Space Ghost Is Going To Be Your Batman: Jeff Parker And Doc Shaner On ‘Future Quest’ [Interview]
DC's upcoming Hanna-Barbera line has already grabbed plenty of interest with its offbeat takes on classics like Scooby Doo and Wacky Races, but for a lot of readers, the most hotly anticipated title is the one that has the closest connection to its cartoon roots. In Future Quest, Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc" Shaner, the team behind last year's Convergence: Shazam miniseries, are reuniting for a story big enough to require virtually all of the Hanna-Barbera adventure characters.
On the eve of the book's launch this week, ComicsAlliance spoke to Parker and Shaner about the origins of the project, the characters they learned to love, and why they wanted to give Birdman something he'd never had before: a personality. We also have an exclusive look at Doc Shaner's pencils for the series!
ComicsAlliance: The new Hanna-Barbera line is one of the most surprising developments to come out of DC in a while. How did you two get involved with that?
Jeff Parker: Dan DiDio was initially talking it over with Darwyn Cooke, spitballing stuff like doing a big mega-story that might make an event to raise awareness of these characters and repackage them. He apparently asked for us, and then we got to work on it. It was pretty simple! Dan's alerted us to it by just sending us that picture that you've seen of all the characters together, which is a pretty fun way to be invited. Then we just said yes.
CA: Okay, good. Now that we've got that out of the way, can we talk for maybe the next hour about Frankenstein Jr.?
JP: Oh, yeah, he's in there.
Doc Shaner: I think Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles show up in #4, I think, if that's okay to say!
JP: At first, we lean heavily into Jonny Quest and his people, but actually, we open with a story in the past that sets up Space Ghost and his whole ordeal and how he came to be.
CA: Are we getting a new origin for Space Ghost?
JP: Yes. We're not connecting this to anything that's been in print before, and the show never gave him an origin, so we felt like people would like one.
CA: That raises an interesting question, I think. A lot of the new books are pretty drastic reimaginings. You've got post-apocalyptic Scooby Doo and Wacky Races, for instance. Meanwhile, from what I've seen, it seems like you two are hewing a little closer to the original cartoons. Is that something you brought to the table?
JP: Yeah, we didn't really see a reason to fix something that wasn't broken. Our task was already big enough, the fact that we had to make all of these characters work together. What we did have to do was to slide some over to fit the tone and style of Jonny Quest, which is the thing that holds it all together in a meta-sense.
He's the one who starts it all with the first prime-time cartoon where people are having adventures, getting shot, and going all around the world having adventures. So some characters are being reimagined. Frankenstein Jr. is a lot bigger and more Iron Giant-y, and the Impossibles are a lot more realistic. There's already that going on, but there was no real point in messing with anybody else.
It's sort of like what we did with Flash Gordon, to see if we could make all of those characters work again. In my mind, there's a time period that's just classic, it doesn't change.
DS: And we didn't know about the other books, either, so there was never a question of, "Well, do we do a post-apocalyptic book, or what?" We only really knew about this one.
JP: Yeah, they seem to have cornered the market on the post-apocalyptic stuff.
CA: Doc, coming at it from an artistic standpoint, you're an artist who has a style that really lends itself well to those classic Alex Toth designs that you see with characters like Space Ghost. Was that already an influence on your work before this?
DS: Oh, yeah, for sure. For years now, absolutely. I've got Genius, Animated, that third volume of Toth art books that IDW put out with all the designs in it, sitting on my desk 24/7. There's very little that I felt needed to change. Most of the changes are actually for the characters that weren't designed by Toth, to make them fit into the Alex Toth mold that starts with Space Ghost and Jonny Quest.
JP: Doc, I don't know if I told you this, but some artists, when they found out we were doing this, would say something like, "Yeah, everything looks great, but I'd lose that cape." And I'm like, "What?! Why would you lose his cape?!" Everyone volunteers their hot take on the characters once they find out you're doing this, and I just nod politely and think "Well, good thing they hired us!" [Laughs]
DS: Every time someone criticizes Frankenstein Jr. or the Impossibles being involved, all I think is, "Be glad it's us, because they were going to be in the book no matter what!" I think we're going to be a lot more respectful than some people would be.
JP: I always start off thinking, especially if I get some characters that I don't particularly have a big affinity for, I always think, "Well, I'm really going to break those." But once I get into it, I always start to get weirdly attached to them, even if I wasn't before. I start to care about them. And that doesn't mean I'm not mean to them, but I care about giving them a good story and a good arc.
CA: Were there any characters here that started out that way for you, where you didn't care for them at first, but then you came to enjoy them more as the process went on?
DS: The Impossibles, for me.
DS: I at least knew Birdman. The Impossibles were completely new to me.
