By Levi Remington
Never in my life did I think I'd be singing praises for any piece of media connected with The Flintstones license, but here we are. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh have crafted one of DC's finest comics of the past few years – singlehandedly justifying the existence of the Hanna Barbera line. The miniseries closes this week with its twelfth issue, bringing a thematic conclusion that satisfies wholeheartedly.
Perhaps the simplest reason for The Flintstones' success is that Russell and Pugh's story has very little to do with the license. The characters are vaguely familiar in their looks, but everything else has been repurposed. No preexisting knowledge is required. This is nothing like any Flintstones story before it, and it's not even pretending to try. Instead, the licensed property is just a backdrop. The real focus is on sociology.
I know what you're thinking: "I'm not picking up the latest Flintstones comic book for a lesson on human behavior in the context of society. The Flintstones should be fun!" But that's just it. Russell's The Flintstones is philosophical, enlightening, and clever, but it's packaged within hilarious, witty satire that skillfully comments on inherently human issues and never loses sight of its characters, maintaining a heart and soul in the pages that would otherwise be lost under the sheer number of gags. To put it simply... The Flintstones is a lot of fun, but it will make you think, and that's not such a bad thing.
The humor lands somewhere in the same ballpark of The Simpsons in its better years. There's a touch of sentimentality, an emotional core, but this is a comedy first and foremost. There is even an episodic element to the series where each issue focuses on a singular idea (consumerism, religion, elections, alien invasions, the list goes on) mining it for all it's worth. Some elements reminded me of South Park, but only in its broad strokes of pitch-black satire. The book is far from being mean or vulgar about its commentary. Actually, it's surprisingly fair. It never feels as though Mark Russell is using the title to peddle his own ideologies, but rather it comes off as an honest interpretation of humanity's variations. The humor can occasionally feel one-sided, but it's never cruel and it does this without feeling "safe" or restrained in any way. It takes quite the talent to pull off comedy with so many different shades, ranging from satire to slapstick to sadistic, but it's accomplished brilliantly here.
Steve Pugh brings a whole other layer to the comedy. Not only does he interpret the characters perfectly every time (nailing facial expressions, body language, etc), while constructing beautiful environments with the help of colorist Chris Chukry, but the amount of sight gags is absurd. Depending on the scene, you can tell that Pugh has had a hell of a time filling out the environment with his own brand of silly humor: a combination of dad-joke-level puns, adorable animals, absurdism or the cartoonishly-grotesque. It all meshes perfectly with Russel's writing, consistently taking the book to new levels. His presence is sorely missed on issue #7, but Rick Leonardi still makes a strong impression.
I could spend paragraphs referencing the many ongoing gags of the series, exploring all of its metaphors, puns, and conclusions, but I would only be spoiling the experience. Half of the fun is seeing what the book tackles next and having the time after each issue to reflect on what it says for you specifically. I wouldn't dare take that away from anyone, because this is a special book that deserves to be experienced for yourself. I would suggest new readers to drop any preconceived notions you might have about The Flintstones license, and stick past the first issue, as it seemed to really find itself after that.
The miniseries concludes beautifully, wrapping up all of the thematic ideas that were brought to life in previous issues, and doing so with the heartfelt hilarity that has come to be expected from Russell and Pugh. It's a loving and hopeful sendoff for these characters. In ways far above what its title can insinuate, The Flintstones succeeds to be funny, meaningful, and important.
The Flintstones #12
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Steve Pugh
Colors by Chris Chukry
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics