Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jonny Quest - The Comico Comics!

I do not know why after so many years that Jonny Quest finally at long last got a comic book series, but thanks to the little company Comico he did. And it's a cracker too. Doug Wildey was involved deeply with the early days of the strip, drawing amazing covers and even giving Quest fans three lush and beautiful adaptations of vintage Quest episodes in Jonny Quest Classics. Oh that he had been able to do a comic adaptation for all of the original twenty-six, but I'll enjoy what I have in all its beauty and be thankful.

The main comic book was handled by a who's who of comic book talent from the era with covers by Dave Stevens, Ken Steacy, Dan Spiegle, Ernie Colon, Wendy Pini, Carmine Infantino and others gracing the comic. The interiors were done for the most part by the team of Marc Hempel and Mark Wheatley. I'll confess that at the time their offbeat and kinetic style was not my ideal of how to present the Quest universe, but over time I have more and more appreciated the light and fresh approach they brought to the book. They managed to tap into the luster of Wildey's world without mimicking it in a mawkish or constrictive way. The series ran for several years, thirty-one regular issues with two special editions. All of it had at least a mote of the classic Quest magic and it opened the Quest universe up in a number of creative ways. It's astounding that these comics have never been reprinted in any way, especially in a world in which nearly all comics have been reprinted. They certainly deserve to find a new audience. For now, we have only the back issue bins. Me, I was lucky enough to be there when they arrived on the stands and I was savvy enough never to let them leave. They are worth the quest.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Jonny Quest - The Gold Key Comic!

When Jonny Quest first hit the national airwaves it sparked a good deal of interest and exactly one comic book, predictably from Gold Key.  The story they chose to adapt is the very first one to air, The Mystery of the Lizard Men. This is one of my favorite episodes, it's perfectly paced. According to what I've hear Double Danger was the first episode produced. I'm a little skeptical of that since the latter has Hadji in it and the the story about lasers in the Sargasso Sea does not, the only episode which doesn't.

There is no indication at GCD who produced this one-issue Quest fest, but if you like to read it for yourself, it's available online thanks to the Dojo's very good friend Britt Reid. Just follow this link for Part One, then this one for Part Two and then wrap it all up with Part Three.

There's no doubt to my eye that Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey produced the artwork for this back cover for the effort. Too bad they didn't get Wildey to the do the front cover as well.

But there was a Jonny Quest comic book series, it would just take a few decades to arrive. More on that tomorrow.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Jonny Quest - The 1990's!

What is referred to as "Classic Jonny Quest" came to an end in the 1990's with two feature-length animated adventures from Turner Broadcasting. In both we see some of the grandeur and gloss of the classic 60's series by Doug Wildey and others recovered, but we also see that the magic which happened all those many decades before can never be recaptured. Spoilers below, so tread with care.

Jonny's Golden Quest is a giant adventure which takes the Quest team across the globe to defeat the latest schemes of the evil Dr. Zin. The story opens weirdly with Jonny's Mom Rachel Quest still alive. Not surprisingly she appears to die in the early part of the story and that death proves sensibly both tragic and damaging to the team. Jonny holds great resentment against his Dad who he sees as somewhat culpable in his Mom's death and Dr. Quest himself feels guilty about his decisions. Race and Hadji try to heal the rift between the two all the while attempting to track down the father of a young girl named Jessie who seems to be at the heart of a scheme to create synthetic gold using ancient techniques developed by Leonardo Da Vinci. They are battling (it will come as no surprise) the vile Zin and his rather creepy agents, mutated creations from his genetic vats. There are a number of secrets in this one. The animation is pretty decent, much better by a great measure than the 80's episodes, and there is a clear attempt to ground the story in real world locations as the story moves from the jungles of Brazil to the streets of Tokyo to museums of Paris to the sewers of Rome to deserts of Australian outback. That's all good stuff, but frankly the story itself and Jonny's internal struggle all seem a bit overwrought as the writers feel the need to constantly bang away at feelings which simmer underneath the action. All in all an above average adventure with a decent Quest vibe, though it plays hob with any sense of continuity we might have tried to have in the Quest backstory. This is especially evident in the addition of Jessie who turns out to be Race's daughter by a woman named "Jade" but who looks nothing like the beauty from the classic series, though I guess she's supposed to be her. It's likely best to imagine that this movie happened on whatever passes for Earth-2 in the Hanna-Barbera universe.

