Borrowed from a friend out of insatiable curiosity. It’s the Flintstones, but not as we know it! Some spoilers abound, so if you want to pick this up at any point, I’d recommend just doing it.
Of course, even the original Flintstones was designed to be an amusing mirror to 60s suburban American life, so it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see it updated, and yet! The art style is recognisably Flintstoney but sort of more. These are cavemen, and the men at least have the build of people who live by their muscles. Of course, the graphic novel keeps the little background gags of caveman names for modern things, being admirably suited to such a purpose. Pebbles, in high school now and going through the teenage phase, listens to Nick Caveman and The Trogs among others. The map of Bedrock at the front of the book gives us such gems as the steak joint Whammoth Bammoth Thank You Mammoth (someone make this real, please).
It’s quite satirical, and I will say the satire sometimes felt a little too pat in the way it was tied up at the end of each issue, but that’s just how the form works and I won’t blame the writer for it.
Partly because it was also so imaginative. The advent of consumerism in Bedrock comes with such great little details – all the white goods and appliances are still animal in nature, so when you think about it, keeping up with the stone-age Johnsons is more of a hassle than it ever is for us in the modern day, as we don’t have to worry about feeding and caring for a lot of exotic beasts that we expect to open our tins and take our selfies and dispose of our rubbish, or even be our bowling balls (in a land where there are rocks for the taking and little else, the good citizens of Bedrock know that to really knock those skittles down, what you really want is… an armadillo).
The graphic novel cleverly takes detail from the original show and makes it integral to the backstory of the characters and world. Bam-Bam’s origin story ties into Fred’s weird Water Buffalo Lodge (an institution which didn’t make sense to me as a kid because as far as I know we don’t have such things in the UK and perhaps never did?) which is also tweaked slightly to be more relevant. The Lodge (or what used to be the Lodge and is now a war vet support group) ties into “Yabba dabba doo”. Even the show’s most bizarre quirk, the Great Gazoo, is here welcomed in with open arms and explained in… perhaps not logical terms, but at least story-acceptable ones.
The writers also take bits and pieces of how we believe pre-modern humans really lived and incorporate those into the story. Wilma, now a hobby artist as well as a homemaker, has a particularly lovely backstory detail involving cave paintings. Fred remembers his childhood spent in a nomadic community, where homosexuality played its part in safeguarding the younger members from danger.
They keep up the classic Flintstone view of technology, where some of it is explained in great, convoluted detail often involving tiny stone mechanisms and animal slavery, and some is just plunked down and we’re expected to believe it. Vacuum cleaners are played by elephants, computers are abacuses set up in frames and the Rubbles have a wall-mounted TV because why not.
There are loads of little details I enjoyed – the oracle predicting fertility problems, the community backlash against unnatural monogamy, the ever-changing religion as the priests try to work out what will get bums on seats in church, the continuing friendship between the bowling ball and the vacuum cleaner in the cupboard, the dark, cynical take on Mr Slate (and his “manservant” Philip the tortoise) and the relationship between Fred and Wilma, which is no longer the hectored husband and the hectoring wife, but a married couple who like each other and are just trying to please each other and stay afloat in the brave new world of Bedrock. The new Flintstones drama doesn’t come from marital strife alone, but from the rapidly-evolving world around them. The world is as much a character as any of the cavemen, and given how imaginative it’s been since Hanna and Barbera’s time, that’s as it should be.