'Future Quest' is everything that's great about comics and Saturday morning cartoons

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

If you don’t like Future Quest, you just don’t like comics.

I’ve said that a dozen times in various online venues, because it’s true. This series combines a wide variety of former Saturday morning cartoon stars from the Hanna-Barbera studios in an adventure that brings the gee-whiz, heart-in-mouth, anxious feeling every kid gets in the middle of a Jonny Quest episode after three bowls of sugar-frosted cereal.

Sound impossible? Well, you’ve got "The Impossibles” part right. Future Quest combines Coil Man, Fluid Man and Multi-Man (and new member Cobalt) with the Jonny Quest ensemble, Space Ghost, Birdman, Frankenstein Jr., Mightor, The Galaxy Trio and The Herculoids.

Is your brain exploding yet? Thankfully, DC Comics found perhaps the only writer in America whose brain wouldn’t explode: Jeff Parker. Parker has written most major Marvel characters, but always with trademark whimsy and humor. His work at other companies, like Mysterius the Unfathomable and Batman ‘66 at DC, aways feature his unmistakable voice.

In this case, Parker turned to the original Jonny Quest for inspiration. Created by comics/animation legend Doug Wildey in 1964, Quest featured two mischievous boys (Jonny Quest and adopted brother Hadji)  involved in high-stakes adventures surrounding their scientist father Professor Benton Quest, under the watchful eye of government bodyguard Race Bannon.

“I felt the whole thing needed to fit the tone of the original Jonny Quest show; serious adventure with plenty of light moments, and a heavy sci-fi plot.” Parker said in an interview. “That seemed best to hold together all the different kinds of characters, and very appropriate, as Jonny Quest was the original big action success that led to most of the others. The other cartoons all used art, music and sound effects created for Quest, too.”

Copyright DC Comics

Future Quest features a huge team-up of Hanna-Barbera characters. Award yourself an extra bowl of sugar-coated cereal if you can name them all.

But Future Quest isn’t just about the Quest family (and their enemies), although that’s a pretty strong start. Parker had to bring in all those other characters, so he started big – with the man who would become Space Ghost, fighting with what is called the “Space Force” against a huge threat called Omnikron.

It doesn’t go well. And in the destruction that follows, we get our first-ever origin for Space Ghost, a character whose look was created by comics giant Alex Toth, and was introduced in 1966 alongside sidekicks Jan, Jace and Blip (a space monkey). That in turn allowed Parker to begin introducing the rest of his cast.

“Well, I did want Space Ghost’s origin to be tied to the main threat, and have some bit of pathos to it – he calls himself a ghost and lives on a dead planet, after all,” Parker said. “I only touched on Birdman’s origin so that might be explored later, but his role in Inter-Nation seemed a natural to connect to The Impossibles, who answer to their boss, ‘Big D.’”

Parker fleshed out that designation with a new character, special agent Deva Sumadi of Inter-Nation, a law-enforcement/espionage agency like Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. that employs the superhero Birdman.

“I was very happy that the event itself gave us a natural way to introduce Dino Boy and his Lost Valley,” Parker said. “The most retooling happens with Frankenstein Jr. – Buzz’ mom is the designer of the robot, which is much bigger now. In most of these cases I looked at what was there and tried to reverse-engineer why our heroes are who they are. Like with The Herculoids – they were always smashing robots and I thought ‘why do they hate technology so much?’ Then came the idea of a different homeworld for the human family where The Singularity happened and went really wrong. That also let me use the two different names of their planet from the show, Amzot and Quasar.”

Copyright DC Comics

Space Ghost, Jan, Jace and Blip are imporantant characters in Future Quest. Blip is a space monkey,  but should not be confused with Gleek, a different space monkey on Super Friends.

If you’re getting the impression Parker knows these characters inside and out, he does. He did research, but probably not as much as the rest of us would have to do.

“I watched a fair amount of each character’s cartoons, but really I remembered most of it – it was just a refresher,” he said. “The Quest team were my absolute faves, followed quickly by Space Ghost. I enjoyed all the shows but I responded to the full-length stories of Quest the most. Actually I rarely saw Birdman, I had to go back and watch more of his episodes. Same with Dino-Boy. I worried about how well we could make The Impossibles fit in since they were such a Beatles-meets-superheroes lark, but that’s worked out really well.”

In fact, despite the downbeat beginning and the ever-increasing threat from Omnikron, Future Quest never leaves its all-ages ballpark. It is – like Jonny Quest before it – an exciting story for both kids and adults.

