Hanna-Barbera revisits some of the best of its iconic characters
Hanna-Barbera has dusted off some old concepts and turned some upside down.
For most readers of a certain age, the name Hanna-Barbera is sure to bring up fond memories of watching at least one of their numerous cartoons over the past six decades. DC Comics has taken a few of their favorites to launch their "Hanna-Barbera Universe" comic line. And kudos to them. They haven't just taken the familiar characters and created stories similar to the animated shows. Instead they've dusted off old concepts and turned some upside down to refresh these cartoon legends. And they've manage to do it in some unexpected ways that don't sacrifice the characters' original charm.
Scooby Apocalypse Vol. 1 by writers Keith Giffen and J.M. Matteis and drawn by Howard Porter along with Dale Eaglesham is a more "realistic" take on the old Scooby-Doo cartoon show. The story begins with Daphne, host of the "Daphne Blake's Mysterious Mysteries" cable TV show, who, along with her cameraman Fred Jones, has traveled to the desert of Nevada to meet an informant. That turns out to be Dr. Velma Dinkley who wants to blow the whistle on a secret group of scientists she's working with on something called "Project Elysium." It seems that what she thought was going to benefit mankind was in fact going to do the opposite. They are soon joined by dog trainer Shaggy Rogers and his charge Scooby-Doo. Shaggy minds all the animals in Project Elysium's Smart Dog Program which enhances Canines with cybernetic headgear. Scooby was considered a failure because of his lack of a killer instinct and even with enhancements he's still not very bright. But Shaggy takes him under his wing and they of course become the pals we know and love. Now after the group meets for the first time, Velma takes them to an isolated part of the complex so she can tell Daphne more about the nefarious goings-on. When the group emerges they find the world has fallen into chaos as ordinary people are transformed into all manner of monsters. Forced to work together the group decides to stick together as they escape Project Elysium, fighting off monsters at every turn while trying to figure out what has happened to the world. This is an intriguing setup to what looks like an epic adventure and it's fun seeing this take on the "Scoobies" as they meet for the first time and learn to work together to solve one heck of a mystery.
Future Quest Vol. 1 is written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Evan Shaner and Steve Rude with additional art by Aaron Lopresti, Ron Randall, and Craig Rousseau. This series takes many of Hanna-Barbera's classic adventure characters and teams them up to face an interstellar threat. An ancient destructive force called the Omnikron, once thought destroyed, is reforming on Earth and it's going to take an army of heroes to stop it. Young Jonny Quest, his pal Hadji, dog Bandit, his dad Dr. Benton Quest, and their bodyguard Race Bannon are the first to face this new threat to Earth but they're soon joined by other classic characters Birdman, Space Ghost, Mightor, the Herculoids, Dino Boy, Frankenstein Jr., and the Impossibles. This is a fun roller-coaster of an adventure with so many heroes, many of whom haven't been seen since the 1960s. This is a love-letter to the rich variety of imaginative characters that Hanna-Barbera has created over the years to thrill girls and boys every Saturday morning. Kudos to the creators of this series for not only jamming the pages full of colorful characters but also capturing the joy of what made these cartoons so fun. A special shoutout to Steve Rude, a brilliant artist whose bold and beautiful figures and dynamic layouts are a perfect fit to bring these colorful heroes to life. Where the other two books in this review are much more of a revamp, this one is a celebration.
The Flintstones Vol. 1 by writer Mark Russell and artist Steve Pugh is the biggest surprise of the bunch. The slapstick/situation comedy approach of the past has been replaced by a powerful and poignant reflection of the lunacy of civilization as seen by our protagonist Fred Flintstone. Civilization is a new concept to the populace of Bedrock as Fred reminisces about his youth living in a nomadic tribe. He works at the Slate's Quarry earning money to follow the new fad of going to the mall to buy "Crap" which translates to "Stuff-you-don't-really-need," such as a trilobite cooker which the Flintstones buy even though trilobites have been extinct for ten million years. Science, TV news, organized religion, and monogamous marriage are some more new concepts for the modern stone age family. For example, marriage is a hot-button issue as many see it as an "affront to decency" and "unnatural" with protest groups marching in opposition against married couples. Although there's plenty of these amusing on-the-nose satires there's also lots of warm, touching moments. Fred and Barney are war veterans, who last battled against a more primitive people in a pointless massacre (Barney and Betty's adopted son Bamm-Bamm was found among the ruins of the "enemy" village). Fred carries the guilt of the war with him as do many of his veteran buddies. Almost heartbreaking are bits with all the animal "appliances" that Fred and family use. Seen as "items" by their owners, we get a glimpse of their sadness and confusion. The elephant vacuum cleaner, who spends most of his time in a dark closet, finally makes a friend with a "bowling ball" (an armadillo that curls up into a ball). When I first saw the first images from this new series I was initially put off by the more "realistic" art style of the series and its strong deviation from the original cartoon designs, but Pugh won me over as his work "humanizes" the cast making it easier for us to see ourselves in Fred's plight to navigate this odd new concept of civilization. Despite the silly concept Russell and Pugh have created a smart series with equal parts stinging satire and heart-felt humanity.
So far DC Comics' Hanna-Barbera Universe of titles has delivered fresh takes on these classic characters and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.