Mirrored from theguardian.com
Heavens to Murgatroyd! Who could have thought that Snagglepuss, that bright pink mountain lion beloved of Saturday morning cartoon shows would one day be reimagined as a gay playwright in the 1950s in a serious, adult comic book? Or, for that matter, that such a reinvention would work?
DC Comics has embarked on the curious little experiment and, in Hanna-Barbera Beyond, given old characters a contemporary makeover. The scheme has seen Wacky Raceland drop Dick Dastardly, the Anthill Mob and the rest into a Mad Max-esque fight for survival in a postapocalyptic wasteland; the Flintstones remade into a satirical poke at the American Dream and Scooby-Doo rebooted as a “smart dog” with an implant that allows him rudimentary communication skills in a near-future where a paranormal Armageddon has unleashed the undead on the world.
So far, so postmodern. The series has had largely positive reviews (though, if you listen carefully you can hear the distant wail of a male voice decrying the ruin of his childhood). Usually, the marriage of “beloved characters” and “updating” sends a chill down the spine. It generally means Dennis the Menace will suddenly start wearing a baseball cap back-to-front or the Milky Bar Kid is going to space.
I fully admit that I went into Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chroniclesexpecting, if not to hate it, then at least to be left feeling a bit so-what. But DC hasn’t simply given the Hanna-Barbera gang a new splash of paint in an attempt to connect with “the youth”. Snagglepuss is now living in 1950s America (the character first aired to US audiences in 1959), hiding his sexuality with a pretend wife. In the first issue, he covertly visits the Stonewall club in Greenwich Village, reveals friendships with an ageing Dorothy Parker and a Truman Capote-like Huckleberry Hound, and finds himself under scrutiny from Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, as it seeks out reds under the beds (and, while they’re at it, transgressives in those beds).
No explanation is ever given as to why Snagglepuss is a big pink cat; weirdly, none is needed. It might take a particular mindset to accept this state of affairs, but there is a long tradition of anthropomorphised animals being used in serious narratives: from Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat to Art Spiegelman’s harrowing Maus; from Kate Worley and Reed Waller’s Omaha the Cat Dancer, to Bryan Talbot’s steampunk series Grandville.
Could have Exit Stage Left been told without the conceit of Snagglepuss? Absolutely. But this reimagining doesn’t feel forced: the potential pieces were there to play with from the start – Snagglepuss’s flamboyant turn of phrase, his dandyish collar and cuffs, to his desire to be an actor. Writer Mark Russell and artist Mike Feehan have merely picked up those pieces and reassembled them, revealing something that feels unexpectedly modern and relevant.
DC loves a gritty reboot – arguably, ever since The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen in the 1980s, it is responsible for modern pop culture’s obsession with revamping the same classics again and again. In 2004, it had Supergirl ditch wholesomeness for a packet of Marlboro and a ripped tight T-shirt, and you can tell DC’s eyeing up Superman for a gritty reboot when he suddenly grows a mullet.
Given that DC’s owner Time Warner owns a raft of other classic properties, such as Looney Tunes (one 2017 comic saw Elmer Fudd on the streets of Gotham hunting not wabbits, but Batman), it might well be that mining the old cartoons for modern stories is here to stay. If DC wants to talk to me about my near-future techno-thriller in which amphetamine-addicted Speedy Gonzales wages a deadly one-mouse campaign to sabotage Donald Trump’s Mexican wall, they know where I am.