Scientific Progress Goes RATTA-TATTA-TATTA-TATTA-TAH!!!

It's Saturday morning, 6:20am.

I am 11 years old and the rest of the house is asleep.

I myself should be snugly tucked inside my bed, but in this pre-TiVO era, you couldn't afford to miss the good cartoons when they came on. And for this young boy, appointment viewing began at 6:30am Saturday, Channel 4: The Adventures of Jonny Quest.

I didn't know the show was a relic of 60s Cold War/Space Race bravado.

I just knew it was awesome.

Recently -- thanks to my friends Liz and Burk who loaned me the complete series on DVD -- I found out why.

  • WOW is the artwork good in Jonny Quest. It's hard to believe Hanna-Barbera went from the Flintstones to this sharply detailed, noir-tinted feast of animation.
  • Hard to believe, that is, until you look at Bandit.
  • Did you look at Bandit? You couldn't help it, right? The way that dog is drawn it's not even in the same UNIVERSE as the rest of the characters. You just KNOW some stuffed shirt at the network said "Look, it's a CARTOON. Can't we at least get a cartoon DOG!?"
  • Bandit is the insipid protozoa of cartoon patronizing that gave birth to that insufferable travesty known as Scrappy Doo.
  • Jonny Quest starts right off with exciting opening credits. Weird tribal drumming, snappy jazz music and shots of mermen, giant robot spiders, hover cars... they even take a minute to introduce all the characters.
  • Race's real name is Roger T. Bannon. Like all great alpha male characters of the time, I like to think his middle initial stands for "Tiberius."
  • Dr. Quest's real name is Dr. Benton C. Quest, but I don't think the "C" stands for "Kirk."
  • Hadji is just Hadji.
  • Any given episode of Jonny Quest has a roughly 1-in-5 chance of featuring some type of submarine.
  • Jonny Quest was written before the invention of the "A"-story and the "B"-story. If an episode is about yetis attacking a monastery, don't expect anything other than yetis attacking a big ol' monastery. We don't need a subplot to keep you interested.
  • Why don't we need a subplot to keep you interested? Because we SHOOT GUNS AND THROW GRENADES AT PEOPLE. And then they BLOW UP AND DIE. I am NOT kidding you. Race Bannon takes out a jeepful of commandos by throwing a grenade at them. AND IT IS AWESOME!
  • Granted, all you see is an explosion and a couple tires come rolling around the corner of that quonset hut, but still: GRENADES = AWESOME.
  • Hey you, Dr. Science Explorer Guy, are you pinned down in the backwaters of the Amazon by a giant crocodile attack? Don't worry, just grab one of those handy rifles and SHOOT THEM IN THE MOUTH! Yeah, there sure are a lot of crocs, but don't worry because the two 11-year-old kids will help too!! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
  • In one scene, a huge black panther is about to maul a helpless pygmy. What does Race "Tiberius" Bannon do? -SHOOTS IT. When Jonny runs up to untie the pygmy, Race says "Stand back, Jonny, I want to make sure that man-killing panther is dead!" and then puts TWO MORE in it for good measure. Point blank!
  • It's not that guns are used idly in the series, they're not. But you also don't have ridiculous BS like jets blowing up at supersonic speeds and then "POOF! POOF!" a split-second later two parachutes appear on the horizon. Or all the bad guys are robots or some crap like that.
  • The downside to this approach is, you don't get a lot of recurring villains.
  • Not that it's hard to come up with a new villain in the Cold War world of the Quests. Communists are everywhere!
  • Of course, we don't CALL them communists. That's not polite. Mostly they're... y'know... Chinese.
  • To be fair, there are one or two Russians, a horde of ignorant savage islanders, and a stranded Nazi thrown in to mix things up.
  • How does the stranded Nazi try to escape? BY THROWING GRENADES!
  • Note: If you're a cold-blooded Nazi and you've been stranded at the top of this diamond mine with a bunch of nine-foot-tall cavemen for twenty years and you STILL have that bag of grenades you've been hoarding, how do you think you *might* meet your untimely end as you make your escape?
  • Moral of the story: DON'T HOARD GRENADES.
  • Who says this show doesn't teach kids a valuable, life-affirming lesson?
  • Everybody likes to speculate that Dr. Quest and Race are lovers, but I watched the whole series and here's the thing: they are such no-nonsense down-to-business guys that either they don't bother with love lives OR they are such deeply close, long-time partners that they don't HAVE to acknowledge their relationship in any way, shape, or form.
  • Either way, who cares?
  • Gay or not, it's pretty endearing how Race Bannon calls everyone "fellas." As in, "Hang on, fellas, it's gonna be a rough landing!" or "Look out, fellas! There's a giant invisible energy monster on the loose!" or "Here, fellas, grab these rifles and shoot those crocs in the mouth!!!"
  • Speaking of giant invisible energy monsters: CREEEEEPY.
  • I'm not fooling around, the noise that thing made... ooky. I'm talking Sleestak creepy.
  • For your reference, "Sleestak creepy" is the kind of creepy that still gives you visceral pangs of anxiety twenty years later.
  • You'd think the invisible energy monster would get less creepy when they dumped a bunch of purple and pink paint on it. NOT the case.
  • Also, giant robot spider: BEST MONSTER EVER. It's bullet-proof and attacks you with a suction cup!
  • Allow me to amend that. It's not just bullet-proof. It's tank-proof.
  • HE SHOT IT WITH A TANK!
  • A TANK!!
  • I rest my case.
  • The Quest universe is a rational one. There are no ghosts, no voodoo, no bloodthirsty supernatural gargoyles. Everything comes down to science.
  • Except for Hadji, who can sometimes levitate people just by waving his arms and saying "Sim-sala-bim!"
  • Also, it only makes sense that if you want to steal the plans for a reclusive scientist's revolutionary anti-gravity beam, the best way to do it is to hire a circus acrobat to dress up as a gargoyle and infiltrate the place while you hang out in the gravedigger's shack until your friends in the submarine meet you by the fjord.
  • I mean, THAT makes more sense than the existence of actual gargoyles, right? ...Right?
  • See why they don't bother with a "B"-story?
  • The science in the show does have an oddly timeless quality about it. Probably because we still don't HAVE jetpacks or hover platforms.
  • Yeah, yeah, we DO have computers and lasers and video conferencing. Big deal. You know what I say? Which would you rather have: an iPhone or a JETPACK?
  • Again, I rest my case.
  • Despite the so-retro-it's-futuristic technology, the dialogue points to a simpler time. After Dr. Quest uses a remote-controlled explosive to snuff out a burning oil rig Race says "Score another bullseye for Science, Doctor." Dr. Quest goes on to tell his son, "Now you know bombs can be useful, too."
  • I would like to see Dr. Quest and Race stumble into a Lousiana school board meeting full of creationists.
  • Somebody would probably end up getting shot in the mouth.
  • It's the end of the episode, right? We've had our resolution to the plot and denouement, and Bandit has done something insufferably asinine. We're winding everything down, right? Right? WRONG! In a stroke of pure brilliance, the end credits are MORE exciting than the opening credits! The music has that driving 60s spy-thriller feel and the scenes are from episodes you will never see. Zulu warriors! The X-1 getting shot at in the desert! More hover platforms! When it's all over, you want to watch another one.
  • Which you can't, because some idiot cancelled it after a single season.
  • Bad for you, good for the crocodiles.

