Friends, I'm going to make a bold announcement: It is quite possible that the best new series of 2018 from one of the big two "mainstream" comics publishers has already made its debut. The book in question was published last Wednesday — the first new comics day of the year — and I can't stop thinking about it.
And it's a comic book based on the old Hanna Barbera character Snagglepuss. Yes, that Snagglepuss:
Written by Mark Russell and illustrated by Mike Feehan and Mark Morales, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is a new limited series that imagines Snagglepuss as a closeted gay playwright in the red-panic blacklist era.
This is the most literary comic I've read in ages. How literary? Dorothy Parker is a main character in the first issue. "Personally, I always admired the Algonquin Round Table, the finest assemblage of wits in American history," Snagglepuss explains to a reporter outside a play. "As a young kit growing up in rural Mississippi, they were my Knights of the Round Table. New York, my Camelot." (The reporter then looks at the reader and announces, "a young lion makes good. Only in America!")
Much like Russell's amazing Flintstones comic from 2016, what should be a one-note joke instead plays out with intelligence, wit, and a strong moral core. Russell has got to be among the finest satirists in modern American comics — admittedly, it's not a crowded field — and his compassion for the character practically throbs off the page.
Stage Left isn't afraid to poke around in the darkest corners of post-WWII America. So what if every fifth character or so is an anthropomorphized dog or cat or mouse? And who cares if those talking mammals don't wear pants? I'm not sure if the whys and hows of Snagglepuss's world will ever be explained, or if there's a single unified theory of the satire. (Are the animals in human clothes supposed to represent the naivete of 1950s America? Uh, maybe?) But at this point, I'm having so much fun with the premise that I frankly don't care.