To say “Scooby-Doo” fans have a complicated history with Scrappy-Doo is putting it lightly. Once the savior of the Hanna-Barbera franchise, the pint-sized Great Dane with an outsized attitude has for years been reviled, or worse, willfully forgotten. But if, as the old saying goes, every dog has its day, then Scrappy’s may arrive in the pages of DC Comics’ “Scooby Apocalypse.”
After a decade on the road debunking supernatural mysteries, by 1979 the Mystery Machine was running out of gas. What began on CBS as the now-classic “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” had morphed into “The New Scooby-Doo Movies,” featuring such guest stars as Batman and Robin, Don Knotts and the Harlem Globetrotters, before moving in 1976 to ABC. It aired there for three seasons under as many titles and formats, referred to collectively as “The Scooby-Doo Show,” before ratings dipped so low that the network threatened cancellation.
Enter Scooby’s nephew Scrappy-Doo, intended by Hanna-Barbera to shake up the franchise formula – y’know, Fred, Velma, Daphe, Shaggy and Scoob stumble across an apparent supernatural mystery, and ultimately expose the ghost or monster as fake – and salvage ratings. He accomplished both, but at a steep cost.
Introduced in 1979 in the debut episode of the reminted “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo,” written by animation and comics veteran Mark Evanier, the feisty pup came armed with a fighting spirit and a trio of catchphrases: “Scrappy Dappy Doo,” “Lemme at ‘em!” and “Puppy Power!,” all destined to be repeated ad nauseam by young viewers. Although Scrappy wasn’t the first new character introduced into the Mystery Inc. mix –Scooby’s dim-witted cousin Scooby-Dum was an occasional guest star, for example – he had the greatest, and longest-lasting, impact. Receiving marquee treatment, Scrappy proved so popular that Fred, Velma and Daphne were pushed into the background until, with the second season, they were jettisoned entirely as the focus shifted to the globetrotting adventures of Scooby, Shaggy and, yes, Scrappy.
With the disappearance of Mystery Inc. came the loss of “Scooby-Doo’s” core conceit, that the “monster” was always a hoax orchestrated by some local ... who would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids; most of the monsters encountered by Scrappy, Scooby and Shaggy were real. In that regard, Scrappy-Doo doesn’t merely represent a prime example of Cousin Oliver Syndrome (or Poochie Syndrome, if you prefer), but a complete upending of a classic formula. In that regard, his later divisiveness may owe as much to his role as a disruptive force as it does to his overbearing personality and his limelight-hogging tendencies.
Scrappy was a mainstay of the franchise for much of the 1980s, appearing in three subsequent series and a handful of TV movies. However, he effectively disappeared in 1988, and didn’t reemerge until 2002’s “Scooby-Doo” live-action film, where he’s revealed as the mastermind of a revenge plot against the Mystery Inc. gang, who had abandoned him years earlier. He also has a cameo, of sorts, in the 2008 direct-to-DVD animated movie “Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King,” when the Mystery Machine crashes into an amusement park stand filled with Scrappy stuffed toys. If that's not a metaphor, I'm not sure what is.
It’s into that post-Scrappy, or perhaps anti-Scrappy, environment that DC Comics in May launched “Scooby Apocalypse” as part of a comic book line reimagining such Hanna-Barbera properties as “The Flintstones,” “Wacky Races,” “Jonny Quest,” “Space Ghost” and “The Herculoids.” Here, the Mystery. Inc. gang is transplanted to unfamiliar territory, a near-future where Daphne is a mystery-seeking TV show host and Fred her doting cameraman, Velma is a scientist involved in a top-secret project involving nanites and “smart-dog” experiments, with Scooby as one of her emoticon-emitting subjects and Shaggy as his hipster handler. As the key players come together in an underground laboratory complex, a nanite plague is unleashed, transforming humans into monsters.
The comic probably shouldn’t work, because it (1) flips the original “Scooby-Doo” premise of monsters not being real, and (2) takes a pseudo-serious, sci-fi approach to the characters and setting. Yet, somehow, it does, owing much to the writing of frequent collaborators Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis. That’s why when Scrappy-Doo is reintroduced, the reader can resist the urge to throw the comic across the room.
As the once and future Scooby Gang make their way across a monster-filled hellscape in a souped-up Mystery Machine, it’s revealed in Issue 4 that they’re pursued not only by vampires, mummies and tentacle creatures, but also by a pack of smart-dog test subjects, led by a certain Great Dane pup with a bad attitude and a disdain for humans. Right away, Giffen and DeMatteis cleverly address one of the franchise’s more nagging mysteries -- why Scooby possesses only limited speech (“Ruh-roh!”) while Scrappy has a full vocabulary: Scrappy was the only test subject outfitted with an articulation implant before the meltdown at the scientific facility.
Unlike in his live-action appearance, the Scrappy of "Scooby Apocalypse" isn’t (so far) a whisker-twirling villain or a joke. He’s on the trail of the Mystery Machine, sure, but for self-preservation rather than revenge: If Velma Dinkley doesn’t upgrade their cybernetic implants, Scrappy and his pack – a callback, perhaps, to his old gang shown on “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo”? – will be reduced to “drooling idiots again.” In other words, they’ll become normal dogs. That said, Scrappy’s motivation isn’t entirely about survival; he also harbors a hatred for “that moron Scooby-Doo.”
“I despise that soft-hearted weakling,” he says. “And once we track Dinkley down – I’m gonna rip that not-so-great Dane into a dozen pieces. So watch your back, Scoobert – ‘cause Scrappy-Doo is coming for you!”
It’s not exactly “Scrappy Dappy Doo!,” but it has a certain ring to it.
When Scrappy resurfaces in Issue 6, released last week, it’s in a backup story under the heading “The Adventures of Scrappy-Doo & The Scrappy Gang,” an inescapable reminder of the 1979 revamp – well, if the animated series had featured cyborg dogs and flesh-eating monsters. Here, the pup assumes a more militant stance, and grapples with an ethical dilemma: Should he save a family under attack, even though it was humans who mistreated the smart-dogs, intended to be sold “like slaves” to the military? Amid exposition in which he reiterates his hatred for Scooby-Doo and his need to find Velma, Scrappy decides the humans aren’t his concern, but the monsters are, as they stand in the way of his gang.
Tapping into some implanted “experimental tech," Scrappy transforms from a pup into a hulking, bipedal monstrosity reminiscent of “Scrappy Rex” from the 2002 live-action film. It certainly seems like an effort to counter that parody portrayal by embracing it and incorporating it into a story and a setting in which it actually (again) works.
After only two brief appearances, it’s far too early to say whether “Scooby Apocalypse” will provide Scrappy-Doo with the redemption that’s evaded him for nearly three decades. But he’s already shaping up to be a complex and (somewhat) sympathetic antagonist – someone angry after being subjected against his will to scientific experiments yet desperate to retain the abilities, and the intelligence, that came with them. He’s no longer an annoying, catchphrase-spouting cartoon character eager to fight monsters and overshadow his uncle, but instead a bitter canine Charlie Gordon who, even as he seeks out Velma Dinkley, feels his enhanced IQ slipping away from him.
Of course, Scrappy’s seething – if perhaps not entirely logical -- hatred for Scooby may pose an obstacle to the pup becoming truly sympathetic, particularly if he attempts to follow through on his pledge to ensure the Great Dane “dies a very slow death.” (Seriously, who hates Scooby-Doo?) However, his apocalyptic path to either revenge or redemption is bound to be an interesting one – even if it is already littered by one “Lemme at ‘im!”