Masked Robots and Super-Cavemen: Jeff Parker Talks ‘Future Quest’ [Interview]
Future Quest has been one of the most fun comics of 2016 so far, re-introducing the classic Hanna-Barbera adventure characters and drawing them into one epic story as they battle an immense extra-dimensional monster known as Omnicron.
Future Quest #4 out this Wednesday, August 31, features the introduction of Mightor by series writer Jeff Parker and artist Evan "Doc" Shaner, as well as Frankenstein Jr. courtesy of guest artist Ron Randall. ComicsAlliance sat down with Parker to talk about time/space weirdness, the challenges of fleshing out kids' cartoon characters, and why a robot would wear a mask.
Comics Alliance: The very first thing that happens in this issue is the introduction of Mightor, and I can’t help but notice that this isn’t the same Mightor who’s on the cover of issue one.
JP: It’s not — it’s the original Mightor from the cartoon.
CA: So he’s probably not going to do so well in his confrontation with the creature, and there’s a new Mightor coming. Is that saying too much?
JP: [laughing] No that’s fair. What you’re seeing is the last days of Mightor, there at the end… I mean the beginning. You’re seeing the end at the beginning, which is a good place for it. And even if he had succeeded, it’s still 45 thousand years ago. You’ve got to assume Mightor’s just not going to live forever. This is our kind of dipping our toe into the idea of doing a legacy character.
CA: Well I wasn’t sure about where and when Mightor might show up, because the way space and time work in this series — it feels like different times are functionally just different places. We’re in the present and the future, and characters travel between them.
JP: Yeah. Well, if you think about what happened with the Herculoids in issue #2, the creature is making a huge jump across time and space, across the galaxy, so he’s hitting the Earth at several different points. This will actually come up later. So while it’s the same threat, with just a kind of change of direction it’s landing on the Earth at different moments. And that’s why there’s a direct connection to Mightor’s time and this time. We’ve got more time/space weirdness coming up, so I hope everybody can deal with it.
CA: Well you’re doing a story that involves cavemen and sci fi heroes, so time/space weirdness is sort of inevitable.
JP: Yeah, I figure they’ll go along with it to get where we’re going. And the nice thing is, Mightor’s time also gives us another character: Ug, the caveman who hangs around with Dino Boy, who’s also introduced in this.
CA: I maybe saw a couple of Dino Boy cartoons as a child, and I read this issue without even realizing that it was introducing Dino Boy, until I went back and read your previous interview where you said you were going to introduce Dino Boy, and then I realized who that was.
JP: Yeah, it doesn’t occur to Todd to call himself Dino Boy, but that’s definitely who he is. The kid with the big caveman pal, ready to smash in someone’s skull if they mess with him. He saves them from Allosauruses, which is nice.
CA: The combination of cavemen and dinosaurs with the superhero genre is not something you see a lot, but Hanna-Barbera did it at least three times, if you count the Herculoids.
JP: They did it non-stop. [laughter] I felt like it wouldn’t be true to the spirit if we didn’t get cavemen and dinosaurs in there, along with our space aliens and robots.
CA: And space cavemen and space dinosaurs.
JP: It really gets everything you like, all together, all the time. But the nice thing is, you start to understand that there’s a little bit more about Mightor in the next issue too. It kind of explains why in Mightor’s time there’s all these weird monsters running around that we didn’t know that there were on Earth. They’re all pieces of Omnicron that broke off.
CA: Omnicron seems to be useful in that way. In addition to being the villain of the story, it also seems to be a shared origin for everything that’s going on in this universe.
JP: He’s the mutual origin of a few things. Not everything’s tied to him. I could have done that, but I thought that would be too far. The Impossibles and Frankenstein Jr. are their own thing. But it tied in so well with Mightor and Dino Boy, I couldn’t not do it.
CA: By the way, I really love the origin that you gave to Frankenstein Jr. Because he’s this robot that looks silly, so the idea that he was made to comfort a child makes him work so perfectly.
