While fans argue over the latest big screen interpretation of Superman, writer Jeff Parker knows the discussion signals something bigger and more important about the character: It means fans care about DC Comics’ iconic hero. That’s exactly what what he and artist Evan “Doc” Shaner want to do with “Future Quest.” They want to show long-time fans of characters like Jonny Quest, Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman that they care, and that despite their age, the Hanna-Barbera stalwarts can be used to tell “straight-up” epic adventure stories.
Debuting May 18, “Future Quest” tells a massive story featuring Hanna-Barbera’s greatest action heroes including Quest, Space Ghost, Birdman and and the Galaxy Trio, Frankenstein, Jr., the Herculoids and Mighty Mightor. It’s one of several elements in DC’s revamped Hanna-Barbera line that will also include “Scooby Apocalypse,” “Wacky Race Land,” “The Flintstones” and more.
CBR News connected with Parker and Shaner during Emerald City Comicon and the all-star creative team shared insight into what triggers the eventual meeting between Team Quest and the space stars — and even teased the possible return of a beloved character long thought dead from Jonny’s past.
CBR News: The high-concept of this series is not unlike what I would have done with my action figures growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. I used to take all of my favorite Star Wars characters and superheroes and mash them up in one giant battle against my little brothers’ G.I. Joe and Cobra agents. Is it amazing to smash down the walls of the sandbox with “Future Quest?”
Jeff Parker: Yes, it is. The first thing that Doc and I saw was the teaser image that Darwyn Cooke drew, which was perfect because it forced us to think of it all as one big thing. “There they all are.” And then we started working from that point forward. You’re right though, it is exactly like you would have thought about it as a kid. I almost didn’t even distinguish that there were separate cartoons. They all kind of ran together in my head.
When you get a chance to reimagine characters like Jonny Quest and Space Ghost for a new generation do you go back and look at the source material, especially when it’s legends like Doug Wildey or Alex Toth, or do you need to distance yourself to keep it uniquely yours?
Evan “Doc” Shaner: No, you have to look back. For me, it’s as much an attempt to try and honor the original and keep the designs and the aesthetics but not do it so faithfully that we’re not stumbling over our own feet.
Parker: But it’s not that hard because I think our sensibilities are so shaped by a lot of these cartoons. It’s encoded in our DNA anyway. [Laughs] Neither of us has to look at it from the outside in and try to guess what people would like. I know what people would like. I’m the number one Jonny Quest fan. And Doc loves Space Ghost. We want Blip running around and doing things. But like Doc said, you can’t be so respectful that you choke the life out of the story. You can’t have everyone show up on the first page and there is no element of surprise. To really honor the story, it still has to have all of the possibilities and all of the ups and downs of those stories. You have to cherry pick from the best ones.
Jeff, you mentioned that you’re the number one Jonny Quest fan. Why does the character work so well and why are you confident that he will translate for a new audience?
Parker: I have my number one test subject and that’s my son. I dug out my old Comico “Jonny Quest” comics that Doug Wildey came back and did in the 1980s. I had them out for reference and because it was a comic book sitting out on the table, he, of course, grabbed it and started reading it and he thought it was great. And he had never seen the cartoon. I am not one of these parents who make their kids like everything that they liked as a child. [Laughs] But he was really into Jonny so it was obvious to me that the character still works. It’s still big, globe-traveling action-adventure with sci-fi concepts and all kinds of wild stuff happening. And it has an aesthetic that ultimately comes from Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles’ “Terry and the Pirates.” If you ever read that you would look at that and go, “Oh yeah.” This is clearly how a generation in the 1960s would process all of that stuff. Jezebel Jade is almost exactly the Dragon Lady.
A lot of people have asked us if we are keeping it in the 1960s and there is no need for it because nothing about Jonny and Hadji can’t work today. And Space Ghost still works too. To me, the only thing that is even remotely weird is the fact that so many people wear masks that don’t have to hide anything.
Looking back on the original animated series, do you think the introduction of Hadji as a central figure on “Jonny Quest” is somewhat undervalued in terms of what it meant to diversification in 1960s pop culture?
