REVIEW: Looney Tunes/DC Crossovers are Silly and Surprisingly Touching

On first blush, the prospect of crossing characters over from Warner Bros.' storied Looney Tunes cartoons into the already crowded DC multiverse comes off a touch, well, daffy.

But from Bat-Mite to infinite shades of Kryptonite, DC Comics has always featured an undercurrent of weird and wacky, and it turns out the publisher’s initial installments of DC/Looney Tunes one-shots -- the Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special and the Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian Special -- are less in-line with DC’s recent meta-comedy Hanna-Barbera re-imaginings and more in keeping with classic Mad Magazine strips, emphasizing the humor inherent in DC’s own characters as much as their zany Tex Avery and Chuck Jones-created co-stars.

In the Legion/Bugs book, writer Sam Humphries and veteran artist Tom Grummett gently goof on the teenaged angst that’s defined the future teen heroes since the Silver Age. The plot’s simple: Supergirl’s infected with Rigel Fever, and there’s only one cure: Illudium Phosdex, an atom extinct since the 24.5th century (and one familiar to Duck Dogers fans). In a desperate attempt to save her, Brainiac 5 sends Computo back in time to grab Superboy, ‘cause he’ll presumably know what do to. Computo winds up snatching up the wisecracking carrot farmer Bugs Bunny and transporting the rascally rabbit to the 31st Century instead, and from there, it’s all one-liners, intricately over the top editor’s notes, and loving and knowing homages to plots of the past -- keep an eye out for the hilarious Silver Age, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Bugs-in-drag sight-gags. The story essentially provides Humphries room to smash his toys together a la Tom Scioli’s Transformers vs. G.I. Joe series.

Writers Steve Orlando & Frank J. Barbiere and artist Aaron Lopresti stake their combination of Martian Manhunter and Looney Tunes’ diminutive Marvin the Martian in a slightly more sensitive direction. After accidentally bringing Marvin (ahem, M’Arvinn) to Earth via some sort of interdimensional star gate, the Manhunter has to contend with the character's desire to destroy the planet. There’s plenty of slapstick laughs -- including a great scene in which Marvin, wearing Lopresti’s slightly updated uniform, wields an Illudium “explosive space modulator” that looks an awful lot like a stick of dynamite -- but overall, the story keys in on the cosmic loneliness of J'onn J'onzz, taking on an affecting tone as Marvin forces the Manhunter face to face with humanity’s impulse to hate what it fears. It’s a tenderer story than one might expect, more in line with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman than Space Jam, about the choice heroes make to be heroes, even when people don’t deserve it.

Both issues come with lively -- and entirely silly -- bonus stories. Writer Jim Fanning and artist John Loter evoke a classic Merrie Melodies short with their “The (Next to The) Last Martian,” while Juan Manuel Ortiz’s “The Legion of Super-Heroes Meet the Imposter Superboy!” re-drafts Humphries’ story with a focus on Silver Age sillies (“Face it, docs! The future is looking a lot brighter, now that I’m here,” Bugs proclaims, nibbling a carrot and wearing Superboy’s tights). The bright splashes to close out each issue are a nice touch to two books that demonstrate that even given unlikely parameters, creators in love with their characters can pull off wonders. If upcoming crossovers -- set to include Wonder Woman/Tazmanian Devil, Lobo/Road Runner, Jonah Hex/Yosemite Sam and Tom King and Lee Weeks' noir-ish looking Batman/Elmer Fudd -- meet this level of quality, it’ll be a “That’s All Folks” well earned.

The Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special and Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian Special are available now. Lobo/Road Runner Special and Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil Special are on sale Wednesday. June 21.

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