When I drove back from picking up this week's comics, all I could think was "I'm about to read a new Zoo Crew story."
I was a huge Zoo Crew fan; hunting down the issues I had missed consumed a lot of my first trips to the comic stores in the region. I know this won't surprise anyone, but I have some notes about a Zoo Crew card game locked up in my brain attic.
So I was really excited to see news about the return of Captain Carrot tucked inside all those convention panel discussions on Infinite Crisis. And it was scheduled to appear inside the current Teen Titans book, which is classically appropriate since the very first Zoo Crew preview pages were in a random issue of New Teen Titans. This interview with Zoo Crew papa Scott Shaw! tells much of the story behind this surprise resurrection.
The platform was probably the biggest question. Will these funny-animal characters interact with the modern Titans? Will they be drawn in a contemporary fashion, perhaps anime-ized to appear more visually compatible with the hip Titans artwork? Is this actually a part of Earth-2 Superman's Infinite Crisis plan? (The Zoo Crew's adventures were on Earth-C and they were occasionally visited by Earth-1 characters, making them a canonical part of DCU history... and it's been widely assumed that Earth-C was an unseen casualty in the destruction of Crisis.)
So I was slightly disappointed to see that the "Whatever Happened to Captain Carrot" story is only four pages sprinkled amidst the main Titans tale. It is wholly separate from the A story; it's framed as if the Zoo Crew stuff is a comic that various Titans characters are reading. Nobody ever mentions it, it's almost a very intrusive background element. (The good news is that this means we get Scott Shaw! doing the art, which is a pleasure.) And it's a two part story, so we're looking at merely eight pages of new Zoo Crew.
This raises the question: Why pretend to integrate it into the Titans book at all? It could easily be a bonus feature tucked in the back, even stuck inside several DC books. No, by making the Titans subliminally aware of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, they have got to be setting up something larger - if anybody gives a damn, that is. Part Two doesn't show up until next month, but hopefully it leaves the door open for some kind of new Zoo Crew appearance. Presumably with the Titans (at least Changeling, come on!) but dare I anticipate a new solo book?
Here's my conspiracy theory. DC is big into animation these days, far above any other comics company. I present to you that this teeny tiny Zoo Crew tale is returning the characters to the public eye (it's been over 20 years since they last appeared in comics) so that they can become the next big cartoon production from Warner Bros. We're in another super-hero media boom at the moment (Justice League, Teen Titans, Spider-Man, Batman Begins, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Incredibles, Smallville, Superman Returns) and with Cartoon Network recently opting not to renew the Teen Titans cartoon (WTF?!), I'm thinking this has left a hole in the animation development schedule.
If single copy sales of these Titans books is higher than normal, if it spawns enough excited retro-chatter in comics fandom, if the focus groups and the venture studies and the media marketers think kids are ready for another comedy-action super-hero show... well, this is a property that DC has been hiding for an entire generation and it's high time they gave it a shot. And if I know my CCAHAZC history - and I do - turning these characters into a kids franchise was always part of the rubric. That's why, in 1982, they had to change Captain Carrot's original secret identity - Roger Rabbit - to Rodney Rabbit... because should the irons strike, they didn't want any confusion between their Roger and a certain other Roger who had just started big-screen development over at Disney.
Pie-in-the-sky dreams aside, the four pages I just read are a great extension of the original series. Now, original Zoo Crew was full of silly animal puns and a lot of Silver Age adventure sensibility, but it was still a solid, at times serious, super-hero action title. One of the reasons why I liked it so much was because it had that depth... it wasn't as depressingly shallow as the Super Friends cartoon, despite the kid-friendly approach. And although it was often a parody of the super-hero genre, it didn't dip down into anything mean-spirited, gross-out, or overly caricatured in the MAD Magazine style. The Zoo Crew did time travel, dimension hopping, team in-fighting, secret identities... they even ended their run with an "event" miniseries, the Oz-Wonderland War (although that was originally intended as a major six part storyline inside the ongoing title.)
The new stuff updates their world but keeps their pastiche going. We don't know how many years have passed since their last appearance, but since then the Zoo Crew has fallen apart. Captain Carrot has retired in scandal. Yankee Poodle was framed and imprisoned for an assassination attempt. Fastback is missing. Pig-Iron and Rubberduck have become underground vigilantes. Ally-Kat-Abra has re-invented herself as a celebrity. Little Cheese is a hotshot district attorney uncovering a major case... but gets murdered for it.
There's shades of Kingdom Come and Watchmen (and probably more to come) in those four pages. The modern world - the one that has Earth-2 Superman so fired up! - has gotten to the Zoo Crew as well. And yet, except for Little Cheese's death, it's not that spiritually removed from the kind of stuff the Crew did back in the early '80s. Especially since it all unfolds under Scott Shaw!'s Hanna-Barbara touch. This could quite legitmately be issue #21 of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew. If only it had been issue #200!