It’s easy to forget Fred, Barney, and the gang were, for their time, innovators. The gentle humor and bad puns of The Flintstones racked up six years on the air, in prime time no less, and it was the most successful animated show until The Simpsons came along. Which leaves Mark Russell, writing the new book DC Comics launches today, and Steve Pugh, the artist adapting Hanna Barbera’s classic animation, with a tough job, that they handle with alacrity and style.
To some degree, this is the Flintstones you remember, satirizing modern life with Stone Age technology and a string of genuinely great/awful puns. The first issue focuses on Fred and his boss trying to sell some Neanderthals on the ideas of modern life so they’ll work at the quarry. But there’s just enough darkness around the edges to feel fresh without losing the tone of the cartoon. This Stone Age is substantially more dangerous and scary than the Bedrock everyone remembers, which the book often plays for a dose of black comedy, but it’s not absurdly dark and gritty. Pugh and Russell are as apt to work in a silly joke into a panel as they are to play Fred’s PTSD over the war he fought in (and doesn’t talk about) for comedic value.
Pugh, in particular, soars in the book. His art is always exceptionally clean and tight, but here he gleefully fills the panels with absurd puns and works the gags to near perfection. Even a silly joke like Barney slowly realizing he’s sharing a car with some Neanderthals lands thanks to Pugh’s skill with facial expressions. His redesigns also work well. Fred always feels a bit too big for the room he’s in, a man trying to compact himself down and not quite succeeding.
If you only remember the old show, or the vitamins it inspired, this book is a reminder that any concept is a great one in the right hands. Silly and yet darkly comedic, The Flintstones is the best Bedrock has ever had it.
Silver Surfer #5, Marvel
Last issue, Dan Slott and Michael Allred had the Silver Surfer wipe out the entire culture of Zenn-La to spare the culture of Earth. This issue is all about the fallout; the Silver Surfer may have the Power Cosmic, but he’s still Norrin Radd, former Zenn-La resident, and now Zenn-La means nothing. Allred’s usual joyous, sculpted style stands out here as always, particularly in a quick tour of the United States the Surfer goes on, and Slott balances some pretty heavy stuff with some pretty amusing Merry Marvel Marching Society gags. (Let’s just say that once again you’ll feel bad for Peter Parker.) This has quietly become the best book the Surfer has ever gotten, and a powerful lingering on both big cosmic changes and the tiny little ones those actions cause.
Unfollow #9, DC Comics
Just when you think Rob Williams and Mike Dowling can’t give their mystical social media thriller any more twists, here they come with even more. Willliams’ darkly comedic script forks with most of our newly rich Twitter users, splitting the fortune of a tech magnate 140 ways, between a handful hiring a private army and the rest hiding from the world on the compound of a Japanese writer who may or may not be just as insane as the guy who thinks the mask he’s wearing talks to him and gives him superpowers. Dowling’s vivid art drives the plot while giving it just a touch of the surreal, making this one of the best thrillers in the Vertigo stable.
Midnight Of The Soul #2, Image
Howard Chaykin’s sweaty noir continues, and continues to be both surprisingly engaging and amusingly blunt. Chaykin makes no pretense at this being anything other than a “traditional” noir, to the extent such a thing exists, but he has the advantage of being straightforward where writers at the time had to be oblique. There’s one sequence in particular where a gay hitman rather bluntly vivisects somebody’s sex life that’s simultaneously appalling and funny, for example, and it gives the book a distinct style that makes it more than just another story of tough guys and dames.
Bounty #1, Dark Horse
Kurtis Wiebe and Mindy Lee fire up a story of former anarchists fighting The Man who, after having their entire lives go to hell, wind up being perpetually broke bounty hunters, a job that’s as much pro wrestler as it is law enforcement. Wiebe could stand to build out the world just a little more in this first issue, but the mix of Firefly and America’s Most Wanted is undeniably entertaining, helped by Lee’s angular, detail-packed panels. If you’re looking for a fix of science-fiction action, this will be ideal.
The Fix #4, Image: Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s crime comedy is one of the funniest things on the stands, with Spencer’s deadpan monologues and Lieber’s strong line helping to bolster a great book.
Civil War II: Kingpin #1, Marvel: The supervillains of the world are under the all-seeing eye of Ulysses, the Inhuman precognitive. Except Wilson Fisk has found a loophole, and it’s cleverly contrasted with the Kingpin’s real power; in his own way, he’s an expert at community outreach.
Control #2, Dynamite: Andy Diggle and Andrea Mutti’s thriller about high-tech blackmail and manipulation cleverly mixes noir tropes in with the technothriller elements for an engaging mystery.
Baltimore: Empty Graves #4, Dark Horse: The creepy Edwardian monster fighter Lord Baltimore might finally have met his match in a thrillingly pulpy penultimate issue.
Throwaways #1, Image: Caitlin Kittredge and Steve Sanders mix the X-Men and The Manchurian Candidate for a fun little thriller.
This Week’s Collections:
Absolute Preacher, Volume 1, DC (Hardcover, $150): Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s the first 26 issues of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s wild, perverse, weird comic book, the inspiration for AMC’s superb TV show. So technically it’s a deal because you’re buying in bulk. And you won’t laugh harder or be more horrified by anything else on the stands this week.
Faith: Hollywood And Vine, Valiant (Softcover, $10): Valiant’s most endearing superheroine finally gets a solo book, which Jody Houser and Francis Portela knock out of the park. Often incredibly witty, it’s the characterization of Faith front and center that makes this book, and will make you want to give her a hug and then watch her kick some butt.
Negative Space, Dark Horse (Softcover, $15): Aliens are invading and eating our feelings. Specifically, our depression and negativity. And the only one who can stop them is an overweight gay man in love with the guy running his ice cream truck. This miniseries has an undeniably bizarre concept, but a lot to say about mental illness and how we overcome the obstacles we build out of our emotions.