JP: That was totally Dan. He just loved The Impossibles as a kid. [Laughs] The other one, like we didn't have enough of a cast, was that Shaner kept drawing Dino Boy. We finally just asked, "Can we put Dino Boy in there?" and they said, "Well, if you want to draw dinosaurs, yes." He actually fits into the story really well, like it needed to be there after we started doing it. It's a good concept, too, a kid with a caveman bodyguard.
CA: What was it about Birdman that you ended up latching onto?
JP: I don't know, we just gave him a personality, and made it more fun. Don't worry, he does yell his name as he goes into flight at one point, in case people were afraid he wasn't going to do that, but the rest of the time we just explored the thing you never saw in the cartoon, which was him as Ray Randall, the guy who, for some reason, was affected in Egypt and now has the powers of Ra. That really is never dealt with, and most people just think of him as Harvey Birdman. We had a lot of freedom to give him a personality, and it's not even the backstory. He just comes off as likable, which you don't always get to do. And he's also got a pet bird.
DS: And he's purple.
CA: I was honestly wondering if there were going to be any references to Birdman as a lawyer and Space Ghost as a talk show host over the course of Future Quest.
JP: We'll let you be surprised. They might be in there.
CA: I've always wanted to see Birdman and Space Ghost playing off of each other, for what I think is a pretty obvious reason. You've got Birdman, the solar-powered flying hero, and you've got Space Ghost, the guy with a cape and cowl and a really cool car. It seems like there's a dynamic they could easily fall into.
JP: Then where does Mightor fit in? Is he Captain Marvel? He's literally a kid who changes into an adult! But yeah, what you're saying is, are we going to make this like the Justice League of Hanna-Barbera?
CA: Listen, I spend a lot of times thinking of things in terms of how they're the Justice League of something. I once had a long discussion with a coworker over lunch about the Justice League of the McDonald's Menu.
JP: Definitely, Space Ghost will be your Batman. There's no getting around that. I mean, he even appeared on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I love the way they didn't even justify that, it's just Batman helping Space Ghost out. You don't get an explanation of why Batman's out in space, other than that there's crime out there.
CA: So if Jonny Quest is what pulls it all togther, and our first big team-up is Jonny Quest and Birdman teaming up, is there anything else you can tell me about the plot?
JP: The ones that are easiest to fit together are Space Ghost, the Herculoids and the Galaxy Trio, and they're battling this big, solar-system-wide threat, a natural force creature called Omnicron, and Omnicron finds a way to burst through space to come to our world. You find out that Omnicron's been influential on stuff in the past, too, but of course, Benton Quest is already on top of this when it starts making vortexes all over the world. He knows something's up. That's how it all comes together.
The main thing we don't do is that everyone doesn't show up and all start automatically working together. They're all confused about what's happening and who the other characters are. My favorite scene so far is the first time that Jonny meets Blip, Space Ghost's monkey. It goes down exactly like you would hope.
CA: Is there a Blip and Bandit rivalry on the way?
JP: The weird thing we didn't realize until we got into it was that almost everyone has an animal sidekick. We've got one bit where all the animals are kind of squaring off, not sure what to make of one another. Avenger, Bandit, Blip, this cat of a new friend of theirs. Just suddenly, it's like, "Oh yeah, we've got to do something with all these animals," so I'm hoping that in the second half of the series, we get a Legion of Super-Pets thing going on. It's too good not to do.
CA: I'm very excited to hear that.
JP: I knew you'd like to hear that. We should've just led with it.
CA: If you'd said "we're going to have the Hanna-Barbera Legion of Super-Pets," I would've just run that as the entire interview. There's one more thing I want to talk about, though. Obviously, Doc, you're drawing the series and you two have worked on a lot of fan-favorite titles, but you also have Steve Rude coming in.
JP: Yeah, I don't know how we pulled that off. It was really Marie Javins. She knew with our oversized first issue and how big the story was, we needed some help, but you can't just get anybody to come help with something Shaner's working on, so why not go all the way to the top and get the legendary Steve Rude?
DS: Like Jeff was saying, we knew we'd need a little help, and it was just really great to have Marie reach out to Steve. I hoped from the beginning that he'd be able to be involved somehow, whether it was just covers or whatever. Those variant covers that we had for the first issue, I had a wishlist without ever really telling anyone, and we got all of them. It was pretty nuts.
JP: Part of this job is people messaging you all the time going "hey, I gotta get in on this," even though, as the creative team, that's not something we can do --- or, if you think about it, why would we? That's our job! [Laughs] We're non-stop getting messages, "Hey, this is my favorite cartoon, I gotta get in on this!" The hope is that it'll make such a nice big splash with the launch titles that, in a perfect world scenario, it'll lead to its own imprint.
Check out a preview and covers for Future Quest #1, on sale tomorrow, Wednesday May 18: