In their original forms, Space Ghost, Mightor, and Birdman didn't get much in the way of character development. They got called into action, kicked arse, and had a hearty chuckle at the end of their adventures. But Future Quest adds tragedy and real stakes for the heroes that started showing up 50 years ago.
Launched a few months ago as part of DC Comics' ambitious re-imagining of Hanna-Barbera properties, Future Quest is written by Jeff Parker with artists Evan 'Doc' Shaner, Steve Rude, Jordie Bellaire and Dave Lanphear. The series introduces the cosmic threat of a Lovecraftian creature called Omikron that imperils the entire universe.
A group of heroes from across time and space is slowly assembling around Jonny Quest, whose scientist father is investigating vortexes appearing all around the world. So far, the Quest team has had secret-agent superhero Birdman assigned to help them fight against terrorist organisation FEAR, who are trying to snatch up any information and technology related to the spacetime chaos.
The first issue gave readers a new origin for Space Ghost and layered mythological mystique onto Birdman, adding dimension to the old characters who used to star in cookie-cutter action shorts.
Since its debut, Future Quest's format has changed, with shorter stories spotlighting different characters and contributors. Legendary artist Steve Rude provided killer visuals for a Birdman tale in issue #3 and a Herculoids showcase revealed how parents-in-charge Zandor and Tarra are sole survivors of a planet where robots slaughtered humans.
In last week's issue #4, Parker draws a chapter focused on FEAR and Benton Quest's mad scientist archnemesis Dr. Archimedes Zin, flitering a streak of dark comedy into the glimpse at the evil organisation's inner workings.
The latest issue of Future Quest binds two H-B properties together in this Earth's distant past, opening with a sequence where masked caveman superhero Mightor seemingly sacrifices himself against Omikron.
One of the villagers looking on turns out to be Ug — the hulking, loincloth-wearing sidekick on the old Dinoboy show — and the two characters pair up in this issue, after the time-displaced neanderthal saves young Todd Messick's life.
The latter half of the issue establishes a connected backstory for Dr. Quest, Zin, and other super-scientists that shows the tragic impetus for the creation of goofy giant robot protector Frankenstein, Jr.
Though they're being tweaked and re-angled for the purposes of a new story, the heroes still harbour hints of their original iterations.
The Herculoids sequences highlight the hybrid human/beast teamwork that made the science-fantasy collective feel special, and Birdman still has a tendency to yell expository words and phrases.
Despite the upscaled threat and grim events sprinkled in Future Quest so far, the characters here still feel true to the kids-cartoon beginnings. Race Bannon still kills with ice-cold precision when he needs to but there's none of the tamped down, clenched-jaw tonality so prevalent in today's genre entertainments.
Future Quest loops these characters back to the gee-whiz Silver Age mode whence they came, applying the interconnected structure of superhero universes with much less of the angst of the genre's latter-day iterations. The younger characters express wonder, awe and shock at their circumstances, along with altruistic resolve. Parker and crew are slowly fashioning a universe where it feels like all of the disparate Hanna-Barbera action heroes belong together, evolving into a whole that's more intriguing than their cheap cash-in animation beginnings.