Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Flintstones, Volume 1 Review (Mark Russell, Steve Pugh)

The Flintstones gets a makeover in their newly-relaunched series: Fred and Barney are war vets with PTSD, Wilma’s an artist, and Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are tweens! Do the changes work? Actually, yes! Is this one of the best titles of the past year like many reviewers are claiming? Nope! It’s surprisingly not bad though – I can definitely see why there’s enthusiasm for this series. 

Appropriately enough given the original sitcom’s episodic nature, each issue is a self-contained story with Mark Russell, writer of the short-lived but brilliant Prez, slowly and cleverly introducing familiar Flintstones features in each of them. How the Flintstones came by Dino, Bamm-Bamm’s origin, the meaning of “Yabba-Dabba-Doo!”, and even the appearance of the Great Gazoo are inspired touches.

Like Prez, Russell works in serious commentary on American society. The formation of Bedrock could be seen as an allegory for the foundation of America with the settlers wiping out the Native Americans, or “tree people” here, as well as an observation on how the government lies to its people to con them into wars they don’t fully understand like the Second Gulf War. And the treatment of war vets after a conflict, when the government’s turned their back on them, is devastatingly on point – it’s surprising DC allowed Russell to make such dark jokes about veterans and suicide in a Flintstones comic of all places!

There’s an amusing moment too when people start protesting marriage between a man and a woman, saying it’s unnatural and weird, riffing on how society always reacts this way whenever something new comes along, like gay marriage today. Some of the observations are banal though like the destructive shallowness of a consumerist society with Fred and Barney taking on second jobs so their wives can keep buying the latest appliances (the appliances are, in Flintstones fashion, animals, and there’s a Disney-esque and startlingly poignant scene when the “bowling ball” (an armadillo) and the “vacuum cleaner” (a small elephant) have a conversation about their lonely existences as they sit in the closet waiting to be used again – they find comfort in their shared plight and become friends). Organised religion also gets pilloried as the scam it is but at this point it’s low-hanging fruit.

The flipside of Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s thoughtful and fantastic commentary, structure and world-building is that none of the stories or characterisations honestly ever blew me away. They’re clever but not very engrossing and I was appreciating aspects of the comics more than getting caught up in them. It’s the same with the jokes – they didn’t make me laugh but I can see them working for some people. Maybe I’d like it more if I was a bigger Flintstones fan but even so I was pleasantly surprised with how cerebral a series about cavepeople turned out to be!

Mark Russell and Steve Pugh may have remodelled The Flintstones for a 21st century audience but they’ve kept the show’s sharp satirical soul intact – the exterior may look flashier but it’s unmistakably The Flintstones - and that makes it a pretty yabba-dabba-decent relaunch!

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