Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dastardly and Muttley #4 Review and Spoilers

Blow Up

Written by: Garth Ennis
Art by: Mauricet
Colours: John Kalisz
Letters by: Rob Steen
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: December 6, 2017

You know, I love comics. Comics are the medium in which anything can happen, in which image and word can interact in quite startling ways and in which, apparently, a beloved Hanna-Barbera property can become an insane fusion of commentary on the military-industrial complex, sexism and politics, and the kind of comedic sensibility generally found in, well, cartoons. Fancy that, eh? If all that sounds like your cup of tea, then step this way. I’ve got a comic to sell you.

Last issue ended with a USAF jet fighter firing a missile at the private jet currently flown by Richard ‘Dick’ Atcherly and his weapons officer Captain D “Mutt” Muller, our two protagonists. This issue opens with Atcherly and Muller reacting in the sort of calm, professional way you might expect from experienced members of the US military. Erm… no, not really. Atcherly fails to notice and Muller loses the power of speech, involuntarily barking – and then howling – instead, before wrenching the controls out of Dick’s hands and just about managing to save them both. To be fair, Atcherly is still in his hospital gown from issue 1 and Muller has become an anthropomorphized dog, but even so…

While Atcherly comes to terms with being shot at (and Mutt tries to regain control of his vocal chords), the story cuts away to Washington DC where General Harrier, the man responsible for our heroes being shot at in the first place, is facing a senate hearing, which Ennis plays mostly straight until the aged, liver-spotted Senator Gruber begins to ask precisely the kind of questions the reader has probably been entertaining since the first issue. Like what’s up with all these silly names? This is, I think, pretty clever from Ennis. Like, I suspect, most readers, I’d assumed that Ennis’ use of names like Unliklistan and Unstabilium was all part of the gag – a set of linguistic jokes as crude as mallet-wielding presidents or cartoon guns that shoot cartoon holes in people. It turns out that they’re early clues as to what exactly’s been going on with Professor Dubious (formerly Dubois) and his attempts to harness the power of the radioactive element now known as Unstabilium. It’s Gruber’s perceptiveness and willingness to point out the absurdity of the language that leads to Harrier filling in the background for the assembled senators – and us – in a desperate attempt to justify his actions that only ends up making him look more untrustworthy and pathetic.

While all this is going on in DC, Atcherly and Mutt are doing their best to survive the homicidal attentions of Zee, the weirdly obsessive pilot we encountered last issue who is occasionally plagued by outbreaks of multiple personality disorder, the additional personality in question being that of a helpless Penelope Pitstop. Her weapons officer, Uncle, helpfully disarms the jet’s weapon systems in an attempt to stop her, but her obsession with carrying out her orders extends to attempting to ram her jet into Atcherly’s. Mauricet does a great job of portraying her manic determination at this point and he does a similarly good job of getting across Atcherly’s stunned disbelief when he hears himself say that the only way to escape certain death is to “crash the two aircraft together so they become one”. With all the technical aplomb we’ve come to expect from Mauricet, that is exactly what we see, with Zee’s jet on top of Atcherly’s, naturally.

There then follows a predictably fractious co-operative effort to land the fused plane, followed by an amusing fight between Atcherly and Zee which is ended pretty decisively when Zee’s booted foot comes into brutal contact with Dick’s family jewels. He really shouldn’t have played that male superiority card. Amusingly, Dick’s reaction is presented as a speech bubble in which a wooden mallet squashes a pair of plums – just in case you weren’t entirely clear about what’s going on here. Poor chap. I have some sympathy, but, really, if you offer to spank a homicidal pilot wearing combat boots while you’re still stuck in your flimsy – and airy – hospital gown, you’re asking for trouble.

Between the crash and the fight, we do briefly see the elusive War Pig 1 carrying on its merry way, causing havoc at a zoo (nice reference to Kung-Fu Panda there) before we get a view of the Earth from orbit that suggests the pesky drone’s influence may have dire ramifications for every person on the planet. It certainly has dire ramifications for the denizens of Washington DC as things take a decidedly grim – and explosive – turn on the issue’s final page.  How Dastardly and Muttley are going to sort this mess out is anyone’s guess, but I look forward to seeing them try next issue.

Well, this series remains a lot of fun – a seductive mix of clever slick storytelling and extremely entertaining art, clothed in the trappings of absurdist comedy and cartoon violence. I first noticed Garth Ennis on 2000AD back in the early 90s and this reminds me very much of some of his work then. While Ennis takes some mischievous swipes at American politics, he keeps the plot moving along at a decent pace and gives us some great characters along the way. Mauricet’s art is a delight and I get the distinct impression that he’s having a great time with this series. The comedy is situational for the most part, but some clever pop culture references pepper the issue (as a huge fan of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, the War Rocket Ajax mention was particularly appreciated) to keep things varied.

Bits and Pieces:

I have no idea where this is going and that’s fine. Ennis continues to tell a tale that threatens to crack under the weight of its absurdity, but is saved from doing so by its writer’s skill with both characterisation and plotting. Mauricet’s art is fabulous and the whole thing rattles along its own sweet, mischievous way, giving the reader a story that is as enjoyable as it is unpredictable. Well worth a look.


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