DC Comics is no stranger to big events. Crises. Crossovers between its various television properties. Attempted summer blockbusters. Rebirthing its entire comic line. Each event striving to be bigger and better than the last, each event met with varying degree of critical and fan reception. With “event fatigue” a real danger, what can a company as varied and as storied as DC do to get this GeekDad interested in yet another event?
How about relaunching the Hanna-Barbera cartoons I grew up with as an interconnected comic line called Future Quest, based on updated character designs by the great and lost-too-soon Darwyn Cooke?
“The initial person that Dan DiDio talked to, to try to figure out how to possibly do a giant event that would bring all these Hanna-Barbera action characters together, was the great Darwyn Cooke,” said Future Quest writer Jeff Parker, via a recent phone interview, along with artist Evan “Doc” Shaner. “Darwyn had some ideas, but my favorite part of his ideas were that Evan and I should work on it. It was a huge honor that we got to spitball stuff back and forth early on and work out the basic skeleton of the story last year with him. That’s about as good a blessing as I think you can get in comics.”
“We started talking about how we’d like to interpret characters and kind of pare them down to their core and sort of present these, again, as a very classic take on those heroes,” Parker continued. “We’re bringing a little more diversity into it than the original cartoons had. We’ve got some opportunity to kind of do legacy versions of characters and also to reinvent a couple. Generally, I think people are going to be surprised at how naturally we can get that all done and it still feels like what you loved about the cartoons.”
“It’s really also on Doc,” Parker teased. “It’s more about him. It’s an extremely visual story.”
“I feel that the characters aren’t so tied down to the time they came from,” Shaner said, “that we can’t do something modern that modern readers–young and old–can’t attach to, while still keeping the original tone and overall feel of the cartoons. Almost surprisingly so.”
With Future Quest being just one in a series of Hanna-Barbera relaunches announced, the team had to draw the line somewhere regarding which characters they pulled into this title. Don’t expect to see the likes of Scooby-Doo or Fred Flintstone, who have their own titles planned, cross over into this book. “If we tried to cross over one more thing, we’d explode,” Parker laughed.
But, as for the rest of the properties that aren’t receiving a new look and their own series, Parker and Shaner were able to make a play to include a particular character in the events of Future Quest. “Doc, he just kept drawing Dino Boy, along with designs he was sending in, to show what the character would look like,” Parker said. “And Dino Boy was not part of the pitch. That was not what Dan or anybody sent to us. But he wore ’em down.”
“And it shows a respect for the artist,” Parker continued. “When our editor, Marie Javins, says , ‘Doc really wants to draw dinosaurs,’ they said, ‘Okay, if you can make it work, put them in there.’ And they’re there. Dino Boy and his caveman pal and all these dinosaurs are now in the story, too. Actually, it ended up fitting really well with what we had going, so it wasn’t even a weird thing we had to shoehorn. It clicked naturally with the story.”
“I’d like to think I would take it okay if it didn’t fit in the story,” laughed Shaner. “Then I’d just deal with it. That would have been my answer with Dino Boy, but everybody took to it so nicely. That was really the only thing I was pushing for.”
Parker laughed. “Because you were thinking, ‘Sure, these other thirty characters… but let’s get Dino Boy in here.'”
But don’t think that Future Quest is all about how many characters the creative team can cram between the covers every month. “We’re not making the dynamic of it, ‘Hey, cool, Jonny sees Space Ghost!’ That’s in there, but that’s not what makes it a story,” said Parker. “I think you’ll find that it appeals to some very classic adventure storytelling.”
“The tricky thing is seeing it from everybody’s point of view,” Parker continued. “Like, how are Jonny and Hadji perceiving this as they go through the story? And then you have to remember, okay, what are, like Jan of Space Ghost, what is this whole thing to her? It’s her story, too, coming from a different angle. Then you turn around, Dino Boy, it’s his story. Birdman, it’s his story.”
“I think it works both ways,” Shaner added. “Older fans who know the cartoons or know these characters, hopefully they’ll come check out the book. And we know that we can’t expect folks to show up and stick with the book if it’s just ‘Hey, there’s Jonny!’ and ‘Hey, there’s Space Ghost!’ We need something to back that up and I think we’ve got it. I’m really happy with how the book’s going together.”
“I hope everybody realizes that while there’s obviously a big nostalgia element in this, that’s not what makes it work or it depends on. The characters work because they have a mythic quality and an instant appeal and that’s why they’re worth revisiting. Kids see the Herculoids and they get it. These monsters want to fight robots. You don’t have to explain it in much more detail.” Parker laughed. “Everybody understands this.”
“We’re going for a very all-ages thing, where, really, a middle-aged reader and an elementary school reader can both come away, as if it were a Pixar movie like The Incredibles, and feel satisfied by getting sucked along in an adventure,” Parker concluded. “I think people are going to be surprised. I think they might think it’s just a lark, and they’re going to find out that they get really invested in the story. And that’s my favorite thing, when we can pull it off.”
Future Quest #1 is on sale today at your local comic shop of choice.
Personal note: My interview with Parker and Shaner was conducted on Friday, May 13, within hours of the announcement that Darwyn Cooke was receiving palliative care following a bout with aggressive cancer. Cooke passed away on Saturday, May 14, at the age of 53. Cooke’s simple and clean retro style are the perfect inspiration to marry to the retro-futuristic style of these Hanna-Barbera properties. Cooke’s influence can be seen in the preview pages from Future Quest #1 that I was able to review. I feel the loss that Cooke’s fans share and can’t even begin to imagine the loss that his coworkers must be feeling. In addition to my excitement for this title and at seeing these beloved properties return to the spotlight, I am confident that Parker and Shaner’s work will serve as a testament to the inspiration and mentorship that Cooke provided to them and others over his too-short career.