Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Real Dinosaur vs. Robot Dinosaur

One of the few comic book highlights during the 1980s was Comico's adaptation of the classic Hanna Barbara adventure series Jonny Quest. At a time when the success and critical acclaim of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns was beginning to turn many superhero books into dark, unpleasant places to visit, Jonny Quest was simply fun.

The series was written by William Messner-Loebs, who respected the format and characterizations from the original series, while expanding on those characterizations. Jonny and the other cast members are all given well-rounded, believable personalities.

And this is all done without sacrificing the sense of pure adventure that the cartoon series captured so perfectly. Messner-Loebs also had a great sense of humor--Jonny Quest is often very funny.

Jonny Quest #4 (September 1986) starts out humorously. Jonny's dad, remember, is the world's most brilliant scientist and often involved in top secret projects. So when his direct line to the president rings at three in the morning, he figures it's something important.

It's not. An old college friend, movie producer Stuart Gold, needs help and somehow got that phone number. He plays the friendship card to get Dr. Quest to fly down to South America and help with technical issues on a movie set. This proves to be a perpetually annoying job.

The movie is a science fiction story involving a triceratops found in the jungle. The movie people are using a robot dinosaur, but the star of the film, B-movie actress Marley Frost, has found a real triceratops living in the jungle. She's keeping it a secret so it won't be exploited.

In the meantime, security guy Race Bannon finds evidence that the problems on the set are the result of sabotage, with the Mob behind it all. When everything comes out in the wash, we find out that Stuart Gold owed money to loan sharks. The Mob figures he can only pay them back if the movie doesn't get made and the insurance kicks in.

This by itself is enough material for a 26-page story, especially with the great artwork by Tom Yeats. What makes it so delightful, though, is that Messner-Loebs manages to fit in both a lot of humor and a number of quiet character moments featuring different people from the movie cast and crew. A lot of this isn't necessary to the main plot, but it adds to the tale's verisimilitude by peppering so many believable characters into it. It's really a remarkable example of great plotting. None of the asides or quiet moments slow down the pacing or distract us from the main plot. Rather, they all add to it.

The story ends when the robot triceratops runs wild after being sabotaged. The real triceratops arrives to battle its robot double and take it down. A mob guy then pulls a gun, but some improvisation by Marley Frost gives Dr. Quest a chance to take out his frustrations with a right cross to the mobster's chin.

Next week, John Wayne's comic book avatar goes searching for a lost little girl in an adaptation of what might be the Duke's best movie.

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