Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1
Writer: Mark Russell
Pencils: Mike Feehan
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover artists: Ben Caldwell (regular)/Evan “Doc” Shaner (variant)
Editor: Marie Javins
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
As many comics critics are still offering up their Best of 2017 lists, we’re faced with what may be the front runner for 2018’s finest right off the bat. I knew The Snagglepuss Chronicles would be great, given that it’s the brainchild of Mark Russell, the writer behind the surprising and relevant take on The Flintstones. Furthermore, we got a taste of his unconventional and innovative interpretation of Snagglepuss in last year’s Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Special last year. But even that sneak peek in that short backup story didn’t prepare me for the strength of his social commentary in this new title. This comic book is a fascinating piece of historical fiction that has the potential to spark an interest in 1950s creative culture, and at the same time, the writer offers a powerful perspective on the realities of 21st century America.
It’s 1953, and post-war America is gobbling up the growing media of television and movies, but the theatre continues to run strong in the country, and especially in New York City. One of the biggest stars of the medium can’t be found on stage, but rather penning the words uttered on stage: playwright Snagglepuss. He and his actress bride Lila Lion are media darlings, but that’s just a carefully crafted facade for the public. Meanwhile, Snagglepuss tells friends not to fear those beating the drums of McCarthyism, but he may not be as immune to political pressure as he believes.
Mike Feehan’s art isn’t what I expected to find in this first issue. Based on the short preview we got of Russell’s reimagining of the property last year, I thought we’d be looking at more of Howard Porter’s artwork. Feehan offers a much different take on the title character and other anthropomorphic animal characters here, making them seem far more human and less animalistic. I understand the approach, given the fact that the story is heavily immersed in reality (and history) and that there’s no acknowledgement of the differences between the human and animal characters. Feehan manages to instill a lot of humanity in Snagglepuss et al, and he further distances them from their cartoon roots.
That being said, I found his figures to be a little stiff. While his eye for anatomy is pretty strong, movement isn’t conveyed nearly as well. Nevertheless, several characters are quite attractive and interesting to view, and the likenesses of real people are well done. His efforts here reminded me something of a cross between the more organic art of Steve Pugh and the precise linework of the late Steve Dillon. Paul Mounts’s colors are quite vibrant, but not to the point that they interfere with the realistic leanings of the storytelling.
I’ll be honest: my background in American literature isn’t as strong as it could be. There was little in the way of American works taught in my secondary schooling here in Canada, and my only American literature course in university focused on 19th century works. As such, I found myself researching some of the real-world figures that play roles in this historical drama. But I loved doing so. Russell’s exploration of these people as characters in this comic sparked a level of excitement in me about them. I found I wanted to know more about them if they could have existed as contemporaries and inspirations to the witty and socially aware Snagglepuss we’re following in this series.
I loved the moment at the end of the issue when we discover what the “hottest ticket in town” was from the start. It strikes me as the perfect commentary on America’s obsession with the excesses of “reality” TV. I was surprised the human and animal characters don’t seem to acknowledge their differences in this world. I would have expected Russell to explore issues of race through those differences, but that’s not the case. He does examine bigotry and hatred, though, but only those arising from social values and sexual identity.
Let’s be honest: this isn’t the Snagglepuss we knew from Laff-a-Lympics and Yogi’s Ark in the 1970s. In fact, Snagglepuss isn’t really a character here, and neither is Huckleberry Hound. Their images are the bait to lure the audience into a story about American history and culture. That the titular character is an anthropomorphic pink panther has no bearing on the actual content of this comic book. He serves as a nostalgic gateway to pertinent commentary and a morose remembrance of an ugly time. It’s seems all too fitting that a fictional colorful character represents the good fight against such ugliness when a real-life colorful character represents a root cause of similar ugliness today. 9/10