When DC announced a revamped Hanna Barbera line, it was met with a lot of derision. They announced four titles, but the only one that didn’t meet with immediate hate was Future Quest by Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner. The weirdo sci-fi version of Scooby-Doo took the brunt of the mocking, but the post-apocalyptic Wacky Races didn’t escape unscathed. Neither did The Flintstones, which at the time only had a fairly normal rendition of cast done by the incomparable Amanda Conner. In the end, only Wacky Races turned out poorly. Scooby Apocalypse is fine and while Future Quest is good it hasn’t managed to maintain any momentum since Shaner has only been able to do about half of each issue. The Flintstones, though, has been amazing.
The art is by Steve Pugh, who has previously worked on Animal Man, Hellblazer and 2000 AD, and it looks really good. His art is clear and friendly, capturing the sitcom-esque look of the Flintstones perfectly. The cartoon was a take on The Honeymooner’s set in Prehistoric times, a broad sitcom family with the usual sitcom problems that just happened to be cave men; hence “the modern Stone Age family.” Pugh’s art is perfect at grounding this series into something that looks friendly and inviting. Which is necessary, because The Flintstones is anything but friendly.
No, this Flintstones comic is pitch black satire that is equally razor sharp and hammer blunt. Mark Russell wrote last year’s under-read Prez, also from DC, about America’s first teenage president, which was a similar satire that introduced Carl the End of Life Bear, a marijuana dispensing nursing robot for terminal patients. The Flintstones is even more biting than that already caustic title. Russell does this without doing a lot of re-imagining of the title. The Flintstones here are in many ways the same characters they have always been. Fred and Barney are best friends, they work at Slate Rock & Gravel, are married to Wilma and Betty and have kids in Pebbles and Bam-Bam. But instead of the cartoon’s broad sitcom problems, the comic has satirical social commentary, existential dread and scathing looks at very modern problems. It is amazing.
In the first six issues alone, The Flintstones has dealt with issues like consumer culture, marriage equality, religion, war, politics, and veteran care, among others. It has essentially touched on most of the issues we face in our lives today. The first issue has a Neandethal, when leaving Bedrock, describe civilization as “getting someone else to do your killing for you.” That references back to both his friend dying trying to kill a mammoth at Mr. Slate’s behest, and Fred’s experiences in a war that Mr. Slate gave Mr. Slate the chance to open his quarry. Not only that, it is also dripping with existential dread, with the confusion of life forcing characters to contemplate the meaning of their own existence and generally not liking what they find. When Fred is asked if he has any worries about the new fad called “marriage” he wonders if all his marriage is doing is keeping Wilma from finding something better. It is kind of heartbreaking.
There is some lightness to all of this, the possibility of hope. Wilma only thought about why she married is that she loves Fred. The hope in this series almost always found in its two families, the Flintstones and the Rubbles. Wilma might have been embarrassed at her art show, but learning about her art helped bring her and Fred closer together. That marriage retreat ends in disaster, but Fred and Wilma come out of it stronger. Even the war flashback, which shows Fred and Barney joined the army and committed genocide on the false pretense of an impending attack – easily the darkest tale in these six issues – ends with an event that brings the Rubbles closer together, giving at least the glimmer hope to a bleak, bleak story. All through the satire is the undercurrent that individual people doing their best matters, even if society at large is fucked. This element of hope is perfectly expressed by the baby mastodon vacuum cleaner, talking to his friend the armadillo bowling ball about what gets him through his dread as he spends his days locked in the closet – I told you it was dark – is knowing his friend is on the other side of the door. “Maybe the only meaning to life is that which we get from each other.”
DC had a rough couple of years after they carpet bombed their own line with the New 52 at the same time that their reliable arty Vertigo titles largely dried up. But after the last year or so, I would say they are back on track, having published some of the best comics of the decade. Both of their books written by Mark Russell are on that list. Prez is amazing, but was left unfinished. Hopefully that same fate doesn’t befall The Flintstones as well.