Future Quest: An Interview with Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner

Starting this month, Johnny Quest joins forces with Space Ghost, Birdman, and others. We had a word with the creative team.

One big deal coming out of DC Comics this month is their Hanna-Barbera Beyond line. It’s filled with reimaginings of old Hanna-Barbera properties, such as a more modern take at Scooby-Doo, a post-apocalyptic Wacky Races, and even The Flintstones get a new coat of paint on them.

By far, the most interesting series spinning out of this is Future Quest by Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner. The team that gave us Flash Gordon and the Shazam tie-in to Convergence get back together to tell a straight-up action comic about Johnny Quest and his family fighting side-by-side with the likes of Space Ghost, Birdman, the Herculoids, Mightor, Frankenstein Jr., and the Impossibles.

I was privledged to get to speak with Parker and Shaner. We discussed the upcoming Future Quest, space monkeys, blob people flavors, and what they’d like to move onto after this.

Den of Geek: I’m super stoked for this project. So Future Quest is this big crossover of all the different Hanna Barbera action shows and properties from the 60s-on. As the title suggests, Johnny Quest is the central character in all of this. What made you decide that he made for the best protagonist?

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Jeff Parker: Johnny’s kind of the alpha of the whole Hanna Barbera action-adventure thing. When you watch the cartoons, any of the other cartoons – Herculoids, everything else – they all use Johnny Quest music, they use the voices, and everything just spirals out of that original nighttime show that they did. Doug Wildey really hit on something, I feel, with Johnny Quest. He and Hadji just embody the way kids and adults look at the modern idea of adventure and it still works today.

Plus the black shirt makes it easy for Doc. *laughs*

Going into the project, on a nostalgic level, which characters were you most pumped to be able to use? And are there any that you suddenly came to appreciate even more when working on the series?

JP: Let’s see…who was I most excited about…? All the Herculoids, of course. Particularly Zok because he’s a space dragon.

That was a metal show when you look at it.

JP: Oh yeah! Because it’s all monsters. It’s all monsters fighting robots most of the time. And it’s like, why even have something kids don’t even want in here? It’s just the strength of monsters battling robots and we never even know why the robots are bad. They just hate them! It’s very pure that way.

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Evan “Doc” Shaner: I’ve always been a Space Ghost fan. Going into it, that was the one I was most excited about, but Birdman really surprised me and I think Jeff too.

JP: The weird thing is, no matter what you think about—I’ve found this out every time I’ve done a work-for-hire project, I think, “Well, I don’t have an opinion on that character. Mightor is just a superhero caveman.” Once you really think about what Mightor is, you think, wait, this is really cool. This is really bizarre and you realize you can break down the thing that Mightor was probably a Cro-Magnon and so are the other guys he’s always up against. They’re all Neanderthals. Then you start to really think about that world, that Stone Age, and now we’ve got a whole thing going on that I’ve never considered before.

A lot of these properties seem tricky because other than something like Batman or Ninja Turtles, there’s not a lot of cultural evolution to them. They exist in the 60s and 70s, then in more modern times, Cartoon Network spent basically forever poking fun at them. Is there a challenge in using these characters without falling into the trap of on one side being too hokey and on the other side overcompensating into dark seriousness?

JP: Hm, not really. We don’t think of the parodies as being malicious. They have a great respect for the characters. With Venture Brothers, you can’t nail it that good and not like it. There’s just no way.

We’ve had no trouble with… I’ve never understood why one character is supposed to be sillier than another. I’m sorry, the biggest character in the world is a guy who dresses up like a bat. So nothing about this has me going, “Yeah, this is serious business.” It’s all very relative to me.

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And one of these things – something I’d like to hear Shaner talk about – is one of the deals people forget about with these characters is simply how much you want to draw them. I always thought that was one of the big keys to Batman’s success and I think it’s one of the things that keeps people coming back to Space Ghost or anything Alex Toth designed. Those characters are fun to draw and it appeals to you on a carnal level that way.

With the Herculoids, there’s Gloop and Gleep. People who couldn’t draw could always draw those blobs!

