Part 3 of my series “Everything Old is Old Again”
By Tom Holste
When talking about reboots the other day, I mentioned that DC Comics is planning on rebooting several Hanna-Barbera properties in their comics later this year. (Warner Bros. owns both DC Comics and the entire old Hanna-Barbera catalog.)
The new Scooby-Doo is set during a zombie apocalypse. (The new comics will not affect the continuity of DC’s other Scooby-Doo books that it currently produces, or the current TV series Be Cool, Scooby-Doo.) The Flinstones is being turned into a series with more realistic artwork. Wacky Races is getting a post-Mad Max apocalyptic makeover. And Johnny Quest and many C-list superhero characters from the H-B universe are being brought together Marvel’s Avengers-style for a series called Future Quest.
Personally, I’m torn about the updates. On the one hand, several friends have aptly described some of the updates as being very “DeviantArt.” For those not in the know, DeviantArt is a site where fans post their artwork that usually has a strange or unusual take for a character or fandom. It’s all considered to be in good fun, but not something that should be done on a serious professional level by the rights holders.
An apocalyptic Scooby-Doo and Wacky Races both indeed come off as very DeviantArt, and not in a good way. The new Flinstones art is kind of creepy-looking. Future Quest looks the most promising to the fans of the classic material, but even at that, did the world really need the return of such characters as Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles?
Often attempts to update classic characters feel very forced and awkward, and look very dated within a decade. “Hey, let’s bring back some beloved cartoon characters, only this time they’re all babies / teenagers / skateboarders / ninjas!”
However, having said all of that…
When it comes to Hanna-Barbera, many of the productions weren’t artistic masterpieces to begin with. I have nostaglic fondness for them as much as anybody else, but are they really untouchable works of art? In fact, many of them were cheap, formulaic knockoffs of other, more popular things in the culture at the time.
For instance, it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that The Flintstones (an excellent series) was a knockoff of The Honeymooners, and when other fads came along, the creators were more than happy to jump on the latest trend. And I’m not even talking about the bizarre spinoffs featuring the Thing from The Fantastic Four or the Shmoo from Li’l Abner. Within the classic original 6-year run, there was a Bewitched-centered episode, an Addams Family takeoff, and a recurring alien character called The Great Gazoo that might have been based on My Favorite Martian.
Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.
Again, though, everybody already knows about The Flintstones. But did you know that Scooby-Doo was a combination of an old radio show called I Love Mystery and the sitcom The Dobie Gillis Show? That’s right, Freddie was based on Dobie, and Shaggy was a copy of Bob Denver’s beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebbs.
Dobie Gillis itself has largely fallen out of the public eye; does the current version of its imitation still need to follow in those footsteps? If a supernatural series for youngsters were indeed being designed from scratch today, wouldn’t its more likely inspiration be The Walking Dead and other zombie movies and TV shows?
As for The Flintstones, drawing them in a more realistic style (however uncanny it is) at least made me recognize some of the wonderful absurdity of the show all over again (“So that’s what it would look like if somebody actually had a pet dinosaur”). This franchise has been languishing since the terrible live-action movies of 1994 and 2000; an ill-conceived direct-to-video animated movie inexplicably featuring WWE wrestlers failed to ignite any interest last year. This new project may not be what The Flintstones needs, but these characters clearly need some kind of a fresh approach.
I had a bigger problem with Loonatics Unleashed from a few years ago, which bafflingly reimagined the Looney Tunes characters as futuristic superheroes. In the first place, the original Looney Tunes are brilliant and still hold up as high-water marks in animation and comedy. So there was no need to change the premise so radically. In the second place, while I can see at least a tenous connection between Scooby-Doo and modern spooky shows like The Walking Dead, there is nothing at all about Looney Tunes that makes me say, “These characters need to be fighting aliens.”
So there’s at least potential for some of these projects to turn out really good. It’s not a definitive truth, of course, but I’m going to keep an open mind. After all, Frankenstein Jr.’s phone hasn’t rung for a while. I think he’s probably happy just to be working again.