Enter Mark Russell. . . . Right?
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1
Written by Mark Russell
Pencilled by Mike Feehan
Inked by Mark Morales
Colored by Paul Mounts
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
It’s 1953. While the United States is locked in a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, the gay Southern playwright known as Snagglepuss is the toast of Broadway. But success has made him a target. As he plans for his next hit play, Snagglepuss becomes the focus of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. And when powerful forces align to purge show business of its most subversive voices, no one is safe!
Drama! Humor! Tragedy! It all starts in Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1, a new miniseries from the writer who brought you the Flintstones.
“What good is a world without subversives and deviants?” Snagglepuss thinks aloud. He’s caught a glimpse of some black-and-white TV coverage of the Communist witch hunt taking place outside the quiet sanctity of his regular nightclub. The moment comes about halfway through “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” #1, and it seems to provide the perfect logline for what’s to come in the series as a whole. Of course, subversion or deviance are both entirely natural and inherently relative terms dependent on where one is standing. But, artistically-speaking, no subversives or deviants would make a bland world indeed. And societally, that’s probably one leaning towards stagnation. Or regression.
DC’s premier satirist has sharpened his knives and returned for this first of a six-course carving of more modern society. After using the quasi-future and prehistoric past as his dining room, Mark Russell has opted this time to base his menu around one of the meatier skeletons hanging in the closet of the Greatest Generation. But no one’s really safe here, the dilettantes are served-up alongside the witchfinder generals. And while Russell’s previous series “Prez” and “The Flintstones” favored a maximalist approach in terms of skewering everything and anything in their purview, this debut offers a much more restrained, closeted one. Given the subject matter, as well as Russell’s track record, the decision to rein things in is a refreshing one.
That’s not to say his more incendiary tendencies are toned down in “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” #1. A couples’ dilly-dallying between their dinner and their show during a night out means they sadly miss out on the first half of the execution double-bill that’s the hottest ticket in town. The Senator McCarthy stand-in, a veritable pillar of moral fiber, virtue and good taste, is affectionately named Gigi Allen (and if you’re not familiar with the name, give it a quick Google search, just not if you’re at work or in a public library). However, elements like these are worked towards gradually and in service of the overall narrative rather than just as throwaway gags in a sea of throwaway gags.
But what might be most striking about this issue is just how grounded it looks. Mike Feehan favors a realistic integration of Snagglepuss and other Hanna-Barbera deep cuts, like Huckleberry Hound, into ’50s-era New York. Anthropomorphic hippos, mountain cats, dogs, and horses populate side streets, theatre audiences, and nightclubs without any of the human characters batting an eye. It feels very similar to Mauricet’s work in “Dastardly and Muttley,” at least for the portion where cartoon insanity isn’t bleeding off the page. And Feehan’s heavy reliance on the four-widescreen-panel page composition allows Russell’s script to carry the narrative with an almost documentarian-like rhythm. It plays out naturally with a level of authenticity that’s a novel addition to a 60-year-old cartoon property. Additionally, there’s a sparseness to the way Feehan stages his panels that emphasizes the emotion, reaction, and rumination he so adeptly paints across his characters’ faces. On a particularly effective page, we see Snagglepuss sitting in a limo with his wife after his play’s final showing and the transition in personality from being alone in a crowd of adulation to finding solace in being himself, even if he’s alone is a remarkable one in both its impact and subtly.
In fact, the only overt flourish that comes artistically is the coloring from Paul Mounts. Snagglepuss is draped and surrounded by a lush palette. The pink of his fur and bowtie pop in contrast to the cool blue of his suit. A red stage curtain feels almost velvety in the richness of its texture. And while it feels like everything in Snagglepuss’s orbit is equally rich and vibrant in color, every flash to the past is desaturated. And every glimpse of the communist witch-hunt is delivered in stark black-and-white.Continued below
“Were they terribly rough on you dear,” Snagglepuss asks a friend after her grilling by the House Committee.
“No, they were just shabby,” she answers, as the art fattens to a color-drained flashback. “Shabby little men in a shabby little room. . . . They just want to make you shabby too.”
Looks and sounds an awful lot like a world without subversives and deviants.
“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” #1 feels like an entirely different type of Mark Russell. There’s a focus and tightness to the narrative that he’s only hinted at before. And while it may not be as playful as his previous work, his Snagglepuss feels like a deeper character than he’s ever written. Regardless, Russell has deftly laid out the menu. And it’s only a matter of a month or two before the choice cuts start coming.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Worlds apart from the incendiary farce one might expect from Russell. But he’s also never felt quite this focused.