New Mainstream Visions: Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s Snagglepuss

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles

DC Comics, issues 1-6, or collected $16.99 tp

When considering indie comics, the unexpected is always hopefully expected. When given few constraints, indies can explore paths unthinkable to the person next to you; I guess that’s why they call it art.

But when considering mainstream commercial comics potential, there’s not a lot a writer/artist can work with. The main goal of acceptance with widespread success along with the added baggage of a wholly already defined concept can curtail even the cleverest of minds. Really, how many new Batman stories can be there to tell after 75 years? The best of commercial writers are lucky and skilled enough to surf the demands of the publisher’s needs, yet bring something extra to the table unique to their sensibilities. Mark Russell seems to respond well to this challenge, taking a simplistic concept and giving it more complex textures.

In the relatively short period of time Russell has worked for DC, he has invigorated not only a forty plus year old property –Prez, the story of America’s first teenage president, but also taken the horns on DC’s recent push of their stable of Hanna Barbera cartoon properties as well. His ridiculous amount of success with the Flintstones mini series (with artist Steven Pugh), demonstrated not only could he keep Fred and his cohorts interesting, he could also infuse them with a modern sensibility while examining society, incorporating the animated cave man’s aesthetics along with an updated look at todays foibles. Not only did these provide more entertainment than a hundred superhero comics, but more to the point, took a commercial assignment with highly defined limits and turned it into something fresh, new, and original for today’s readers.

Whether due to this success or just good luck, Russell grabs some more work from DC on their continued push of the HB cartoon characters with Snagglepuss, a character far down the line in terms of popularity from Fred Flintstone. Much to DC’s credit, they gave Russell incredible room to stretch his legs here, reimagining SP (Snagglepuss) as the famous American playwright Tennessee Williams, his struggles surviving in the foreground of 1950’s government investigations of un-American activities to punish him not only for his unorthodox approach towards his art, but using his homosexuality as a tool against him in the public eye.

So how to take this seriously because Tennessee Williams is drawn as an upright pink feline cartoon character? Well, Russell concocts a solution of cartoon animals coexistence with normal “human” looking people, as per demands of the necessities of the comic, with a preconditioned acceptance on our part to go along with it. While I think their contrasts are a bit jarring to be fully comfortable with, I can’t deny Russell’s success in portraying his story in such a compelling manner that it easily smooths out the rough spots of such acceptance, and keeps us fully on track with the narrative, making me want to pursue it to its conclusion. He is also able to seamlessly weave in many real life people (along with other Hanna Barbera characters) into actual historical events, giving the simplistic cartoon characters a sympathetic weight formerly unimaginable.

Artist Mike Feehan is to be credited with a disciplined approach in depicting this shared animated/real life universe, carefully keeping the cast distinct from one another and constantly identifiable. Colorist Paul Mounts brings his usual bright, garish approach to his pages, but here in this “animated” universe, his palette is much more comfortable in its surroundings, adding a visual layer of bouncy electric life to the proceedings.

Here we have quite the successful balancing act, where a writer gives the publisher the goal of a favorable commercial tie in comic, but also a controversial tale, rife not only with convincing cartoon characters, but also a well researched telling of important current history along with a biscuits worth of social vetting and political examination-whew! Sadly, the comics inevitable rough ending (it is based on Williams, after all), is countered by the solemn acceptance of it’s cast, with the promise good things can follow. Which is pretty close to how it generally works in real life. Quite the feast indeed for a comic named Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles.

Russell continues to impress here, with all three of his first forays into commercial comics writing must reads against all odds of them being so. May he have many more.

Judge Dredd: Under Siege #1 (May 2018)

Judge Dredd: Under Siege #1

Judge Dredd: Under Siege reads kind of exactly how one would expect it to read from the unrealistic proportions of Dredd compared to everyone else and his really bad one-liners. It opens with the revelation football has been outlawed because it causes concussions. The Judges don’t want people with brain damage or something. Fascists.

