Writer: Ken Pontac
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Colours: Mariana Sanzone
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: June 08, 2016
Wacky Races is one of my favourite cartoons created by Hanna Barbera, next to The Jetsons and Scooby Doo. These cartoons were groundbreaking when it came to 70s cartoons and is/was highly influential among cartoonists & comic book artists. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with this classic cartoon, Wacky Races features a wide cast of colourful characters each riding a themed vehicle suited to their personalities, such as Penelope Pitstop & Compact Pussycat, Dick Dastardly and Muttley & Mean Machine, or my favourite the Slag Brothers & Boulder Mobile. Each episode would feature the whole cast of cars racing through various terrain and would typically give you different situations where the characters would fall into their tropes, for example Dick Dastardly & Muttley were the villains who would always try to cheat and pull off traps but they would always fail or mess up and lose the race. This got me salivating at the idea that I would get to read a book where they give Wacky Races a proper story in a post-apocalyptic setting.
I was skeptical when I heard that DC Comics had done a line of rebooted Hanna Barbera comics where they are taking each show and re-imagining them in modern, interesting ways. DC will re-imagine Scooby Doo, Future Quest with Johnny Quest, The Flintstones, and Wacky Races giving each a fresh story. Scooby Doo for example has been updated by all-star artist Jim Lee where the gang is now a bunch of people that haphazardly find themselves brought together to fight off futuristic problems in a book called Scooby Apocalypse. Shaggy has a drastically revamped modern day hipster look complete with ear spacers and tattoos, and Scooby is a cyber-dog who speaks with emoticons. At face value the pitch for Scooby Apocalypse sounded cool but when I picked it up, while the book was only on the first issue it was filled with heavy dialogue and thick exposition which is typically fine for a first issue but there was really no good hook to keep me reading the book. Scooby Apocalypse was dry and slow despite the fresh makeover and that statement goes for both the art and writing. Upon picking up Wacky Raceland I was reluctant that this book might suffer from the same forced nature that Scooby Apocalypse suffered from, however I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my notion was wrong.
Wacky Raceland does something completely different from Scooby Apocalypse by taking the Wacky Races characters and throwing them into a gritty apocalyptic setting where Earth is now a radioactive wasteland where they must race to survive. Scooby Apocalypse felt fairly grounded while Wacky Raceland takes their story to a totally grindhouse place where the action is pulpy and the characters feel realistic. The first page features a wasteland dive bar parking lot filled with a cast of colourful cars and my concerns quickly washed away. We see an eight-legged lizard crawling through the parking lot where we see the cars talking to each other….. they made the cars sentient and that is immediately a really cool hook for me as the cars now become characters themselves. The lizard then jumps on the Mean Machine and the car zaps the lizard off of the car, when some drunk guy walks over and proceeds to puke on the Mean Machine shortly after. The story escalates within the first five pages to where we are inside the bar and a big bar fight breaks out when sexy Penelope Pitstop gets hit on by a three-headed cross dressing mutant, and a man named Blubber Bear wearing a bear’s head with an arm of a bear gets super pissed when he is being refused alcohol. Seeing the characters from Wacky Races updated is quite fantastic as they are given interesting designs fitting to an apocalyptic world and with this much weird-ness &action seen in the first pages I am not disappointed.
In a flashback panel we are sort of given some insight into what came before the apocalypse in something called “the flood” where she is trying to outrun the flood but a voice out of nowhere named “Announcer” comes and saved Penelope Pitstop while offering her a chance to enter a race to win herself a trip to “Utopia” a place in the wasteland void of disease and radiation. Reluctant but with very little option, Penelopy takes the offer to race and discovers that her car has been given sentience and memories of all their time together Penelope and her car. The book then bounces back and forth between the bar fight and the race that all the racers had been part of earlier in the week. Fans of Wacky Races will appreciate the respective tropes that all the characters fall into such as Peter Perfect attempting to save Penelope Pitstop but failing, or Dick Dastardly setting up a trap ahead of the race going on but everything feels epic and full of badass moments. The post apocalypse of this world is delved into deep giving us elements of the world subtly but also in big fun ways like the ‘Tremors’ feeling you get when giant worm creatures called “sandtipedes” track the cars from underground to eat. If you like Mad Max or other post apocalyptic settings then Wacky Raceland delivers in a big fun way and this first issue is filled with weird twisted things that makes the characters super intriguing and the world a mystery that I want to get to discover.
Reading up to the end I was hooked and wanting more but DC delivered with an eight-page origin story at the end of the book for Lazy Luke & Blubber Bear where we see the moment where they get scooped up by the mysterious “Announcer” after having to survive a savage bear attack. I love when books add extra back story in the end (similar to Ninjak by Valiant where they give you a story at the end called “Lost Files”) as it gives you more interesting behind the scenes story. This book is not for everyone as not everyone will feel nostalgic for Wacky Races and not everyone loves post-apocalyptic tales, but if you are a fan of at least one of those two things then you should pick up this book. It delivers a fun story where the writing is well thought out and the art is stunning and well realized. I am not familiar with Ken Pontac’s writing or Leonardo Manco’s art but they both do a gritty Wacky Races plenty of justice. Beyond following your Wacky Races racers, we find the Announcer and each of the cars being important characters effectively adding a wider range of storytelling. Glancing through Wacky Raceland from the rack at my comic book shop at first I was a little disappointed to see a lot of dialogue bubbles, but while reading it proved to not be as heavy as expected and I was never thinking that I was reading too much. The writing doesn’t feature unnecessary expository dialogue like Scooby Apocolypse and rather dishes out interesting interactions & conversations between this cast of characters. The splash pages feature lots of action and are excellent in this book. The art and colours proved to keep my attention to the detailed art while I was eating up all the dialogue and really savouring the whole experience with each page. Wacky Raceland is the definition of pulpy comic goodness and I for one am excited for more to come down the road. Pick up your copy of ‘Wacky Raceland’ at your local comic book shop today!
~ T.J Head