Back in the day, I only liked two things about The Flintstones: The wacky animal-powered contraptions that emulated devices like record players, and Bam-Bam's super-strength. Some of the former shows up in DC Comics' new reboot of the Hanna-Barbera classic, surrounded by updated existential weirdness.
The whole deal with the Flintstones was that they were, as the theme song said, a "modern stone age family". Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty and others lived a life that was made to look recognisable for 1960s audiences, with echoes of contemporary technological advancements, workplace pressure and home-life drama done up early-civilisation style. It was the first animated series to run in evening primetime slots, a sitcom that mirrored other mid-century examples of the form, tweaking its execution to buttress its caveman-centric conceit.
The new Flintstones #1 — written by Mark Russell, with art by Steve Pugh, Chris Chuckry and David Sharpe — doesn't stray too far from that core template. But when it does, the change-up is enough to create whiplash.
Flintstones #1 still takes place in the rough-hewn proto-civilisation of Bedrock City, a place where people enjoy the conveniences of modern life like wireless shell phones. Readers first see Fred Flintstone at work, where his blowhard boss Mr Slate tasks him with helping recruit three strong but naive Neanderthals to the company. Fred's wife Wilma is an aspiring artist in this new series and issue one's subplot is focused on her inclusion in a gallery show. We only get brief glimpses of Barney and Betty Rubble here. Overall, everyone in the core cast looks younger and hipper, sloughing off the Fred-as-Ralph Kramden inspiration that ripped off The Honeymooners.
Visual differences aren't the biggest swerve presented in the book, which is part of a multi-title Hanna-Barbera reboot that includes Scooby Apocalypse and Future Quest. The subtext of this first outing is all about the discontents of living in a post-industrial world. Fred and Barney go to a veterans' support group where attendees break down in tears over the indigenous people they killed in manifest-destiny land grabs. Wilma frets about buying a dress that will let her properly play the role of artiste. Mr Slate spouts off about legacy, fate and material leave-behinds as the only true afterlife. Russell's writing expands the joke at the heart of the Flintstones concept — what if cavemen were just like people in present-day society — beyond cartoony physical structures and into the psychological realm.
The subtle philosophical sprinkles impart an unexpected gravitas into the Flintstones reboot. Sure, it comes off as a little try-hard when vaping hipsters fling dismissive pronouncements at Wilma's paintings. But the willingness to even gesture at a thematic thread concerned with the emptiness of modern life pulled me into Flintstones #1 more than I was expecting. I laughed at a lot of its dark humour and then smirked at the idea that those beats might be a performative commentary on the comic's own existence. We're at the end of history, reading a comic that reboots a sitcom rip-off cartoon about the beginning of civilisation. Laugh it up, pterodactyls, we're all dying eventually.