Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Flintstones #1 Review and **SPOILERS**

Meet the Flintstones

Written By: Mark Russell
Art By: Steve Pugh, Chris Chuckry
Lettered By: Dave Sharpe
Cover Price: $3.99
On Sale Date: July 6, 2016


I remember a time I was in elementary school, and some know-it-all girl decided to inform me that the Flintstones wasn’t realistic because cavemen didn’t co-exist with dinosaurs. I stared at her blankly. That’s the unrealistic part? Barney Rubble plays a record made of stone on the beak of a pterodactyl, and you’re incredulous that they appear in the same scene together? This may be when it dawned upon me there is a contingent of persons in the world that are unable to suspend their disbeliefs. You see it in comic books all the time: someone pointing out the inefficiency of a costume or the improbability of some cosmic event. Sometimes it seems like Hollywood is in the grips of people of this bent, what with all the “realistic” updates of stuff like the Transformers, which I would like to point out is a toy line of CARS THAT TURN INTO ROBOTS. “What this fantastical farce is missing is realism!” You might get the impression that this issue of the Flintstones suffers from this sort of update, but you might be wrong. I was just reminiscing on this one stupid memory pertaining to the Flintstones because I read the comic book. You’ll have to read my review to find out how it is!

Explain It!

We begin at the Museum of Natural History in Anycity, U.S.A., where a tour guide is giving a tour to one guy that looks sort of like Harvey Pekar. They observe a preserved caveman in a hat made of a wolf’s head, arm’s outstretched in menacing Frankenstein’s monster fashion, but with an expression on his face that seems decidedly surprised. He was named “Lorenzo” by the museum, and found at the edge of Bedrock Valley, where a lot of advanced structures seemed to exist far earlier than expected by veteran historians. So, this is like the scientific discovery of a generation, right? The idea that mankind advanced much further, much sooner than previously known…wouldn’t this rock the foundations of modern anthropology and archaeology? But here, the tour guide is blithely informing Mr. Pekar that Ancient Bedrock Valley was a helluva town, and now the reader is transported to the prehistoric town, a hundred thousand years ago.
Bedrock is a crowded little burg with an inordinate number of bars and gentlemen’s clubs along one edge. Fans of the cartoon will recognize the drive-thru eatery featured in the show’s opening credits, which here is named “Wammoth Bammoth Thank You Mammoth.” Sounds like the name of a restaurant in a gentrified neighborhood. Dominating everything is Slate’s Quarry, where you’ll recall Fred Flintstone is employed, and right now entering the office of his boss, Mr. Slate, at his behest. Slate is talking to three Neanderthal men, and he wants Fred to show them a good time so they’ll sign on to work at the Quarry for a cut rate. See, even in prehistoric times the free market reigned! Get your hands off my body and out of my pocket, Big Government!

I think it’s pretty cool that Slate is looking to employ Neanderthals because, according to an article I read some months ago that I vaguely remember, some fossils taken from an archaeological dig (that was not in America, so I forget where it was) did imply that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon men did coexist, at least for a time. Now, I’m not looking for realism here because I’m pretty sure that neither species used brontosauruses to haul rocks from the quarry, but the fact that this little bit of scientific current events was potentially referenced tickled me a bit. Fred calls his wife Wilma to say he’ll be home late, and she’s okay with it, having just finished her latest painting “A Bunch of Handprints on Animal Hide.” She reminds him that he and Barney have Veterans’ Group tonight, which is one of several reminders to the reader that Fred Flintstone is a veteran of the Paleolithic War, between the Neanderthals and the…I guess Homo Sapiens Sapiens? I mean, Fred and the gang are speaking full sentences in perfect English, they’ve got vehicles and appliances that, sure, are foot-powered and actually trained animals respectively, but they enjoy essentially every comfort we do today. Ostensibly, Cro-Mags wouldn’t be able to do that. So anyway Fred and Barney take the Neanderthals to the Veterans’ Group, which is pretty messed up when you come to think about it. It’s like asking your black friend if he’ll swing by the Ku Klux Klan meeting before going to the batting cages. Some of that decision may be predicated on the type of pastries that are available.

Then, Fred and Barney take their Neanderthal pals to Madistone Square Garden, where a prehistoric boxing match (a bare-knuckle brawl) is taking place. After this, we get a little tour of ancient modernia: they visit the Outback Snakehouse, one Neanderthal plays a coin-operated claw game and retrieves the wolf’s head hat we saw in the first scene of the issue. One of the Neanderthals points out a bison on a treadmill and asks why they didn’t eat it, and Fred points out that it is effectively the air conditioner. An air conditioner! A hundred thousand years ago! Much of the world doesn’t even have air conditioning today! And it’s a crime. Fred returns home to Wilma, who welcomes him with an invite by Mr. Slate to an employee hot tub party, which I think constitutes sexual harassment. The next day is the Neanderthals’ trial run at Slate Quarry, which they hate. They don’t understand the concept of a paycheck or money, and doing back-breaking labor for someone else’s benefit makes little sense to them. Which proves what I have thought all along: Neanderthals were Communists! Wilma calls Fred on his shell phone (yes, it is what you think) all excited because her painting was accepted at the Bedrock Museum of Art, the most prestigious fine arts institution in a town where there’s a night club called the “Homo Erectus.”

