Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Dastardly and Muttley #6 Review and Spoilers

Psychedelic Sacrifice

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

Dastardly and Muttley has turned out to be one of the few winners in DC's Hanna-Barbera range and, in many respects, I'll be sorry to see it go. While other books mope around in the decidedly shallow waters of political and cultural commentary or attempt to impress with dark 'gritty' versions of beloved characters that are as charmless as they are tedious, Ennis and Mauricet's creative take on our famous pigeon-hunting duo manages to be fun. This issue gives us a resolution and a couple of surprises along the way, including a coda that even now I'm a little uncertain about. Climb in, buckle up and strap on those goggles. We've got a pigeon to catch!

There's a fox in the White House and he's one cool cat. Perhaps as consolation for his disastrously wrong 2016 election prediction, George Clooney is now the President of the United States and, even as an anthropomorphised fox, he exudes class and a certain unflappability. Which is always handy when one of your advisors turns into a purple cartoon dinosaur before your eyes. This opening section is mostly used to catch the reader up on the story so far, as well as set up the appearance of Dastardly, Muttley, Zee and Uncle as they try to deal with the increasingly apocalyptic threat of War Pig One, the drone spreading reality-altering unstabilium all around the world as it goes its merry way.

Once again, I find myself stunned by the sheer virtuosity of Mauricet, who is as comfortable rendering the quartet's mode of transport (a private jet with a military fighter-bomber crash-welded on top of it) in glorious photo-realistic detail as he is depicting Dastardly, still in his hospital gown (which has got to be ridiculously cold at that altitude), standing on the wing of the plane preparing to lasso the mischievous rogue drone, while a shocked Zee and Uncle look on. Yep. That really is Dastardly's plan. As he puts it… "How can [they] possibly fail?" Well, it's funny that you ask that…

I suppose it was inevitable that Ennis would take a mis-step at some point and unfortunately he does so here at the climax of the entire series, the precise moment when clarity is most needed. Instead, what we get is some to-ing and fro-ing between Dastardly, Muttley and Zee who view Dastardly's plan to ram themselves into the drone with varying degrees of enthusiasm, disbelief and horror. Dastardly's (unstabilium-influenced) enthusiasm is understandable and funny, the death drive masquerading as heroism ramped up to eleven and given a celluloid sheen. Muttley, on the other hand, would quite like to see his family again and, in the issue's most affecting moment, manages to get Dastardly to reconsider his plan.

But, it's too late. They don't have an alternative strategy and the plane(s) and the drone inevitably collide, all four characters getting sucked into a weird cartoon vortex and appearing to wink out of existence. The comic ends with a weird, bitter-sweet coda featuring Mutt's family now living an impoverished existence but with the son hooked on old Dastardly and Muttley cartoons. The world has been saved but the price for that appears to be the four pilots' flesh and blood existence that seems to have become a cartoon one. The story closes with a lovely visual callback to the aftermath of the collision between the drone and the planes and that, as they say, is that.

On the whole, this is a pretty strong ending to what has been an extremely enjoyable series. Mauricet's art continues to be great and, although Ennis sacrifices clarity for a frenetic ending that at least partly exposes the relative thinness of the plot, his script remains engaging and fun. While Dastardly has been a very strong character throughout the series, it's Mutt who's been tugging at our heartstrings and it seems entirely appropriate that he takes centre stage in this concluding issue. His inarticulate barking and pleading gaze as he holds a picture of his family in front of Dastardly is absurdly moving and sets us up for that ending. Which I am still ambivalent about.

After all, what has happened to Mutt's family as a result of his sacrifice is unpleasant – they have suffered materially and emotionally. It remains to be seen whether that final panel is meant to suggest that the fondly hopeful nostalgia for disposable popular culture like Hanna-Barbera cartoons is a positive thing, or whether there's a more cynical interpretation in play here. I don't know and I guess that's perhaps the point. It's the consumer who determines value, not some cultural 'elite'. We are all critics now.

All of which is perhaps a bit more philosophical than it should be, so…

Bits and Pieces:

A fun ending to a fun series, this concluding issue ends on a surprisingly downbeat note that manages to imbue the madcap adventures of our titular heroes with a fair amount of unexpected pathos. Mauricet's art maintains the sublime standard of previous issues and Ennis' script, although a little fuddled in places, remains entertaining on the whole. That ending, though, makes the whole series much more memorable than a series based on a decades-old cartoon has any right to be.


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