Sublime and utterly, wonderfully, ridiculously funny. That’s what the first five issues of Dastardly & Muttley have been. What started as a great idea, taking the two stars of the Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines cartoon of 1969/70 and dropping them into the real world, ends here with issue #6.
And what an ending it is, satisfying, funny, yet also managing to be poignant, with a beautifully crafted final few pages, full of pathos in a final, surprisingly dark twist.
Garth Ennis and Mauricet have managed to do a somewhat dark reboot of the characters that keeps all the comedy, without actually ever descending into post-Watchmen grim and gritty realms. It’s all rather spectacularly done, and with the final issue, it’s simply become a contender for my comic of the year list. Yep, it’s that good.
Back in issue #1, it all started with a dubious professor in the unlikeliest of places, somewhere no-one even knew existed until it exploded, literally exploded, onto the global stage.
“I understand that your reactor is powered by the rare element Unstabilium-239 – isn’t that supposed to be, well, rather unstable?”
“Pray throw the switch and let Allah’s bounty shine forth upon your realm!”
“No, not that one, you -“
Huge explosion. Big boom. No more Unliklistan.
And with that, all manner of craziness is unleashed. The Unstabilium was unstable, the country of Unliklistan was unlikely, and now the world’s busy turning itself into a very familiar cartoon, full of very recognisable characters. Somehow the Unstabilium has infected a US Predator drone (War Pig One… think about the Dastardly & Muttley cartoon, say it out loud. Yep, the comic is full of those moments.)
As for Dastardly and Muttley in the real world, they’re USAF veterans; Lt. Col. R. Atcherley (callsign Dick) and Capt. D. Muller (callsign Mutt), flying recon over the irradiated waste of Unliklistan, looking to find and stop War Pig One. They find it, and it all starts going very, very weird for them. Dick’s hallucinating, the drone’s suddenly all over the planet, spitting out the strangest exhaust fumes, and Mutt… well, Mutt’s changed…
“Okay, I’m gonna turn the light on. And I need you to promise you won’t freak out, you hear me?”
“Why would I -“
“Just promise! Promise, okay?”
“All right. I promise. I promise! Get on with it, will you?”
Since then, Dastardly and Muttley have been on the run, then tasked with stopping the drone, War Pig One. And along the way, things have been getting weirder and weirder as the effects of War Pig One’s Unstabilium trails take hold. The world is changing. Changing into a cartoon. And it’s all getting very silly.
But the silly is so much fun. As the series moved forward, more and more little touches littered the page, more familiar phrases coming out, more background characters putting a huge smile of recognition on my face. It’s all just a series that’s gotten better and better with every single issue. When Dick deliberately crashes the stolen private jet into a fighter, creating the bizarre hybrid thing familiar from the cartoon, or as Mutt slowly turns more dog-like and Dick gradually turns more and more, well… dastardly, it’s all so much fun.
And things are heating up in this final issue. It’s maybe a conspiracy, it’s possibly idiocy, it might even be the elder gods of a cartoonish sort coming through, or it’s something else.
But, in the end, it all comes down to Dastardly and Muttley, together with Zilly and Klunk chasing the drone. But what happens if they do manage to stop it? Mutt’s not sure whether they should. What brave new world are they unleashing? Dick’s convinced they should simply stop the damn thing…
And then… well, that’s spoiler time. Let’s just say it all ends perfectly. It’s all rather downbeat, but all rather beautiful, Ennis ending it in a magnificently meta-fictional style. What started off as something delightfully offbeat, totally silly, has turned into a magnificent piece of comedy with both heart and heartbreak. Think the end of Blackadder Goes Forth and it’s almost up there.
Just to give you an idea… look at Mutt(ley)’s face here, watch Dick change his mind. Will it be enough to save the world and save themselves? Well, read the comic, it’s so worth your time.
And although I’m no big fan of variant covers, I have to tip my hat at the six artists involved on Dastardly and Muttley’s variants; Liam Sharp, John McCrea, Steve Pugh, Howard Chaykin & Wil Quintana, Emanuela Lupacchino, Mark Morales & Dave McCaig. Issue #6’s variant may well be the best of them all, by Bill Sienkiewicz:
Dastardly and Muttley was a six-issue series, published by DC Comics, written by Garth Ennis, art by Mauricet, with colors by John Kalisz, and letters by Rob Steen.
It was a magnificently strange and superbly silly thing.