Horrific mutations. Cannibalism. Biomechanical beasts, and bi-species body part grafting. Dismemberment. Drunken post-apocalyptic überviolent bar fights. Giant sand-crawling beasts.
It’s just another day in the Wacky Raceland.
This Wacky Races—inspired series, part of DC Comic’s recent teen-plus reboots of classic Hanna Barbera series, including Scooby Doo, Flintstones, Johnny Quest, Space Ghost and others, has been the one on my radar since it was first announced at the beginning of 2016.
I happily signed up for all these titles from my local dealer, but have been most excited about Wacky Raceland, released June 8 with a story by Ken Pontac and art by Leonardo Manco.
When I watched the series as a kid, it was already nostalgic, having ended its brief 17-episode run the year I was born. It was certainly a product of the late-’60s, early ’70s chase movie era from The Great Race to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but well before the Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run and Death Race era of films. There was a campy, innocent, melodramatic goofiness that I loved as a kid. I cracked up at the way Muttley snickered when Dastardly got run over (repeatedly), and the way Peter Perfect fixed his car by shaking it out like a blanket.
Most of all, however, I loved the cars. What kid wouldn’t? There was a touch of James Bond-meets-Hello Kitty to Penelope’s vehicle, as well as nods to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hot Wheels and Cartoons Magazine, another piece of my childhood that has recently come back to life.
For the most part, this new comic’s aura goes in an entirely new direction, following suit of the other Hanna Barbera reboots. It is not a one for the all-ages section.
Yes, it’s rough, and downright foul in places. Yes, it replaces slapstick humor with darkly comic overtones. No, it isn’t family-friendly. It might be okay for older teens, but definitely not for the little ones.
This doesn’t mean the story it isn’t a great tribute to it’s original cartoon source material.
The characters and racer names remain the same for the most part, even down to their vehicle numbers, but they’ve evolved — or mutated — into something much more fitting in the post-apocalyptic world akin to Mad Max and the Hunger Games.
The line-up, in order of racing number starts at Dick Dastardly and Muttley in the #00 Mean Machine, followed by Slag Brothers in Boulder Mobile; Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe, Professor Pat Pending in the Convert-a-Car; The Red Baron (Red Max in the original series) in the Crimson Haybaler, Penelope Pitstop in the Compact Pussycat; Sergeant Blast and Private Meekly in the Army Surplus Special; Ant Hill Mob in the Bulletproof Bomb, Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chuggabug, Peter Perfect in Turbo Terrific, and Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth in the Buzzwagon. The Bulletproof Bomb and Turbo Terrific had at one time been respectively called The Roaring Plenty and Varoom Roadster in some references, for trivia buffs.
Like the original series, the main players are really Dick Dastardly and Penelope Pitstop, with the still-very-annoying Peter Perfect close behind.
Dastardly, however, has transformed from the archetypal melodrama villain to a bad-intentioned bad boy, and Muttley (my favorite in the cartoon) isn’t so cuddly and condescending. He’s dangerous, fierce and eerily bionic… and still my favorite in the new series. Penelope isn’t having any of her automatic lipstick-applying nonsense with her Pussycat. She is in it to win it, and she is no one’s pushover. Peter’s still pretty much the narcissistic moron we all know from the cartoon. As for the rest of the racers, we’re still getting a few hints as to who and what they are. I’m kind of hoping Dastardly’s origin has a Stop the Pigeon tie-in.
A piece of Penelope’s origin was revealed in the first issue, and Luke and Blubber Bear get a little background reveal in a secondary story, but I imagine we’ll learn more and more about the others as the time passes.
Another main player in the cartoon, which gets an intense makeover is the faceless Narrator, now known as The Announcer, a seemingly omnipotent puppet master who is allowing eleven racers, or racing teams, a chance to charge for the finish line. Unlike the cartoon races, there is more than bragging rights as “World’s Wackiest Racer” at stake. The final winner gets to live in humanity’s last-remaining livable locale, Utopia. The rest will remain to die in the unforgiving wastelands of the Wacky Raceland.
Now, that’s a race!
She is not only running the show, she handpicked and prepped the gameplayers herself, from their costumes to their cars. Why is she doing this? We don’t know a whole lot yet, but it her motives might not be as clear-cut as she lets on.
Okay, but the real litmus test for readers, especially those who remember the face-palming lovable cheesiness of the Wacky Races, is this:
Are the cars still cool?
The cars are beyond cool. They’re incredibly, remarkably awesome.
I’ve always felt the story behind the Mad Max series, including the newest one, seemed secondary to the amazing spectacle of the design and function of the cars. You could tell the designers behind these vehicles absolutely loved their job, and couldn’t wait to share the experience with moviegoers.
I got the same feeling looking at these new car designs from Manco. It felt obvious to me Pontac and Manco love turning these original characters and cars into something more lethal, more in-tune with the post-apocalyptic atmosphere, more urban, more punk rock, and simply more extreme, while still retaining the spirit of the original design.
Plus — and this is a big deal plot twist –the cars are sentient! Thanks to another manipulative move of The Announcer, they are enhanced with artificial intelligence, and an attitude to boot.
When someone is having a good time doing what they do, it shows in the work, and the entire creative team behind Wacky Raceland is having one creative party.
There are a few other little character tweaks I won’t mention, because that would give away all the fun.
I will tell the reader one thing: this is going to be a crazy ride, and I strongly recommend hopping in the passenger seat and going along on the ride. Buckle up though, as there will be a rough, sweaty, bloody and perilous road ahead.
And, you’ll love it.
Wacky Raceland Issue #1 is now available, with Issue #2 on sale July 13.