Review: Future Quest Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Friday, March 17, 2017

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

My second reaction to DC's Hanna-Barbera line of comics (with the first being "Wait, what?!") was "They should have done this years ago." IDW already converted the vast majority of Cartoon Network's original cartoons into a clever spoof of crossovers with the Super Secret Crisis War! storyline several years ago. That felt like a major missed opportunity for DC to jump into the youth comic book market. Most of the books in the Hanna-Barbera line hold no interest for me. Some are too needlessly gritty, like Wacky Raceland and Scooby Apocalypse. Others, like the postmodern Flintstones and the upcoming Snagglepuss seem to be trying too hard to make themselves important.

With all that said, Future Quest Vol. 1 is so good that its existence excuses the rest of the line. A lot of the credit goes to the choice of the writer. Jeff Parker greatest talent is his ability to assemble great team stories out of previously-established superheroes, much like Geoff Johns back in his strongest days. If Agents of Atlas was Marvel's version of Johns's JSA, then Future Quest is DC's version of Parker's Kings Watch, with a strong dose of DC: The New Frontier mixed in. Darwyn Cooke's influence is not coincidental: as Parker explains in an epilogue, Cooke helped inspire and plan Future Quest shortly before his death.

Akin to how Kings Watch had to face the campiness of its characters in the modern eye, Future Quest has several hurdles to clear when it comes to how readers might approach its characters. Most readers today are more familiar with Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law and The Venture Brothers (which featured several "Johnny Quest" characters along with spoofing the series) than with their source material. The character usage in Future Quest sort of acknowledges this, absenting almost all of Birdman's supporting cast. Even though Falcon-7 is seen once, it's hard to not think of Stephen Colbert's Phil Ken Sebben when you see him. Similarly, I don't expect many of Space Ghost's villains to show up due to their roles as his talk show sidekicks, although in exchange, his teen sidekicks Jan and Jace and their monkey Blip do have a greater role in Future Quest.

Parker frames the story initially through the Johnny Quest characters, both because they can fit into a variety of situations and because they're likely the one franchise that every reader is familiar with. The book shifts perspective several times each issue, making the timeline a little unclear at first. While the very first thing we see is the new origin of Space Ghost, exactly when that takes place in the context of the overall narrative is not fully revealed until later on. (As an aside, this origin unfortunately doesn't match up with the Joe Casey miniseries from many years ago.) As Parker introduces more and more characters, the book uses back-up stories to explain who some of them are, while others get their origins worked into the storyline itself. For instance, the Herculoids get an individual back-up story since their presence among the main cast still seems to be a few issues away, but Parker explains the Mighty Mightor in full as a plot point.

Numerous subplots are set up throughout this first volume. Some are seen once and never revisited; Frankenstein Jr. fans might be a bit disappointed by his lack of panel time. One subplot that does come to fruition concerns the Impossibles, who serve as this world's version of the Teen Titans. Of all the cartoons represented in Future Quest, I have oddly strong memories of The Impossibles. For some reason, Cartoon Network played their episodes a lot when I was a kid. Parker not only gives them a new female member, but links them to the overall narrative by revealing the secret identity of their boss, "Big D," as a major player assisting the Quest family. Per a Comics Alliance interview with Parker, the focus on the Impossibles came at Dan DiDio's request, making it in my opinion the best decision DiDio's come up with in the last ten years.

A major challenge Parker had to face is the similarities of many of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. There are a lot of dinosaurs, cavemen, aliens, and combinations thereof to sort through, along with a plethora of child characters, but Parker forges some clever connections. For instance, Ugh, the Neanderthal companion of the titular Dino Boy in the Lost Valley is very familiar with the Mighty Mightor and is instrumental in his modern-day reincarnation. The villains are led by Dr. Zin from Johnny Quest, who has co-opted the villainous F.E.A.R. organization from Birdman, although Zin's plans end up being just one facet of an intergalactic terror plot.

Key to the success of the series is the artwork, with Evan "Doc" Shaner reuniting with Parker after their all-too-brief collaboration during Convergence. Steve Rude is also on-hand since Shaner takes a long time to do his work; this team approach allowed major changes to issue #3 with only a small delay. Even while adapting some of Alex Toth's best designs to the comic book page, Future Quest takes some opportunities to redesign a few of the sillier-looking characters, creating some slightly more modern Impossibles as well as a streamlined Frankenstein Jr. Their most incredible feat is that Space Ghost and Birdman look like true threats to evil after years as parodies of themselves, as both take on armies alone and use their powers at their greatest levels.

The sheer scope of characters available for Future Quest Vol. 1 makes the possibilities of who will show up next part of the attraction. (I'm still pulling for Speed Buggy.) I hope DC -- and other publishers of comics based on older franchises -- take note of the success of Future Quest and notice how little it, much like Boom! Comics's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, had to change from its source material to create a fantastic narrative.
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2 comments:

  1. Why DC isn't promoting the book is a damn shame. From issue #1 it has been a consistent great read. Jeff Parker is DC's official "Go-To Guy" to remind us why we love super-heroes. Give him, Doc, and The Dude The Marvel Family and watch lightning strike!

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  2. Too many changes to my favourites the Impossibles for me. (Read their sections online)!! Cannot accept the addition of the new member, (takes attention from the originals and affects their interaction - and they were always meant to be a boy band)!! and don't like the Deva Character at all. let alone replacing the original Big D. Some nice artwork of them, (particularly FQ5 AND 9 - the latter will not be in this volume)! but I feel changes should have just been more realistic looks for this comic, new stage wear. basic origin story, (although I prefer it to remain mysterious)!! and left at that.

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