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Yabba-Dabba-Doo, it’s time to check out another comic! Wait, that’s no longer an exclamation of excitement? What does it mean then? Find out in The Flintstones Volume 1!
I already introduced this series briefly within my first article on Scooby Apocalypse. But in short, The Flintstones is one of 4 Hanna-Barbera properties given a total makeover in comic form. (Sadly, it’s also one of 3 to already have been cancelled.) It’s a comic that nobody asked for or wanted but arguably everybody can enjoy (except perhaps the most conservative-leaning individuals). Did anyone expect The Flintstones to be a quirky social commentary? Probably about as much as anyone expected The Wacky Races to turn into a dystopian action story or Scooby-Doo a grim survival narrative. Still, it somehow works. Written by Mark Russell, this first volume takes readers through the first half of the series, offering flashes of genius topical humor and commentary layered on top of loose episodic narratives.
The series takes place in Bedrock, a prehistoric civilization founded upon genocide, fear, and greed. But beyond that, it’s a happy enough place. Families, such as the Flintstones and the Rubbles, thrive and live not too differently from people of modern society. Unless you count the fact that their appliances are all prehistoric animals instead. (Except the TV. Yeah, no one really explains that one.) In this sense, the series is much like its original incarnation: a juxtaposition of anachronistic absurdities and norms. Where it differs more is in the ways its characters interact and in the themes it weaves into its tales.
Characters from the television show are all updated for the comic. Fred is a more logical and disillusioned man, Wilma is a misunderstood creative mind, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are socially-aware middle schoolers, Mr. Slate is a selfish but strangely poignant capitalist, Barney is a lovable and caring father and friend, and Betty is…Betty. We don’t get to see much of her. These updates, along with a few others (The Great Gazoo makes an appearance as well) all work for the setting, helping add human touches of realism to the setting. The entire concept of Bedrock and the franchise as a whole is pretty ridiculous, but having such organic and relatable characters helps sell the setting nonetheless. Other updates include the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes being transformed into a war veterans’ therapy group called The Veterans of the Paleolithic Wars and the Flintstones’ animal appliances more directly being portrayed in servitude. That last part really isn’t a big change from the show. Even in the original show, dinosaurs were shown to be used in place of modern household appliances, but it was under-explored and often just a background norm for the show. Here it’s addressed in a more somber and depressing manner through conversations the animals have while the humans are away or asleep, giving the their whole situation an awkward and uneasy tone. And while that aspect is probably the most unsettling part of the series, the entire comic works similarly: showing off light-hearted and jovial fragments of everyday life through jokes and mundane activities before turning those moments on their heads through thought-provoking but potentially uncomfortable commentary.
While the narratives do for the most part follow Fred and his friends and family, the meat of those stories comes from the topical humor often offered by other citizens of Bedrock as they face new developments within their civilization. The series tackles issues such as gay marriage, consumerism, veteran suicide, and political bullying. While these are serious topics, The Flintstones builds up these topics through humor, not uncommonly of the grim variety, to make sure to remind readers they are reading a comic based on a kid’s television show and so as not to scare off readers immediately. Make no mistake – the jokes are hilarious, and sometimes scathing. But they could easily be called out for going too far in some cases by making a little too light of serious issues, even if the goal is to point out flaws in society’s response to these issues. Be assured though, the jokiness eventually gives way in almost every issue in favor of hard-hitting messages and morals for each story.
Steven Pugh really helps add weight to Bedrock and the morals the series tries to impart. His art is heavy but also flat. Characters are still cartoonish, but the thick lines help add a sense of realism to them and their world. That same stylistic choice also highlights the roughness of the setting, making Bedrock truly appear as a place made of stones. “Mob shots,” or panels with several people in them, tend to display some of Pugh’s best work. Crowd members are drawn such that you can practically find real-life versions of them in any major American mall you enter. They’re drawn with realism in mind, helping make their actions and vocalizations all the more so reflect actual society.
Sadly, while the series is full of substance, there’s nothing gripping to keep readers wanting to come back. As humorous as the jokes are and as relatable as the characters are, there’s not much in the way of an over-arching narrative to keep things interesting. Each issue contained in this volume is mostly a self-contained story, usually focusing on one or two social issues and a episode-specific story. In that way, it’s like the original cartoon, where the individual episodes were enjoyable to watch but they had little to no bearing on future plots. This is both a strength and a weakness of the series, just as it is of American sitcoms. It is extremely fun, but readers can skip a few parts and not be at all lost when they come back. But at the same time, skipping those few issues/episodes just makes it easier to slip out of routine and forget to ever return to the series.
In all seriousness, pick this up. It’s a refreshing, if borderline preachy, outlook on our society. Agree with all the commentary or not, you’re sure to find a jab at human nature to appreciate. The Flintstones is likely not what anyone expected, but that’s far from a criticism. Lacking a connecting narrative, the series makes up for it with smart humor and a candidly critical examination on how individuals respond to disruptions in the status quo.
The Flintstones Vol. 1
- Brilliant and biting social satire
- Art helps topics covered hit closer to home
- Fun and insightful mix of comedy and commentary
- Pebbles' hair and product placement of Fruity Pebbles
- Scenes don't always flow organically
- Contained storylines become exhausting
- A few jokes might cross the line for some readers
- Joe had far more potential