May 25, 2016

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Don't Call It Retro-- Future Quest #1 by Parker, Shaner and Rude



Future Quest #1
Written by Jeff Parker
Drawn by Evan Shaner and Steve Rude
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Dave Lanphear
Published by DC Comics

If there’s one thing that Jeff Parker is fantastic at expressing in his comics, it’s a sense of fun. He’s great at building the tension, even building the stakes up to being the possible destruction of everything as we know it, but he never loses the sight of the sense of adventure in his stories. So nearly all of his stories have the optimism and excitement that his characters can and will save the day. It’s not that he’s telegraphing what’s going to happen next or isn’t creating any danger in the story. It’s more that he finds belief and faith in his heroes that they will actually save the day. Then on top of that, add in Evan “Doc” Shaner’s artwork (with a multi-page assist from Steve “The Dude” Rude,) which captures the feeling of the best Saturday morning cartoon animation and that Toth-like characterization-through-simplification, and Future Quest #1 becomes a comic book that thrives because it’s a fun comic.

Parker and Shaner’s comic feels like it could be something right out of a Saturday morning cartoon serial if back in the 1960s Hanna-Barbera had ever thought about doing a massive, line-wide crossover. Combining Space Ghost and Johnny Quest? What about the Herculoids? So flash forward to today when this kind of cross-pollinating synergy is what so much of our pop-culture entertainment is about and it seems like such a natural idea that there should be a Hanna-Barbera universe. And centering the story around Johnny Quest, the ultimate kid adventurer, provides a great entry point into a universe with some rather crazy and outlandish characters. Anyone who doubts this, just remember when Space Ghost was turned into a talk show host (really great) or Harvey Birdman practiced law with the best of them.



Even the artwork by Shaner (with an able assist from Rude) stays wonderfully on model, capturing the essence of most of these characters. The designs by Doug Wildey (Quest) and Alex Toth (Space Ghost among many others) are timeless and should be as iconic as Batman and Superman. Shaner takes this 50 year old characters and shows just how great the designs are. Unlike other Hanna-Barbera properties that publishers feel the need to “modernize” and “update” to make them “cool” for the kids these days, Future Quest #1 remains flawlessly loyal to those classic designs while never falling into the feeling of being “retro” or, even worse yet, ironic.

It’s easy to imagine Parker’s script in the hand of other artists and colorists who would over-dramatize the art (which would be totally misreading the story) but Shaner, Rude and colorist Jordie Bellaire never let the story get oppressive. With such ridiculous things as giant robotic spiders, Cthulu-like monsters, reality breaking down and even an alien threatening to destroy children, the great thing about having Johnny Quest, a kid, and his best friend running around is that we get to see all of this through these characters. And for Johnny, this isn’t the beginning of the end of the world; it’s an adventure and it’s fun.


There are so many ways that Future Quest could have gone wrong (just look at the promo artwork for any other of DC’s new Hanna-Barbera books.) But instead of following the path that something was “wrong” with these characters for a 2016 audience, Parker and Shaner embrace everything that makes these characters who they are, from the visual designs to the voices of the characters. What they manage to do that’s new and fresh is put them in a very modern, mainstream story. Bringing all of these characters together into a cohesive universe isn’t any different than the ways that Marvel and DC treat their comics or their movies. But using this very current storytelling device (getting the team together) gives these old characters something new to do. It’s a grand time to see Birdman and Dr. Quest together on a page. As Parker and Shaner give glimpses into the vortexes that are opening, it’s fun to try to figure out how Johnny’s friend Hadji and Gloop and Gleep from Herculoids will get along.