So this is where the A and B plots dovetail into an evening of misunderstandings and awkward moments, at which Jack Tripper of Three’s Company is probably smiling from heaven. Wilma and Betty go to the “Dress Cave” for a new, artsy dress Wilma can wear to the art opening, while Fred and Barney prepare to make a last-ditch attempt at currying the Neanderthals’ favor at Slate’s employee hot tub party. At the party, Slate immediately makes inappropriate bigoted jokes about the Neanderthals, then exhorts them to go fight a wooly mammoth that lurks nearby. Promising him his necklace, Slates gets the Neanderthal with the wolf’s head hat to go after the mammoth, then an ice floe is upended which traps him, presumably preserving him to become Lorenzo later. Wilma gets a decidedly horrific looking poofy green dress for the art opening, but upon attending learns that her art has been put out back, among a bunch of homeless people who, come to think of it, are probably just art school students. Wilma is dejected, and tearfully explains to Fred that the handprints are important to her, because her childhood tribe would travel every winter for hunting reasons, but placed a handprint in some cave as a promise that they’d return. So, you know, it’s a big deal to her. It’s a pretty touching scene for a comic book that named another night club the “Pleisto-Scene.” I mean, that takes some balls.

Faithful readers of the site and listeners to the podcast are well aware that most of us here at Weird Science DC Comics have not liked these new Hanna-Barbera titles thus far. Future Quest #1 was impenetrable, Scooby Apocalypse has been a reimagining of the characters as unpleasant people, and the first issue of Wacky Raceland was just…no. I’ve been joking with Jim that only the Flintstones could save this line, and then we laughed until we sobbed because we knew we’d have to read the shit anyway. Thing is, the Flintstones does something the other comics largely do not: it sticks close to the original premise, and uses familiar sitcom tropes. In that, it was pretty successful, and included some chuckle-worthy moments that are worth seeing, and which I did not get to in my recap. I also liked the blending of actual prehistory with blatantly silly stuff like tortoises as home butlers, felt like a more authentic, useful update than putting Fred Flintstone on a skateboard and having him “meme to the eXtreme!” or something similarly deflating. The art was really good, naturally quite different than the cartoon but still capturing plenty of whimsy. I dare say this was an enjoyable comic book. Perhaps the modern Stone Age family will save this line, after all.

Bits and Pieces:

If you enjoyed the comedy stylings and setting of the Flintstones as a kid, then there's a good chance you'll enjoy this comic book. It's the Town of Bedrock, updated in relevant ways, instead of just making once innocent characters into cynical jerks. The art is pretty nice, though it was difficult for me to get the original character designs out of my mind while reading it. Really, this book's biggest failing is that it is too mired in the same formulaic situations and gender roles that defined the original run of the cartoon. But then, this is just the first issue, so I don't expect the mold to be completely broken yet.

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  1. This was the only one of the Hanna Barbera books I was really curious about, because I really did love the Flintstones cartoons. Whether or not I realized it when I was a kid, something about the anachronistic references to the trappings of modern day (for that time) society said something about how far we'd come as a species, if at all, that was funny and relatable and made it easier to not sweat the small stuff, at least for half an hour, one night a week, from 1960 to 1966.

    I just didn't find this comic quite as charming, and maybe its because it's time has past? I don't know. So while I really liked the opening pages and that spread with "The Town of Bedrock 100,000 years ago" other things just kind of fell flat. Like Mr. Slate's motivation? What is up with that? He starts off by saying he has HIRED - he's already hired them - these "Cro-Mags" (Neanderthals, we later find out) and the reason he gives Fred for wanting to wine and dine them is that they are twice as strong but have no concept of money. So he wants to exploit the less evolved creatures but then treats them like coveted personas. But he's already given them the job. They've already accepted it. Why does he have to keep trying to convince them to stay? That's not how my work world operates. And I work in insurance! As far as professions go, it's probably older than prostitution, the original birthplace of the old boys' club, and the last bastion of the privileged white male.

    It just seemed muddled to me. I guess you could liken it to a billionaire who buys a sports team and treats the highly trained, highly paid athletes like thoroughbreds instead of humans. Is that really what we're going for here?

    I feel like the premise is built on the misconceptions of someone who has never really worked in a real-world, grind type of setting and just imagines this is how commerce and industry are played out. I looked up Mark Russell and he's about the same age as me. So it's not the naivete of youth that's causing this misconception. Maybe the world of comic book writing has no concept of what it really means to literally have your nose to a grindstone. Whatever it is, the analogies here just don't work for me as well as they did in the cartoon. Plus I didn't really like Mr. Slate or Wilma that much. I'm not sure if I'll be back for #2. I'd still like to see what they do with Pebbles and Bam-Bam maybe?

    1. See, I took Fred's task to butter-up the Neanderthals as (besides a convenient plot contrivance) a sort of throw-back to the Mad Men corporate era where employers would impress others by stroking their own egos at the expense of the business credit card. Which probably still does happen among bankers and ranking members of diamond cartels, I wouldn't know about that. Heck, I bet there's a layer of business where everyone eats Bengal tiger fillet and lights their after dinner cigars (rolled in strips of the Magna Carta) on flaming gold bars. But at normal business level, this sort of thing isn't as blatant and fell kind of flat. So I agree, it was a poor plot line, no matter how you interpret it.

    2. LOL! or maybe I'm just shell-shocked by all the "social justice warrior" nonsense and seeing hidden agendas where there weren't meant to be any? I can see the Mad Men reference, that's interesting... Although to my point about "it's time has past" (sic - that should probably have been "passed"?), I do think that Mad-Men type of expense account doesn't exist so much anymore, with all the attention that's been paid to Enron scandals and such. All I hear about in my industry is how nobody spends like they used to for "client development" and Christmas parties and "boondoggles" anymore...guess I missed out!

  2. It helps to know that Mark Russell is on record as hating the Flintstones.

    1. Wow, I actually had to Google that to see what you were talking about.

      I think this might make me hate this take even more. Those Flintstones cartoons of the 60s reflected the world of THAT time. So if you're going to reboot for OUR time, why not do that? instead of trying to self-aggrandize by whining about the fact that 1960's American mainstream was sooooo sexist, and oh, look at me, see how enlightened I am. Give me a break.


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