Howdy Everyone! Andy Larson back again for a second helping of my world famous read pile for this week! Maybe I’m getting in the Thanksgiving mood in wanting to give folks seconds of something that’s really great, or else I just have way too many books to report back on for this blog so this is my way of attempting to catch up!
Regardless of the reason, you are the ones that benefit given you are the ones reading this article instead of doing whatever work that should be commanding more of your attention. That’s me, kids. Procrastinating aid #4999. Take twice weekly and you’ll never get anything important done. Results may vary.
In any case, the inspiration for today’s selection comes from my recent interview with Evan “Doc” Shaner which hopefully you listened do on this week’s Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast. If you haven’t listened to it, shame on you, ’cause it is really damn good. In fact, stop reading this article right now and instead go click on the link and listen. I can wait until you are done.
Go on now! Git! I’ll wait patiently…
Good. See I told you it was great. Plus if you were here to waste time in your precious work day, I just killed a half a hour extra by making you go listen to that. Yep, I’m one hell of the Procrastinating aid for sure!
So, as you were listening you probably hear us mention Doc Shaner’s excellent work on a series called “Future Quest” which primarily deals with creating a shared universe for the variety of Hanna Barbera action characters that cropped up in the 60s and 70s, in shorts. Characters such as Space Ghost, Bird Man, The Galaxy Trio, Johnny Quest, the Impossibles and others.
Given that I loved Doc Shaner’s work on Flash Gordon with Jeff Parker, and this was another pairing by this dynamic duo, I thought I’d take a moment to educate everyone even further on this particular series so they too can bask in its retro bubble gum pop sensibilities.
So without further ado, lets get your footie PJs and favorite frosted cereal together and enjoy this review of the first 6 issues of this terrific series based on cartoon characters of our forgotten youth!
All of your favorite Hanna Barbera “Action/Adventure” cartoon characters from the 60s and 70s have joined forces to fight an evil creature bent on universal assimilation!
Join Jonny Quest and his family, Space Ghost, The Herculoids, Birdman, the Galaxy Trio, Frankenstein, Jr., The Impossibles, and The Mighty Mightor as they combat the terrible Omnikron as well as the diabolical Dr. Zin and the Agents of F.E.A.R. in the time and space spanning super team up of epic proportions!
Things I Liked:
Well, it’s pretty obvious that I really liked the combination of Jeff Parker’s writing style matched with Doc Shaner’s art. We’re talking PB&J level greatness here. This is the kind of writer/artist pairing that I would read so many more books just based on the fact they were attached to the project. It wouldn’t even matter what the comic book was about. All that would matter is that as a reader I would get another real life Blue Beetle/Booster Gold style team up of these two comic book creators again.
All of their books have had such a zany, fun loving vibe to them which also at the same time shows a reverence for the source material, never sinking to parody or self mockery. It’s bright, its adventurous, it’s bold, and above all their collaborations have made me happy to be comic book fan.
In regards to this book in particular, Jeff Parker was pretty much given an impossible task in taking a whole slew of characters that were created at different times, were never intended to exist in the same fictional universe, and some even for different age brackets and melding them all into some sort of cohesive story. Although, he has to rely heavily on the somewhat overplayed plot contrivance of “dimensional portals” to bring all the characters together, once he does, the way they interact with each other is a thing of beauty. Whether it’s Hadji befriending Space Ghost’s monkey, Blip, or Doctor Quest providing Reed Richards style advisement while Birdman does all the Human Torch “flying & pew pewing”, it all makes sense.
Furthermore, when paired with the art style of Doc Shaner, it’s all so flowing and kinetic that even if there are holes in the plot, the action just seems to roller coaster forward in excitement. There’s no time to rest with Race Bannon swinging through the trees battling F.E.A.R. agents or the Herculoids doing battle with the unstoppable alien organism called Omnikron.
And although I’m giving Doc Shaner a lot of credit for this series’ art, he’s not alone of course. There are tons of others collaborating with him on this book all with the same zest for retro style adventure including Steve Rude, Ron Randall, Steve Lieber, and Ariel Olivetti. Personally other than Shaner’s work, I like the parts drawn by Steve Rude because not only am I a big fan of his work from his Nexus days but he has a very complimentary style to Shaner that meshes well.
Yes, if this was supposed to the the “Crisis of Infinite Earths” for the Hanna Barbera Universe, I will say that it reads so much better than that DC Comics book did. Although it’s crammed with characters all competing for something to do, it gives them it’s clever, enjoyable, and high on the fun factor for sure!
Things I Didn’t Like:
Well this is difficult to say given I’m reviewing a book all about these characters, but I honestly am not really the biggest fan of the source material. I mainly watched most of these shows in the early 90s when Cartoon Network was in its infancy and they really only had reruns of old Warner Brothers and Hanna Barberra cartoons to play anyways. Even then though, the only one I really watched a ton of was Bird Man for some reason, with Space Ghost, Herculoids, and Galaxy Trio being left on only if I was really bored.
And don’t get me started on Mightor or Dino Boy…I really hated those shows with a passion. And although it might sound sacrilegious, the only reason I even put up with Jonny Quest is because of all the references to the show that the Venture Brothers pepper into their own show (which I love).
So unfortunately, I found myself saying that the only reason I’m reading this book is because of the Jeff Parker writing and the Doc Shaner/Steve Rude art. And although, yes, I just gushed above about how solid the series was, at the end of the day, I eye rolled more than once when I thought back to the original source material and how dated and corny it all seems.
