Back in the 1960’s The Flintstones was Hanna Barbera’s attempt at a “prime time” animated sitcom. An homage in many ways to The Honeymooners (and preceding The Simpsons by nearly 20 years), The Flintstones took domestic life and placed it into a prehistoric setting, with enough rock based puns to choke a pterodactyl.
I always liked the show, and while formulaic in many ways, The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo were always my two favorites from the Hanna Barbera stable. While Scooby and the gang have been resurrected many times over (the excellent Mystery Inc. comes to recent mind), The Flintstones never got its own revival, outside brief talk of Family Guy‘s Seth McFarlane bringing it back ages ago.
Last year, DC comics (which is part of Time Warner, and basically owns everything else that Disney doesn’t) introduced a line of comics that took familiar Hanna Barbera series and turned them upside down. What resulted in this experiment was Future Quest, Wacky Raceland, Scooby Apocalypse, and The Flintstones. Of the four, Flintstones remains the most true to its origins, but sticking to the “with a twist” theme, it takes the concept and modernizes it for today’s world.
The concept goes way beyond the obvious jokes such as “shell phones”. This highlights the absurdity of our modern world while placing it into a world just starting. The original Flintstones didn’t go much into any backstory, but here, the town of Bedrock is relatively new in its founding, with the inhabitants having recently left behind their old cave and tribe dwelling ways. Fred and Barney are war veterans. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are 15 year old teens. Outside of that, the concept remains relatively the same, but there is more of an outlook tinged with sarcasm and irony.
What really surprised me about the series is the number of in depth subjects that it explores. This collected volume issues cover a variety of subjects ranging from greed and excess, art interpretation and meaning, commercialism, religion, the sanctity of marriage (both straight and gay), elections, the end of the world, and of course alien invasion (yes, a certain green visitor does make an appearance).
The comic highlights the absurdities of a number of these subjects, placing them in context of a society still trying to figure out these ideas themselves. The results are often hilarious, with Fred being more of a voice and a reactionary force to all of these scenarios, while Wilma is his equal partner and calm in the storm. Fred feels more of an “everyman” than before, presented as someone who is just trying to stay relevant in his changing world, while being a good family man and friend. Barney and Betty haven’t been explored as much, but the series does feature a storyline that was lightly addressed in the original series to provide motivation for Barney’s early years.
The series has more of a darker tone that didn’t exist in the original series. Fred and Barney go to war veteran meetings in order to deal with the repercussions of a senseless war based on a lie (read: genocide). Fred’s boss, Mr. Slate, is a man who wants to build his legacy of business and power at any cost. At the quarry, a co-worker and Fred share this conversation:
Co-Worker: “Can I ask you a question?”
Co-Worker: “How come you wear a tie?”
Fred: “I read an article once that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
Co-Worker: “So how long have you been wearing that tie?”
Fred: “Fifteen years.”
The dialogue is real and relatable, and at times often made me think more than I expected to from a caveman comic based on a cartoon. Not because everything is presented as cynical, but it often points out the good in things, and what has meaning to a person through our own sense of value and worth. This is well tempered by silly situations, such as using a brontosaurus so send a chimpanzee into space (yes, the animal appliances snark here as well). The comic has a real heart and message to its storytelling.
As for the artwork, everything is presented as more realistic in look, but is instantly recognizable. The colors are bright, and the facial expressions and body movements are fun and expressive.
The Flintstones has ended up being a comic book series that has ended up being more popular than expected, in no small part to its relevance to today and poignant observations on life and the things we do. It satirizes and celebrates humanity (often at the same time) through humorous and smart writing. This trade paperback collects the first six issues, and is a great starting point if you’ve missed out on the original run.
Well worth a read, even if you’re not a comic fan (just pretend that these are historical cave paintings).