A few years later we get Jonny Quest Vs. The Cyber-Insects  which visually is a festival. This time the story involves highly developed bugs (human size and much larger) who appear on the Earth at the same time that the weather across the globe goes completely crazy. To get to the bottom of the threat, Doctor Quest rides a shuttle into orbit to check with his team aboard an orbiting satellite which appears to be merely part of the sprawling Quest operation. It turns out that Dr. Zin is again the villain of the day and his insect hordes take Quest and the space station itself hostage while the threats on Earth rage on. Jonny, Race, Jessie, and Hadji all fight to deal with the problems and eventually it all shifts into space as they get aboard an asteroid Zin uses as a base for his defacto invasion of the planet. The action is set on an enormous scale and the notion that the fate of the planet rests in the hands of these kids is as scary as a thought as you might imagine it would be. The story frankly is not a Quest story, being far too large in scope and scale and being set in space requires way too much tech to make it a real human-sized story. If this were Flash Gordon or even Star Wars it might be okay, but as a Jonny Quest yarn it feels too big and sprawling by far. The animation is pretty impressive with some mighty bug monsters being revealed on a regular basis, but still it's just too much. Like its predecessor, any attempt to tie this into the classic shows will only make your head hurt. Take it for what it is, a high fantasy which features characters who look remarkably like the people from Palm Key.

My opinion on both these flicks is that they tell large stories which seeks to showcase big emotional moments for Jonny, but in both cases the emotional story gets overwrought and redundant. The large stories are just too mammoth for these to have anything remotely like the classic Quest vibe. Golden Quest is a worthy effort that falls a bit flat, but Cyber-Insects is off course from the get-go confusing hectic activity for plot development. Doug Wildey passed away in 1994 and this movie landed on screens in 1995, the last "classic Jonny Quest" movie. It's not, but it's neat they remembered Wildey in the closing credits. His magical touch was sorely missed in both these movies, but it will always be remembered in the exalted episodes from the 60's.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Jonny Quest - The 1980's!

The Jonny Quest show was a hit from the get-go, twenty-six rock-solid adventures which appeared on CBS, ABC, and NBC. The show ran for decades in various venues, always reminding its fans of its greatness and constantly finding new fans who were drawn in by the absolute cool of the show. That said, those twenty-six episodes are far fewer than is normally needed for a show to thrive in syndication typically (though in the modern era that's hardly a rule anymore). There was a perceived need to make more episodes to flesh out the total and so in the 1980's thirteen new Jonny Quest shows were fabricated for the fans. Woeful.

The shows have the Quest team largely unchanged (Dr. Benton Quest, Roger "Race" Bannon, Jonny Quest, Hadji and Bandit) and doing what they did before all those decades earlier. But so much else has changed that the magic is long gone alas. Gone are the sleek 60's designs, the beautiful flowing lines and nifty cool knobs and dials and in their place are the clunky lines and edges which look like everything used by the Quest team was designed by DeLorean but injected with steroids. Race looks more like a cheapskate Rambo than the cool collected super-spy he's supposed to be. Jonny looks younger and his voice makes him feel like a little kid as opposed to a young man on the edge of adolescence. Hadji uses magic of all kinds in every episode with a distinct Phoenix (Jean Grey) on the rise vibe. The labs are enormous sprawling spreads and the planes are not the nifty real-world machines we associate with the team, but fantasy gimmicks which couldn't fly for three seconds.

And the threats are pure fantasy and not all that much grounded in reality. A herd of robotic Arabian horsese leap across the desert in a wild fracas, where as in the early days one would have been quite sufficient. The single Reptilian lurks and attacks  early on but soon becomes jut part of an island filled with brightly colored mutant dinosaurs. The worst part of these latter Quest shows is the awful plotting which aimlessly has the Quest team wander around in a fury of activity waiting for the episode to end. Concepts are thrown in and thrown away before they can gain any traction and suspense is never considered. Villains cackle and want to rule the world but lack the kind of immediate motivations of greed or even comprehensible plans which make the vile enemies in the original series so memorable and compelling. Dr. Zin shows up three times in thirteen episodes as opposed to four times in twenty-six and looks okay but seems always over his head. (Note, he always takes a direct hand too, unlike his Fu-Manchu style remoteness in the original shows.) Jade does not show up once to hypnotize us with her charms...sigh.

But we do have Hardrock the Monolith Man. I can only assume this new member of the Quest team, a super-strong rock man from an ancient underworld civilization was an attempt to make them  more "super" and maybe add a toy to the potential line-up. As it turns out he does have some pretty good lines, but often he has nothing to do save jump in and save the team from its own brash behavior.  He adds little, but does give the Quests a way out of jams they are even more eager to blunder into. Jonny in particular seems less like the fundamentally good but overly brave boy we know and more of a foolhardy scamp who fails to see the danger which is obvious. It's all a game and he and Hadji rush into danger in ways which defy good sense, even that of foolish boys.

It's a shame and pity we couldn't have had better. But they did make two more "classic" Quest movies. More on those tomorrow.

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