WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for DC's Scooby Apocalypse #25, by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Ron Wagner and Andy Owens, on sale now.
If our continued fascination with post-apocalyptic horror has taught us anything, it's to aim for the head, but also that any sign of potential happiness will inevitably be followed by a moment of crippling tragedy. The same holds true for genre mashups like DC's Scooby Apocalypse, which reinvents the cast of Hanna-Barbera's Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! as survivors in a near-future wasteland overrun by monsters. So, we knew death was coming to Mystery Inc. -- heck, DC even advertised which character would fall! -- but that didn't make the moment's arrival any less shocking.
That owes much to the place of Scooby-Doo in popular culture. Since the 1969 debut of the original Saturday morning cartoon, Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby have become fixtures of entertainment and merchandising, spanning decades, and mediums, with about a dozen subsequent animated series, plus live-action and animated films, video games and, yes, comic books. There was even a recent crossover with The CW's Supernatural. The Scooby Gang is widely known known and well loved; a constant, with or without the annoying Scrappy-Doo, and even when removed from its more comfortable, and safe, haunted-house setting.
So, even when DC trumpeted "the unthinkable," the death of the ascot-wearing Fred Jones, it was difficult to believe it might actually happen. But in this week's Scooby Apocalypse #25, it most certainly does.
With the Scooby Gang holed up in a sprawling mall in Albany, New York, Fred and Daphne Blake venture into a CJ Nickel department store (a Hanna-Barbera-esque parody of JC Penny), in hopes of discovering the origin of a seemingly endless supply of monsters, and maybe get a count of just how many of them there are. It should be a relatively straightforward reconnaissance mission Daphne, who in Scooby Apocalypse isn't the danger-prone damsel but instead, in Velma's words, "a born warrior." If there's any member of Mystery Inc. you want to have your back when you enter a store lousy with monsters, it's Daphne. Except, she recently made the mistake of finally accepting a marriage proposal from the doting Fred, something a character should never do in horror fiction.
Told in flashbacks, interwoven with Daphne's internal struggle to come to terms with what just happened, Scooby Apocalypse #25, "Disaster!," subverts a trope of the original cartoon by having Fred's mold allergy, rather than Daphne's clumsiness, that alerts to store full of monsters to their presence. Drawn by the sound a sneeze, the creatures surround the two monster hunters, who open fire as Daphne declares, "I'm not dying today, Fred Jones -- and neither are you!" That's our next clue that, yes, Fred Jones is dying. Or, rather, that he's already dead.
It turns out Daphne's angry, dismissive conversations with Fred in "the present," are actually words exchanged with his ghost, or at least his memory. The two survived the initial assault in CJ Nickel, only to discover what amounts to the monsters' nursery, populated by grotesque embryos gestating in slimy green sacs. Determined to bring an end to this monster population, and make the mall safe as their new home base, Daphne opens fire on the unborn creatures, which also kills the adults, presumably because of a psychic link. But, this being a horror story, that isn't the end of the threat.
Daphne missed one of the embryos, which kills Fred even as he tries to protect her. "I just knew ... I had to protect you ... they way you've always protected me," he explains, undoubtedly leaving misty-eyed more than a few readers who never thought they'd get choked up over the ascot-wearing monster hunter. "[...] 'Cause I love you ... Daphne Blake. I love you -- more than my life."
Fred's death is a blow, and not only to the characters of Scooby Apocalypse. The realization in the final pages that much of the story told in "Disaster!" takes place after Fred is gone is a bit of a gut punch; when he implores Daphne on Page 10 not to go back into the store, because "there's nothing left up there to save," he's talking about his own body.
"It's over," he adds, only he doesn't mean the greater fight, just his own. Dammit, Fred.
Scooby Apocalypse #25, by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Ron Wagner and Andy Owens, on sale now from DC.