-Tom, who would like to close by saying "Stay in school and don't hoard grenades, kids."

Comments
Now, hold on just one cotton-pickin' minute. Bandit is insipid, alright, but NOTHING can compare to the banality that is Scrappy Doo.

- Burk, who has recently returned from a Lousiana school board meeting full of creationists.
# Posted By Burk | 12/2/08 9:27 PM
True - but point being: it's an evolution.

How long were you AT that meeting that you didn't get that??

;-P
# Posted By Tom | 12/2/08 9:30 PM
Grenades = Awesome. Yes Sir!
# Posted By Alan | 12/2/08 10:39 PM
I believe my first comment was rejected due to Bandit related profanity. Let me just say, then, that the sound of that demon hound's yapping bark may well be the eternal echo of my own damnation. I do not like. that. dog.
# Posted By LizRM | 12/3/08 12:05 AM
Evolution, my patootie - Scrappy Doo is based on the obnoxious Looney Tunes character Henery Hawk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrappy_Doo).

If he had evolved, there would be transitional species.

Burk
# Posted By Burk | 12/3/08 12:14 AM
"Also, giant robot spider: BEST MONSTER EVER. It's bullet-proof and attacks you with a suction cup!"

While the robot spider is awesome, you have also described a Dalek.

And now you need to watch some Venture Brothers which will be all the funnier...
# Posted By Clay | 12/3/08 8:13 AM
Liz - Your son has a remarkable affinity for that dog. I pity you.

Clay - Are you saying Daleks are MORE or LESS awesome? I don't recall one ever being shot by a tank, but I'm not that up on my Dr. Who.

Burk - It's quite clear that Scooby is the missing link.
# Posted By Tom | 12/3/08 8:56 AM
I read somewhere that Scrappy Doo was created by the same guy who gave the Flintstones the Great Gazoo.

http://www.montecook.com/cgi-bin/page.cgi?mc_los_1...

Great post, Tom. I agree 1000%. It's like it's taken us 40 years to figure out why these cartoons are so AWESOME, and now no one cares.

I'll agree with Clay, however, that Venture Brothers is great. It's not, however, the straight-up parody of Jonny Quest that I was expecting, so it took me a while to warm to it. It's really it's own kind of awesome.
# Posted By Monte | 12/3/08 3:11 PM
The most insightful thing I've read about the Venture Bros as it relates to Jonny Quest is that while JQ is all about the inevitable triumph of scientific progress, The Venture Bros is all about failure, impotence, and ineptitude.

As such, Season Three of the Venture Bros can't come out fast enough for this fella.

Maybe that's why a picture of Venture Industries is my desktop wallpaper.
# Posted By Tom | 12/3/08 4:02 PM
I've blogged for years about the awesomeness of Jonny Quest, but you've summed it all up in three words (or is it two?):

"GRENADES=AWESOME"

Damn good work.
# Posted By Robo | 12/3/08 7:08 PM
Shouldn't evolution involve some sort of improvement over time? How, exactly, was Scooby better adapted to his environment than Bandit?
# Posted By Krunk's Next Victim | 12/4/08 10:24 AM
I would point to the development of rudimentary speech and vaudevillian slapstick abilities.

If you consider that an 'improvement.'
# Posted By Tom | 12/4/08 12:55 PM
rif rou ray roh, Rom.
# Posted By Krunk's Next Victim | 12/5/08 1:37 PM
Great review article. I enjoyed it. An excellent perspective on the series.
# Posted By John | 6/9/11 9:13 AM
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