfortunately it didn’t. Nor did killing one of them off in issue 11. When even character death didn’t pull their numbers up, the band was sentenced to the discount bins after a 12 issue run.

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