They won’t have flesh-colored eyeballs, and when they trip you won’t hear bongo drums, but rest assured that the characters of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio are coming back soon in a very different form from DC Comics. With an intentionally modern set of revamps, the “Hanna-Barbera Beyond” line of books got a spotlight Friday afternoon at Wondercon 2016 in Los Angeles.
The hour-long presentation focused on titles including Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Howard Porter’s “Scooby Apocalypse” (with a cover by DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee) and the mega H-B team up series “Future Quest” from Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner. That’s not to mention designer Amanda Connor and writer Mark Russell’s “The Flintstones” or writer Ken Pontac and artist Leonardo Manco’s “Wacky Race Land” as designed by “Mad Max’s” Mark Sexton.
Stepping onto stage for the panel were DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio, editor Marie Javins, Connor and more.
“I’ve been with DC Comics now for 14 years, and probably since the day I walked in the door I’ve been wanting to do something with the Hanna-Barbera characters,” DiDio said, crediting DC President Diane Nelson with making the deal between Warner Bros. subsidiaries a reality. The Co-Publisher said that comics gave creators more room to explore what could be done with the classic TV animation franchises than could ever be done in
For example, DiDio called “Scooby Apocalypse” a take that felt like “Scooby Doo Meets The Walking Dead” as led by Lee who’s taken particular interest in developing the project. “Wacky Raceland” took a similar mash-up style with Sexton’s cues from “Fury Road” informing the look of Penelope Pitstop and company. And “Future Quest” was born from an outline by Darwyn Cooke that worked to bring together everyone from Jonny Quest and Space Ghost to The Impossibles and Dino-Boy.
Javins showed off a run of upcoming covers for “Scooby Apocalypse” including Neal Adams doing Fred, Dan Panosian chipping in and Ben Caldwell delivering a cover that features Velma’s pet drone. Javins said that the rule of “ghosts aren’t real” being a part of “Scooby-Doo” will be broken when all Hell literally breaks loose while showing off Howard Porter’s early interiors from the first chapter of the story that showed the world just before the Apocalypse arrives. She joked that Jim Lee was so involved on the look of the book that he even contributed designs for “a poop emoji” that will appear on the cover of #2.
DiDio said that part of his inspiration for doing these comics this way was the success that Archie Comics has had with projects like “Afterlife With Archie,” but just like that company, DC will continue to release kid-friendly takes like “Scooby-Doo Team-Up.”
Lee himself then joined the panel to explain the history and story of “Scooby Apocalypse.” “I grew up on Scooby-Doo, and my kids grew up on Scooby-Doo…so the idea of doing these characters a little more adult or T/T+ meant we could flesh out these characters more,” he said. “In a way, this first story is an origin story for the Scooby Gang and tells what puts them together. We update it. The story actually starts at Burning Man, and you see that these characters are coming and meeting for the first time. Fred and Daphne are darlings from the early days of the internet bubble. They were a YouTube sensation with a ‘Mythbusters’ type show…but they’re at the end of their 15-minutes of fame.
“Meanwhile, you find out there is a secret government think tank buried beneath the sand,” Lee said, joking it was easier to draw a base under the desert. In that think tank is Velma who exists in a lab full of kids who are young geniuses but have been raised to always be given awards and never get challenge in any way. The geniuses create a high-powered app that will virally effect every phone at once at the beginning of Burning Man. While the idea is supposed to bring the world together, the nano-virus they make mutates in the wild and brings out the worst elements in people’s personalities…”hence Donald Trump” Lee joked.
The actual result is a growing computer virus that turns people into various kind of monsters, and the Scooby Gang come together with their own baggage to try and save mankind. “You find they have a lot in common, and all these sub stories reveal themselves,” Lee explained.
Connor said that her pitch for “The Flintstones” involved taking the absurd reality of the original ’60s show and making it more real. For example, Fred actually has to fight off their pet sabretooth from eating Pebbles in the rugged landscape of the Stone Age. “Mark Russell envisions Bedrock as the basis for modern civilization and everything comes from there,” she said, explaining that she based the looks of Fred and Barney in a sense on Kevin James and Patton Oswalt.
DiDio said that once these books were announced, artists came out of the woodwork to contribute art starring the characters they grew up with. Ivan Reis contributes a “Flintstones” cover that is a stone-themed take on the selfie while Bill Sienkiewicz doing his version of the Space Ghost team. Javins said that “Future Quest” will take place mostly on earth, but the book will reveal how Space Ghost (the last of a doomed group of space rangers) lands on our planet with Jan and Jace.
Talking about “Wacky Raceland,” DiDio said, “This one kind of got away from us” as Javins said, “Let’s be honest: this is the weirdest one.” The panel showed off Manco’s character designs for Dick Dastardly and Muttly, who looks like a killer cyborg hound more so than a anthropomorphic take (or as DiDio joked, “We didn’t want this to be silly”).
The Co-Publishers said that these four titles will launch this line, but that there is talk of how all the books connect and can expand. Lee said that “Wacky Raceland” is a dystopic future that follows along with the world of “Scooby Apocalypse” where the tech that makes Scooby talk with emojis in the one will morph into what Muttly becomes. Lee also said that there is the idea of a legacy of redhead characters that connect all the characters all the way to the future of the Jetsons where Jane will be connected to the likes of Wilma Flinstone or Daphne Blake. Eventually, a story is possible where the Jetsons reasons for living in the clouds can be connected to the other series with the future family working to save the world’s past.
The panel opened up to fan questions, and DiDio was immediately asked whether DC was prepping these books as a prelude to future animated projects. He said that for now, the plan was to keep these takes on the characters entirely on the page.
Former Hanna-Barbera animator Daryl McNeil took the mic to say that after years of working on everything from Space Ghost and the Jetsons to Scooby-Doo and the Herculoids, he knew many fans of the classic shows were nervous that these comics would not take care with the properties. DiDio said that the staff were every bit as big of fans of these properties as those who grew up with them and that they’d never get rid of the original versions by doing this take.
While many fans asked for versions of more recent Hanna-Barbera productions like “Pirates of Dark Water” and “Swat-Kats,” Lee said that for now they’re sticking with the ’60s characters while also looking at what other animated properties exist in the Warner Bros. vault that could take on a similar redesign.
Connor said that there is a strong possibility of “The Jetsons” in the future as she’s been drawing new versions of the character while her husband and frequent writing partner Jimmy Palmiotti has been toying with storylines.
Another fan asked if there would be cameos of the kind of other characters from H-B like Snagglepuss or Top Cat. DiDio said he was a big Top Cat fan, but for now “Future Quest” is the book that will mix the most characters together. For example, Dino-Boy got put into that series late in the process because Parker put him in the script. When asked how the character snuck in, the writer said, “Doc Shaner really wanted to draw dinosaurs.”
Lee said that for future plans, he’d love to do a “Josie & The Pussycats” crossover with Archie at some point where he could recast the girl group as cosmic bountyhunters. Javins said she really wants to play with the funny animals like Magilla Gorilla at some point. Connor stayed on the Jetsons front with her hopes. The panel said that the Assistant Editor on the project Andrew Marino loves Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt, so who knows if they’ll show up.