Thursday, May 19, 2016

Future Quest #1 Review

Future Quest #1

Written by Jeff Parker

Art by Evan Shaner and Steve Rude with Steve Buccellato

                Years before, the last of a proud group of space protectors watches in horror as his comrades give their lives for the planet they called home. In the ashes of civilization, he kneels alone in a sad, pyhrric victory. In the present day, The Quest family investigates strange interdimensional phenomena in the Florida Everglades. Johnny Quest, boy adventurer, along with his friend and adopted brother Hadji, fly out on jetpack while under the watchful eye of Race Bannon and family dog Bandit. Meanwhile, at the Quest compound, noted scientist Dr. Benton Quest is joined by special agents Ray Randall and Deva Sumadi. Unbeknownst to them all, the phenomenon they are studying will open paths to worlds unforeseen and dangers unimaginable.

                When Cartoon Network had first launched, I was around thirteen years old. I had already heard of Space Ghost and The Herculoids via other shows from earlier in my childhood. But characters like Shazzan, Mightor, The Galaxay Trio and Birdman, Frankenstein Jr., Johnny Quest, and the Impossibles were not properly on my viewing radar until I saw them on Cartoon Network. They were incredibly formulaic, but also interesting to watch and fun to enjoy despite their simplicity in both writing and animation. I look back on those days fondly as something of a hold-over of my life-long love of superheroes before coming back into comics later in life.

                Reading Future Quest #1, I’m reminded of writer Jeff Parker’s 2014 revival of King Feature Syndicate’s comic strip heroes, King’s Watch. As an unashamed “Defenders of The Earth” fan, I couldn’t help but feel a swell of giddy pride seeing these titans of my childhood return to form. In the first issue of this miniseries, I would dare say Jeff Parker has rekindled my love for the Hanna Barbera heroes of days gone by. It was like walking into the living room and being reintroduced to old friends who have still been around, but haven’t seen them in a long time.

                There’s an energy to the pencils and coloring in this issue that harken back to the recently deceased comic artist and scribe Darwyn Cooke (who is given special thanks in the credits). While it doesn’t gritty itself up to make it seem more “adult” and “mature” it’s also not so cartoonish as to be disengaging and not being able to take seriously. From the first pages opening up to a planet-wide apocalypse on a distant alien world, to the reintroduction of boy adventurer Johnny Quest, the artwork is amazing and captures the feel of the art style of the old cartoons, but with a more modern aesthetic. These character designs didn’t fix what wasn’t broken, slight Birdman redesign aside. Even the reveal of long-time nemesis of the Quest family Doctor Zin retains his original design.
                Johnny Quest flies right off the page, ever the intrepid boy adventurer and risk taker. His devoted friend and brother Hadji still the stalwart, but equally precocious companion joins in the hijinks that inevitably ensure whenever the two are out and about in potentially dangerous territory. Race Bannon continues to be an action minded caretaker and bodyguard and Benton Quest is still the good-natured and well-meaning super scientist he’s always been. These are the same characters from the cartoons and it’s great to see them back as they were in their heyday in terms of characterization.

                Alluding to the Birdman redesign earlier, I liked how he was handled in this story as well. I can tell right away from the way he’s drawn and colored before I heard his name or saw the faithful purple falcon Avenger. Benton Quest even remarks that Birdman (also known as Ray Randall)’s voice carries, keeping in tune with his voice in his show. Seeing him don the costume (after saying a really cool mantra) and shout “BIRDMAN,” I was immediately sold and would absolutely buy a series based on the Solar Centurion.

                I liked that there were a couple of new characters as well to give support and expand the world a little more. Despite their inclusion, they weren’t given all that much to do except give their names and brief backstory. The introduction of TY and his blunt force exposition was a little forced, but it wasn’t distracting from the action. Also Agent Deva Sumadi provides a good human companion for Birdman as she seems to know his secrets already and is fully accepting them as a fellow agent. I’m looking forward to seeing more.

                I think it’s a good move that the story DOESN’T try to cram in every hero in the first issue, merely showing them in portals visible by Johnny and Hadji. We see the Herculoids (even the collapsed body of the Triceratops-like Tundro in the Florida swamp), the gigantic genie Shazzan, the outline of Space Ghost’s ship, the Galaxy Trio, Mightor, and even Jan and Jace, Space Ghost’s faithful wards. While they haven’t yet had time to shine, I’m hoping they’ll get a chance to shine in future issues. And there’s the possible inclusion of others that weren’t shown in the story as of yet. The possibilities are tantalizing.  

                I mentioned earlier the similarities to Jeff Parker’s King’s Watch, and I mean that as both a favorable point and a mark of slight criticism. While I hesitate to call it a rip-off as there are differences to make it stand out, it does bear a striking resemblance to King’s Watch in its premise, plot and at least in one or two regards, characterizations. Johnny Quest could easily be a much younger Flash Gordon; Benton Quest has something of a Zarkov-esque quality despite his good nature. The plot introduces the characters via collaborating on invasion from portals opening from other worlds/time periods, an old foe of one of the main characters shows its face with a concerted effort to hinder the heroes before they can begin to mobilize, capitalizing on the opening of said portals. Though it is the first issue and comparisons can be gleaned, it is too early to say it’s a rehash. It doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of the issue or the story so far. That being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address it.

Bottom Line: Future Quest #1 is a fun start to what I am hoping is a wonderful series featuring the heroes of old, showing that they’ve still got what it takes to be exciting in this age of modernization and grim-dark makeovers.

8.8 out of 10.