Bugs & Kisses: Giffen Brings Back Ambush Bug

Robert Kearns gave the world intermittent windshield wipers while Allen Gant Sr. changed haute couture forever when he unleashed panty hose on an unsuspecting public.

For fan favorite comics creator Keith Giffen, his ever-lasting gift to civilization is Ambush Bug.

Sure, Giffen has enjoyed immensely popular runs on "Justice League International" and "Legion of Super-Heroes" and he also co-created the famous intergalactic mercenary Lobo, but when DC Comics announced earlier this year that Ambush Bug would star in his own six-part miniseries written and drawn by Giffen, the response from convention floors and internet forums was extremely positive, to put it mildly.

First introduced in "DC Comics Presents" Vol. 1 #52 in December, 1982, Ambush Bug was revealed as a new supervillain pitted against Superman and the then-New Doom Patrol. Blessed with an ability to teleport anywhere on Earth, Ambush Bug soon learned he was fighting on the wrong side of justice and has been a small-S superhero ever since -- and that is a charitable characterization. Dressed always in a green skintight bug-like suit, the chronically bizarre Ambush Bug (real name Irwin Schwab, supposedly) often appears to be aware of the fact that he exists within the pages of a comic book, and is generally seen by other DC characters as an annoyance, when he's acknowledged at all.

Largely unused since the 1992 one-shot "Ambush Bug: Nothing Special," in which Schwab endeavored and failed to become the sidekick to Swamp Thing, the Sandman and other DC characters, Ambush Bug made recent cameo appearances in the pages of both "52" and "Countdown to Final Crisis."And while Giffen served a breakdown artist on both weekly series, he told CBR News the Bug's return to DCU was not his doing.

"When Ambush Bug appeared in '52,' it wasn't my idea. It was [Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid's] idea," Giffen told CBR News. "Some fan at a convention asked if Ambush Bug was going to appear in '52' and they said, 'Well, yeah.' And they said they would do it."

Of Ambush Bug's return to his own title, Giffen said, "I had really thought Ambush Bug had enjoyed his run and that was it. So no, I really wasn't thinking about bringing him back in any way, shape or form. There were other people interested in him or trying to figure out ways to bring him back but I never gave it any solid thought. When DC called me, it was out of the blue and no one was more surprised than me."

Giffen believes Ambush Bug works today because, quite simply, he is so much damned fun. "Comics are supposed to be fun. Aren't they? Even at their most serious, they are supposed to be fun and something to bide your time while you take a dump," quipped Giffen. "It's always surprises me how serious the comic industry is about their stories and their heroes and their, oh, so precious continuity. It's just comic books. At the end of the day, we're not curing cancer. This isn't great literature. It's barely art. It's just a really interesting, unique and fun way to tell a story. That's the way I see it. I am sure people have their own opinions and we could argue this all day. But to me, I am just a storyteller."

Citing humor comics ranging from "Captain Carrot" to "Major Bummer," Giffen said there is always room for a book that requires nothing more from the reader "than to sit down and just enjoy the goings-on." "Everything doesn't have to be doom and gloom," explained Giffen. "Everything doesn't have to be a major Earth-shattering event. 'Look, he's a Skrull.' It reaches a saturation point and I know when {DCU Executive Editor] Dan Didio and [DC Coordinating Editor] Jann Jones called me and asked me to do the Ambush Bug, my first question was, 'Why?' Dan said, 'We are just getting a bit too serious, a bit too full of ourselves and it's time to shake things up a bit and let our hair down.' I think that's always a good idea.

"And to be honest you, if you are that wrapped up in comics that you take it that seriously, first of all, God bless you because you are buying the books but if you are really, really, really that serious about comics, you may want to skip 'Ambush Bug.' If you can't take a joke than you are going to have a problem, if you left your sense of humor in your other pants, move onto 'X-Men' or 'Batman' or 'Superman' or whatever your pleasure happens to be. But I think 'Ambush Bug' is a breath of fresh air. It's a chance to have a little bit of fun with all this seriousness going on."

Giffen shared that while "Ambush Bug: Year None" does have a guiding principle and plot thread tying it together, one look at the subject matter and you can safely expect someone to pull the loose end. And it will probably be Giffen. "I always start with a story but this is Ambush Bug, so it does take odd directions," he said. "We do look at the last six DC big events. Starting at 'Identity Crisis' and working our way through 'Countdown to Infinite Crisis' to 'Infinite Crisis' to '52' to 'Countdown to Final Crisis' and finally to 'Final Crisis.' But it's loosely themed, we start into it but about four issues we veer off in our own direction and that's part of the joy of doing the character.

"That said, you do not have to have read any of the aforementioned miniseries or event series in order to enjoy 'Ambush Bug: Year None.' One of the rules we are using on this book, is that if it is an in-joke, if the joke only works if you have read '52,' we won't use it. We are trying to say if you read '52,' you get another layer to the joke but you can get it with out having to have read '52.' Even though this miniseries does travel through DCU, 'Ambush Bug' can stand by itself."

Giffen, who said writing and drawing Ambush Bug is cathartic, welcomes the opportunity to be working on DC titles at a more "leisurely" pace. "A monthly grind is a breath of fresh air," laughed Giffen. "After two years of breaking down and being a part of weekly comics, all of a sudden monthly seems really leisurely. But I do tend to use my mornings and the early part of the day getting the writing done, 'Reign in Hell' or 'Dreamwar' or whatever DC tosses at me and I tend to wrap up my day by going upstairs, hitting the board and just using 'Ambush Bug' to unwind and have a little bit of fun."

What's even more fun is working once again with his old pal and writing partner Robert Loren Fleming. "When I was first approached with Ambush Bug, the idea was to just handle it. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that probably wasn't a great idea," admitted Giffen. "Yeah, I can write Ambush Bug. Greg Rucka can write Ambush Bug. Geoff Johns could write Ambush Bug. But it really wouldn't be Ambush Bug. Bob brings so much lot to the table. I can draw the silly situations and put the Bug in circumstances which are fun visually and I feed Bob a few notes here and there but there are very few notes that I give him because usually he just kind of flies blind. The heart of the character, that little core of innocence among all the craziness he is knee deep in is pure Bob.

"If I had been writing 'Ambush Bug' solo, I think he would have been a far darker character. And the fact that Fleming was willing to come back, that this cinched it. You put Al Milgrom on the inks and he is just knocking this stuff out of the ball park. I am extraordinarily pleased with the way the book is turning out. The way the team is working together."

Giffen, one of the most candid and open superhero creators working today, said he was actually a little nervous the first time he picked up a pencil for "Ambush Bug: Year None." "First of all, I hadn't done any extensive penciling in a long time," explained Giffen. "I did 52 weeks of breakdowns on harder deadlines. But it was surprising to me how easy it was to slip back into the Bug's persona. And get it on the page."

If the series does well, DC has told Giffen they are open to further Ambush Bug projects. "But it's a business and it all hinges on sales," said Giffen. "This character hasn't been seen in any extensive manners since about 15 years ago when we did the 'Ambush Bug: Nothing Special.' I am sure a lot of people have no idea what to expect if they haven't seen the old stuff. But there is nothing like this book on the market now, so I am naïve enough to believe if they pick up the book and read the first three pages, 'We got ya.' But I could be wrong. God knows I have been wrong before. I'd love to continue doing the Bug but that's economic factors. And that's when the numbers come in."

CBR News has more with Giffen tomorrow when he shares his thoughts on "Reign in Hell."

With a cover by J.H. Williams III and a variant by Giffen, "Ambush Bug: Year None" is due in stores July 23.

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