A KC COLUMN by KC Carlson
There was a very nice — as well as unexpected — surprise in the recently released DC Comics Future Quest Volume 1 collection. And I’ll get to that surprise in just a couple of minutes, as soon as everybody’s clear on exactly what Future Quest is.
Part of the Hanna-Barbera Universe line of comics, Future Quest is one of the more distinctive of the four initial releases, which also include The Flintstones, Scooby Apocalypse, and Wacky Raceland. While the other three books in the line update single H-B properties for modern readers, Future Quest is unique in that it draws from a bunch of different original H-B cartoons. These classic action-oriented animated series from the 1960s and ‘70s are updated (somewhat) for a more discerning young (and old) audience.
Jeff Parker is the writer of Future Quest and artists include Evan “Doc” Shaner, Steve “The Dude” Rude, Ron Randall, Jonathan Case, Aaron Lopresti, Karl Kesel, Craig Rousseau, and even Parker himself. Future Quest is even crossing over with (or maybe crossing into) the DC Universe in March in the upcoming Adam Strange/Future Quest Annual #1.
THE CAST AND (REAL) CHARACTERS
The stars of Future Quest include the cast of Jonny Quest (originally aired 1964-65):
- the 11-year-old title character, who is proficient in judo, scuba diving, and the handling of firearms — although you don’t really see much of that these days…
- his best friend Hadji, a streetwise orphan Indian mystic-in-training, adopted by the Quests, who may or may not have actual supernatural powers
- Jonny’s widower father, Benton Quest, one of the top three scientists in the world, currently working for the U.S. Government
- and Roger T. “Race” Bannon, a slightly mysterious special agent, bodyguard, and pilot, whose primary mission is to protect the Quest family.
The concept and characters were originally created by comic book artist Doug Wildey.
In Future Quest, when Jonny and Hadji discover something mysterious in the swamplands of Florida (where they live), they are drawn into an epic struggle between the Space Rangers and a dangerous (and mysterious) villain who threatens the galaxy. Coming to their aid are many more classic H-B adventure characters including:
Space Ghost! First aired in 1966, Space Ghost was designed by Alex Toth, and the character is largely credited for the popularity of superhero cartoons in that era. He had teen sidekicks (Jan and Jace) and a space monkey (Blip) and fought villains including Zorak, Brak, Moltar, Metallus, Black Widow, and Creature King. The first two unexplainably joined Space Ghost in 1994 when he decided to become a talk show host on the very bizarre Space Ghost Coast to Coast, aired on Cartoon Network. Guests included David Byrne, Penn and Teller, Jon Stewart, Elvira, Adam West, Timothy Leary, Joel Hodgson, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and, of course, Carrot Top. A spin-off, Cartoon Planet, aired from 1995 to 1998 and made big stars out of Zorak and Brak. Gary Owens (best known as the announcer for Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In) was the original voice of Space Ghost.
Birdman was also created by Alex Toth, and his show aired beginning in 1967. He was a winged superhero powered by the sun who was originally endowed by the sun god Ra, although this is quickly forgotten, meaning he’s mostly depicted as an ordinary human. He was originally voiced by Keith Andes. And yes, originally there was a Birdboy… but nobody wants to talk much about that. Like Space Ghost, Birdman had a secondary career later in life as Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law on Cartoon Network/Adult Swim beginning in 2000. The Galaxy Trio, his original show-mates from the 1960s, frequently appeared on this new show.
The Galaxy Trio are three extraterrestrial superheroes — Vapor Man (voiced by Don Messick), Meteor Man (Ted Cassidy), and Gravity Girl (Virginia Eiler) — who work for the Galactic Patrol law enforcement agency. They fly around space a lot in their cruiser Condor One scoping out evildoers. They also apparently work for somebody named “Chief”. They originally appeared with Birdman on his 1967 show which was cleverly called Birdman and the Galaxy Trio.
Mighty Mightor originally appeared on a 1969 show titled Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor. Moby Dick was an odd series where young children hung out with the legendary great white whale. That’s probably why it’s mostly forgotten today. (Although I’m pretty sure that he popped up on one of those weird Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated episodes in the past few years. I probably got confused because the Moby Dick kids’ pet seal was also called Scooby.) Anyway… the original Mightor was a teenage caveman named Tor who had a winged pet dinosaur named Tog. (Ahhh! These names!) They rescue an old man, who gives Tor a magical club — which when pointed skyward, transforms Tor into the masked (and mighty) Mightor. This wasn’t one of H-B’s strongest shows (and the characters were voiced by people only animation geeks like me would know). Maybe for that reason, the Mightor character was mostly revamped for Future Quest, where he is now a young black boy of modern times who discovers the original Mightor’s club and is transformed into a new Mightor. (And his pet cat becomes a mighty saber-toothed tiger!) This new Mightor is mentored by Birdman in the Future Quest comic.
Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles originally shared a 1966 Saturday morning show on CBS. Historically, the series is seen as a transition show between H-B’s earlier straight comedy cartoons and the adventure-oriented science fiction/superhero series that they did more of as the 1960s progressed (see above). Frankenstein Jr. (voiced by Ted Cassidy) was a giant robot (some say reminiscent of Gigantor) who was “piloted” by young boy scientist Buzz Conroy (voiced by Dick Beals) and his father Professor Conroy. (I hope his real name wasn’t really Professor… I’d imagine that would be some sort of trademark infringement with the character from Gilligan’s Island.) The Professor was voiced by John Stephenson. Of course, they fight super villains with the humans activating “Frankie” via an energy ring. The frequently used (and very compelling) image that defines the series is of the giant robot flying around with a tiny young boy sitting on his shoulder. Of course, they don’t do that now, because some crazy kid might build his own giant robot pal and try that!
The Impossibles were my favorites at the time. They were not-so-serious superheroes with goofy powers, when they weren’t disguised as a not-so-serious rock band who only sang pop songs that were less than 30 seconds long. Their real names are apparently Multi-Man (voiced by Don Messick), Fluid Man (Paul Frees). and Coil Man (Hal Smith), since they apparently are really superheroes just pretending to be rock stars (which makes them the animated version of their live-action contemporaries The Monkees, who were portrayed on TV as being almost animated). Trivia: Coil-Man plays guitar left-handed! More trivia!: While the series was in pre-production, it was called The Incredibles! Good thing Pixar wasn’t around back then!
Saving the best for last (IMHO), The Herculoids! Debuting in 1967, and created and designed by Alex Toth, this was a great action-oriented family drama with giant monsters saving the humans from other giant monsters! What more could a kid want! The family was Zandor (“Dad”, voiced by Mike Road), Tara (“Mom”, Virginia Gregg) and Dorno (“Son”, Ted Eccles, in the original series). Interestingly, Dorno referred to his parents by their real names, rather than “mom” or “dad” in this original series. Their protectors were
- Zok, the flying space dragon who emits lasers from his eyes and tail
- Igoo, an extremely large and nearly invulnerable ape made out of rock
- Tundro, a ten-legged, four-horned rhino/triceratops hybrid who shoots energy rocks from his cannon-horn
- and Gloop and Gleep, two protoplasmic creatures who are able to absorb and deflect energy blasts and laser beams. They are also unique shape-shifters, using their bodies in dozens of ways.
Mike Road was the voice of Zok, Igoo, and Tundro, and Don Messick was the very entertaining voices of Gloop and Gleep.
It also should be noted that many of these original shows (most notably Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, which was taken off the air in 1968) were the targets of parental complaints about violence on children’s television. That’s how we knew they were great shows back then!
Amazingly, all of these shows were released on DVD by Warner Bros. (who now own Hanna-Barbera) and Warner Archive. They may occasionally be out-of-print (and expensive!) or hard to find now, but it’s great that they still exist and have been archived to disc!
BACK TO PRINT… AND A STORY BEHIND THE STORY
Future Quest Volume 1 collects the first six issues in the series, plus over 30 pages of cover reproductions, alternate covers, character designs, and more. And the very special thing I mentioned at the top of this column: a two-page essay by writer Jeff Parker about the behind-the-scenes beginning of this amazing series — including the revelation that artist Darwyn Cooke was quite involved with the pre-production. Titled On the Origin of Comics: The Theories of Darwyn, this text piece by Parker reveals that DC wanted to bring together the heroes from the heyday of the H-B studio — “in essence a ‘new frontier’ of the H-B universe” according to Parker. DC co-publisher Dan DiDio reached out to Cooke, and before long Darwyn and Jeff were brainstorming (at the Baltimore Comic-Con, no less, which I personally know is a place where both magic and weird things happen with some regularity).
I’m not going to reveal all the beats and secrets of this text piece, but suffice it to say that with Parker and Cooke channeling both Doug Wildey and Alex Toth (all four former H-B/DC people in one capacity or another) in their brainstorming, this series had one of the most serendipitous gestations possible, with the best people possible to initially chain that lightning.
Sadly it was not completely to be. Darwyn Cooke passed away much too soon last year, and so (by DC standards) did not receive any credit for his brain and pencil work on this series (beyond “special thanks”). Good on Jeff to finally clue us all in on the real story with this essay and accompanying promotional image — also reproduced in this volume. I just knew I was seeing Darwyn’s fingerprints on this series from the beginning. Somehow…
I thought that more people should know that this essay exists. It is very important that people know about this. You should be reading this Future Quest series anyway. Especially if you want to feel the excitement you felt about everything when you were eight years old.
KC CARLSON originally watched Jonny Quest on TV in a local bar. When he was eight years old. Really. Long story…
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. … and there will be a Future Quest Volume 2 TPB at some point in the future as the series is currently scheduled to run until at least issue #12, later this year. So, something to look forward to…
By the way, The Lego Batman Movie actually won Best Picture at the Oscars last Sunday Night. True story… Ask Lego Warren Beatty…