I wasn’t around for the heyday of Hanna-Barbera programming, when The Flintstones was a bona-fide response to The Honeymooners, in honest-to-Gleason primetime (premiere date: Friday, September 30th, 1960 at 8:30pm on ABC). But like many of you reading this, I was certainly along for the ride in the 90s when indoor kids around the world grew up amidst the studios’ era of syndicated ubiquity. We paid our Yabba Dabba dues.
Looking back, I am very much a product of the halcyon days of Ted Turner’s television empire. World Championship Wrestling. MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs. Godzilla Rama. I’m pretty sure that’s where we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And back in 1991 and 1992? All-day Jonny Quest Fest. And the early days of the Cartoon Network? Herculoids for days. My mitochondria look like Gloop and Gleep. Well, I guess everybody’s does.
So imagine my excitement earlier this year when DC Comics announced its line of Hanna-Barbera comics, a Dan DiDio fever dream I can truly get behind. Not just for the nostalgia massage, but because these properties, particularly those featured in the stupendous wraparound cover for Future Quest #1, are lost gems with a lot of potential for great stories that appeal to mothball-scented dinosaurs like me as well as younger readers. In my estimation, Future Quest #1 delivers on that promise with a thrilling and thoughtful all-ages tone, blockbuster visuals to die for, and some small but significant updates to the classic formula.
Future Quest shares most of its creative team and storytelling spirit with a recent Flash Gordon series from Dynamite, including writer Jeff Parker, artist Evan Shaner, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. That project started with an event mini-series with artist Marc Laming called King’s Watch that partnered Gordon with iconic heroes Phantom and Mandrake the Magician. Just as the Flash Gordon title spun off from King’s Watch, Parker has expressed interest in launching a Jonny Quest series should Future Quest drum up the interest. Until then, Jonny, his adopted brother Hadji, father Dr. Quest, protector Race Bannon, and dog Bandit will share this multi-dimensional caper with the likes of Birdman (sans legal, but plus purple companion eagle), Space Ghost (sans Coast to Coast’s late show smarm in favor of the original’s Green Lantern gravity and pathos), as well as the yet-to-be-introduced Herculoids, Impossibles, Frankenstein Jr., and more).
The impact of each character arrival will naturally resonate sharpest for older readers more familiar with these secondary properties in their original incarnations of the 60s and 70s. The more I talk to my fellow Panelteers, it seems I’m in the extreme minority, even for my own generation (I’m 31 and a half). I will admit to completely marking out for the Birdman reveal in a sequence drawn by Steve Rude with an updated costume design by Shaner. He actually bellows “BIRDMAN!” as he leaps into the sky with his purple bird companion, Avenger. Parker told me he isn’t looking for camp or grit, and I think they’ve found a really refreshing earnestness, again similar to the team’s work on Flash Gordon.
Will it work for the uninitiated? Parker does an excellent job laying the groundwork, especially with regard to the Quest family, Bannon’s involvement with them as something of an alphabet soup agency Action Dude tasked with protecting them (often with diving knives or bald knuckles), and how Dr. Quest is viewed by the intelligence community at large (Miracle man, or menace? It’s that whole Tony Stark thing). Then of course there’s the altruistic curmudgeon’s relationship with the nefarious Dr. Zin and his creepy daddy-long-leg-ass drones. It’s a big cast, and may overwhelm on first reading, but that’s no different from so many new cape and tight books of similar smarts and ambition. Ultimately, I think readers will dig the promise of some genuinely rich lore and the classic themes of spy vs. spy and mad science rivalry.
But where it really shines is in immediately capturing what made the Jonny Quest brand so compelling way back in 1964. Spoiler alert, it’s the same thing that made the Fantastic Four so interesting three years earlier. The notion of a found family.
Talk of “family values” typically grates on any progressive-thinking person, but I can get behind the Quests. Mutual respect through science, intrigue, and scrappy French bulldogs. Jonny and Hadji read as brothers and best friends, and I really empathized with long-suffering Hadji, stoic and cautious, in his counsel to the brash and valiant Jonny. And this is really the tip of that found family iceberg. Wait til we meet the Herculoids.
Evan Shaner and Steve Rude tap into that Alex Toth songbook with a spooky kind of authenticity, but don’t call it a throwback. This book looks as fresh and polished as anything on the shelves. Jonny and Hadji enjoy a particularly exhilarating jetpack set piece over the Everglades throughout, replete with beautifully choreographed aerial maneuvers and snapping alligator snoots. Then there’s the otherworldly stuff on a distant world that looks as haunting and strange as the best of cosmic Marvel and DC. Bellaire’s ability to take us from doomed Voranova to sunny Florida is all the transportation power you need, though Dave Lanpheer’s refreshingly subtle captions are, of course, appreciated. All told, this team has done a remarkable job refurbishing these designs, knowing what worked in the first place and smartly updating the stuff that needed it. It feels timeless. It’s even a little bittersweet, as I’m confident that Darwyn Cooke–a major force in the series’ development and champion of smart all-ages superhero stories–would’ve adored this.
I smiled like a goon throughout, and I think a lot of readers who don’t share my childhood fondness will also find themselves charmed by these characters and this team.
Future Quest #1 is on shelves now.