Friday, September 8, 2017

Dastardly and Muttley #1 Review and Spoilers




Written by: Garth Ennis
Art by: Mauricet
Colours by: John Kalisz
Letters by: Rob Steen
Price: $3.99


Two titles featuring anthropomorphic dogs in one week? There must be something in the water. I have fond memories of Dastardly and Muttley. WWI aviators obsessed with ‘catching that pigeon’ and generally coming a cropper through a combination of bad luck, the pigeon’s ingenuity and their own ineptitude, the duo is popular enough that a DC Hanna-Barbera comic all of their own seems like an inevitability. Not that this is their first outing, mind you. They featured in the astonishingly ill-conceived Wacky Raceland, which, despite some rather tasty Leonardo Manco art, still managed to be a mostly incomprehensible mess. This is better. Much better…


The book opens with a hilarious nuclear explosion. I understand that nuclear explosions aren’t really meant to be hilarious, but this is a Garth Ennis book and the man who brought us Arseface, Sixpack and Dogwelder and The Pro can do nuclear hilarity in his sleep. The opening page sets the scene – and tone – nicely through word balloons floating above a vaguely Middle Eastern-looking city which is dominated by two nuclear reactor towers. The dialogue reveals that the city is in the country of Unliklistan and the person in charge of the country’s nuclear programme is called Professor Dubious. Subtle this is not.



When Unliklistan’s premier presses the wrong button at the nuclear reactor’s grand unveiling, the resultant explosion is devastatingly impressive, vapourising not only the city but also the eagle who’s been flying around in the foreground of each panel on the previous page. If, like me, you’ve never really considered the comic potential of a bird of prey instantly transformed to ashes, charred bones and nerve-trailing eyeballs (more of which in a moment), you may, like me, be pleasantly surprised by this. Now is as good a time as any to mention Belgian artist Alain Mauricet whose work here manages to be solid, whimsical and, at times, subversively – and viscerally – surreal. Capable of effortlessly making the transition from photo-realistic military hardware to hallucinatory cartoon nonsense, he is perfect for this book, and Ennis is definitely in the kind of mood that requires that kind of versatility.



The action shifts forward five days and Lt Col Richard “Dick” Atcherly is flying a reconnaissance mission over the ruins of Unliklistan in search of a missing US drone, War Pig 1, that had been tasked with investigating the site of the explosion. Flying with him is his Combat Systems Officer, Captain D. “Mutt” Muller; flying with him is… well, his dog. Needless to say, Atcherly is not happy about this and Ennis uses the discussion about the dog as a way of outlining Atcherly’s character. While he’s a good pilot, he’s uptight, condescending and bullying. In short, he’s a “Dick” in more ways than just the one.

What happens next is difficult to describe. Atcherly and Muller’s plane encounters the drone but it’s still flying, which is impossible, and it’s trailing a cloud of what appears to be cartoon asterisks, skulls, lightning bolts and stars behind it. Which is also impossible. That nuclear reactor, remember, had been powered by Unstabilium. Hmmm…



There is a crash that could probably have been prevented if Dick’s controls hadn’t turned into a cartoon steering wheel and Mutt’s eyeballs had stayed in their sockets instead of dangling around on improbably long pieces of optical tissue. Throw in a couple of hilariously inept secret agents and a shock revelation that is unthinkingly spoiled by the cover but still manages to be genuinely funny (and that is mostly down to Mauricet’s art), and you have a pretty good introduction to the story. God only knows how this is all going to develop. This first issue is insane and you know it’s only going to get more deranged from here on in.
As to whether you’ll like it or not? Well…

Bits and Pieces:

How silly do you like your comics? If you’re an Ennis fan, this is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from him taking on an already established cartoon property. The first couple of pages aside, the humour here doesn’t rely so much on jokes and gags but more on the strength of Ennis’ characterisation, particularly that of Dick. He’s not just a straight guy for the madness around him; his relationship with Mutt matters and means that, despite the surreal events taking place around him, there’s a surprising amount of depth to this issue. If you’re prepared to take a relaxed approach to the way the story’s set up, there’s an awful lot to enjoy here.


8.5/10


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2 comments:

  1. A Very subdued first issue for Ennis but since it is him writing it almost gives it an air of suspense. Leaves one imagining where he will go from here. On the other had this is only six issues and he really didn't provide us with much to chew on. I have high hopes for issue 2

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  2. 'Subdued' is a relative thing, I suppose. The initial Dick and Mutt stuff is fairly straight, I suppose. Then again, Ennis writes straight war stories on occasion. (His Battler Britton series a while back is a pretty straightforward homage to the war comics of his - and my - childhood.) I got a distinct feeling that he wanted to ground the narrative in a certain military realism before he flies off the handle.

    As to what's going to happen, I'm not 100% sure, but War Pig 1 looks like it's going to be our 'pigeon' that (presumably) Dick and Mutt are going to have to catch in order to (probably) restore Mutt and his dog back to their normal states. Or not. Who knows? There's a drone out there spewing reality-altering stuff around the globe. Anything can happen. And, knowing Ennis, it probably will. :)

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