It’s been awhile since Garth Ennis swam upstream in a Big Two river. Of course, he typically uses the opportunity to hold two fingers up toward the supersuits or to spin a yarn involving fighter planes of some vintage.
Dastardly & Muttley #1
Written by Garth Ennis
Illustrated by Mauricet
Colored by John Kalisz
Lettered by Rob Steen
It’s a red-letter day for the good folk of Unliklistan as they start to power up their first atomic reactor. But after pushing the wrong button, the ultra-rare radioactive element, unstabilium, has been released into the atmosphere! Now it’s up to pilot Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Atcherly and his navigator Captain Dudley “Mutt” Muller to save the day. Will they safely complete their mission? Or are things about to get a little…wacky?
“Dastardly & Muttley” #1 spends much of its time on the dynamic between Dick and Mutt, so at least that much falls into the Ennis-ian wheelhouse. As the story opens, Dick is chastising his partner and lecturing him on the myriad reasons not to have brought his dog along for their reconnaissance flight to track down a mystery drone spewing unstabilium into the sky by means of psychedelic contrail. The sequence — bringing a terrier into a fighter jet’s cockpit — is used with great efficiency to shade in Mutt’s free-spirited attitude and Dick’s overstressed, by-the-book demeanor. Mauricet might be the highlight here, though. The expression of spastic, over-stimulation on the dog’s face as the two airmen are arguing seems to take that excitement you’ve seen when a puppy looks out a car window and blasts it into the stratosphere. It gives what could be a rather exposition heavy sequence a jolt of life.
“This is going from nonsensical to insane,” Dick says, head bandaged up and lying in a hospital bed while being interrogated by some plain-clothed government operatives. “Oh yes, that’s very clever. That’s exactly what we’d . . . EXPECT!!!” fires back anonymous Agent #1.
But for all the hints and allegations towards the cartoonish surrealism that we should expect, the wackiness is left largely unsaid. See, the frustrating part about “Dastardly & Muttley” #1 is that the whole thing feels like Garth Ennis racing to a final-splash reveal we not only know is coming, but firmly recognize as the premise to the series as a whole. As such, the issue feels a little hollow, or rather, something akin to a zero issue dragged out to full length.
Now it’s not a bad comic, although it does reach out to grab some almost subterranean low hanging fruit in its opening scene. But barrel-scraping aside, there’s not really anything that will sink a hook or two into you. Garth Ennis’s writing, as workmanlike as it is, feels well paced enough. However, you have to imagine there to be more to a comic than just a breezy flow when it comes from the mind of someone who’s skewering of the DC/Hanna-Barbera stable could swing from crass to juvenile to scathing to scatalogical in as many panels.
The real set-piece, however, follows after Dick and Mutt’s plane travels through a rainbow plume of whirlwinds, crossbones, asterisks, and ampersands. Things really begin to go sideways for these characters. As they lose control of their aircraft, the true extent of unstabilium’s animated effects are felt. What was fairly realistic looking art — although Mauricet paints dramactic over-exaggeration on faces to almost charicature effect — takes on a loony, outlandishly cartoonish bent as Mutt’s eyes literally pop out of his skull and Dick’s cockpit turns into the driver’s seat of an old-timey roadster. Mauricet’s blending of fine-line realism in the aeronautic design and maniacal cartoon rendering in whatever the hell it is that unstabilium does to you gives a clear impression of the artist’s range.
That said, it’s difficult to parse out exactly what the series is shaping up to be. Whether you were a fan or not of the Hanna-Barbera first wave — “Scooby Apocalypse,” “The Flintstones,” “Wacky Races,” etc. — you have to admit they were all very confident in what they were. That same confidence doesn’t seem to be present in “Dastardly and Muttley” #1. It’s tough to see exactly what Ennis is taking aim at, because instead of identifying possible targets he spent his time setting up how Mutt came into possession of a dog’s head.Continued below
Overall, credit for what works well mainly falls into Mauricet’s lap. There’s some excellent work here that covers the issue with several layers of polish. The clean-lined artwork has a refreshing, almost European feel that adds a sleekness to fighter planes in the sky. Narratively, though, there’s not much happening outside a 22 page explication of the image seen on the front cover. There’s oppotunity out there for surrealism and slapstick. But in the end, the most dastardly of deeds is how disappointing the whole thing plays out.
Final Verdict: 6.0 – If you come to the end of a book and the biggest unanswered question you have is “Why am I reading this?” you probably already have your answer.