Dastardly and Muttley are two Hanna-Barbera characters who starred in the cartoon Dastardly And Muttley In Their Flying Machines (or just Dastardly and Muttley in the UK to avoid trademark clash with a British movie with a similar name that it was partially ripping off). Though everyone knows it as Stop The Pigeon, because of the theme tune.
That's the one.
Produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions for CBS in the late '60s/early '70s, as a spinoff from the Wacky Races cartoon in which they appeared, it involved the Red Baron-esque antics of Dick Dastardly (based on the "cad" actor Terry Thomas) and company to stop Yankee Doodle Pigeon carrying secret messages with their tricked-up aeroplanes. The identities of the sides and the stakes of the battles were never revealed, but it was a given that Dastardly was a "baddie" and that Yankee Doodle was a "goodie". Indeed, it is one of very few such cartoons in which the villains were the lead and protagonist.
The characters were revived last year by DC Comics for the comic book series Wacky Raceland, in which it is revealed before the Apocalyptic event that ravished the Earth. Dick Dastardly was now a world-famous pianist named Richard D'Astardlien, who agreed to enter the race to Earth's last known paradise Utopia in order for the chance to see his wife and son be reborn.
Not a word of that is reflected in the first issue of the new comic book, Dastardly and Muttley, from Garth Ennis and Moritat. I understand that the Hanna-Barbera team at DC Comics had more pitches for this set of characters than any other, but Ennis' reputation for writing war stories won through. But the resulting first issue is as wacky as any of those races. Despite the temptation for Garth to just run through the standard wartime story tropes playing it straight (other than one of them is a dog), he chooses a different, more surreal direction.
We meet two pilots, Colonel Atcherly and Captain Muller, Dick and Mutt, flying F15 missions across the Middle East — specifically an Islamic country that suffered a nuclear explosion as a result of a mistake with a nuclear reactor some years ago, resulting in a radioactive wasteland. There is a missing drone carrying surveillance secrets that needs destroying. Oh, and Mutt has brought his dog along for the ride, against explicit instructions.
But it appears a conspiracy is afoot. People have been lied to. And the nuclear explosion may well have done something else. A breach in reality? We don't know. But the drone hasn't crashed, and it's off spreading some kind of reality-shifting madness. Cartoon references suddenly abound. And yes, you can imagine what happened to Mutt, Captain Muller, and his dog. I mean, it's there on the cover.
So this appears to be the comic, as it begins to turn the world into a literal Hanna-Barbera world. It slightly reminds me of Donna Barr's Stinz, a World War I procedural comic book that press-ganged centaurs into service.
In doing so, with such a ridiculous premise, Garth Ennis brings his familiarity with military and air force protocol, which manages to ground said premise with paperwork and promises much to come. It's a hard line for Moritat to draw as well, encapsulating linework that wouldn't look out of place in Terry and the Pilots while finding a way to Roger Rabbit in hints of the ridiculous cartoonishness to come. A more European style from Moritat, from the Franco-Belgian school that has more experience marrying the two worlds, often with cartoonish lead figures and detailed more photo realistic backgrounds serves this conceit well.
But for all that, Ennis keeps his tone lighter than usual. The deaths, the injuries, they happen off-panel. Much has been learned it seems from the less well-received Wacky Raceland, and while the subject here is clearly an adult one, there is nothing a parent could specifically object to. There are conspiracies of silence, an infection that is spreading, Dick's own airforce seemingly working against him and realities that are very difficult to face. A lot of this issue is setup, but to be fair, this is a difficult narrative road to tread without losing the audience — and I was there the whole of the way.
Captain Muller, do something…
Dastardly And Muttley #1 by Garth Ennis, Moritat and John Calisz is published by DC Comics on September 9th.