DC Comics reached out with a mission for writer Mark Russell. How would he like to write a reboot of “The Flintstones”?
His prompt reply: “I kind of hate ‘The Flintstones.’”
The DC editors’ response: They liked his humorous take for his award-winning comic “Prez,” so his distaste for the old animated Hanna-Barbera TV show was not a dealbreaker.
“So I knew from the beginning,” Russell tells The Washington Post, “that it would be a satiric, edgy response to ‘The Flintstones.’”
On Wednesday, DC will debut “The Flintstones” No. 1, which slyly unfurls Russell’s sardonic take on the “modern Stone Age family” from the town of Bedrock. “The Flintstones” is part of DC’s new wave of comic-book “reimaginings” of classic Hanna-Barbera TV shows, including the characters Scooby-Doo (DC’s take is “Scooby Apocalypse”) and Jonny Quest (“Future Quest”).
Right from the comic’s opening pages, Fred Flintstone feels like a man out of time, even as he helps train cavemen for work and jokes about having acquired wife Wilma thanks to a livestock-based transaction.
“I use my story as sort of a critique of sexism,” Russell (“Apocrypha Now,””God Is Disappointed in You”) says. “It’s a critique of the suburban values that the original ‘Flintstones’ and (precursor) ‘The Honeymooners’ were about. (The comedy) absorbed the values of the time and used them as a backdrop for broad humor.”
The creative result is an invitingly biting debut book that spikes the narrative with sharp one-liners and sly asides. The humor thrives on the characters’ implied self-awareness. The Fred Flintstone of yore might have joked that despite Wilma’s wishes, he ultimately wore the leopard-print pants in the family; in Russell’s take, gender roles are questioned more pointedly.
Russell, who grew up in Oregon, says his prism for his Bedrock satire is 20th century America — “The one I know and love” — but at the same time, he says his critique is more broad than that. “We’re still holding on to the vestigial values that we created at the foundation of civilization,” says Russell, whose comics skewers how we behave and interact within accepted social contracts.
In that way, Russell hopes readers will examine his Flintstones within the context of modern realities. Donald Trump is the kind of candidate that might appeal to his titular Stone Age character, Russell says, because Fred Flintstone feels like his civilization is passing him by. Fred is like a Trump voter, the writer says, “because they are people who feel pushed around for the last 30 years and … they don’t want to be pushed around anymore.”
Creatively speaking, “The Flintstones” is something of a mixed marriage. That’s because the series’ artist, Steve Pugh, grew up rather enjoying the old animated show.
“I grew up in Birmingham, in the middle of the U.K., in a part of the country that’s black with soot,” Pugh says, nodding to the similarities to some of the grittier, more industrial aspects of Bedrock. The artist watched the show in the ’70s, which he calls a “strangely grim” decade in Great Britain.
In that era, after the moon landing, there were Britons “who felt like they were framed out of time … like they were being left behind,” Pugh says. “There were the problems that people have always had: Time marches on, and there’s a time when you start to feel like a caveman.”
During Pugh’s childhood, TV programming imported from Hollywood, by contrast, felt like a ray of optimistic light. “The American stuff was very bright and very upbeat,” he says. “I’m a big admirer of the Hanna-Barbera aesthetic — on that budget, I liked what they were able to do.”
So Pugh’s artistic challenge became, “How could I pay respect to that and also make it relevant to what Mark was doing?”
Pugh carved his style into the work, artfully enhancing Russell’s satire through visuals. Through the commentary, the comic bristles with bright colors.
Even in a theoretically less-evolved Bedrock, Pugh says, people are essentially good. “They may sometimes have bad ideas,” he says, “but they will be good if given enough time to (explore) and turn over enough rocks.”