Review: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1
It’s 1953. While the United States is locked in a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, the gay Southern playwright known as Snagglepuss is the toast of Broadway. But success has made him a target. As he plans for his next hit play, Snagglepuss becomes the focus of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. And when powerful forces align to purge show business of its most subversive voices, no one is safe!
Releasing January 3, 2018, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 is one of the strongest debuts of a comic series in a while and sets a high bar for 2018. Written by Mark Russell, the series gives us a fleshed out concept we first saw in the Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits Special #1 back in March 2017. After that strong tease, I’ve been counting down in anticipation until this limited series was officially released and with that anticipation comes high expectations. Thankfully, even with that Herculean level of build up, the comic not only meets expectation but surpasses them in every way. The Snagglepuss Chronicles is emotionally poignant, brutally honest, and utterly brilliant.
Russell is a master satirist as we’ve seen with his work on Prez, The Flintstones, and more. Much like The Flintstones, Russell is using Snagglepuss in unexpected ways, making him gay, a playwright, and throwing him the middle of the Red Scare of the 50s. Also like The Flintstones’ deft take on current issues like the election, misogyny, toxic masculinity, the treatment of veterans, and religion, this too feels timely as the United States is in the middle of a second “Red Scare.”
While The Flintstones used humor, Snagglepuss seems to instead focus on the emotional punch because while it has been made clear that Snagglepuss is gay in the lead up, he’s very much closeted in the comic. Being gay and in entertainment in the 1950s was a sure way to get yourself investigated by the McCarthy witch hunt, led by a conservative streak we’re seeing rise again today. While struggles for the LGBTQ community still exist, Russell reminds us about how far we’ve come as Snagglepuss sneaks around to experience honest love but also setting this revelation at the Stonewall Inn, the site of riots 16 years later, a historical site recognized and event recognized as a major turning point in the gay rights movement. There’s no doubt there’s symbolism in the location chosen as this is the moment Snagglepuss “comes out” to the reader and the location is used to tell the tale of the struggle of gay individuals in this time period. Entertaining and smart with every minute detail adding to the rich and heartbreaking story.
Russell is helped with the art by Mike Feehan whose style fits the time period and evokes imagery we’d expect with a flair of The Great Gatsby. But, what Feehan does that’s most impressive is blend this world of human and animal to the point it works and you don’t even think about it. No matter how silly the situation, it feels natural and just works. You can see an example of that to the left where both a human and giant pink cat are dressed up as dogs for a play. The concept is so out there but nothing about it seems odd as you get going.
There’s also something to the art adding to the plot of a closeted individual who’s about to be outed. The animal as human can easily be interpreted as stand-ins for obfuscation about the truth of who we are and how we present. It’ll be interesting to see how both the story and art continue in this direction, if they continue. The art adds to the concept that we are more than what we see at the outermost level.
The downside of Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 is that it sets up such high expectations not only for itself, but everything else we might expect in 2018. That’s the trouble with going first, if you’re as good as this is, everything else has to measure up and very little will.
Story: Mark Russell Art: Mike Feehan
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy