Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #32: Saturday Morning Cartoons Reborn

by Scott Redmond

In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. 

Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.

Generally reboots when applied to various characters or franchises are bound to the medium in which they were originally presented to the world. A movie franchise rebooted stays a movie, a TV show rebooted stays a TV show, and a comic book rebooted stays a comic book. Those mediums are where the fans of that thing generally will be, so it makes sense to keep it within the same areas. 

Every so often though, those lines are crossed when a reboot jumps from one medium to another. 

This was the case all the way back in 2016 when DC Comics dove into the archives of Hanna-Barbera characters and gave some iconic (and a few less iconic) characters and properties a modern rebooted spin. Thus was born Hanna-Barbera Beyond

The Backstory:

How did such a medium jumping partnership come to be? Well, that is simply answered by the fact that both DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera were companies owned by Time Warner at the moment (both are still there but now AT&T and Discovery have some ownership holds on them). Yep, there is no secret origin to this other than two companies under the same corporate umbrella decided to come together to use one’s publishing ability to bring new life to the other’s properties. 

All of the chosen characters and properties generally appeared in kid or family-friendly Saturday morning cartoons. Some, like Scooby-Doo, had previously been published in their familiar kid-friendly format by DC Comics (they still publish those styles of comics today) or had found reimagined big or little screen life at some point (like the Scooby-Doo live-action and animated films). 

With this partnership, the stated goal was to take a deep look at these characters and reimagine how they might have been if they were created in 2016 rather than how they were forty or fifty years previously. Retaining the charm of these beloved characters but being willing to trade in some of the comedic styles for more “adult” or “darker” or “modern” ideas. 

Kicking off in May 2016, the line went through a reshuffling in mid-2017 before wrapping up entirely in early 2019. 

The Nitty Gritty:

Beginning in May 2016, the line kicked off with four titles featuring some of the most familiar of the Hanna-Barbera characters. A number of current and long-time DC Comics creators were tapped to bring these new visions to life. 

First in the line was Future Quest which was a series that essentially was a crossover series that brought characters from Johnny Quest, Space Ghost, The Herculoids, Bird Man and the Galaxy Trio, and more. The Quest family finds themselves pulled into an intergalactic story as the various other characters and the Quest villain Doctor Zin (leading a terrorist group known as F.E.A.R.) all collide with the heroic characters coming together to save the universe. Launched by Jeff Parker, Evan Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire, the series ran for 12 issues before it was relaunched as Future Quest Presents in August 2017 for the line’s second wave. 

Scooby Apocalypse from Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Porter, and Hi-Fi Design took the Mystery Inc. crew and tossed them into a zombie apocalypse movie essentially. All of the usual characters were re-imagined career and relationship-wise, throwing in science-fiction explanations for why Scooby can talk and finding a new role for Scrappy Doo. Essentially scientist Velma was part of a group working on nanites that were meant to suppress violent and other negative impulses of humanity, but instead, the nanites did the opposite as they spread through people and the country. The ‘mystery’ to solve was finding a way to cure this and save the world. This series ran the longest out of all of them, 36 issues, wrapping last in 2019. 

A modern stone-age family got the next reimagining as Mark Russell, Steve Pugh, and Chris Chuckry brought The Flintstones to the line in June 2016. This series followed the social satire that ran with the original cartoons but with an even more modern and somewhat adult take. It wrapped up with twelve issues in June 2017. Despite the limited nature of its run, it remains one of the most talked-about titles from the line, alongside Future Quest, to this day. 

Lastly in the first wave was Wacky Raceland from Ken Pontac, Leonardo Manco, and Mariana Sanzone which arrived in June and was based on the Wacky Races series. Essentially the series took the race premise and characters from the cartoon and threw them into a Mad Max-esque desert wasteland setting. A race full of deadly obstacles with the destination being Utopia, the last human safe haven. It only ran for six issues before it was ended in November 2016. 

In the middle of 2017 only Scooby Apocalypse was still running from the original launches, as the others naturally ended or led right into the second wave of titles for the line. 

As mentioned above Future Quest Presents picked up on many of the threads begun by Future Quest putting Space Ghost as the lead, with Parker remaining as writing at first and joined by Ariel Olivetti on art. It quickly morphed into an anthology title picking up on various other characters and other writers and artists working on the story arcs. This was the longest of the second wave titles coming in at 12 issues, wrapping up in July 2018. 

Unconnected to Wacky Raceland’s version of the characters, Dastardly and Muttley from Garth Ennis and Mauricet in September 2017, was a series that reimagined the cartoon antagonists as Air Force pilots on a mission to stop a country from unleashing an unstable radioactive element, that ends up transforming Muttley. It only lasted six issues before wrapping in February 2018. 

Launching in October 2017, The Ruff and Reddy Show took the characters from that cartoon series and reimagined them as 1950s stand-up comedians. This was another six-issue series that came from Howard Chaykin and Mac Rey that wrapped up in March 2018. 

November 2017’s entry to the line brought the second iconic Hanna-Barbera family The Jetsons to the comic pages. Another six-issue series, it picked up years after where the animated series left off with the Jetsons dealing with a meteor heading for Earth that will wipe out all life. Also, the origin of Rosie, the family’s robotic maid, is dealt with and reveals that she actually has much deeper ties to the family. This series was from Jimmy Palmiotti and Pier Brito and wrapped up in April 2018. 

Capping off this second and final full-wave was Russell’s second title Exit, Stage Left!: The Snagglepuss Chronicles with artist Mike Feehan launching in January 2018. The title character was reimagined as a 1950’s gay playwright dealing with the dangers of McCarthyism and many other historical events. It brought in other characters including Huckleberry Hound as a closeted gay novelist who was Snaggepuss’ childhood friend and Quick Draw McGraw a closeted gay police officer. Just like the other series it ran six issues, wrapping in June of 2018. 

During each of these waves of regular titles, there were two sets of crossover one-shots which brought the Hanna-Barbera characters and many DC Characters together. In 2017 there were annuals that brought together Adam Strange and the Future Quest crew, Booster Gold and the Flintstones, Green Lantern and Space Ghost, and the Suicide Squad with the Banana Splits. Within some of these issues were backups which actually led to the aforementioned Jetsons, Ruff and Reddy, and Snagglepuss books. 

In 2018 there were two sets of one-shots, one in the spring and the other in the fall, and they dug a bit deeper in some cases for the pairings. Spring brought The Flash and Speed Buggy together  Deathstroke got to team up with a reimagined much less friendly Yogi bear, John Stewart Green Lantern and Huckleberry Hound took on the 70s, Nightwing and Magilla Gorilla were on the case investigating a murder, and Superman teamed up with Top Cat to fight some superfood. These one-shots were effectively part of the wrap-up of the line, with Scooby Apocalypse lasting into the next year to fully finish it all off. 

The Verdict:

DC and Hanna-Barbera deserve some applause for trying something different, especially when a regular rightful complaint with many long-term franchise entries is a reliance on nostalgia and the status quo. Some of the ways these characters and concepts were reimagined were far different than anything that would have been done with them in the eras they originated. 

Not all the books hit the same way as others, but that is to be expected any time such full-line endeavors are attempted. There were numerous books that commanded attention and in the case of Snagglepuss, the series even won a GLAAD Media Award. 

Honestly, it’s only a shame that it was so short-lived. There were some very intriguing threads that could have been explored further and longer but overall what was presented did what they were setting out to accomplish. Bringing these characters into a modern revamped light. 

Next Week: One of Marvel’s original heroes goes organic

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