Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4 - Review and Spoilers

Written by: Mark Russell and Brandee Stilwell
Art by: Mike Feehan, Sean Parsons and Guy Vasquez
Colours by: Paul Mounts and Ross Campbell
Letters by: Dave Sharpe
Price: $3.99

Heavens to Murgatroyd! It's Snagglepuss time! After last month's gentler, more reflective, issue, which gave us a break from Gigi Allen and her one-woman crusade to rid 1950s America of cultural deviants and 'agitators' (a word we'll hear more of in a moment), this issue sees the return of a more explicitly satirical focus. Will Ms Allen succeed in ensnaring our pink-haired hero and get the evidence she needs to out him as a gay man (lion)? Will Huckleberry Hound find the love and acceptance for which he's been longing most of his life?

There is, as ever, only one way to find out…

In a similar way to last issue, this one features a framing sequence, although, unlike last issue, this month's one is purely visual and considerably less genial. Anyone who's watched the last Indiana Jones flick will be familiar with Doomtown, part of the Nevada Test Site, a large area of desert in which the US government carried out a range of nuclear tests in the 1950s. This issue opens with a series of three panels depicting Doomtown's plastic 'nuclear' families, the dummies that are soon to be destroyed grinning fixedly, representing, perhaps, a disturbing conjunction of 'wholesome' American family values, 50s consumerism, the social pressures to maintain a façade of joviality and the threat of nuclear Armageddon. Heady stuff. And all the more so with Gigi Allen's dialogue floating over the images. Interestingly, she and the other members of her committee (nameless and largely forgettable men, for the most part) are discussing the prospect of putting Snagglepuss on the stand in front of a TV audience and are worried that our hero will make them look silly. Allen replies that they just need to find something that will give them leverage over him and persuade him to play ball.

Not coincidentally, Allen heads to Nevada in order to teach impressionable children the dangers of 'enemy within' style agitators before having an interesting philosophical discussion with a nuclear scientist who has, amongst other things, decided that there is no such thing as objective truth – only "usefulness". There are a couple of things to say about this. Russell's satirical edge is reasonably sharp here and there are some beautifully dark moments of humour. The juxtaposition of innocent children (and one of them is savvier than Allen – of course, he is) and cynical scientist is meant to be jarring, but it all comes across as a touch heavy-handed and a little bit preachy.

The narrative becomes a little more sure-footed when it returns to Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound. There's some touching stuff here about the two cartoon characters' friendship, as well as a very engaging – and somewhat uncomfortable – depiction of what it was like to be gay in the 50s and the ways in which the experience of living a double life can take its toll. It's safe to say that Snagglepuss handles the tensions inherent in his deception with a fair bit more skill than Huck does. The raid on the Stonewall club by a police force manipulated by Allen is brutal and degrading in quite shocking ways, while Snagglepuss' decision to try to reconcile the different sides of his life by inviting his lover Pablo over for dinner with him and his sham wife enables him not only to experience a brief moment of honesty but also to sidestep Allen's trap for him. Huck, however, is nowhere near as lucky, ending up beaten and arrested by the very cop with whom he had, a few pages earlier, shared a bed.

Snagglepuss manages to bail his friend out and the comic ends with the disturbing image of the post-explosion Doomtown dolls, faces half melted away, still smiling their now twisted smiles, the promise of domestic perfection lost forever in the nuclear inferno. Which, as ominous imagery goes, isn't exactly subtle, but it is pretty effective. Snagglepuss may have survived the explosion at the Stonewall, but it's surely only a matter of time before Allen catches up with him.

From a purely narrative point of view, this issue is good. Russell deftly weaves a number of plot strands together and Feehan and Parsons' art is invariably very good. Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Pablo and other associated characters are likable and sympathetic characters. Their nemesis, however, barely breaks free of the left-wing stereotype of what a social conservative is. The revelation that Allen has a live-in lesbian lover is probably intended to be shocking, but not only does it regurgitate the assumptions of your average progressive Twitter troll, but it also makes the next two issues that little bit more predictable. A witty, urbane pink lion who has been exploring the truth of human nature through his art up against a self-loathing, reality-denying, conservative harridan? It's not going to be much of a contest, is it? Russell, of course, is a good enough writer to supply some twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, but I personally found the revelation of Ms Allen's sexuality somewhat underwhelming. It remains to be seen how Russell will use this as the story reaches its conclusion, but that he will use it is surely inevitable.

The Sasquatch Detective back-up is… okay. I actually quite like the character. She's very engaging – and fun. I'm just not sure about the stories the writer puts her in. Even Wonder Woman showing up didn't really lift this above satisfactory.

Bits and pieces:

After last issue's rather gentle, lovely story, this issue sees us come back to Earth with a bump (and possibly a grind, too) and the creative team are here to remind us that America in the 50s was a terrible place – seedy, oppressive, deceitful and continuously imperilled by the threat of nuclear devastation. Russell's writing of Snagglepuss is as engaging as ever and there are some clever moments here; his characterization of the antagonist, however, remains resolutely two-dimensional. Even the revelation near the end of the issue can't quite rescue her. Nevertheless, with witty, charming dialogue and excellent art, this remains one of the more interesting – and entertaining – Hanna-Barbera books.


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