Future Quest Presents

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Future Quest Presents (DC Comics), ongoing series. $3.99.

Nostalgia is a powerful lure, drawing many of us to return to our childhood heroes in the hopes that we can rekindle the thrill of those first indelible encounters. Perhaps that’s what has drawn writers like Jeff Parker and Phil Hester to recapture the sense of wonder they experienced with Hanna-Barbera’s super-hero cartoons from the 1960s. In Future Quest Presents, Space Ghost, the Galaxy Trio, and Birdman are highlighted in all-new stories illustrated by collaborators like Ariel Olivetti, Ron Randall, and Steve Rude—artists with impressive track records in the genre. These comics are both lovingly crafted and undeniably fun to read.

Building on the success of last year’s 12-part Future Quest by Parker and artist Evan “Doc” Shaner, the latest series features spotlight stories on the characters from the Hanna-Barbera vault. (Future Quest had told a cross-over story involving virtually all of Hanna-Barbera’s super hero properties.) Unlike some of DC’s other recent attempts to revitalize the Hanna-Barbera properties (e.g., Scooby Apocalypse), the characters are recognizable and the talent respects the source material, only improving upon it with modern storytelling sensibilities.

Unlike the seven-minute animated stories that inspired them, the stories in Future Quest Presents are more mature, going into the heroes’—and the villains’—motivations and not simply portraying the formulaic, and rather flat pattern of threat—action—resolution that characterized the original cartoon shorts. At the same time, these stories are clearly focused on telling the “A plot” and not weighted down by the multiple “B plot” points, the kind that seem to overwhelm contemporary superhero comics. In other words, one does not need a thesis-level understanding of the back story to pick up—and genuinely enjoy—the adventures DC is offering in this series.

Parker (late on his masterful run on Batman ’66) and Hester (following up on his tour on Archie’s The Fox) are ideal candidates to helm such stories, to say nothing of the elegant artwork of Olivetti, Randall, and Rude. Their efforts stand in stark contrast to another series I’ve picked up out of nostalgia, Archie’s relaunch of The Mighty Crusaders by writer Ian Flynn and artist Kelsey Shannon. That series seems to have launched in media res, with oblique references to a mini-series out some five years back. It would have helped this latest series to take a page from the Future Quest franchise and provide readers with renewed exposition for ease of entry into the narrative universe.

Many times I have returned to the comic books and animated cartoons of my childhood only to be disappointed with how time and perspective have altered my judgement of the quality of the storytelling. Quite frankly, most simply haven’t stood the test of time. Future Quest Presents successfully invokes the joy of those earliest memories of watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons but delivers a satisfying read using contemporary storytelling techniques.

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Matthew J. Smith is the co-editor, along with Randy Duncan, of the Routledge Advances in Comics Studies Series and leads the Experience at Comic-Con each year in conjunction with San Diego’s Comic-Con International (www.powerofcomics.com/fieldstudy). He is Interim Dean of the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the School of Communication at Radford University.