Friday, May 10, 2013

The Original 1964-65 Jonny Quest Cartoons and the Rick Brant Novels

Jonny Quest: The Animated Adventures
One of my two favorite animated television programs is Jonny Quest (often mis-spelled as "Johnny Quest"), often referred to as The Adventures of Jonny Quest, a short-run series from 1964-65, produced by Hanna-Barbera. (My other favorite is Rocky and Bullwinkle.) Jonny Quest had everything going for it -- action, adventure, suspense, comedy... and the creators of the program were obviously inspired by radio thrillers such as Jack Armstrong and I Love A Mystery and comics that appealed to juveniles during the 1940s and 1950s. With the central character being a young boy, children could find a common bond -- remember, even Captain America and Captain Midnight had children sidekicks for a reason... heck, the cartoon even looked like a comic book brought to life... Jonny had yellow hair and wore a black tee shirt, Race wore a red shirt and had white hair -- the proper coloring for a comic book.

Jonny Quest was a young boy who went along on scientific travels with his father, a scientist, who lived on a private island off the coast of Florida. The Quest family had a private lab and a hired gun -- a bodyguard named Race Bannon. Jonny's mother was assumed dead before the adventures because she is no where to be found or referenced on the program. Jonny's best friend is Hadji, roughly of the same age, a Hindu who wears a turban and using the magic words "Sim Sala Bim" is able to levitate objects at will. Jonny's father works for the government, but exactly in what capacity is never explained. Tagging along on the adventures is a small bulldog named Bandit, which provides the comic relief.

The Mystery of the Lizard Men
In one episode,"The Mystery of the Lizard Men," Jonny and Race travel to the Sargasso Sea to discover why so many ships have been disappearing. They board an old deserted ship, where they are taken prisoner by The Chief and his men, whose frogmen outfits suggest the appearance of lizards. The Chief tells Race and Johnny that he has developed the laser gun into the ultimate weapon and has blasted the missing ships with it. Listening to The Chief, Jonny realizes he plans to use the laser to blast the first Man to the Moon shot, scheduled for that very day!

The gang battles an assortment of villains such as a mummy in "The Curse of Anubis," a giant robot spider in "The Robot Spy," voodoo in "The Dreadful Doll," and in "Turu the Terrible," the Quest party is sent on an expedition to find Trinanuxite, a metal essential to the space program. Natives lead them into the Land of Turu, a hidden spot guarded by a giant pterodactyl. A wheelchair-bound man named Deen is using the creature to force the natives to mine the valuable ore.

Dr. Zin's henchmen using hovercrafts!
The episode "Werewolf of the Timberland" suggested a real werewolf, until the guilty party was unmasked... a premise and format that would later be repeated for another Hanna-Barbera program, Scooby Doo. "The Invisible Monster" is a classic among fans because there really was an invisible monster, accidentally created in a lab and running amok killing everything it comes into contact. Jonny spills paint on the creature so everyone can see what they are combating. My personal favorite is "Shadow of the Condor," in which the Quest party is forced to make an emergency landing in the Andes and encounters Baron Heinrich Von Froelich, a former World War I flying ace. The Baron offers Race one of his vintage fighting planes, but then follows him up and engages him in aerial combat. Since only Von Froelich has live ammunition, Race's chances of survival appear slim until a giant condor appears and comes to his aid. The WWI ace wants to relive his glory days and has been so isolated in his mountain retreat that shades of Norma Desmond come into play... and subject matter that really wasn't found on children's programs of the time. Adult stuff.

The producers wanted to ensure a good bit of lore was added to the program. Hadji's origin is dramatized in "Calcutta Adventure," Race has a girlfriend named Jade who appears in two episodes, and the gang has an arch nemesis, a rival scientist named Dr. Zin, who appears in four of the 26 episodes.

Two subsequent television series, two movies and three video games have come along, as well as a series of comic books, but nothing beats (or captures) the feel of the original series. And this is a darn shame because each producer of the new versions apparently did not realize what made the original program so hip and cool.

