March 2, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Hero Case File #108: Ambush Bug

Deadpool isn't the only hero who can break the fourth wall, though Deadpool may be the only such character to get his own movie.

Perhaps the rarest superpower is consciousness of the fourth wall.  That would be the invisible wall in every panel which allows the reader to see through to the fictional world and watch the characters do what they do.  A handful of comic book heroes are aware the fourth wall exists and use that knowledge generally for laughs, often to speak directly to the reader or to comment on the action.  Deadpool carried this ability over to his movie.  She-Hulk often uses this power to argue with her creative team in her more lighthearted moments.

And then there’s the Ambush Bug.  He’s not only aware he’s in a comic book, but he has meta-knowledge on top of that.

Ambush Bug is just a weird character.  Possibly possessing the real name of Irwin Schwab, Ambush Bug first appeared in DC Comics Presents #52.  That series was a Superman team-up book where Superman would team up with other heroes to save the day, though a number of the issues I’ve read would perhaps be more accurately described as another hero tags along while Superman saves the day.  Ambush Bug was not one of Superman’s team-ups.  No, instead, he started off as a villain.

A villain with odd true confessions.

Ambush Bug had a teleportation power that seemed to allow the obnoxious miscreant to just appear wherever he wanted at the drop of a metaphorical hat.  In his first appearance, he used his power to murder people.  That’s the sort of thing Superman doesn’t stand for, but by and large, he mostly just acted like an obnoxious pest that Superman and various other heroes would try to track down.  Initially, it was discovered his suit provided him with the teleportation power through technology.  Advanced nanites were scattered throughout the city of Metropolis that allowed Ambush Bug to go where he needed to go, often while popping crappy jokes and driving Superman nuts.

The funny thing was, he actually became somewhat popular.  Outside of his first couple of appearances, he never really went full-evil again, becoming more of the pest type that just drove whoever was with him crazy.  The various explanations for what Ambush Bug got his powers from were forgotten, he’s never really been seen outside his costume, and he just pops up as he needs to.

Along the way, he started to recognize he was a fictional character in the DC Universe with all that this knowledge entails.  In his own solo works, he’d lament being left out of the most recent big crossover or try to sneak into it somehow.  With pencils from creator Keith Giffen and dialogue generally the work of collaborator Robert Loren Fleming, Ambush Bug would comment on the action, refer to his creative team by name, and just seem more of a meta-character that anything else.  I seem to recall one special where Ambush Bug was wondering who the President of the United States was in the DC Universe and concluded it was probably the same as in the real world since whoever was writing his book would be too lazy to make up a fictional one.

This meta-commentary generally allowed Ambush Bug to interact with other DC characters from the non-superhero books, suggesting they may also exist in the DCU, but not in the way that might normally be suspected.  Once in a great while, Ambush Bug even appears in regular continuity stories, like the time he joined a (very) short-lived version of the Justice League that lasted all of one mission.

And he asked for dialogue.

But the most telling Ambush Bug moment would be in the final episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  The plot for the last episode had Bat-Mite concerned that the show was getting old and had, perhaps, “jumped the shark.”  That phrase was used rather frequently for that episode.  As such, Bat-Mite used his powers to try to force the show into cancellation so he could interact with an all-new Batman.  There was a single DC hero who could recognize what Bat-Mite was doing and why, and as such set out to make sure Bat-Mite’s plans failed by educating Batman and Aquaman on the plan.  Though ultimately successful, it was still the last episode, and the show was written in such a way as a farewell episode that fit the show’s general jokey humor.

The Bug in cartoon form.

Besides, the best joke may have been the most subtle in its own way.  Who voiced Ambush Bug as he teleported around in an episode about jumping the shark?

Who else could it be?  It was Henry Winkler.

That’s just such an Ambush Bug thing to do.