Doomsday Clock is currently garnering much attention for its audaciousness, but honestly, it’s another DC revival of an established property that truly has the cojones to attempt to take the comic medium in a bold new direction. And, heavens to Murgatroyd, it’s Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles.
No. For real.
Like it’s headline grabbing compatriot, this comic takes an established work — in this case a cartoon about a buffoonish and cowardly mountain cat from Saturday mornings long gone — and boldly plays with audience expectations about what this new story will be.. Whether or not Doomsday Clock tarnishes the legacy of Moore and Gibbons’ masterwork remains to be seen, but clearly Snagglepuss isn’t Watchmen. This frees writer Mark Russell (whose work on The Flintstones was a yabba dabba doo time that was also quite woke) and artist Mike Feehan to empty the litterbox on the character and start fresh by turning tired schoolyard musings about Snagglepuss’ sexuality into what is already a contender for 2018’s most tragically human comic book.
As the comic opens, Snagglepuss is a sucessful playwright living in 1953 New York City. With his beautiful wife, actress Lila Lion, on his arm he is the toast of the town. The only problem is that it’s all a facade. Despite being dressed to the nines the mountain cat has no clothes. It is quickly revealed that his marriage is an arranged scam of convenience, and Mr. Puss is more at home at Village haunts like the Stonewall Bar. There he can truly be himself, remove his mask and find comfort in the waiting arms of his Cuban boyfriend, Pablo.
But even with this respite, the wolves are at the door: The Communist witchhunt of the House Un-American Activities Committee is well underway. The Rosenbergs have been executed. The American dream is just as much of a dark fable as the Tennessee Williams-esque play written by Snagglepuss that readers see in action. (One that comes complete with ennui-heavy dialogue like “desperate men turn hopes into wagers and dreams into lies,” so there’s more than just a little bit of Sam Shepard in Snaggle’s work too).
An interesting creative choice is how Russell weaves real-life figures such as playwright Lillian Hellman and a bon mot-vomiting Dorothy Parker — man there really is a great Snagglepuss Chronicles/Watchmen thesis out there waiting to be written — into the action. This helps ground the story in a heightened reality that allows the characters to dole out knowingly meta dialogue about how the paranoia and dark political climate of the era that serves as an ugly reflection of our own governmental hellscape. At one point, Pablo cautions Snagglepuss by declaring that “Every nation is a monster in the making. And monsters will come for you whether you believe in them or not.” The fact that this exchange is handled in a subtle fashion, well as subtle as anything can be in a bold reinvention of a third-tier cartoon icon like Snagglepuss, is a cheer-worthy accomplishment.
Huckleberry Hound makes a too-brief appearance in the story’s back third, hopefully future issues will feature more of him and other characters from Hanna-Barbera’s roster as it would be fascinating to see them incorporated into Snagglepuss’ brave new comic world.
As the issue wraps up, societal and social pressures tightening around Snagglepuss’ neck. It’s unclear exactly where Russell will take this bold story from here, but if history dictates one truth for Snagglepuss it’s this: It will be a long time before things get better. To see the enduring strength of his character play out in the issues ahead should give us all something much needed in these times — a character to cheer for whose humanity is greater than that of most.