“The main thing I was asked [by DC Comics] was to craft a big event that could somehow bring all these classic Hanna-Barbera characters together, reintroducing all of them and generally showing why they’re great,” Parker said. “The balance is to keep the stakes very high – showing that the world really is imperiled – but keeping it fun and optimistic at the same time. What helps that work is that so many of our leads are kids, and that positive outlook works for them.”

All of which wouldn’t work if Future Quest didn’t have an artist to make all these different characters work together. Fortunately, the man at the drawing board was Evan “Doc” Shaner, whose smooth lines and strong storytelling skills manage to integrate all these characters into a world that is both serious and cartoony at the same time. Shaner – probably best known for his work on Adventures of Superman, Flash Gordon and Ghostbusters -- seems the ideal pick to bring Parker’s sprawing team-up to life.

Copyright DC Comics

Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles, who used to appear on the same show, are featured in Future Quest.

“It’s a project he was born to draw,” Parker said. “If he couldn’t have visualized how to handle these characters, it wouldn’t have worked. And like with everything we’ve done together, he’ll come out of nowhere with giving a character some personality I didn’t foresee, and then I change how I approach that one. This happens so much and it brings a lot of life to the story, he makes readers – and me – connect to the characters in a surprisingly profound way. It’s why so many people keep being surprised how invested they get in the story, I think.”

That story comes to a climax in April, in Future Quest #12. But that won’t be the end for Future Quest.

“There is a grand finale to this main event story,” Parker said of the twelfth issue, “and then the book is going to come back focusing on the various heroes individually, in short arcs. So it will feel a lot like the way the cartoons were packaged, all as part of a larger show.”

In the meantime, Future Quest Volume 1 is already available ($16.99 from DC Comics), collecting the first six issues. (Sugar-coated cereal not included.)

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I have found this to be a fun read, but discombobulating at the same time. It's not exactly a linear story; more like a stream of consciousness tale of these old cartoon characters all fighting each other for "screen time". I love all of it, so I'm trying to figure out how I would change things, and I'm coming up blank, to be honest. I'm enjoying it for what it is, but it could make more sense for someone who reads it month to month.

Out of everything DC's done with the Hanna-Barbera legacy to date, Future Quest is the only title I'm reading. It's everything the good Captain has said and then some.

I also humbly recommend the recent specials Space Ghost and Green Lantern, along with Adam Strange and Future Quest.

Not sure about the future of the Top Cat (in AS/FQ) and Ruff n' Reddy (in SG/GL) backups, but we'll see what happens.

The only two of these HB cartoon series I am familiar with are Johnny Quest and Space Ghost (and I didn’t discover the latter until college, via Nexus). I love Future Quest, though, despite my unfamiliarity with most of the characters. I just read it from the POV of the Quests and let the story and art pull me along. I bought three of the four follow-up one-shots last week and enjoyed them all. (In two of the three, the back-ups were as good as the main features.)

“In the meantime, Future Quest Volume 1 is already available, collecting the first six issues.”

Here’s my beef: why not collect all 12 issues in a single volume? (I’m still put off by DC’s decision to split George Perez’s JLA work into two thin volumes rather than one thick one a couple of years ago.)

I remember liking what I saw of the original Space Ghost.

Jonny Quest blew me away. Like the Flintstones, it appeared in prime time. The opening of each episode was really exhilarating, promising (and delivering) true comic book action. IIRC, it was the first instance of true, exciting comic book action on TV.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Here’s my beef: why not collect all 12 issues in a single volume? (I’m still put off by DC’s decision to split George Perez’s JLA work into two thin volumes rather than one thick one a couple of years ago.)

I have a couple arguments for why they do this. For new readers, it makes more sense to offer them a $20 trade paperback than a $40 one with twice the material. Sure, it's not all of it, but they can go back and get volume 2 if they like it.

Also, a TPB of the first 6 issues allows readers an easier way to catch up and get more of the comic as it's currently on the shelf. By waiting for all 12 issues to be out, there isn't the feedback loop of the TPB leading to current-issue sales, and the presence of the current issues reminding people that there's a TPB they might like to check out. The very presence of one is marketing for the other, and by making it a 12-issue trade, you eliminate that marketing while increasing the hurdle of price.

Older material, like the Perez JLA stories, doesn't have that second problem -- a one-volume set might be a better way to go in that case. (Or, say, they might publish two trade paperbacks, and if sales warrant it, follow it at some point with a larger one-volume HC of the same material.)

I'm confident that anything that sells well will be offered in bigger, more deluxe packages if they think a lot of people will buy it again and again (like they do with the DVDs).

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