When people make jokes demanding to know why, in the year 2017, they still haven’t gotten their flying cars and jetpacks, they’re probably referencing The Jetsons. Since its debut in 1962, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon has become synonymous with the gleaming utopia promised by technology. The world where George, Jane, Judy, and Elroy Jetson lived, with robot housekeepers and ozone-scraping luxury smart homes that can dress and groom you by themselves, was a vertical manifest destiny, one where audiences could hang their starry-eyed hopes about the future.
But as history and literature have taught us, one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia, and The Jetsons is no exception. Thus far, the series has been more or less taken at face value as the happy-go-lucky “misadventures” of a wholesome nuclear family living a life of innovative luxury a few centuries into the future. But as anyone familiar with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine or the Fritz Lang classic Metropolis knows, there are often ugly truths lurking beneath the cloud cover of a futuristic paradise. A new Jetsons comic, out this week from DC Comics, finally broaches the question of why the Jetsons and their community live their lives in the upper atmosphere, and the answers it offers aren’t pretty.
The rebooted series updates several glaring outdated elements from the original series. Once a housewife, Jane Jetson is now a brilliant NASA scientist who commutes into space for work. Rosie the sentient robot maid, once a de facto slave, has become the synthetic carbon body that holds the consciousness of George Jetson’s 124-year-old mother. It’s also not as glaringly homogeneous; where all of the characters in The Jetsons were previously white, now-teenaged Elroy Jetson has an Asian-American love interest, Lake, and some of Jane’s unnamed colleagues appear black.
Its biggest retcon, though, is the revelation of exactly what sent humanity to settle the stratosphere in the first place. The comic informs us that a few decades before the rebooted series begins, a 200-mile-long ice meteor crashed into the Pacific Ocean, causing massive worldwide earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and rising ocean levels that completely submerged the planet. A fraction of humanity was able to escape to space stations built in orbit as insurance for just this sort of disaster, and they waited there until floating dwellings could be built for survivors in the upper atmosphere. That’s how the Jetsons ended up in their swanky hover-recliners and brightly colored space cars: because an environmental apocalypse killed billions.
When Elroy and Lake decide to go for a deep-sea dive to recover art from what was once the Museum of Modern Art, we get a bone-chilling look at the ruins of New York City at the bottom of the ocean: the most populous city in America, transformed into one immense shipwreck.