It’s been a while since this modern stone-age family was a factor of the zeitgeist. Since paving the way for the prime-time animated series, The Flintstones have been in everything from movies to vitamin pills. We don’t hear from Fred Flintstones these days, except for Family Guy references. Then along came this comic book series to shake up the franchise to its core. Not only does Mark Russell renews the franchise for a current audience, he elevates it to a new level of mature satirical storytelling.
The first thing that stands out is the artwork. In sharp contrast to the simplistic, cartoony style of Hanna Barbera, artist Steve Pugh redesigns the characters in a realistic style. This transition shouldn’t work, yet Pugh not only makes the characters visually appealing, but still captures the look of the series. The designs of the animals are a mixed bag. The dinosaurs aren’t a problem, but the pastel coloured elephants and especially Dino are jarring when placed next to the real looking humans.
The character’s not only go through subtle changes in design, but also subtle changes in personalities. While at their core, the characters still share the personalities of their animated counterparts, Russell adds more nuance to characterizations. Fred and Wilma’s relationship goes beyond the lazy “idiot husband/nagging wife” trope of sitcoms to show genuine love and support for each other. In one issue, Fred delivers a deep monologue about how he regards marriage as security because of his fear of Wilma finding someone better than him.Wilma is given more character in the comics, with a storyline about starting an art career. Her first artwork “Fingerprints” is played for laughs, but then that gag becomes heartfelt when she reveals the meaning of her work to Fred.
Some characters are about the same as the cartoon, notably Barney, Betty and especially Mr. Slate (who plays a bigger role than in the cartoon). Others go through significant changes including the older Pebbles and Bam-Bam. Even the appliances are given their own storylines, with the vacuum cleaner (elephant) befriend Fred’s bowling ball (armadillo).
The biggest change is the humour. There’s still rock puns galore (Starbricks Coffee, Bloomingshales) and creative use of animals as appliances (a flamingo used as a lamp, anyone?), but comedy goes beyond these tropes. Russell takes advantage of this setting to create allegories of modern life. The result is satirical gold. Russell goes after a wide variety of issues from consumerism to the apocalypse. One issue delivers a clever commentary on marriage quality. With marriage regarded as unnatural in Bedrock, Russell brilliantly mocks homophobic hysteria, with the offended delivering hilarious lines like “Go back to the sex cave like nature intended.” This issue even includes a gay couple or “non-breeders” as the comic calls them.
What’s most surprising about this comic is how dark it is, almost reaching levels of Bojack Horsemen and Rick & Morty. Nowhere is this truer than with the Bedrock War. This war leads to a cynical commentary of how the powerful dehumanize defenseless people, so they can start a war for the sake of corporate greed. With Fred and Barney being veterans, we also get some rather dark portrayals of the mistreatment of veteran, especially in a dark yet comedic subplot of a friend contemplating suicide. If that wasn’t dark enough, one issue shows Fred and Barney among the soldiers who realize too late that they’ve committed genocide against an innocent tribe of people.
When they started out, the Flintstones was a phenomenon who proved animated shows could work in prime time. It’s too bad the show hasn’t aged well with it’s formulaic sitcom plotlines and limited animation. And don’t get me started on those damn laugh tracks. Russell and Pugh have rebooted this franchise to a mature level through satirical allegory, cynical yet hopeful commentary and relatable characters. Who would have thought a writer could bring a tragic undertone to Fred’s immortal catchphrase?
 I refuse to dignify the existence of that WWE-Flintstones Crossover.
 The only characters who with distinctive designs are Pebbles and Bam bam, who are a little bit older.
 Named Adam and Steve just to take the piss out of homophobes.
 I can’t stress “limited”enough. I can’t blame Hanna Barbara since they were working on low, low budgets and short time periods.