Dastardly and Muttley #5 Review
The modus operandi for DC’s critically acclaimed Hanna-Barbera Beyond line is to take the core of what makes the characters who they are, and then transition that into a world for a more mature reading audience. Veteran creator and lover of all things artistically violent Garth Ennis decided to take it in a different direction with the help of artist Mauricet by going for the absolute absurd extreme with their characters of choice: those double dealing do badders Dick Dastardly and his sidekick Muttley, repurposed as a pair of US fighter pilots chasing an unpiloted drone filled with a mysterious substance.The past four issues have featured the high-concept chaos of cartoons horrifyingly brought to life, and with issue #5 Ennis answers questions while enjoyably positioning the needed pieces for a final climax to save the world from a colorful doom.
For the uninitiated: Dick Dastardly and Muttley were a couple of popular antagonistic characters featured in 1968’s “Wacky Races”, and their own spin-off “Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines” which is the more direct source material this comic is referencing. In this reimagining, the pair are introduced as very normal pilots Richard Atcherley and Dudley Muller, pretty void from their original personas (save for “Muller” having the same iconic laugh Muttley had), chasing the previously mentioned drone named War Pig One and its payload of Unstabilium, a substance that warps reality into a distorted cartoon mess. Some of its effects include Muttley’s dog face, the President getting the urge to kill the Senate Majority Leader with a cartoon mallett, and an entire Senate Inquiry meeting turned into anthropomorphic animals.
So the material turns people into wacky, tooney, and altogether looney abominations against nature, but the ultimate question remains…..Why? Through the notes of the scientist who discovered the substance answers arise: Unstabilium comes from malevolent elder gods (who coincidentally mostly resemble famous cartoon characters owned by DC’s parent company and, as such, are very copyright friendly) extending their reach to the mortal plane to create a world of disorder and madness. But if that explanation is even too much for the readers, the creative team utilize the questionable narrator writing device to make for a more open ended and unique reading experience. After all, with Unstabilium being able to do the things it does, whose to say it is not some naturally occurring substance that put the idea of cosmic supernatural entities in the head of an ancient, superstitious populace? The book’s priorities do not lie in what way the reader accepts the reality being presented, just that they do so it can continue to the next round of twisted comedy.
This is by far the book’s greatest strength: dark madcap humor and absurd clashing of realities. There is a huge well of material when it comes to translating norms of zany cartoons into more realistic settings, and Ennis wastes no time taking advantage of the surreal possibilities. Niche to be sure, but, for the audience who enjoys that type of humor, this series offers insane hilarity that keep on delivering. It’s the type of story that only can exist in the unique medium of comics. Where else but in comics will you see jingoistic efforts by the US military to try and make cartoon super soldiers, only to see them fail in satirical fashion?
As funny as altered squirrely serviceman are, humor is at its most effective when there are some stakes or level of emotional investment between subject and audience. Knowing someone personally makes a person more sympathetic when they are having a relatable malaise, or cheerful when a jerk of a character gets their poetic comeuppance. Two philosophies exemplified by the two main characters. The Unstabilium has made Dick Actherly into the pontificating, egotistical scoundrel fans of the classic cartoons remember, putting him in the familiar karmic slapstick from the old Hanna Barbera days. Muttley, however, has become the emotional linchpin of the story, the Unstabilium making him into a dog man hybrid is a tragic transformation that will draw emotional reactions from readers.
These emotional scenes are brought to fruition by Mauricet’s gripping art, which has been stunning throughout the entire run, and seamlessly blends off the walls comedy with the down to Earth drama. This book is all over the place with tone, for plot reasons it has to be, and Mauricet meets the challenge of blending styles to illustrate the difference between Unstabilium-affected things from the regular, unaffected world. When the events of the book are meant to be chaotic and the art changes from classic comic style, like Looney Tunes or Archie, Mauricet creates a cohesive visual language that glues it all in place. In that way, the visuals are very ambitious, even if they (like the whole book) may not work for all audiences.
This is one of the strangest books currently on the market: hyperbolic with its satire, grandiose with its absurdity, and daring enough to go full speed ahead with its own insanity whether the audience is on board or not. It doesn’t care if you are along for the ride, which makes it that much more rewarding for the people who “get it.” If anything from the above sounds like something you’d enjoy pick this up.