In the 1960s, Hanna-Barbera broadcasted a comforting notion onto the family room TVs of America: the nuclear family was an everlasting institution, both pre-historic and futuristic. The Flintstones were, after all, a “modern” Stone Age family, and their Space Age, future-flung counterparts the Jetsons just as solidly illustrated the concept of the nuclear family unit. The cast of the sitcom -- George Jetson, his wife Jane, their kids Judy and Elroy, their dog Astro and robotic maid Rosie -- reflected midcentury American ideals, and suggested the future would feel pretty much like the present, only the gadgets would be cooler.
PREVIEW: The Jetsons #1
The future is considerably more dire in writer Jimmy Palmiotti and Pier Brito’s new mini-series The Jetsons. It’s the latest DC Comics series to reimagine the Hanna-Barbera properties, and like the brilliantly dour The Flintstones, it feels familiar but explores concepts barely hinted at by the source material. It’s easy to hop on board. The Jetsons still live high above the Earth’s surface and use remarkable technology -- Protective pressure suits! Flying cars! Meatless bacon and eggs! -- but Palmiotti wastes little time outlining the catastrophic environmental conditions that led to the hovering buildings and orbiting spacecrafts humanity now resides in. “124 years ago the planet’s atmospheric temperature peaked,” NASA scientist Jane explains to a gathered council, orbiting the watery planet below. “Earth’s remaining ice melted and we lost 22 percent of our remaining land mass worldwide.”
When a meteor struck not long after, it decimated everything left. As with the original cartoon, the exact years aren’t specified, but it’s eerie to read as the teenaged Elroy and his crush Lake Cogswell (sound familiar?) dive below the surface of the water to explore the ruined remnants of the MoMA, surrounded by the rubble of what used to be New York City. The original Jetsons cartoon played to idealized expectations; this version confirms our deepest, and hardest to face, fears of the future, the recognition that climate change will fundamentally alter how we live as humans, and leave us open to natural disasters beyond scale.
But it’s not only the environment that’s different. George himself toils daily at the Spacely Sprockets Repair Center, working on ancient technology. He’s the only person left to do this work, a skilled laborer whose abilities are essential but solitary, exploited by his boss and forced to work long hours with little compensation -- and the ever present threat of a mechanical replacement hanging over his head. And then there’s Rosie, no longer the Jetsons robotic maid but instead a machine containing the soul -- the essence -- of George’s mother. Rosie represents the most existential questions posed by the new series: Are we meant to keep living? Is our body essential to our existence? Can the synthetic replace the organic? “One thing about you, different body, but same attitude,” Judy remarks to her shiny metal grandma. It’s kind of sweet. But it’s also kind of chilling.
Quietly, the new series addresses some of the most troubling aspects of the original cartoon (for example, there are actual people of color featured throughout) but it’s remarkably how well Palmiotti and Brito maintain the core feel of The Jetsons while integrating the kind of high-minded science fiction of displayed by Blade Runner 2049, Black Mirror, The Expanse or Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender. That meteor that caused mass destruction and near-extinction? The issue ends with a cliffhanger indicating it might be in the process of finishing the job.
“This is a problem for science, not politics,” Jane says to the council. What kind of future The Jetsons ultimately illustrates hinges on whether or not the rest of humanity agrees with her.