Other than the one-liners and the eye-rolling attempts at social commentary, writer Mark Russell doesn’t bring anything else. Under Siege doesn’t bring anything else. It reads like a bad adaptation of the Dredd movie, only Russell thinks Dredd is a dick, not a hero.

Oh, and there’s an armed civilian force. They’re fighting the mutants, who have gotten in from the Cursed Earth.

Doesn’t matter. The story beats in the first issue are almost identical to the movie. Except the mutants.

Dunbar’s art isn’t terrible; other than the Dredd as Frank Miller Dark Knight. Yawn. It also isn’t good enough to make the comic worth reading.

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Russell; artist, Max Dunbar; colorist, Jose Luis Rio; letterer, Simon Bowland; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5 (July 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5

It’s the penultimate issue. I forgot there were six. I was hoping for five. Especially since the comic opens with the Soviets–in the fifties–talking about how eventually America will elect a complete idiot president and then they’ll nuke us. Or something. If Russell wanted to correlate with modern day stuff, he needed to do it. Not just as a throwaway joke to distract from the endlessness of Exit Stage Left.

This issue has a big speech from Snagglepuss to Congress. Tragedy has struck and S.P. is dismantling his life so he can speak the truth. It’s not a rousing speech. I mean, if it were a rousing speech or if he gotcha’d the senators, it’d be something. But it’s nothing.

At the same time as S.P.’s testimony, his play has its opening night. The recent tragedy informs the play, the rousing speech informs the play, yada yada.

If only some of it were good.

The art didn’t bother me as much as usual. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s better, but it might be. Maybe I’m just so thrilled it’s almost over.

CREDITS

Opening Night; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Sean Parsons and Jose Marzan Jr.; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4 (June 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4

If Exit Stage Left were any better, it might be full on problematic. Some of Russell’s juxtapositions and analogues should cause more intellectual consternation. They don’t, however, because the comic isn’t better. It’s perplexingly mundane.

This issue opens with the government woman who wants to force Snagglepuss’s cooperation in the witch hunt out visiting the nuclear test grounds in Nevada. There she discovers the U.S. government is lying to the American people about their chances of survival in a nuclear attack. So, she’s already a bit of a tool, long before Russell demonizes her in a juxtaposition later.

Then the Snagglepuss stuff is basically his fake wife and his boyfriend getting pissed at him and so he does something about it. It’s like the C plot though. The comic really belongs to Huckleberry Hound, who gets a really depressing storyline this issue.

It’s become clear, four issues in, some of Exit Stage Left’s problem is the art. Feehan and Parsons are competent but uninspired. Russell’s already doing drab history with the inclusion of anthropomorphized cartoon animals supposedly going to make it special, the art should at least be enthusiastic. It’s not.

What’s worse is the art on the backup, Sasquatch Detective, is a lot more enthusiastic. Gus Vasquez is on the art this time. Brandee Stilwell is still writing. Still not a funny strip. And the cameo isn’t funny either.

Exit Stage Left has two more issues. Expectations keep plummeting. It’s not a bad comic, it’s just utterly pointless.

CREDITS

Doom Town; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Sean Parsons; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #3 (May 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #3

I think this issue the series’s best so far. But it has jack to do with Snagglepuss. There’s a TV interview bookend with he and Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss is in most of the issue, he’s just not important to any of it. Not when there’s a Marilyn Monroe cameo, a full-on Joe DiMaggio first person flashback, not to mention the implication Snagglepuss is responsible for Clint Eastwood’s success.

Oh, and he finds Huckleberry Hound a boyfriend finally; because gay bar. Where Snagglepuss pisses off his Cuban lover with some of his comments on the Cuban Revolution.

Russell’s writing is strong and anti-dramatic. It’s a tedious read, even when it’s just a scene. Like the DiMaggio flashback. It’s interesting, historically, but dramatically inert on its own and entirely puzzling in Exit Stage Left.

