By Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, Mark Morales, Paul Mounts, Dave Sharpe
DC’s Hanna-Barbera titles have been much better than they have any right to be. While some have played close to the traditional source material, the best have focused on adapting their core ideas to something new. Among them all, The Flintstones has gotten the most love due to its satirical portrayal of contemporary society. So it’s unfortunate that Exit Stage Left has little to say as it decides to begin with a lack of humor and a need to put historical cameos over its main character.
Exit Stage Left revolves around Snagglepuss, a gay playwright living during the Red Scare of the 1950s. The series premiered back in Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Special #1, with an 8-page preview where Snagglepuss was interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (or HUAC). But while that Snagglepuss was full of wit, this one seems much more reserved. Most of his time is spent interacting with real people from history, such as Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman, in conversations that don’t seem to add much to the plot aside from what’s already been established. Time spent on a scene from his play also seems to be there just to fill pages. Meanwhile, supporting cast like Huckleberry Hound barely make an impact at all.
There are some clever ideas at play though. The irony of HUAC fighting against immoral culture and entertainment while also promoting executions of subversive individuals as their own is well done. Parallels between America and the slippery slope of Cuba in a conversation between Snagglepuss and his boyfriend is also pretty insightful. But sadly, these two smart moments are brought down by the rest of the issue. Additional time researching who the Algonquin Round Table are rather than directly connecting with the characters becomes a necessity. Compared to writer Mark Russell’s previous work on Flintstones, Exit Stage Left‘s premiere seems much more content with adding historical dressing rather than using it to promote more of a message.
Artist Mike Feehan and inker Mark Morales succeed in bringing Snagglepuss and the rest of the animal characters to a realistic world. Snagglepuss’s face delivers a wide range of emotions, making him feel more alive than most of the humans he interacts with. Some subtle storytelling at play when Snagglepuss recounts a fact about his childhood is also well done, with a single panel speaking much more visually when compared to its caption. Colorist Paul Mounts never makes the brighter colors feel garish and includes some nice-looking backgrounds when depicting night-life. When all of this is combined, it’s astounding how things like a dog taxi driver demanding money can feel so natural.
It’s a shame that Exit Stage Left just doesn’t have a powerful opening, especially compared to its preview. Some moments give an indication of what the series could be, but an over-emphasis on establishing the time period takes away from creating conflict for the main character. Luckily, its ending does suggest some problems for Snagglepuss in the future though. With a great grouping of talent working on the book, it’s not bad but it isn’t as good as it could have been. It’s worth keeping an eye on, but in its current state, Exit Stage Left just doesn’t hit hard enough to make an impact yet.