Out of all the various categories of comics out there, licensed comics tend to be the most mixed bag of them all. More often than not, these types of comics tend to range from decent to terrible to absolutely horrific. Too often, a publisher will only pump these books out with the sole intention of making a quick buck off the name of the license itself. Little to no effort is made in getting creative teams who actually care about the property, and even less so who care about making great comics. This is especially true for licensed comics based on animated properties.
Sure, every now and then we will get a massive success story that defies the odds, like BOOM! Studios’ publishing lines based on properties like Peanuts and Adventure Time, or IDW Publishing’s critically-acclaimed line of My Little Pony titles, but even those comics have begun to develop a different problem. In the effort to do right by the material, the end result is often a slavish devotion to the source material that can potentially alienate readers who don’t have any prior knowledge of the show to begin with.
All of this above is why I can’t praise a book like Future Quest enough.
Future Quest #1, from writer Jeff Parker and artists Evan “Doc” Shaner and Steve Rude (with colors by Jordie Bellaire), is everything that you want in a licensed comic based off an animated property. It simply fires on all possible cylinders with great writing, great art, and an overall execution that doesn’t lean too hard in the direction of radical modernization or slavish devotion. Instead, what we are given in this oversized first issue is a comfortable middle-ground that allows the rest of the book’s elements to shine brighter.
First off, my hats off to Jeff Parker (a seasoned comics writer) for seamlessly constructing a shared setting that the 30+ ‘action’ characters from Hanna-Barbera’s library could believably inhabit. Where it would have been easy to just come up with a lazy, slapdash reason for all for these heroes to bump shoulders with one another, Parker manages to weave a narrative where the crossovers didn’t feel forced, contrived, or simply wrong. I could easily believe that, say, a character like Birdman would be involved in the antics of Team Quest, or that Jonny Quest and his adopted brother Hadji would wade into a situation involving an inter-galactic struggle between Space Ghost and the main villain of this opening arc.
A large part of why it works is that Parker supplies these numerous character with new origin stories and new backgrounds that work to tie everything together. Don’t expect much in the way of modernization for any of these characters – just about all of them appear (or will appear) in Future Quest in roughly the same way you remember them in the cartoons. But do expect to see a new motivation for why Space Ghost is the way he is, or why a costumed superhero Birdman (of all people) would get involved in Team Quest’s affairs in the first place.
Also, not to spoil anything here (that’s for another article), the book kicks off with one heck of an opening that serves as a catalyst for what would eventually bring the characters together. By the time it’s fully explained, you’ll get a sense of how all of these disparate characters and mythologies are connected. It’s a solid foundation that’s very well-thought out while still leaving you with questions that could be answered down the road as to how it all connects.
Now, let’s talk about the art. Hoo boy, do I have a lot to say about the art. Evan “Doc” Shaner collaborated with Parker once before on a Flash Gordon mini-series for Dynamite Entertainment, and he brings those same sensibilities here to Future Quest. About a good chunk of what I just described above is depicted in a sharp, clean, attractive style that’s easy on the eyes and is suitably evocative of the original cartoons while still maintaining a modern feel.
Now, if I have anything negative to say about the book, it’s that we do get a rather abrupt switch in art styles late into the book (for seven pages). It’s at that time that we are introduced to the talents of Steve “The Dude” Rude. Best known for his work on indie comics like Nexus and Dark Horse Presents, Steve’s art serves to bring out a different type of feel and aesthetic to the proceedings. Getting past the initial shock of the sudden art switch, I can tell you that Steve’s style is definitely more ‘comic book-y’ than Shaner’s, who’s line work is greatly informed by Saturday Morning Cartoons and classic TV animation in general. But while I greatly prefer Shaner’s pencils, Rude is no slouch. What he brings to the table is a strong, almost classical (for comics) sense of drama and urgency here. It’s not only felt in the posing and panel compositions, but in the bulky lines and thick shadows that adorn every panel. It felt appropriate for the sequence of events that happen in those pages and it’s a nice little snapshot of what we can expect to see from Rude in later issues.
Oh, and I mentioned that his art was ‘comic book-y’. That’s because so much of it felt like a throwback to silver-age comics (in a good way). There’s one panel in particular, featuring Birdman, that feels strikingly Jack Kirby-esque. Also, one thing that does bode well for the book is that both Shaner and Rude are as equally adept at character moments as they are with big blockbuster set-pieces. Shaner in particular opens the book with a short but massive action scene that rivals anything you might see in superhero comics.
Before I wrap up here, I also have to give props to Jordie Bellaire. Her crisp coloring simply pops in this book, whether it’s between the pages or on the wraparound cover (see above). Her depiction of Florida is also on point – you can almost feel the heat and humidity radiating off the pages in some parts (interestingly enough, Bellaire is from Florida).
Darn, what else can I say about Future Quest after all of that? I guess I can say that I wish that more licensed comics were like this. But even putting that aside, Future Quest accomplishes the one task that any good #1 issue should do: leave you wanting more. By the time I got to the final page, I was a bit ticked that I couldn’t have next issue in my hand straight away.
This is not only a great start for what might be one of the best licensed titles of 2016, but a promising start for DC Comics’ Hanna-Barbera Beyond line. Long live Future Quest!
What do you think? I you have read the book, what are your thoughts on Future Quest #1? Stay tuned for the spoiler review and discussion.