When it comes to mainstream comics that include LGBT characters and themes, there are certain assumptions one can usually take as a given: that the characters will be (at least fairly) young, live in a time comparable to our real world present day, and be human. DC’s latest Hanna Barbera-inspired series, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, defies all those expectations. The classic cartoon mountain lion has been re-imagined as a wisecracking gay playwright, struggling with identity and self-expression in the Cold War-era from which he originates. Conceptually speaking, there are a lot of bold choices in this comic–but how do they pan out?
I’ve been excited about this series for the better part of a year now, ever since it was first announced. As such, I also felt a bit worried that the end product wouldn’t end up worth the long wait. Thankfully, my worries were unneeded; Exit Stage Left is very much worth the wait. As I mentioned before, this is a series set in Cold War-era America–a unique and refreshingly different setting compared to that of most comics. It’s also a perfect choice for exploring the historical lives (both joyous and oppressed) and of LGBT people–and mountain lions. This first issue does a fantastic job of establishing the series’ core cast and grounding their concerns in the trappings of their time period. From the old-school Hollywood apparel drawn by artist Mike Feehan (and inked by Mark Morales) to the specific governmental references courtesy of writer Mark Russell, I was thoroughly convinced that Snagglepuss and co. had been dropped right into the Red and Lavender Scares era during which they were created. Even the antagonists-to-be–the House Un-American Activities Committee–once existed in the real world.
The writing here has more pluses than just its fantastic setting work. Exit Stage Left is also just plain hilarious–only a few pages in, we’re treated to a production of one of Snagglepuss’ plays, “My Heart is a Kennel of Thieves.” The play features a both humans and animal-people, wearing wigs and masks associated with other species. Feehan’s depictions of a man angrily shouting while wearing a fake dog nose are fantastic, as is Russell’s dialogue for the scene. As the man walks out on his mother, she asks him where he is going, to which he replies: “Oblivion, mother. Oblivion.” The issue’s comedic strength can also be found in characters’ exaggerated, old-timey exclamations and phrases. Exit Stage Left manages to use its setting both as a source of humor and biting cultural commentary, helping to make the narrative enjoyable even as the impending dread of future events hangs over it.
Visually, this issue is everything one could want it to be. Feehan and Morales’ styles evoke the original Hanna-Barbera cartoons very well (but, thankfully, are also much more polished). The characters’ facial expressions and body language throughout are just as important to the issue’s success as their dialogue is. Colorist Paul Mounts is also deserving of high praise. The bright colors really pop and enhance that classic Saturday morning feel. The whole art team delivers strong work here, and their contributions all mesh together impressively.
Overall, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 is brilliant. It’s one of those single issues that only happens a few times a year–one where I wouldn’t change a single thing. The creative team does a fantastic job of establishing the series’ setting, as well as the titular character’s wit and voice. The humorous dialogue throughout is further enhanced by emotive art, so that the issue feels like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon in all the best ways while still being far elevated over the source material quality-wise. This issue comes swinging right out of the gate as a candidate for my favorite single issue of 2018; here’s hoping future issues in the series don’t drop the ball after this fantastic start.