Doc: Speaking of Coast to Coast, when I was a kid watching that show, since they used so much of the original show directly in Coast to Coast, I was so familiar already with Space Ghost and the look since I was a kid. And watching that show, even though I knew it was not the original “serious” take on Space Ghost, I was seeing those drawings and getting an idea of what Space Ghost was just from the look of it.

JP: You sit back and go, “I want Brak!”

Doc: Brak’s the best! I love Brak.

Brak is awesome, but he is a little bit of damaged goods going into a project like this, I have to imagine. Like, I know you guys can pull it off…

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JP: He’s not really in the story.

Right, right. But if it came to that.

JP: We’ve kind of set it up so that if it takes off – and so far there appears to be a lot of interest – that maybe there can be some spinoffs into individual properties afterwards. So I didn’t want to take the fun out of things for future guys and bring in a lot of Space Ghost villains. And also we have a threat that unites all these great characters together. Except in the case of Johnny Quest, nobody else really gets to see the usual kind of villains they fight.

And I’ve forgotten a lot about The Impossibles, and Doc’s started watching it with his daughter, and he’s like, “Looking at this again, they have all the coolest bad guys!” And they really do!

Doc: *laughs* They’re the best.

JP: Every one of them should inspire a band, strangely enough. That’s our real big change. Shaner pointed out, it’s like, three guitarists is not a proper band. So the Impossibles are getting retooled, at least for musical reasons.

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If you were to eat Gloop and/or Gleep, what do you figure they would taste like?

JP: ANYTHING YOU WANTED THEM TO TASTE LIKE! No, they just seem like the kind of gelatin that you just add in any flavor. This is gross. Why did you even ask this question?

I don’t know… I figured they’d taste like the Ninja Turtles Pudding Pies they used to make…

JP: Now you’ve raised an interesting question. Like if Zandor, Tara, and Dorno are somewhere lost on the planet with them and Gloop and Gleep let them eat some of them to keep their strength… Well, thanks for taking this to a really dark place, Gavin! We were being positive.

As you mentioned, you’ve been watching a lot of the old cartoons for research. Are there any specific episodes or moments from them that really stick out to you now, like something that really holds up as awesome or something so weird?

JP: Yeah, there’s a lot of weird stuff. It seems like every time I would catch a rerun of Johnny, it was always the one with the little gargoyle.

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Doc: Heh. Yeah.

JP: It’s always the one about the little midget posing as a gargoyle who gets killed because, again, a lot of people got smoked on Johnny Quest, so that was always happening.

But I always liked the one where Race has to go up and have a biplane fight with a Red Baron-type guy in South America.

Doc: Shadow of the Condor.

JP: Yeah, I love that.

Doc: That’s a good one.

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JP: See, they formed my sensibilities, so to me none of them stick out as weird. They’re all like, “Yeah, that’s about right.” My big graphic novel from years ago The Internman was heavily influenced by Johnny Quest. Initially, a lot of it was me thinking about the grown Quest characters. How Johnny and Hadji would grow up. And then, I don’t have the rights to do that, then dropping that, but I still kind of thinking of the types of stories and the kinds of sci-fi that would turn up in that sort of thing.

This one you already sort of answered, but Space Ghost…

JP: Oh, yeah, we didn’t address the fact that Space Ghost has a monkey in space. That might be what the whole series is about.

That there’s a monkey in space.

JP: Yes, why is there a monkey?

*Shaner giggles in the background*

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I always get him confused with the one from Super Friends.

JP and Doc: Gleek?

Right.

JP: Yeah, it’s weird enough because his name sounds like one of the Herculoids and he looks like they just couldn’t stop thinking of Blip.

When you get into it, you start to realize: who’s the best animal sidekick? That’s another thing, I never realized how many of the characters had animal sidekicks. We got into the story and we’re like, “Man, all these animals need something to do.” Birdman’s got a big bird named Avenger…

Right…

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JP: Johnny has Bandit. There’s a new kid who comes in, Tye, and he’s got a cat.