Jonny Quest was originally going to be Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, based on the popular old-time radio program from the 1930s and 40s. Hanna-Barbera even commissioned comic book artist Doug Wildey to create a five minute animated pilot using Popular Mechanics and other scientific magazines "to project what would be happening ten years" in the future, offering a futuristic rendition of the Jack Armstrong series. When Hanna-Barbera could not get permission from General Mills, following a promising screening of the test footage for GM executives, Wildey reworked the concept and created Jonny Quest. According to Wildey, inspiration came from the old Jackie Cooper and Frankie Darrow movies, cliffhanger serials, Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates comic strip and the James Bond movie, Dr. No.

As Wildey described in 1986, producer Joe Barbera had seen that first film about the English superspy "and wanted to get in stuff like [Bond's code-number] '007' — numbers. Which we included, by the way, in the first [episode of] Jonny Quest. It was called 'Jonny Quest File 037' or something. We dropped that later; it didn't work. But that was his father's code name as he worked for the government as a scientist and that kind of thing." (Source, Amazing Heroes #95). Hanna-Barbera refused to give him a "created by" credit, probably for legal purposes so the studio wouldn't owe long-term royalties, so Wildey instead received "Based on an idea created by" credit.

The closing credits of every Jonny Quest episode began with scenes of two young boys escaping from African warriors by hovercraft, dodging deadly spears, escaping into a rocket which promptly closes doors moments before the spears hit the craft and bounce off, and the rocket launching into the air. Pictured above and on the left, these remain the only scenes in the closing credits not borrowed from episodes of Jonny Quest and for years puzzled fans as to their origin -- they were clips from the five minute Jack Armstrong pilot with Jack Armstrong and Billy Fairfield (not Jonny and Hadji).

Jonny Quest TV Series on DVD
I purchased a complete series box set from years ago when I learned that the complete 26 adventures from 1964-65 were being released on DVD. Like many commercial releases, the episodes were partially cut, re-edited and altered. (If anyone believes all commercial DVD releases of TV shows are uncut and unedited, click here to find out more.) Series creator Doug Wildey is not credited on 25 of the 26 episodes because the end credits for "Pursuit of the Po-Ho" are used for the closing of every episode. Why they did this I do not know since all the original masters clearly had their own individual credits. "Double Danger," the one that differs, actually has the closing credits from "The Curse of Anubis." Dialog from "Pursuit of the Po-Ho" and "Monster in the Monastery" was intentionally removed from the DVD set to avoid negative stereotyping. (To add insult to injury, the opening credits, a.k.a. the main titles, are a hybrid of the two versions of the main credits used during the show's original run on ABC.) Shame on Warner Video for doing that! But I do recommend the box set since the adventures are, for the most part, as good as they get.

Jonny Quest became a target of parental watchdog group Action for Children's Television for its multiple onscreen deaths, murder attempts, use of firearms and deadly weapons, depictions of monsters, and tense moments. The Cold War-era fiction and yellow peril adventures add blood and thunder to a great program... which makes fans like me long for more. Jack Armstrong, the radio program, and the Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip, come the closest... until I discovered the Rick Brant Electronic Adventures. (And if you don't know where I'm going with this, stay with me... you'll get a kick out of this.)

In 1947, the publishing house of Grosset & Dunlap released The Rocket's Shadow, the first of what would become 24 adventure/mystery novels by John Blaine, a pseudonym for authors Harold L. Goodwin (all titles) and Peter J. Harkins (co-author of the first three). The final novel would be published in 1968. Best compared to as an imitation to the Hardy Boys novels, the mysteries involved science and the lead character, a young boy named Rick Brant, who was very knowledgeable with electronics. His experimental gadgets often came in handy, hence why the series was referred to as an "Electronic Adventure."

Rick Brant's father, Hartson William Brant, was an engineer, a Master of the Arts, a member of numerous scientific societies, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Atomic Scientists. He worked for the U.S. Government and resided at a private home/laboratory where he conducted many of his experiments. The Brants lived on Spindrift Island, roughly oval shaped, located off the New Jersey Coast. Hartson Brant's scientific projects often required traveling to far off countries and -- you guessed it -- combats international criminals, spies and villains. Rick has a shaggy little dog named Dismal, a friend named Scotty who acted more like a bodyguard than a big brother, a Hindu named Chahda who occasionally traveled with them on their adventures... an arch nemesis named "Scarface" and... well, if this all isn't starting to sound like Jonny Quest... maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way. I have no doubt Wildey was inspired by the novels, but nothing has been found to prove this and Hanna-Barbera wouldn't admit it even if this was brought to their attention. Besides, who cares? To me, it's like reading additional adventures of Jonny Quest and that's all I care about.

