Thursday, January 4, 2018

Dastardly and Muttley #5 - Review and Spoilers


Looney Lovecraft!

Written by: Garth Ennis
Art by: Mauricet
Colours by: John Kalisz
Letters by: Rob Steen
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: January 3, 2018


My experiences with Hanna-Barbera comics have not been exactly great lately, and I was hoping that this issue would see me break out of "what the hell did they think they were doing?" mode and actually give me something that I could enjoy. I know, I know. It's a radical concept, but, lo and behold, the Ennis/Mauricet team actually seem to embrace it, brazen innovators that they are. That's not to say there aren't problems this issue. There's an awful lot of exposition going on here, but the issue is, for the most part, a lot of fun. Allow me to explain why…


Last issue ended with Washington DC being consumed in a nuclear fireball. As endings go, that one was not only climactic but rather final. It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone, then, that the nation's capital has not, in fact, been rendered to its base constituent elements but is entirely intact, albeit populated by cartoon versions of its inhabitants. (The more cynical among you may well point out that that's not as dramatic a change as it may sound.)

Not for the first time, Mauricet's art proves integral to this series' success. The opening page of radiation-suited soldiers climbing the steps of the Capitol building is rendered with a sharp eye for authentic detail and builds up an air of tension and mystery that is gleefully punctured on the following page, as the investigation team is confronted with a gaggle of angry cartoon animal senators chasing a racoon in military uniform – the latter turning out to be our villain of the piece, General Harrier. The juxtaposition of bold-colored cartoonified characters and the more fine-lined, realistically proportioned soldiers is deliberately jarring – unsettling, as well as funny.

Garth Ennis has chosen this penultimate issue to be the vehicle for a satisfyingly full explanation of the nature of cartoonifying element 'unstabilium', which takes in secret government experiments (most of which have gone horribly wrong) and an expedition to benighted subterranean caverns in which reside not only weird statues of cartoon elder gods but also a pure sample of the element itself. There is a kind of demented genius in bringing Lovecraft and cartoons together and the relish with which Ennis introduces elements like the Looneytunicon and "Cthluto, the Star-Hound that Craps on the Doorstep of Sanity" is very entertaining.

That said, it's not all slapstick and sly piss-taking; Ennis being Ennis, there are some rather touching moments here, too. When Muttley tries to phone his family but finds himself unable to communicate except through woofs and barks, it's played for pathos rather than laughs. The notion of unstabilium having a slow effect on those it comes into contact with is mined for dramatic as well as comedic potential. I'm not 100% sure about the idea that to cancel the effects of unstabilium you need to bring it into contact with… more unstabilium, but I'll go with it for now.

The stage is set – finally – for the chase we've all been waiting for as Dastardly, Muttley, Zee and Uncle (or Zilly and Klunk, to be precise – look 'em up) decide to chase War Pig One in an effort to bring it down and restore the world to something approaching normality. This is one mini-series ending I'm genuinely looking forward to.

Well, in my mind, this is how to do a Hanna-Barbera comic. The main characters are all clearly based on their cartoon counterparts, but there's a mischievous, subversive spin on things that allows Ennis to take a pop at a wide range of contemporary subjects and pop culture tropes. Mauricet's art is delightful. I cannot stress enough just how perfect he is for this series and I hope that the bigwigs at DC sign him up for some more work as soon as possible. 

Bits and Pieces:

All told, this series is ridiculously entertaining – unpredictable, liberally lubricated with lashings of often subversive humor and yet, at the same time, never allowing the characters to become two-dimensional or boring. There's a lot of exposition in this issue, but most of it is fun to read and the sense of a satisfying conclusion just round the corner is positively palpable. A highly enjoyable comic book. (And I'm giving it an extra half a point just for Cthluto the Star-Hound!)


8.5/10


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