Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Future Quest 1, originally released May 17th, 2016.
Patrick: If you’re going to see Yngwie Malmsteen perform, you want to see a man just shred the ever-loving fuck out of the guitar. If he played a bunch of layered, subtle ballads with no ripping guitar solos, you’d be pretty disappointed. On the flip side, if you went to an Enya concert and she did a rollicking, virtuosic 13 minute guitar solo over the of “Only Time,” you’d be disappointed. I mean, you’ve have a story to tell, for sure, but “must have killer solo” isn’t one of your criteria for enjoying an Enya performance. We have different metrics for success depending on the art, is the point I’m driving at here. Yngwie’s got the fastest fingers in the world, Enya’s got evocative soundscapes, and Future Quest has a nostalgia-tickling cast.
And I’m choosing that word — tickling — very carefully. I was born in 1982, and I watched a lot of cartoons growing up, but I can’t say that I ever personally had super strong connections to the non-comedy, non-DC Hanna Barbera animated series. I’m guessing that a lot of modern readers are going to be more familiar with shows like Venture Brothers, Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law than they are with the shows on which these comedies are riffing. So jamming all of these worlds together into one multiverse spanning epic is simultaneously tantalizing and alienating. Luckily, writer Jeff Parker artfully anticipates the readers’ entry point and calmly insists that the spectacle he’s about to subject us to is worth the investment.
We start the issue in about as alienating a position as you can possibly start any piece of fiction. The copy tells us that we are seeing “A distant world. Years before.” Parker and artist Doc Shaner throw out a ton of confusing specificity — names of cities, planets, even a brief exploration of how shield-generating technology works. Our Green Lantern-esque heroes even seen to have uniforms complete with graphic insignia that would have been totally at-home on Saturday Morning.
The Captain here, identifies his band of warriors as “Space Force.” While both “Teen Force” and “Space Mutts” are part of the Hanna Barbera canon, “Space Force” is something entirely new. Or at least, that’s what my googling leads me to believe. The opening scene — which appropriately happens before the title page, effectively making it the issue’s cold open — is intentionally, purposefully disorienting, setting up what follows to be a nearly-perfect entry to this shared universe.
Naturally, that’s through Jonny Quest and Hadji. I already mentioned Venture Brothers, but Jonny Quest also has the distinction of being remade in the 90s, using really crappy computer animation for their adventures in “Quest World.” And even without the more modern interpretations, there’s something elemental and grounded about a boy adventurer and his super-scientist father. It’s weird, no question — Parker and Shaner introduce us to them in jetpacks — but they don’t require explanation. Parker uses Jonny as a mouthpiece in his introduction, excited to show off. For Jonny, he’s excited to zip around some alligators, but Parker’s excited to trot out dozens of semi-iconic characters. Hadji echoes my inner-critic with some much-needed skepticism.
What follows is mostly the nonsense needed to set up Parker’s own dangerous stunt: cramming all these characters into one narrative. Artist Steve Rude steps in to help Shaner cash a lot of the checks that Parker writes in this premise and it’s a miracle that it works as well as it does. There are two big splash page character reveals and they both feature titular characters from the spoof shows I mentioned in the second paragraph: Birdman and Space Ghost.
Spencer, beyond those awe-inspiring splash moments, the issue is maybe a little too explainy to get really excited about what’s to come. The Steve Rude section of the issue is remarkably more stylized than the Shaner portions, favoring more graphic inks and evoking more of a newspaper comic style than a Saturday Morning cartoon aesthetic. And the stark red-on-black scenes in Dr. Zin’s layer are so cool looking, but, y’know, it’s all villainsplaining. We don’t necessarily have any indication what kind of stories we’ll be reading going forward.
But maybe I’m looking for crazy guitar solos when I’ve already got a perfectly serviceable set of crazy characters right here.
