Sunday, March 04, 2007

Jonny Quest #31

Jonny Quest #31, December 1988, Comico the Comic Company
writer: William Messner-Loebs
penciller/letterer: Marc Hempel
inker/colorist: Mark Wheatly
letterer/colorist: Kathryn Mayer
editor: Diana Schutz

Every Sunday night, half a million geeks gather around their television set to watch Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s eclectic collection of late night animated shorts created by and for an immature mature audience – if that makes sense. Space Ghost: Coast to Coast put Adult Swim on the map, followed by a slew of other series inspired by old Hanna Barbara cartoons, including Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, Sealab 2021, and my favorite Venture Bros., an obvious homage to Jonny Quest and his peculiar adventure-prone family. I confess, I’ve seen more episodes of the Venture Bros. than the classic Jonny Quest, but if the latter offers thought-provoking tales like the one in the last issue of its Comico series, I’ll be glued to Boomerang for foreseeable future.

When I picked up Jonny Quest #31 a few weeks ago, I didn’t know it was the last issue of its series, and fortunately, the standalone story was both a perfect entry point for new readers and finale for old fans. With the little knowledge I have of the old Jonny Quest cartoon show, I expected to follow the Quests on a sci-fi adventure of either galactic or inter-dimensional proportions; instead, we readers take a rather pedestrian and in fact urban trek with the boys through a surprisingly poignant tale of domestic dispute and injustice. To avoid studying English history with Race, Jonny and Hadji join Dr. Quest’s girlfriend Kathy on her rounds as a social worker. On route, they encounter a petty gang of thieves (that the boys take care of effortlessly), an old retired carpenter that refuses to go to a home, an delusional widow that nearly unwittingly dies of gas fumes, and an abusive father that threatens his family with a gun before turning it on himself. Kathy grabs his arm in time to assure its merely a flesh wound, but the material is incredibly dramatic for a series I would’ve assumed family friendly. For a final issue, the writer seems intent on giving his audience something to think about.

Indeed, despite this bleak backdrop of societal dysfunction, the boys retain a sense of innocence and optimism that fuels Kathy until the end, as if Jonny and Hadji are perpetually trapped in the “happily ever after” mentality of a cartoon while their supporting cast is thrust mercilessly into the real world. The writer maintains a believable balance of the tragic and the blissful until the very end, when Kathy’s day ends with Dr. Quest’s long-anticipated proposal, as if he’s rewarding not only his characters’ endurance, but his readers’, as well. I presume this is the last “new” adventure we’ve seen of the Quest family. It’s a fulfilling end to a lifetime’s worth of adventure.

I must say, as taken as I was by this issue’s story, I was equally if not more so appreciative of its art. Hempel and Wheatley turn in some stellar work, rife with clean, angular lines and the dramatic tension necessary for the narrative. I dare say their work is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Daredevil in its page layout and expressive characters (since that work is fresh in my mind after tonight’s G4 Icons special about the 300 creator). Honestly, the whole package was much more than I anticipated from a comic book inspired by a long lost cartoon. It had an identity and a relevance all its own. I miss this series, and I never even read it!

Alas, the letter column is full of fans’ farewell missives; I guess they saw it coming. Their feedback confirms my impression that Jonny Quest was a much deeper read than anyone expected, but much to everyone’s delight. This comic was proof positive of how a seemingly dead franchise can be brought back to life respectably and relevantly. Seriously, this issue had nearly all the elements I look for in a comic book: a nice, tight fist fight, a thought-provoking subplot rife with social significance, colorful dynamic characters, and art that’s easy on the eyes. I might pass this one around for a few friends to read . . . and I’m sure they’ll look at it just as I did, when I pulled it from that quarter box. “Jonny Quest? Why not?” I’m telling you, this material was more adult than anything Cartoon Network airs on Sunday night. It’s definitely a quest worth taking.

Does anyone know if Comico collected any of their series, or who currently owns the rights to Jonny Quest as a comic book?

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