Grab a bowl of your favorite sugar-laced cereal, it’s time for some cartoons.
While DC’s recent revival of Hanna-Barbera classics has featured complete reinventions like Scooby Apocalypse and Wacky Raceland, the line’s most critically acclaimed title doesn’t reinvent any classic characters: it just wants them all to be friends. Future Quest, by the Convergence: Shazam creative team of Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner is about a time-and-space-spanning threat that will unite such classic heroes as Johnny Quest, Space Ghost, The Herculoids, and Birdman against a common foe.
Future Quest manages to capture the voice a look of the weird and wonderful worlds of Hanna-Barbera heroes and molds them into a single universe that makes for one of the best all-ages romps you’ll find on the comic racks. It’s one of my favorite series of the moment, and if you give it a chance, it’s likely to be one of yours too.
I got a chance to talk with writer Jeff Parker to dig into this week’s fourth issue, where he adds Mightor, Ug, and Frankenstein, Jr. to the ever-growing cast, and still finds room to flesh out the villainous organization F.E.A.R. in a sequence illustrated by Parker himself. Check out our full conversation below, along with preview art by Evan Shaner and Ron Randall, but beware: minor spoilers for Future Quest #4 ahead...
Let’s start at the beginning of this issue, with the introduction of Mightor and Ug. What do these two characters bring to the series that’s unique to the ever-growing Hanna-Barbera cast?
You know, when you go back and watch all those cartoons kind of as a whole, as I’ve been doing, you come with this whole sense that they’re all kind of originated from pulps and stuff that the people who worked for Hanna-Barbera clearly read as kids. You come away with: this thing needs cavemen. It needs robots. It needs monsters. All this stuff is just swirling around.
So the nice thing was—since obviously Mightor was always going to be a big part of it—when we go back and visit his world, that tied in nicely with setting up Dino Boy and Ug in the present day. Because, while Omnikron is trying to cross over the universe to break into our world, he’s breaking time and space in that one area. And that part, by the way, is permanent. That doesn’t get fixed. That’s just always going to be the Lost Valley of Time now, where Todd’s running around looking for his parents with his caveman buddy.
So you see, the fun thing is when you get to tie it all in. When you see Mightor’s valiant last stand with Omnikron forty five thousand years ago, Ug’s down there watching it. [Laughs] I enjoy doing stuff like that, that spans time, and then all comes back together later.
Reading these first few issues kind of remind me of a classic DC “Crisis” story. Were those or any similar stories a particular inspiration for you when writing this series?
Oh, all of them. I mean, I’ve read them all. But that’s the thing is, it needs to be a kind of self-contained event. So I’m really happy with readers who say “it actually feels like I’ve been reading several books, but I haven’t bought several books.” [Laughs] And I’m like, good! That’s exactly what we’re hoping to achieve with this. Y’know, you’ve got a big, sprawling cast spread out everywhere, and how do you bring them together? And keep them around. Because, obviously, we’re building towards the new Mightor, and Dino Boy and Ug. You know… if he doesn’t get snapped up by a dinosaur.
You also drew a few pages of this issue. Was there anything new you learned about this project from the other side of the drawing board?
Yeah, I haven’t drawn enough in years. That’s what I started out doing in comics and then at some point I got hired to write a lot more and then everybody forgot I even drew. [Laughs] But I was determined with this. I wanted to draw some of this because it was right up my alley. Also I wanted to pick a section that I thought was one that the other artists wouldn’t feel cheated because it didn’t have any of the major heroes in it, it’s the pure villain section, so that’d be fun for me.
And it’s always good to go back and draw to remember what you’re asking artists to do. Because you can get too flippant with it if you do nothing but write all the time. You’ll say “oh well, have an army run over.” Y’know? You don’t think. That takes real time to draw. So the nice thing was, I started to see things from [Evan “Doc”] Shaner’s perspective once I started drawing my own stuff. Like, okay: I’ve got to get the “feel” of this. It’s not just simply making it believable, y’know? It’s got a certain mood to it…
There’s all these thing you’ve got to consider when you’re working, and I think it just made my writing just that much better to actually sit down and draw. I may try and do a few more sections here and there for that reason.
But thanks to the makers of Manga Studio Software, because I was able to work digitally and it feels just like I’m using a real brush. It’s amazing, I could never do that with Photoshop… to get technical for a minute. [Laughs]
And your section was all about F.E.A.R. What makes them different from your run-of-the-mill faceless supervillain organization?
