While purveyors of pop culture will remember 1982 as the year of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and Steven Spielberg's "E.T.," fanboys made good like DC Comics' all-star writer Geoff Johns, who is known to have indulged in comic books featuring funny animal superheroes, will no doubt recall 1982 as the year "Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew" made its triumphant debut.
Johns had such fond memories of the Zoo Crew, he re-imagined the team for new readers in the pages of "Teen Titans" #30 and #31 (December 2005-January 2006) as comic book characters within the comic book, nearly a quarter of the century after their initial turn in "New Teen Titans" #16.
Thanks to the cameo's positive feedback from fans both new and old, DC have announced all 20 issues of the original self-titled "Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew" run will be re-released in "Showcase Presents" format on September 26. That release will be followed by a garden fresh, new three-issue miniseries starting October 10, entitled "Captain Carrot and the Final Ark."
CBR News got the lowdown on the series from writer Bill Morrison and artist Scott Shaw! , the co-creator who returns to the team he first drew 25 years ago.
Shaw!, for one, is not amazed that Rodney Rabbit's alter ego and his amazing pals have passed the test of time. "For years, I've had 20 and 30-something year-old comic fans tell me that the original 'Captain Carrot' was the first funny book series they collected," Scott Shaw! told CBR News. "I've been told that it really stood out on the stands, sort of an underground comic for kids that predated
'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' by a couple of years."
"Although our new series isn't a title directed at kids, it's certainly something that those old-time fans can now enjoy with their children," Shaw! stated.
Bill Morrison, who as the co-founder and creative director of Bongo Comics, knows Shaw! from his work on the company's various "The Simpsons" titles, is a relative newcomer to the Amazing Zoo Crew but is excited to be working with the legendary artist.
"Of course, I'm a longtime fan of Scott Shaw! and [original 'Zoo Crew' writer] Roy Thomas, but unfortunately 'Captain Carrot' had its original run in the few years that I was away from collecting comics," Morrison told CBR News. "You know, those lean years right after college? I picked up a few titles during that time, but didn't really have the money to buy very much. I started collecting again when 'The Dark Knight Returns' and 'Watchmen' were hot, and 'Captain Carrot' was heading out the door. I discovered it later, though, and enjoyed what little I saw."
Morrison agrees with Shaw! that "Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew" was a special title in its day that featured great characters, great stories, and great art. "The concept of funny animals as super heroes wasn't new in the early '80s when Roy and Scott created the Zoo Crew," Morrison explained, "but they incorporated certain things that were happening in the more serious superhero books like deeper character development, more interesting interaction between the characters and ongoing story threads.
"Plus, Scott's designs and art were very appealing. So they were funny and well-drawn like Mighty Mouse, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and characters like that who had come before, but there was a lot more there in the stories and characterizations for fans to grab and hold on to."
Morrison is thankful his name was considered when the dealmakers at DC decided to bring back the bunny with big biceps. "It was Dan Didio's idea," said Morrison. "Paul Dini was back in New York for a 'Countdown' meeting and as I understand it, Dan announced that they were planning a miniseries revival. Paul suggested they contact me to write it, bless him."
Scott Shaw! admits he's actually been pitching the concept for years. "But I was always told that it wasn't 'the right time,'" Shaw! said. "My understanding is that Dan DiDio is a big Captain Carrot fan and it was his idea to re-launch the characters. When Bill was asked who he wanted to work with, his first and only choice was yours truly, for which I'm very grateful. Bill's an old friend and I've already done a lot of work for him on a variety of projects for Bongo Comics, so we work very well together.
"It's a great change of pace to be drawing my characters in my own style once again. Some of my earliest and most enduring influences are Carl Barks' 'Donald Duck' and 'Uncle Scrooge' stories, Jay Ward's 'Rocky and Friends' and the early Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters like Ruff and Reddy, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw.
"I've got dozens of my own funny animal characters that I've created over the years for underground and independent comics," Shaw! continued. "I enjoy doing them because there are unlimited possibilities to using a wide variety of animal 'types' to parody human beings. And there are all sorts of animal 'parts' to draw, which makes the art more fun for me. Plus, during my college years, I worked at the San Diego Zoo, so I've already done all the research!"