If Russell wanted to do some creative nonfiction about how McCarthyism hit New York, he should’ve just done it. Throwing the cartoon characters in does nothing for it.

Decent art from Feehan, who’s better at people than anthropomorphized dogs and cats.

And the Sasquatch Detective backup is odd. It’s got to be perplexing to readers not versed in the right pop culture trivia and, even if they are, it’s still unlikable and not funny.

CREDITS

<p style="font-size:11px;">Actors and Stars; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Mark Morales; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #2 (April 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #2

So, Snagglepuss. How many more issues of Snagglepuss.

It’s okay? Feehan and Morales’s art is good. Enough. It’s not exciting art. And Russell’s storytelling is more than competent.

But the book is kind of pointless. Sure, Snagglepuss as a gay playwright finding his way into trouble with McCarthyism is an idea, but there’s still no story. Snagglepuss wanders around, hanging out with humans and manimals. Humanimals. He keeps on giving people jobs. He wants to help.

Sometimes even when people don’t want his luck. Like when Huckleberry Hound has a cruising fail. Funny part about that? There’s something to look at when it’s a manimal getting punched in the face–it’s for a (somewhat sad) laugh. Huck’s physical suffering isn’t considered.

Anyway. Snagglepuss, even though he’s a great playwright, is sort of naive when it comes to threats from the government and warnings from his friends.

This book still feels like an underdeveloped idea put to series.

CREDITS

A Dog’s Life; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Mark Morales; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 (March 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1

Despite being about show business, Snagglepuss doesn’t have a lot of show. Whenever it comes time for drama, writer Mark Russell moves on. He gives penciller Mike Feehan and inker Mark Morales a couple panels to wrap up with visual suggestion, but no drama.

Considering Exit Stage Left reimagines Snagglepuss as a popular playwright in fifties New York City… some drama might be nice.

Russell’s script is intelligent, Feehan’s layouts are great, there’s just not a lot to the book. We meet Snagglepuss, get some of his ground situation, get some of the McCarthy hearings and its effects, but not much else.

When Huckleberry Hound shows up for a bit towards the end, it feels wrong. Russell has shied away from the cartoon origins of the character and having a guest star? It’s not smooth.

Exit Stage Left is off to an okay start. But, so far, there’s nothing special about it.

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Mark Morales; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 12 (August 2017)

The Flintstones #12

Russell puts The Flintstones to bed with a summary of the human race (from the Great Gazoo). Turns out prehistoric Bedrock is a lot more like the 21st century than one might think. There’s a lot of story threads–Fred needs to win an important bowling game, his bowling ball is preparing to rebel against human oppression, Pebbles thinks maybe mystery god Gerald is bunk and science is real–plus some nods back to previous issues. Wilma doesn’t get anything, Betty gets less. It’s sort of manipulative, Russell knows all the right buttons to push, including the nostalgia ones (including mocking nostalgia ones), and Pugh’s art is wonderful as always. The Flintstones has been an interesting, not entirely successful, but often inordinately ambitious series. It’s been a fine time; a yabba dabba doo time, as it were.

CREDITS

Farewell to Bedrock; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Flintstones 11 (July 2017)

The Flintstones #11

Not the best issue of The Flintstones. Not the worst. Not the best though. Russell’s pretty wide with his jokes–hipsters, unpaid interns, vegan restaurants, neighborhood associations–all the stuff he’s referencing feels dated and he’s just doing it for filler anyway. The issue turns out to be all about Gazoo. Everything else is fluff. So clearly something went wrong somewhere with this one. But Pugh’s art is great; even though the style with the Gazoo sci-fi stuff is the same, it’s still sort of different. Pugh’s style changes just a little and it’s a neat perspective thing. Otherwise… it’s a bit of a yawner overall. More than half Russell’s jokes flop and he’s got a bunch of them.

CREDITS

The Neighborhood Association; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

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