Back in the 1960s, TV became a bit daring with a social commentary sitcom known as The Honeymooners. Much as would be done again in the 1970s with Archie Bunker of All In The Family, 1980s with Roseanne, and 1990s with The Simpsons, the shows were biting satire camouflaged in the guise of comedy. In the 1970s, Cartoonists Hanna Barbara would take The Honeymooners, discard the barbs for mindless humor and recreate the setting in the ‘Stone Age’; the Flintstones was born. What Russell and Pugh have done is taken the look of the inane 1994 live action movie remake and use the prehistoric setting to make pithy observations about modern American society. From consumerism to religion, war and the space race – this book is both funny but also thoughtful. It’s a partner to the movie Idiocracy, but with the setting in the distant past rather than the near future.
Story: The comics follow several themed vignettes: from Mr. Slate fretting over his top 1% status, the boys despairing over a genocidal warfare/ PTSD of a fellow lodge mate, disposable products, commercials and commercialism when Betty and Wilma ponder shoes and the latest gadgets, marriage and its definition when Fred and Wilma want to stay married even though it is so frowned up, Pebbles rebelliousness and teen angst/social protests, and more. If the stories sound too serious, don’t worry: this is the Flinstones, after all, and Fred/Barney are just as clueless as their earlier incarnation counterparts.
The stories flow and are amusing. Perhaps some stories are a bit too sharp in their satirical wit – the bon mots can fall flat when weighed down by the grounded realism of the real-life issues they are skewing. The commentary of the Viet Nam war especially uncomfortably crosses the line between satire and serious social commentary. As with the Simpsons or South Park, the pithy commentary can be incisive but still funny if done right. It’s almost there, just a few balancing issues would have made this pitch perfect.
The artwork is inspired by the movie and not the cartoon – though the artist has strayed far enough from John Goodman’s and Rick Moranis’ likenesses to make this feel more original (and not have to pay royalties). Obese figures are instead replaced with very muscular frameworks – I never remembered John Goodman or Fred Flinstone as being a body builder. I think that change was the only thing that felt off in the artwork – Satire on modern America doesn’t really work with muscular men. The whole point of the Flintstones is that Fred and Barney are average slobs – comfortable in their little lives of Americana and family. They aren’t body builders even in the stone age.
If some of the targets were a bit too easy and others a bit too painful for the mockery, there still is much to digest and enjoy here. Especially for readers who appreciate wit and intelligence in their graphic novels. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.