Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dastardly and Muttley #3 Review and SPOILERS

Infectious Humour

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

Given the distinctly uneven quality of DC’s Hanna-Barbera titles, Garth Ennis and Mauricet’s Dastardly and Muttley has been surprisingly fun. Having crossed paths with a reality-altering US military drone, their lives have become that weird mixture of absurd, terrifying and frenetic that can only really be described as ‘madcap’. The last issue ended with the President of the United Sates assaulting his political rival with a cartoon mallet live on national television, while Dick Atcherley and his dog-faced co-pilot watch on in horror. How things are going to play out is anyone’s guess. There’s only one way to find out…

The first thing to say is that I do like that cover. Bold, dynamic and beautifully drawn, it’s an excellent piece of artwork and gives virtually nothing away about the issue’s contents. We have to wait a few pages, though, before we see our eponymous duo. First, we’ve got that shock ending from last issue to deal with. I must confess I’m surprised that Ennis and Mauricet give as much time to the goings on at the White House as they do. Last issue’s ending felt like a throwaway gag, the adversarial nature of our current politics sent up as an illustration of the ongoing effects of our mischievous drone rather than as a plot strand in its own right.

But, having introduced the notion of an unstabilium-affected impulsively violent President, Ennis uses it to flesh out some useful detail about the drone’s effects. As well as giving us some moderately amusing situational comedy. The key takeaway is that being affected by the drone removes the inhibitions of the subject while also providing them the means to act on their ‘wackier’ impulses. Bound up with this is a transformation of language (and, presumably, thought) that renders speech into a series of cartoonish clich├ęs. When the President tries to explain how he came to commit an egregious act of violence against his political opponent, he resorts to language like “gave him a good old bop on the noggin” and it’s up to his increasingly exasperated chief of staff to try and inject some much-needed gravitas into the situation. It’s hard not to see this moment – and others like it – as a comment on the White House’s current occupant, although it should be noted that the creative team – probably quite sensibly – are careful not to make the parallels too obvious. (If anything, this issue’s Prez looks rather Nixonian.)

Having flirted with political satire, the creative team shift scene to Germany where Dick and Mutt are roaring through an airfield security barrier on a motorbike, Dick having apparently decided to steal a plane and fly back to the US. Dick is still in his hospital gown at this point, which only adds to the sense of bizarre chaos that permeates the issue. Despite Mutt’s extremely vocal misgivings, the pair decide upon a private jet as a suitable mode of transportation and are just about to acquire it when the scene shifts back to the US where the less than trustworthy General Harrier is giving two new characters a mission to shoot Atcherley and Muller down. Which is a bit odd, because they’re not actually in the air yet.

The two new characters are interesting. One, an older black pilot, is Lieutenant “Uncle” Longman and can’t handle the sight of men with cartoon holes blasted through them. The other, Captain “Zee” Zabarnowski, is a tall, hard-eyed (and strong-stomached) woman with a smart hairdo, whose professionalism is undermined by the odd moment when she involuntarily channels Penelope Pitstop. That drone gets around, you know. While Longman clearly has a problem with Harrier’s targeting of his erstwhile comrades, Zee is considerably more cold about it – even though, as we later learn, she once carried a bit of a torch for Atcherley. She has no problem with the idea of shooting Dick and Mutt down.

The stage is set, then, for our reasonably dramatic cliffhanger confrontation, but before we get there, we’re treated to some increasingly frenetic action, including Dick and Mutt’s escape, something which the pair can only achieve by embracing the cartoonish elements infecting their own reality. (The President, on the other hand, succumbs to cartoon-fuelled madness and slices himself to death on his daughter’s harpstrings in the Oval Office. The sound effects that accompany this moment are gruesomely – and hilariously – wet.) Unlike the last two issues’ endings, this one is a genuine life-or-death situation and it’ll be interesting to see what cartoon-related nonsense Atcherley and Muller will use to get out of it.

This issue is fun and silly and, at times, pleasingly imaginative. Mauricet’s art continues to be excellent, eschewing the poster-worthy splash in favour of stylish, extraordinarily clear storytelling – a real necessity when the story is this surreal and, on occasion, fast-paced. Action is frenetic and breathless at times, but it’s hard to deny the fact that the scenes with the President, though entertaining enough, mostly serve to slow the story down and, while it’s important that we get a clearer understanding of Harrier’s involvement in the ongoing plot, it’s a shame that it’s come at the cost of the speedy advancement of Dick and Mutt’s story.

Bits and Pieces:

Although it’s amusing and entertaining, the series’ main story is still moving just a little too slowly for my tastes. Mauricet’s art is a constant delight – stylish and clever without being too ostentatious. Ennis’ comic timing is, as ever, perfect and his strongest gags are often his crudest. An enjoyable comic that’s well worth a look, despite the occasional moment of narrative deceleration.


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