Maybe I’m being unduly harsh given there’s a lot of cartoons I still love that many might claim haven’t really aged that well either, and that’s fair. I don’t have the link to these shows that some others might have. The nostalgia for me is pretty low, so it makes me look objectively and say: “Wow they are tying Dino Boy and Jonny Quest together as former child friends…interesting…but does anyone even care about who Dino Boy even is?!? I sure don’t. ”
So in my mind, I almost had to separate what I used to know about these characters and how lame I found most of them originally from how they are portrayed in this series which as I’ve admitted above is remarkably better written. As a result, I had to struggle with my suspension of disbelief at times as I felt a constant dull nagging feeling in the back of my brain that I should put the book down and read about some characters I liked even before they put some of my favorite writers and artists on the task of pepping it up.
I did like the Impossibles though…they had super neat powers and awesome looks. Especially Multi Man with that shaggy blonde hair and smart red/black uniform with matching shield…he was the bees knees.
As I mentioned, despite not really liking most of the cartoons that this book was based on, I did end up liking at least one of them: BIIIIIIIRD MAAAAAN!
Yes, sporting again a classic Alex Toth design just like his outer space super hero counterpart, Space Ghost, Bird Man was the lone series out of all of these Hanna Barbera shows that I can say that I’ve seen every single episode of.
Not sure I ended up gravitating towards Bird Man vs. Space Ghost as a kid. Maybe it was the fact that he was Earth based, so he was more in line with traditional super heroes I would see in comics. Maybe it was because he wasn’t constantly paired with annoying kid sidekicks and a pet monkey like Space Ghost was. Yeah…that was probably it. I hated that about Space Ghost.
Sure some will remind me that Bird Man eventually got a sidekick in Bird Boy (the dumbest hero name I’ve ever heard), but he doesn’t really appear in that many episodes so it’s not really THAT distracting.
Anyways, the guy did have a pretty neat rogues gallery and unlike Space Ghost where his later life as an Adult Swim star was better than the original version, I never particularly got into Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, so this original cartoon really hasn’t soured much in my eyes.
That being said, I thought I’d list 3 episodes of the original Birdman show I think are particularly good, and worth checking out if you can find them.
1) Murro the Marauder
Okay, admittedly Murro (who they also call Murko in this episode for some strange reason) has a pretty dumb looking costume compared to some of the other villains we’d get on this show what with basically amounts to a black suit, ski mask, and red cape. But boy, did his ability to control shadows including making a shadow duplicate of Birdman make me sit up and take notice as a kid.
This guy manages to capture Birdman’s boss in Falcon 7 and has Bird Man pretty much on the ropes for most of the episode, unlike tons of other villains who are dispatched pretty quickly. Plus, when Birdman finally does beat him he transforms into a shadow and disappears, like he was some living embodiment of darkness.
Yeah, that’s real super villain stuff. That’s a credible threat, folks.
2) Bird Man Meets Bird Girl
Yeah, who doesn’t like a good old fashioned femme fatale style bad guy for your Rogues Gallery!?! Catwoman, Black Cat, someone to tempt our hero into doing naughty things. Well, we really don’t get one of those exactly in Birdman, but in this episode we get something close.
Okay, it’s not remotely close. Bird Girl is just a hypnotized pawn of this unfortunate looking scientist named Mentaur who looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. Still, she’s one of the only female villains we get even if she eventually snaps out of it, makes a face turn by episode end, and helps Birdman overcome evil!
Plus it’s funny how she takes credit for all of Birdman’s victories at the beginning of the episode and he’s pretty flabbergasted by her impertinent cheek.
3) X the Eliminator
Okay, first off. That’s just an awesome name for a baddie! X THE ELIMINATOR!
Plus I don’t care what you say, hoods on bad guys are just scary looking. Throw in the fact that this guy is pretty much a mercenary like Taskmaster and does succeed in nearly killing Birdman once and for all, and you got yourself a grade “A” style villain that the whole family can loathe.
Plus, it’s revealed in this episode that there is a cargo van…yeah you heard me…a CARGO VAN…that moves stuff from Earth to Mars and back again. You think your delivery route sucks, just think of that commute time?!?
Boy, I wonder what kind of mileage that thing gets.
Okay, here’s the scoop, kiddos. This is one of the licensed tie in books that is actually so much better in print than it ever was in its source material. Although some of my reading audience might have extremely fond memories of some of these characters (like I do with Birdman), for the most part, they are somewhat one dimensional relics of the past. Especially nowadays where the parody versions of some of these characters like Space Ghost and Birdman have become actually more well known and popular than the originals ever were.
But with Future Quest, because the writing is so crisp, the art so fluid and filled with wonder, that it actually breathes a considerable amount of new life into these old heroes and makes even the most jaded connoisseur (namely me) sit up and pay attention of what these characters are capable of.
This is especially true given I also recently read another reinterpretation of the Space Ghost character for a previous blog and thought that it was somewhat of a failure. I’m now even doubly certain of that assessment given that other Space Ghost story lacked a lot of heart and warmth that Future Quest provided. This is a book aimed at the child that still lurks within us all and it plays on that nostalgic notion so well that even if you could care less about the source material, you will end up really loving this particular series!
Now…who wants me to write an entire blog recapping other Birdman episodes?!? Show of hands?!?
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B+