Written by: Mark Russel
Art by: Steve Pugh
Color by: Chris Chuckry
As a child, I woke up early to eat sugared cereal and watch Hanna Barbera’s The Flintstones and The Jetsons in syndication before heading off to school. The Flinstones always felt crass and closed minded compared to the hopeful future The Jetsons provided. As I got older, I understood that The Jetsons was just as locked into gender roles and power dynamics as The Flintstones. I learned how The Flintstones was modeled after Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners, which came right out of the 1950’s chauvinism. While The Flintstones was the first prime time American cartoon, it took almost 30 years before the sarcastic Simpsons began to comment on the American family as a prime time cartoon. This creative legacy is valuable to remember as Mark Russell’s new interpretation of The Flintstones is released this week.
Russell’s Flintstones is not the cartoon or the characters from previous iterations. This is a new and modern take on the characters of Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, and the surrounding cast of characters that is clearly designed to speak to a modern audience. The slapstick humor is replaced with sarcasm and social critique on modern culture. As the traditional theme song said, “they’re a modern stone age family.” Russell writes Fred struggling to find his place at his job, used by his boss, and attending a veteran’s support group. The formally cheery social gatherings at the Water Buffalo Lodge are replaced with members struggling with PTSD after a war. Fred’s boss, Mr. Slate, is a businessman who’s self-centered ego provides the issue’s most poignant criticism on modern consumerism.
Steve Pugh’s art deserves credit for providing a number of subtle moments of criticism. Pugh’s background art frequently depicts references to comments on a previous panel or earlier in the book. The victims of the PTSD story are referenced as the location of a new subdivision development. Pugh’s characters are shapely, muscular, with expressive faces. The detail on the art slips a little in some panels, but overall creates a more grounded realistic world for these characters to inhabit.
Unfortunately, for all the grounded work the writing and art provides there are moments when the social criticism and sarcasm misses the mark. Comments about skymall shopping and vaping take the reader out of the world and create modern reference points that already feel dated. Social critique and commentary does not need trendy buzz words to make an impact. Russell’s strongest commentary and critique of modern consumer culture comes from Fred and the new to civilization Neanderthals. Comments about the use and abuse of money, consumer goods, and modern living strike hard at our culture and give the reader a lot to think about long after the issue is finished.
The book’s strongest moment is not it’s social criticism, but a quiet moment of character development between Fred and Wilma. Wilma talks passionately about the meaning of individuals and community that stand in stark contrast to the consumerism of the society around them. Hopefully, future issues will provide other similar opportunities for character development. This emotional interaction between Fred and Wilma is an excellent close to an inconsistent first issue.
Russell and Pugh have created a unique and timely take on The Flinstones. This is not The Flintstones of old, but this modern stone age family has a lot to say about our current world. If Russell stays with this direction and doesn’t lean further into the trendy one liners, DC has a socially meaningful and successful new book on the shelves.