...ATTASU: The Flintstones by Mark Russell

Friday, September 1, 2017

Once, when I was a wee blogger with stars in my eyes and a song in my heart, I realized the bloggers I wanted to emulate all had a thing. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has snarky romance reviews and Help a Bitch Out, where readers try to reconnect with books they only half remember. A Reader of Fiction's Christina has Cover Snark. Cuddlebuggery has Buzz Worthy News and TV Reviews and that time Kat made a fantasy island shaped like a penis. What will be my legacy, bb Danielle wondered into the night sky.

Will I twinkle while I shake it or will I bump it with a trumpet?
Hello fam and welcome to a new-ish feature here on Ageless Pages Reviews, ...And Then The Aliens Show Up, an examination of weird and bizarre fiction. I say new-ish, as I've long gained a reputation for reading that which should not exist. Hell, my very first review for APR, Modelland by Tyra Banks could easily bear this logo. I love bad books. Books that take left turns and books that were never on the path to begin with. Sometimes they're intentionally funny. Sometimes the humor is in how unintentionally funny they are. Sometimes they're just sad relics of the past. Regardless, I'd rather talk about one wtf book than a million mediocre ones.

Today we're discussing a reboot that is truly divisive. Fans call it the best graphic novel of 2016. Detractors claim the update ruins not only the book itself but memories of the childhood original.

You remember The Flintstones, right? It was The Honeymooners in the Stone Age, a relatively lighthearted Hanna-Barbera sitcom that ran six years in the sixties and fifty years in syndication. It followed everyman Fred Flintstone as he didn't get the respect he deserved from his nincompoop boss, shrew wife, and dumb-as-a-stone best friend. Even his pets don't respect him, as the cat puts him out at the end of the credits. But of course at the end of 30 minutes, everyone comes to see the patriarch just wanted what was best for them and he's usually rewarded with a kiss from a now docile Wilma or a giant steak. Or both.

The new series starts off with a modern tour guide showing an ice mummy of a Neanderthal to an audience stand in. She tells him that right here in Bedrock Valley is archaeological proof of a stone age society, more advanced than any other discovered. A pan into the map and suddenly we're in Bedrock "100,000 years ago". The anachronistic combination of rock and tusk buildings combined with riffs on modern brands, (Starbricks, Outback Snakehouse,) proves familiar and sparks a chuckle. We meet Mr. Slate, in the process of hiring three Neanderthals for his quarry. "Twice as strong as homo sapiens, and have no formal concept of money." The Slate of my childhood wasn't quite so blatant, but his decision to have Fred wine and dine the new hires so they'll bring their friends to Bedrock is a typically Flintstonian setup. However, a phone call to Wilma reminds Fred that he has "Veterans' Group" with Barney and sets our spidey senses tingling. A few panels later, we see the iconic Order of the Waterbuffalo hats, only to be juxtaposed with this.

It takes just twelve pages for Russell to establish that this is not the retelling you thought it was.

This take on the Flintstones is daringly political. Veteran's affairs are at the forefront, as the similarities between Fred's war and Vietnam aren't subtle. You're going to see veterans sleeping on the sidewalk and coping with PTSD while governmental support and funding goes to a statue of a monkey. Gay marriage is tackled more hamfistedly than I'd like, but as the Australia postal vote is actively going on, maybe someone will get this sledgehammer approach into their head. There's an issue on elections and also some serious snark on political funding to the sciences. This divergence from the source material is head-spinning and what makes the comic so polarizing.

While each issue stands alone, very much like a 30 minute television episode, there are a lot of through lines along the entire book. One of those is the cruelty of capitalism, as Mr. Slate hires cheap, "foreign" labor to take advantage of and abuse. His refusal to pay a living wage continues to the story about the invention of the shopping mall and the Bedrockians accumulation of "crap", which leads to Fred and Barney being forced to take second jobs selling vitamins, (it's funny because Flintstones vitamins are still the most popular children's vitamins, see?) Finally in a story where Carl Sagan's stone age doppelganger predicts the end of the world, Slate is left alone in his mansion, his amenities no comfort or protection from dying alone.

More subtle, Wilma has been reimagined as an artist. She's seen making handprint paintings in her first appearance. The giraffe easel and kangaroo brush holder debate the deeper meaning. Later, Wilma is contacted to be part of an exhibit of amateur talent. The show is a disaster, full of art snobs who sneer that cave paintings are "so retro they're daring". Wilma relates to Fred that when she was a child, her tribe was nomadic and left handprints in caves before they journeyed south, so they would always be remembered. It's a very touching scene, unexpected immediately following a joke about vaping. Several issues later, with no fan fare, Wilma asks Pebbles and Fred to pose for a family portrait. Knowing the Flintstones, this is usually done with a woodpecker inside a camera, chiseling the stone before turning to the viewer as Mel Blanc quips about his aching head.

Another review I saw lambasted the "reoccurring joke" of veterans committing suicide. Respectfully, the joke isn't that veterans are at risk of suicide. The joke is the governmental support of veterans after they return from wars. We're not supposed to laugh at Joe, reaching out to the suicide hotline. We're supposed to laugh that he's been left on hold for three days, because even in this hyperbolic state, it's not that far off from real suicide services for vets. 

It's a laugh so you don't cry panel.

Tonally, the book is all like that. The above suicide panel comes in the middle of a story about teenage aliens coming to Bedrock for Galactic Break. Sight gags of animals as household appliances are tempered with stories of Bowling Ball praying for death so Fred will stop rolling him. I could have used a few more light touches, to be honest. The election/war issue is extremely heavy and even the pun of "Prayo Clinic" can't walk back infertility and the adoption of the last child of a race. The panel of Fred realizing he's unwittingly committed genocide is devastating.

It should have been the last issue in the collection. How do you go from this to moth sex?

With the Hanan-Barbera name right on the front of the volume, you'd be forgiven for expecting Viva Rock Vegas than Platoon. Your childhood favorites aren't here, but that doesn't make Flintstones Vol. 1 a bad book. Most of the satire is sharp. Religion may be low hanging fruit, but by Gerald did I laugh. The art is detailed and very pretty for the most part. The size difference between the men and women is disgustingly blatant but not exaggerated enough to work as it's own commentary. Therefore it comes off as sexist instead of skewering traditionally misogynistic comic art, but otherwise the character designs are recognizable while feeling fresh. Love Wilma's swimsuit for the hot tub party and Pebbles never ending supply of band shirts. (Speaking of bands, there's a reference to Peaches' Fuck the Pain Away so A+ music taste, Russell.)

Do I recommend The Flintstones? If, like my blog partner, I get to the part where I say, "...and then the aliens show up!", you say, "please stop talking", nope I guess I don't. But if you're curious about Great Gazoo being Earth's game warden, have at it.

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