In The Rocket's Shadow, the first novel in the series, Scotty was hired as an island guard and helped Rick solve the rocket mystery and trap the Spindrift traitor who was helping Manfred Wessel, a.k.a. "Scarface." who was trying to thwart the Spindrift rocket so he could launch one of his own and thus win the $2 million dollar Stoneridge Grant. After the adventure of The Rocket's Shadow, Scotty, who was an orphan, became an accepted member of the Spindrift Island family. In the second novel, The Lost City (also 1947), the two boys had gone with Professor Hobart Zircon and Professor Julius Weiss to High Tibet, to set up a radar transmitter for sending messages via the moon, courtesy of the controlled rocket launched at the conclusion of the last novel. They had succeeded only after overcoming many obstacles thrown in their way by the unscrupulous adventurer, Hendrick Van Groot, and the lost tribe of Mongols whose city was hidden in the Valley of the Golden Tomb, a.k.a. the tomb of Genghis Khan. At the conclusion of the second novel, Chahda wants to return to America and become a member of their family. Since he was instrumental in their rescue, the team agrees and makes the necessary arrangements. In the third novel, "Sea Gold," Rick and Scotty trap the saboteurs trying to wreck the plant where minerals are being extracted from the sea. The criminal turns out to be their arch nemesis who underwent plastic surgery to masquerade as someone else and avoid the "Scarface" name. In "100 Fathoms Under," the boys start a treasure hunt by Submobile in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, only to find themselves assisting Professor Gordon of the Bishop Museum explore Alta-Yuan, a sunken temple one hundred fathoms down -- at the bottom of the sea.

Illustration from The Lost City (1947)
If you enjoy the Jonny Quest series and long for action and adventure, and books that are difficult to put down because they are fun reads, look no further than the Rick Brant novels listed below. There is a bit of lure in each story so fans can chat about statistics: "No, remember that Scarface's age was mentioned in the third adventure..." You can get them on and other online book stores for about five bucks or less (plus postage) and more if they have their original dust jackets -- at least, that seems to be the average going price for them.

The Rocket's Shadow (1947)
The Lost City (1947)
Sea Gold (1947)
100 Fathoms Under (1947)
The Whispering Box Mystery (1948)
The Phantom Shark (1949)
Smuggler's Reef (1950)
The Caves of Fear (1951)
Stairway to Danger (1952)
The Golden Skull (1954)
The Wailing Octopus (1956)
The Electronic Mind Reader (1957)
The Scarlet Lake Mystery (1958)
The Pirates of Shan (1958)
The Blue Ghost Mystery (1960)
The Egyptian Cat Mystery (1961)
The Flaming Mountain (1962)
The Flying Stingaree (1963)
The Ruby Ray Mystery (1964)
The Veiled Raiders (1965)
Rocket Jumper (1966)
The Deadly Dutchman (1967)
Danger Below! (1968)


Tom Johnson said...

I enjoyed the Rick Brant series as a teenager in the '50s. I thought they were a lot of fun. I still have most of the series, but haven't read them in 40 years.

Anonymous said...

You're missing the very last one -- THE MAGIC TALISMAN, which was written in the 1960s but rejected by G&D. It got a low-printrun hc appearance from a fan (?) publisher, Manuscript Press of Mountain Home, TN, in 1989.

As for prices, while the early numbers are pretty common and can indeed be found for a few dollars, that's not true of the later numbers (say, around #17 or so on). The "original" last three in my experience get asking prices of a hundred dollars or more, and THE MAGIC TALISMAN two or three times that much.

I discovered these as a kid, and thought they beat THE HARDY BOYS or TOM SWIFT JR. all hollow.

Denny Lien

Martin Grams said...

I'm aware of the last one being independently published, originally rejected by Grosset and Dunlap, now commanding astronomical figures. I know the printing was limited but large dollar figures like that just eliminates any interest (for me anyway) to want to read it.

If anyone out there ever wanted to lend their later books to me to read, I'd be eternally grateful. (Yes, they would be returned in the exact same condition.) I am book number 11 right now, enjoying a book a month at the rate I am going. Going to buy numbers 12 and 13 this weekend so I can read them after I am done number 11.

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