By Mark Russell, Steve Pugh, and Chris Chuckry
Don’t let anybody tell you DC’s The Flintstones #1 isn’t interesting. There’s good about it, there’s bad about it. But above all: it’s interesting. There is a lot to admire about this first issue, but it doesn’t quite come together. Ultimately, this is a comic trying to be too many things all at once, causing it to collapse and become nothing.
Tonally, this is NOT The Flintstones we know. What Russell, Pugh, and Chuckry have given us is, oddly, more similar to Mad Men than any children’s cartoon. This book is setting the rest of the series up to be a clever deconstruction of societal & work issues, exploring such broad themes as gender politics, workplace disagreements and more. In many ways it’s less about the prehistoric era and more about the decade in which the original cartoon was produced. A series set in prehistoric times using satire to troubles of our own is a clever conceit. The problem is, that’s not what people will go into this book expecting, the brand new brings with it the idea of “all family fun”. This a book that requires the audience to make a massive leap in accepting a new direction. And the biggest problem here is that The Flintstones doesn’t seem to know which direction it is it wants to take. Narratively it appears to be aiming for something loftier than its TV show counterpart ever did, but visually it’s just as kooky & barmy as the cartoon of yesteryear with shells used as shellphones (geddit?) and so forth. Though it’s Mad Men-esque story surprisingly works, it’s held back by aesthetically being too much like what The Flintstones should be like. An audience wanting classic Flintstones will find the story too much. An audience willing to embrace something more intellectual will find the visuals too kiddie. This is a confusing beast, trying to reinvent the wheel whilst still being the original wheel. It’s fine to drastically overhaul an IP- but they need to cement which direction they’re going in. This is a classic case of trying to have your cake and eat it.
This is a strange, bold and, most probably, doomed direction to take the characters in; albeit one that will be interesting to follow for a short while. But it is worth nothing that in-spite of the left field vision, the writing and art is strong. Though Russell doesn’t seem to realise he is writing The Flintstones, given how much this first issue avoids being anything like the cartoon, this is a well put together issue. The characters are strong, identifiable and individual. We even get the odd gag peppered throughout; the transition from Page 1 to Page 2 being a particularly brilliant set up and pay off.
Art wise, this is Pugh doing signature Pugh, which is gloriously detailed stuff, with some of the finest line work this side of Quietly but, not to sound like a broken record, it just isn’t very Flintstones. The whole book looks like something you’d find online, show your friends and say “Hey, look at this! Someone’s drawn The Flintstones to look really serious!” But you’d never expect a multinational corporation to commit to producing that imagery on a wide scale. It feels as if maybe this writer and this artist should be working together at the level they’re working at to put out a Mad Men style creator-owned series for Dark Horse, IDW, or Image. Because they’ve clearly both got the talent, commitment and the ideas, but those ideas just do not belong in the world of The Flintstones.
Color-wise Chuckry does a stellar job of complimenting what Pugh has done on art. It’s a muted, blended tone that perfectly fits Pugh’s intricate line work. The colors perfectly match the tone laid out by Russell’s script and the palette at work makes clear from page 1 that this will not be The Flintstones the reader is familiar with. The team have a hard mission of letting the reader know as quick as possible that this series will not be what they might have expected, and the colors do most the heavy lifting on that front- immediately smacking you in the face with it’s grungier tone. This dimmer, muted aesthetic is great and combined with Pugh’s input is beautiful- but it feels like would be better suited to a Brubaker/Phillips style book about a seedy murder mystery set against a backdrop of cigarette smoke and whiskey. Like everything about this book, the colors are incredibly good: But it doesn’t FEEL like The Flintstones. It feels like the book should have been explosive oranges, aggressive greens and a lot more Bruce Timm in style all round.
In short: The Flintstones is a little good. A little bad. But very interesting…