Parker: Yes. I think Hadji is a lot more important than people realize. I have plenty of friends that are Black or who are actually Indian that tell me that Hadji was a character they could actually be when they were playing Jonny Quest. Hadji comes off looking pretty good and saves the day a lot of the time. It makes up for any faults that they may have had where they maybe messed up in terms of portraying how Hadji might have grown up or anything like that. And a lot of that can be explained by saying that because he was adopted by Dr. Quest, he just grew up like Jonny.
But yeah, Hadji is tremendously important and following that track, we are also diversifying the cast on “Future Quest,” too. We’re trying to make all-ages, Pixar sort of thing that doesn’t exclude anybody. And again, we don’t want it to be the same scenario every time. And another thing, there are a lot of dead moms in comics and I wanted to fix that a little bit.
Doc, we talked a little bit about Space Ghost earlier, but really, he has such a cool, iconic look, I’d imagine you didn’t want or have to change much for “Future Quest,” right?
Shaner: Absolutely. This is not a book that I ever imagined that I work on. There really hasn’t been that many Space Ghost comics. It’s one of my all-time favorite designs ever and that’s why I didn’t touch it. People have asked me how come I didn’t change anything. What do you change? Alex Toth designed him! You can even see the original designs where he started with it. And how it changed as it went along until you get to the Space Ghost that we know. All of the hard work has already been done.
Parker: Someone asked me, ‘Why did you leave the cape on?’ I said, “Why would we take it off?” The cape is awesome. [Laughs]
What event triggers the adventure and the eventual meeting between Jonny Quest and Space Ghost?
Parker: We start back in time a few years and on the other side of the galaxy with this enormous war that’s happening — a war against an almost natural force. And that is the origin of where Space Ghost is going to come from. And, without spoiling anything, what happens there — in all of this tragedy — ultimately connects the universe and affects Earth in the past and the present. There is a lot of sci-fi in it. But when we pick up on Earth, Dr. Quinn and Race and the rest of the team are traveling the world and trying to figure out this phenomenon. Something seems to be breaking though from the other side of the galaxy.
Also, all of the big heavies on Earth like the agents of F.E.A.R. (from “Birdman and the Galaxy Trio”) and Dr. Zin (from “Jonny Quest”) are trying to control whatever it is so Dr. Quest knows that is something very important and they have to figure it out fast. Very quickly, it escalates and becomes a big threat and that’s when Birdman and everyone else comes on board to try and help the Quest team. They end up finding a Phantom Cruiser in the jungle. I don’t want to spoil too much more but this all opens up a mystery that becomes more clear with each issue. Don’t worry. I don’t save all of the reveals for the end. You know exactly what’s happening by halfway through the series.
You mentioned Birdman, who, again, like most of these characters has enjoyed renewed success with a humorous take on the character with Cartoon Network/Adult Swim’s animated TV series, “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.” Do you think these parodies hurt characters like Jonny, Space Ghost and Birdman or are these revisionist portrayals borne from love and adoration? Or is it sacrilegious?
Shaner: I think it comes from love. I don’t think there isn anything in “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” or even “The Venture Bros.” that could be deemed disrespectful. I could see myself working on any of those shows. I don’t poke at something unless I kind of like it, or really like it, because I wouldn’t have any affinity for it.
Parker: “The Venture Bros.” really uses all of that “Jonny Quest” aesthetic. I love it. I love the design of it. But Space Ghost isn’t going to sit at a desk or anything in “Future Quest.” Which is too bad. We’re just going to remind everybody that you can do straight stories with these characters. I’m in the same mode when I work on “Batman ’66.” I’ve done straight Batman stories and I can do Batman trapped in a giant egg too. If the characters are good and are resilient enough, they can accommodate a whole lot of approaches. And if they can’t, they’re not good characters and you should leave them alone.
Which is why I think some are not liking the Superman and Batman in director Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” They want the same story told over and over again while I’m okay with a new or different interpretation.
Parker: You’re right. Even if you don’t like it, I would be more upset if people didn’t have an opinion about what they wanted out of Superman. I am much happier that people want their Superman in a very particular way. Good. He matters. That’s what I worry about for things that I love. I want to make sure that it matters.
“Future Quest” #1 by Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner is slated for release May 18 from DC Comics.
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