Review by Ian Keogh
Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s first volume of The Flintstones took aim at much of what’s wrong with present day America and nailed it unerringly. It was surely just preaching to the converted, but nonetheless bold and hilarious for that. This selection is weaker.
The barbed brilliance is still present, but more sporadically than previously, as if Russell packed most of what he wanted to say in the first six chapters fearful the series would be cancelled from under him as Prez had been, and only a few items from his list remained for these stories. He’s also spread plots over several episodes rather than compacting them. The benefit is that Mayor Clod’s problems raising funds and his ongoing demonisation of the Lizard People can generate a multitude of jokes, but the downside is that some matters just float around to no great purpose. Jokes about Wilma’s art career by ridiculous critics are very funny, and there are good moments during her employment by a film director and his thoughts on being true to oneself, but the plot just fades away. Far better is the deconstruction of economics, which has to be given on the sly as the truth is unsuited for youngsters’ ears, and alien Gazoo’s observations on humanity. Some of those have a curious philosophical weight to them.
Pugh has toned down on the background jokes for Bedrock Bedlam, but otherwise continues the fine work. He’s good with caricatures (hello, Tony Danza) and his more realistically proportioned Fred and Barney still mix well with their slimmer wives. He creates the necessary pathos around the animal appliances, but they’re an aspect of the book that feels forced. Their purpose has been as half-hearted commentary on slavery, but a story concerning their attempts to rescue one of their own from the rubbish dump is light on both jokes and political commentary. It has more in common with banal animation sentimentality, so a puzzling diversion on Russell’s part.
The opening episode is drawn perfectly well by Rick Leonardi, but without the busy detail Pugh applies. That story primarily concerns organised religion, and in case there’s a feeling that Russell’s just taking potshots, it’s relevant to note a fair-minded treatment of religion, a theme recurring throughout. Hypocrisy, lack of logic and suppression of women and highlighted, but there’s also a tacit acknowledgement that for some people there’s a comfort in religion and so it has a value.
Bedrock Bedlam is a way better than average satirical graphic novel, but the first volume set the bar so high it couldn’t be reached a second time.