DC Comics' new Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is not an easy series for the average comic book reader to digest.
These are heady and clever books with an underlying element of sadness and doom playing throughout their colorful pages. After all, it's not the everyday comic book story that stars a rebooted 50-plus-year-old bright pink homosexual cartoon lion who not only coexists with humans, but secretly romances one against the backdrop of 1950s McCarthyism.
If you're of a certain age, you might remember the 1960s cartoon version of Snagglepuss, the wisecracking mountain lion who starred in his own cartoon shorts as part of the iconic Hanna Barbera cartoons. As a lisping, fussy, and fey animal, Snagglepuss was a coded gay character whose sensibilities were played for laughs as he longed for the stage. He flounced about on screen as he chased his dream, delivering his trademark catchphrases ("Exit, stage left," "Heavens to Mergatroid") dripping with sass.
The 2018 comic book version of Snagglepuss is no longer ambiguously gay, at least not in his personal life. While professionally "Mr. Puss" is a successful and celebrated straight playwright married to a lady lion, privately he's busy hitting up gay bars, hanging out with the equally queer blue hound dog Huckleberry Hound, and romancing a sexy human boyfriend. And yes, there is a male lion on male human kiss in the first issue, which is worth the cover price of the comic book alone.
Writer Mark Russell and artist Mike Feehan set Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles in 1953, encasing the narrative and images within the witch hunt for communists, deviants, and other "unsavory" individuals in America. For all the nostalgic pleasure certain readers might find seeing a familiar cartoon character rebooted in a new light, it's clear with the recently released first issue that this series will be far from a simple meander down memory lane; it's actually a deep exploration and a reflection on our current cultural divide.
Issue 2, which came out last week, finds moral crusader Gigi Allen -- whose name is "synonymous with virtue and good taste" -- make a request of Snagglepuss that he refuses to comply with. This encounter sets the stage for an epic battle later in the series.
It could be easy to take a casual glance at the Snagglepuss comic book and dismiss it as a just a gimmick, but if you were do so, you'd miss out on a deeply multilayered, powerfully moving, and surprisingly thoughtful take on queer identity in the mid-20th century. Check it out here.