So far, DC’s newly-launched revamps of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon properties have ranged from fairly traditional takes (Future Quest) to radical re-imaginings (Scooby Apocalypse, Wacky Raceland) with not much in-between and, if I’m being brutally honest, fairly limited success. Scooby Apocalypse is an atrocious mess, Wacky Raceland is at least an interesting mess, and Future Quest — well, even a hardened cynic like yours truly has gotta admit that book is just plain cool. Into the breach next, then, comes writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh’s updated version of The Flintstones, and if the first issue is any indication, it seems to be the first of these titles to stake out something of a “middle ground,” remaining fairly faithful to the core characters and concepts but updating them for a contemporary, and somewhat older, audience. Sure, there’s nothing in here to prevent 20-something, 30-something, or (shudder!) even 40-something parents from reading this book with their children, but given that it seeks to address (in rather rapid-fire fashion) issues such as economic exploitation of immigrant labor, the re-integration of combat veterans into civilian life, and the existential ennui of bored suburban housewives — with perhaps even a knowing nod cast in the direction of John Zerzan-esque anarcho-primitivism — you have to wonder how much of what’s going on here a young kid is even going to understand, much less care about.
Still, for this reader/critic, at any rate, The Flintstones #1 was an enjoyable-enough four-color romp, and while Russell’s ambitions so far seem to outstrip his actual ability (the laundry-list of socio-economic “challenges” referred to above giving his script more a feeling of a series of strung-together scenarios rather than an actual, cohesive narrative), it’s well past time that somebody brought 100,000 B.C. (or whatever) into the 21st century — and turning Fred and Barney’s Stone Age-equivalent of the Elks’ Club into a support group for veterans of the “Bedrock Wars,” making Slate’s Quarry a hotbed of Cro-Magnon (or maybe it’s Neanderthal) workers’ rights struggles, giving Wilma artistic ambitions, and openly asking whether or not the conquest of wild nature in service of establishing the first civilization was even worth it seem as good a place to start that process as any. Yeah, things may get a bit heavy-handed in the “preachiness” department at times, but at least the author’s clearly-expressed sentiments appear to be in the right place.
Admittedly, Barney and Betty Rubble get the really short end of the stick as far as character development goes — and there’s no sign of either Pebbles or Bam-Bam at this point (wait’ll you get a load of the “new look” Dino, though!) — but there’s actually an impressive amount of depth added to Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s relationship and “re-purposing” quarry owner George Slate as a Donald Trump-esque villain is a move that’s equal parts genius and painfully obvious. Stick all this within the context of a framing sequence set in a modern-day museum that shows us a caveman frozen in ice at the outset and then returns to him at the end after we know how he came to be stuck in said predicament and what you’ve got is a good old-fashioned “one and done” comic that gives you enough tantalizing glimpses into the world it’s just starting to (re-) explore to make you want to stick around for more.
I’ve always liked Steve Pugh’s art, going all the way back to his ought-to-be-legendary stint with Jamie Delano on Animal Man, and while his work here is pretty far-removed from that stylistically, it suits the material well and his updated designs of our various cast members are uniformly successful and believable. Chris Chuckry’s colors are serviceable if unspectacular, but overall this comic’s visuals offer a pleasing and just-different-enough-to-keep-us-interested take on characters, and a world, that we thought we already knew pretty well — much like the script, I suppose. If this group of creators can remain together for a nice, extended run — and if editorial affords them the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the subjects they scratch the surface of in this issue — then who knows? This new version of The Flintstones may prove to be the most satisfying — as well as, obviously, the most topical — one yet. I’m certainly game to give ’em all a few more months to see where they take things.