Spencer: I think we’ve only just scratched the surface of what Future Quest is capable of, Patrick, that’s for sure. This issue really lit up the nerd pleasure centers of my brain, even if I don’t really have any nostalgic attachment to these characters outside of the Quests (say what you will about the CGI, Patrick — it’s all true — but my little ten-year-old brain couldn’t get enough of Quest World in the 90s). Just the sheer task of assembling all these characters has got me all excited about the possibilities, probably best represented by this moment:
This is the first glimpse we get of most of the Hanna Barbera roster who seem destined to make their way into Future Quest in upcoming issues, and the potential strengths each character can bring to the title are numerous. Parker focuses mostly on the Quests (with a side of Birdman and Space Ghost) throughout this first issue, which is wise for several reasons: not only are they probably the best known of the HB properties, but they can all coexist rather easily in the same little corner of their sci-fi universe. The other characters are much stranger fits, and I look forward to seeing what they bring to the table and how they change the tone of this title.
It’s not just the “who” that’s got me excited here, though — it’s also the “how.” All are these characters going to arrive through the portals? If so, what’re the limits of these things? Are they just opening across space, or across time too, or perhaps even bridging multiple universes? Again, I’m intrigued by the possibilities.
Actually, while we’re on the subject, let’s talk some more about these portals. While Patrick was right that the sheer amount of exposition explaining these things is a bit much, they’re still a smart concept to center Future Quest around. Again, this is because they fulfill multiple purposes vital to this story: they provide a way to bring all these disparate characters together, they provide short-term objectives for our protagonists (obtaining the items that come through before Zin can), and perhaps most importantly, they seem likely to provide opponents for our heroes to battle as well.
These little kind of enemies look to be precisely the right kind of fodder to provide a minimal threat, the kind that put our heroes through their paces without distracting from the heroes themselves — that’s exactly what we need to get to know our many protagonists and their abilities better. That can be valuable, but I also want y’all to take a closer look at these little critters — they look quite similar to Omnikron, the beast the Space Force seemingly destroys in the issue’s cold open, no? Hey guys, I think we’ve got our “big bad” already locked down tight.
Yeah, I’m doing a lot of speculating here, so let’s throw one more theory out: Kyr, the only Space Force captain to survive the assault on Omnikron, has since become Space Ghost. Just a hunch, but I feel incredibly confident in it (look at his wristbands!).
As you may have noticed by now, what I appreciate most about Future Quest 1 is how many juicy opportunities it provides to piece together clues and speculate about the future, but of course, there’s quite a bit to enjoy about the actual issue itself as well. For starters, Parker, Shaner, and Rude have a fantastic handle on these characters so far. Just take another look at the image I posted a few paragraphs up — it’s a spot-on summation of the Quest family and their personalities (Benton completely oblivious to the danger surrounding him, Race valiantly battling his foes, Jonny and Hadji stumbling their way to victory) all in a single panel! Parker, Shaner, and Rude craft similar moments for Birdman and Space Ghost later in the issue, expertly capturing their iconic, heroic nature and the unknown danger they represent respectively. As expected from artists of this caliber, it’s fantastic stuff.
But I’d be remiss if I discussed the art without mentioning colorist Jordie Bellaire. Bellaire may very well be Future Quest‘s secret weapon; I could turn to any page in this issue at random and find something to praise about its colors. In the Florida sequences Bellaire manages to capture a palette that’s simultaneously somewhat realistic, bright, and inviting, perfect for our introduction to Jonny and Hadji. That opening scene in space is even more impressive.
The dull colors here — they’re mostly earth-tones, but even the greens and yellows are muted — do wonders to make this environment feel completely different from any that follow. Those darker shades also make the Space Force’s power blasts stand-out all the more — the very next page, where Omnikron explodes, is one of the most memorable and visually arresting pages of the issue because of it.
These kind of contrasts make Ray/Birdman and Deva’s arrival at the Quest lab stand out as well.
Bellaire and Shaner both make such great choices here. I love that panel of Ray and Deva in silhouette, as if their present-day selves are casting shadows on the flashback backdrop. Bellaire, meanwhile, uses three different palettes to portray three different realities on the same page: there’s the “normal” present day, the washed out reds and yellows of the flashbacks, and the brighter reds and blues of the Quest computer. All of these choices make the page pop, but they also keep its disparate elements remarkably clear to follow. That’s the sign of a great colorist, and I can only imagine that Bellaire’s versatility will become more and more vital to Future Quest as more and more characters are introduced. What a solid foundation to build a crossover of this scope on!
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?