JP: That’s the great thing, you know. All of these properties, I’m generally reverse-engineering them by just staring at them and watching the cartoons and thinking. They usually didn’t give you an origin, which is great. You don’t really need one. But it was fun to just sit there and think, “Well he looks like a kid designed him.” And that’s all you need at that point. Like of course, his mom built him for him. It’s fun to have him hold up his little crayon drawing that becomes the plan for it.
CA: Which is the only reason anybody would build a robot with a jaw that looks like that.
JP: Exactly. Or why a big robot Frankenstein would have a mask.
CA: Right. Although a lot of people run around in masks in this world. I don’t really understand why Jan and Jace wear masks, except that they’re supposed to sort of look like Robin.
JP: Well, why does Blip wear a mask? It’s like, these can’t be the same twins with the monkey. They’ve got to be different ones, because they have masks.
CA: Right, that’s not the other monkey that we met with two teenagers!
JP: And also that giant robot with the mask is clearly not the giant robot that we saw over at that lab.
CA: It’s a very effective secret identity. So, one thing I’m curious about with this series — we’re four issues in now, and I enjoy how the narrative is pretty splintered, taking us to different places and times to get to know different characters. But I’m wondering if that’s an ongoing feature of the series, or if it’s just a necessity to bring all the characters in.
JP: It’s kind of both. I wanted it to feel like a big sprawling event, you know? And I wanted to bring you in with the most familiar characters, which were Johnny and Hadji. And then there’s just a little bit of hand holding, like once the readers kind of trust the story, that you’ll be interested in the backstory of this character, then we can turn the camera away and start showing things like Buzz Conroy and the Impossibles, and you don’t have to see everything through Johnny and Hadji’s eyes all the time, even though they’re our original point-of-view characters.
And that makes it feel huge, which is what I like. Because as you see, as Omnicron starts getting more solidified in coming to Earth, you start to realize that there was a reason Space Ghost was so desperate to kill the thing before it gets there. It’s really the biggest thing the planet’s ever faced. So I’m really happy with the way it’s working out. And it’s cool to be able to bring in other artists. So it feels like a big event.
CA: Totally! It feels like a company-wide crossover, like a Crisis on Infinite Earths or Secret Wars for a line of comics that currently doesn’t exist.
JP: Yeah, exactly.
CA: The different artists that have come in to do different parts of the story — did you have a role in bringing those artists in and deciding which character they’d be best suited for?
JP: Yeah, usually Marie Javins would have an idea, and then I’d also --- because I’m very tied in to all the artists who like doing that sort of adventure stuff --- she and I’d just kick names back and forth to figure out who’d fit which character well. And so far it’s really clicked together. And it’s all got to make sense with Doc Shaner’s work. He’s the anchor artist. So while it doesn’t have to look like [his work], it has to feel of a piece. You know, and not feel like you’re just suddenly switching gears.
CA: And you certainly can’t go wrong with Steve Rude doing a Birdman story.
JP: Yeah that was pretty great, wasn’t it?
CA: So before we go, is there anything you can tease about what’s coming?
JP: Well the fun thing is, our good guys --- Team Quest --- is going to lose a member. And the story --- I don’t know, maybe readers won’t see it that way --- but I feel like it’s kind of oddly sympathetic toward Dr. Zin, who’s supposed to be one of the main villains, because he suddenly realizes what he’s helped make happen, and he’s regretting it. So I think people will be kind of pleasantly surprised, because even though we’re starting with characters that you think of as kind of two-dimensional, they get fleshed out very fast and go in ways you don’t expect.
CA: Seeing these two-dimensional characters become three-dimensional is already one of the best things about the series.
JP: It’s fun, sometimes Evan will draw somebody and breathe them to life in a way I hadn’t expected, and suddenly I have to stop what I’m doing and revisit my plan. Because now this character matters more. And it just keeps happening.