"Captain Carrot and the Final Ark" kicks off at the Sandy Eggo Comic Con, and beyond the cosmic carrot crunching team leader, the re-launch features all the classic Zoo Crew members including Zatanna-inspired Alley-Kat-Abra, meteorite enhanced bruiser Pig-Iron, movie star-turned-bendable braveheart Rubberduck, magnetic media personality Yankee Poodle and the reptilian rocket Fastback, as well as newcomer American Eagle.
Morrison and Shaw! have introduced Geoff Johns' grittier, tongue-in-cheek story arc from the recent "Teen Titans" cameo into Zoo Crew continuity. As such, Alley-Kat-Abra has turned to a life of crime, Fastback has been banished to the future and the new team member, Little Cheese, has been murdered.
"When I read some of the fan reaction to that storyline, I was tempted to treat it like a comic book story within the DCU that was 'fictional,'" Morrison explained. "But there were plenty of fans who liked the darker portrayal of the Zoo Crew as well, so I thought maybe it would be more fun not to ignore it, but to try to incorporate it into this new story arc. Scott agreed, and so now Geoff's story plays a very big part in our series.
"As such, Yankee Poodle no longer has a secret identity. The whole world knows that she is Rova Barkitt, and because of her status as an ex-con [she was framed by Alley-Kat-Abra for the attempted assassination of President Mallard Fillmore], she now has the most successful daytime talk show in the world."
Shaw! added, "Now that the events of those 'Teen Titans' glimpses have been integrated into our series, it's fun to take Geoff's darker approach and twist it to suit Bill and my purposes, which are admittedly much more upbeat. As we all know, there's nothing that's been written in comics that can't be unwritten or reinterpreted, and Geoff's story points just provided more grist for the story-mill."
"At the beginning of the series American Eagle is on the team and Alley is still in prison, sort of," stated Morrison. "Fastback has also been rescued from the future. But things have changed politically in the United Species of America due to events in Geoff's storyline, and the Zoo Crew's ability to operate as heroes has been greatly affected.
"In a nutshell, there is a war brewing between land and sea animals, exacerbated by super villain-turned marine terrorist, the Salamandroid. While the Zoo Crew covertly try to thwart the terrorist strikes, the U.S.A.'s new President brings in a mysterious Alpaca mediator to broker a peace treaty with the even more mysterious mastermind of the marine-life revolt. In the end, after lots of hilarious action-packed fight scenes, the Zoo Crew engage in a final showdown against the underwater villain in a desperate attempt to save the entire land-dwelling population of the world.
"Man, that's hyperbole! I just heard Stan Lee whimper," quipped Morrison.
CBR News has learned the aforementioned "Alpaca mediator" will be revealed as Ra's al Ghul send-up Ra's al Paca. Morrison also confirmed the croaking colossus Frogzilla pays a return to the Zoo Crew's most wanted list, as does another old favorite. A brand new rogue will also be introduced.
Speaking of favorites, both Morrison and Shaw! consider Peter Porkchops' alter ego as an animal equal. "I'd have to say Pig-Iron is my favorite," said Morrison. "He's Scott's favorite, too. He's a whole lot of fun to write. He also plays a very pivotal role in the climax of the series."
"Pig-Iron has always been my favorite on the team," Shaw! concurred. "He's the one character that I created on my own, although his alter ego is Peter Porkchops, an old DC funny animal character. He's modeled after my favorite 'straight' superhero, the Fantastic Four's Thing. Ben Grimm's got quite a bit of his co-creator Jack Kirby in his character's makeup and Jack Kirby is my favorite cartoonist."
Morrison says while "The Final Ark" is a story complete in and of itself, it may not be the Zoo Crew's final arc. "We'll have to wait and see how the public responds," Morrison said. "Our editor Joey Cavalieri hasn't given us any indication either way, but Scott and I are having a blast and would love to keep it going. I will say this, however, it could easily be the end, as the title suggests, or it could be a brand new beginning."
Shaw! agreed, saying Captain Carrot and the rest of the Zoo Crew have plenty of stories left in the old rabbit hole. "Oh, there are tons of them," said Shaw! "Enough to fill three hundred issues rather than the three we have to play with right now. But getting the opportunity to tell them all really depends on the readers' response to 'Captain Carrot and the Final Ark.'"
And whether or not all these stories – past, present or future – exist in DCU proper, Morrison says that will finally be answered by the miniseries' final issue. "That question has been debated by fans for years, but this series will erase all doubt as to whether Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew are part of the DC Universe or not. And that's all I'm prepared to say about that."
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