Did you know that there’s an old Batman comic where he wears a whole set of rainbow-colored suits? Or a zebra-striped one? Did you know that Superman once made a whole island shaped like himself, to hide kryptonite on, or that Green Lantern’s sidekick used to be a pink space starfish named Itty?
Batman, Superman and Hal Jordan would rather you didn’t, and they know just who to call.
That’s the premise of Sugar and Spike: Metahuman Investigations. It’s a joyful crash course in the weirdest edges of an 80-year-old superhero universe, with a couple of main characters who think this is all unbelievably stupid. And it’s a comic you should consider picking up this week.
Sugar Plumm and Spike Wilson are partners, and they make their living by being the superhero community’s go-to private investigators for covering up the most embarrassing parts of their past, like the old costumes, the weird lairs — or that alien who left you at the altar years ago and says he’s about to come forward on national television about your secret marriage. Sugar is the acid-tongued, always-angry point woman, while Spike is slower to judge and slower on the uptake.
The noir-comedy banter of Sugar and Spike’s main characters nestles right up against the goofiest details of Silver Age superhero comics — and with Keith Giffen writing the series, it’s no wonder. Giffen created one of the DCU’s longest-lived parodic characters, the interstellar bounty hunter Lobo (as well as one of its least known parodic characters, Ambush Bug). But Sugar and Spike does just as much communicating with facial expression, panel composition and visual details as it does with dialogue, a credit to the talent of artist Bilquis Evely.
But Sugar and Spike’s biggest behind-the-scenes twist is that the main characters — who remain steadfastly incredulous at each new bizarre item they’re hired to recover or destroy — are themselves a rebooted version of a forgotten facet of the DC Universe. Sugar & Spike was a humor series created by legendary DC Comics editor Sheldon Mayer — a man credited with the distinction of pulling Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman pitch out of the slush pile and pushing it towards publication. Mayer’s comic was about the nascent adventures of two precocious toddlers who could talk to each other but not to adults; think Rugrats, but in 1956.
Sugar and Spike: Metahuman Investigations sees them entirely reimagined as adult private eyes who have to angrily explain that no, they’re not siblings and no, they’re not dating. The book is full of throwbacks, but it doesn’t depend on the reader knowing them, because cuts are so deep that it can’t. It’s a comic that is simultaneously a great book for people who don’t know anything about the DC Universe, a loving tribute to some of the DC Universe’s weirdest history, and probably the wildest character reboot the DC Universe has hosted in decades. It’s also flown sort of under the radar so far.