Well I think at the moment what makes them different is that they don’t realize that Doctor Zin has kind of co-opted the whole operation for his own goals. You see that Number One, their leader, is under his control and you think, “wow, Doctor Zin is pretty manipulative,” which he is. But then you realize that he doesn’t really care about creating terror, he just wants a sweet underground lab. [Laughs] That’s pretty much his goal in the whole thing.
I love the idea of at first presenting Zin as a two-dimensional villain, but then as you get to know him you realize he’s actually just as concerned about the fate of the planet as us, he just realized he bit off more than he can chew. And now he’s trying to figure out how to actually solve the problem. But he’s not a guy with a lot of friends any more, he doesn’t know how to do much more than go around manipulating people. And maybe commanding Jezebel Jade to go kidnap somebody.
So he’s not actually the best at playing with other people, but he is a brilliant mind, and he is going to really figure into fighting the thing. It’s always fun to me to force people to start care about a character they had no intention of caring about. I really enjoy that.
You’ve also made a new character, Ty and his cat Snag. How important was it to have a character that was completely new to everything that is going on in this book?
Ty makes another good point-man character for a bit because he’s a normal eleven year old, with a typically normal life. It’s a little bit more adventurous than other kids because he gets to mess around in the Everglades in a boat because he’s staying with his grandparents for the summer. As he says, otherwise it’s just sitting around watching soap operas with them. [Laughs]
So that’s how he runs into Hadji and Johnny, and starts to get opened up to their world. Like, what’s this? There are two kids like me who travel the planet and everybody shoots them and there’s robots? It’s kind of a fun way to remind you that, oh yeah, this isn’t a normal life. And Johnny and Hadji, you wonder how much they realize that anymore because now it’s such an everyday thing for them. But most kids don’t do that. Even though they think Ty’s pretty cool because he’s got his own boat and he saved them. It’s just fun.
Because underneath all the sci-fi and adventure trappings, it’s still a couple of kids running into another kid that they kind of have something in common with and making friends, and I think that’s the sort of thing this has that makes it work. Underneath it all there has to be a very real life story you can relate to. A big part of it is about simply making friends. Despite all the people that are being melted and turned into monsters. [Laughs]
Are there any cartoons you’re currently watching that you think people will look back on decades from now in the same you’re looking back at the Hanna-Barbera cartoons?
God, that’s a really good question. That’s one of those I wish you could’ve emailed me and let me think on, because off the top of my head I’m not going to come up with something good, and it’s too good a question to waste…
What a weird thing to try to guess future nostalgia. All I can do is kind of observe things through the eyes of my own eleven year old and see what he’s liking and is going to be nostalgic for. Batman: The Brave and the Bold, maybe? Wait, yeah, I can answer this! It’s just whatever my son likes! [Laughs] So Avatar, stuff like that. He’ll probably want to see that revisited but hopefully it’ll just keep going in some form.
The whole thing with nostalgia is a tricky business. This is obviously a very nostalgia-driven project, but we’re also not counting on anybody remembering anything. It is nice that we’re getting a lot of parents bringing their kids into the comic because they loved the cartoons so much. But at the same time, I don’t want people to feel like they need to have seen any of the shows, y’know? It’s got to have that universal appeal or we’re just not going to do it.
Were there any characters you were completely unfamiliar with before this project?
No, I’d watched them all at some point. If there was a cartoon on, I was going to watch it, there’s just no way it was going to escape me.
But the big one that I expected to be the big hurdle was the Impossibles. Because they were more from the Jetsons, Yogi Bear sort of end of things, and not from the Doug Wildey, Alex Toth part of the studio. Yet someone—Dan Didio—really loved them as a kid. And I really liked them too and thought okay, how can I make this work? And a lot times I specifically love a challenge like that, and then I started to realize that, well, they’re very positive and fun and the main thing that matters is the tone works. Then I started examining how they could connect, how Internation might seek them out through Deva Sumadi.
And then it started really clicking and I’m really looking forward to number five when you get to meet them for the first time, because I think everybody is going to be surprised at how well they click in. They’re not old-hand superheroes, they’re just now starting to understand their powers, everybody can’t be Race Bannon, who always knows what to do in a situation.
What’s your favorite Hanna-Barbera franchise? Have you been reading Future Quest? Let us know in the comments below!