Over the last few years, DC has had many of these specials where characters from their universe interact with characters from Hanna Barbera or the Looney Tunes. Most of those special have left a lot to be desired, but the ones that have worked look to go beyond the surrealness of two individuals from very different worlds coming together, and take it as an opportunity to do something grander. Here you have one extended issue that says more than most comics do in an entire volume.
The comic begins as John Stewart is off on a random exotic planet learning how to become a true Green Lantern. Being a former Marine he has the physical skills, but what he is quickly learning is the mental and moral challenge of being a Lantern is where you are truly tested. He is sent back to Earth with one simple rule. He cannot use his powers. A rule that is hard to follow knowing the state of the world. As indicated this takes place during 1972 that shares a similar climate to today. The nation of the United States is becoming fractured over the Watergate trial and wars are ragging both overseas and at home. Even a cartoon dog cannot catch a break.
Unlike other crossovers, this issue exists in a world that is a melding of both DC and Hanna Barbera. Russell ’s take on Huckleberry Hound is different from the last time he penned the character in Snagglepuss: Exit Stage Left although his depressingly bad luck does carry over. Here he is a former kid show celebrity on the major down-slope of his career. Due to some openly critical comments made towards President Nixon during a USO Show, he has been labeled a social pariah. He does still have some fans including John Stewart who strikes up a friendly conversation with him after Huckleberry’s less than stellar stand-up act.
Some may mistakenly see their conversation as an overloading of exposition as they both give their life stories of how they got to their current location. In reality, it is as essential to the narrative as any piece of dialog in the issue. There is a lot going on in this issue most of which centers on power–when to use it, how to use it, and how those that have it use it to abuse those that don’t. The script is littered with poignant lines like, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme’, that both say a lot and fit into the lexicon of a character like Huckleberry Hound.
Simply put the world of comics needs someone like Mark Russel. Too often comics are like a football team that gets a new coach but run the same exact plays. Stories too often focus on disposable plots rather than inventive craft. What Russell and artist Rick Leonardi have done with this issue is push aside what others typically focus on to make the subtext the driving force of the story. There is no specific threat these characters need to team up to defend rather it is about using their characters as a lens into bigger issues of the day. Yes, real-life events like Watergate and Vietnam are mentioned but the commentary built around them is more universal and timeless–and of course objectively funny. All this leads to the type of cathartic read that is so desperately needed right now.
If you tend to dismiss comics based on a concept you will be making a major mistake if you assume Green Lantern / Huckleberry Hound Special #1 is just another forgettable crossover story. Mark Russell has proven time and time again when his name is attached to a comic you can trust him no matter what character is on the cover. He is one of today’s best satirist regardless of medium. For now, comics should just be happy to have him.