So Space Ghost has one of the best superhero designs in general and he’s been kind of underutilized, I think, overall. DC did try that miniseries by Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti about ten years ago. That didn’t really catch on. Do you think that with a project like this, Space Ghost can finally find his footing as a comic character and maybe get a spinoff? You already sort of answered that question, I guess.

JP: I think so. Of course this goes into us saying, “Of course, we’ve found the definitive way that Space Ghost will catch on.” The weird thing is, when you watch the old Space Ghost cartoons, they don’t tell you anything, like why he’s there, why are these two orphan twins running around with him, and that’s even before you get to why there’s a monkey with a mask on. Where did the Ghost Planet come from? They leave it all, mythologically, as unexplained and that gave us a lot of room to build on how that may have come to be. We still want to make it seem mythical and not too mired in details, but we still use a lot of that premise to explain like why is there a Ghost Planet and why is Space Ghost who he is with his power bands and his deep need to run into everyone in the galaxy’s business.

And why does he have a monkey.

JP: And why—yeah. The real reason he has a monkey, in my mind, is because in Johnny Quest, Doug Wildey originally wanted him to have a monkey. Doug told me that and he mentioned it in an interview at some point he did in one of those old Comico Johnny Quests when he did the classic stories. He told me that he never wanted to put a dog in there. Joe [Barbera] wanted that.

Originally, Johnny grew out of them wanting to do a character called Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy. Which nobody would know about because it was a radio show. I never even heard it. But Armstrong had a dog, blah, blah, ran around. You have to look it up, but it’s way less interesting than what Johnny Quest became. There’s no Hadji or anything cool like that.

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So Doug was kind of forced by his bosses to put a dog in and, “I don’t want a dog! A dog gets in the way! You have to carry it everywhere and it barks!” And you can tell in the cartoon they even seem annoyed by Bandit just running around barking a few levels louder than everybody else just talking.

Doug said, “I just wanted a monkey! It made more sense! A monkey can go get your keys and stuff like that and breaks you out.” And of course Space Ghost comes along with Alex Toth in charge instead of just working on it like with Johnny Quest, now there’s a monkey and now he’s CONSTANTLY getting keys. Blip’s always on the lookout for some keys as soon as he’s got into a room. It’s his prime directive to find cell keys and get ‘em…then turn invisible.

Last question, I asked my editor Mike Cecchini for a question to ask and this is what he gave me. And I quote. In all caps: WHY AREN’T YOU DOING MORE SHAZAM question mark, exclamation point, question mark, exclamation point, question mark. End quote.

JP: That’s your turn, Doc.

Doc: …because we’re doing Future Quest.

JP: Wow, that’s a sick burn at your editor, Gavin!

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*everyone has a good laugh. Freeze frame. Credits roll*

JP: I think that’s one of those things where, like doing Future Quest, we both were able to see how this could be done in the modern day and still feel like the original material. Actually, I think we were in a rare position thanks to the Convergence special that we could do what we consider to be the original Captain Marvel we both really like. And now we’d have to do it—It’s totally fine the way it is, but I think that character in particular is kind of locked into the Fawcett way. It is for me and I won’t speak for Evan, but I’ll bet it is. Which makes it a little harder. I don’t think we could transpose him as well without being able to do all the stuff we wanted with the original version.

Now Superman, however…I feel we can do that.

*Doc laughs*

I would be for that too!

JP: I’m just going to keep swerving this into Superman every chance I get and see what happens!

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Doc: I’m with that, yeah.

JP: Thank him, though, because that story meant a lot to us and we were so glad to be able to work on it and very happy that it struck a chord with readers.

Doc: Yeah, I don’t want to sound like we don’t appreciate the folks asking. That’s great. That’s amazing because it’s not something I thought I’d be able to do in the first place.

JP: I really never thought it would be on the table and to me that whole project was great because it allowed us to do that version of Captain Marvel we like so much. It’s like I get to tick that off, go back in time and high-five eight-year-old me!

Future Quest #1 hits stands Wednesday, May 18.

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Gavin Jasper doesn’t need intelligence drugs because he doesn’t know what they are. Follow him on Twitter!