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Articles & Reviews by Mike Bogue




The Monsters of Jonny Quest

by Michael Bogue





"MYSTERY OF THE LIZARD MEN.”  “THE CURSE OF ANUBIS.”  “THE INVISIBLE MONSTER.”  “TURU THE TERRIBLE.”

Think these are titles of lost horror/sci-fi movies from the fifties and sixties?  Think again!  Actually, they’re episode titles from Hanna-Barbera’s animated 1960s series Jonny Quest.

As fellow baby-boomers may recall, Jonny Quest originally aired in prime-time on ABC during the 1964-1965 television season.  The show ran on Friday nights at 6:30 PM Central Time, but switched to Thursday nights on December 31, 1964, and remained in its Thursday night time slot until its final prime-time episode on Sept. 9, 1965.

Although Hanna-Barbera boasted other animated prime-time series such as The Jetsons, Top Cat, and The Flintstones during the sixties, Jonny Quest was something altogether different.  Eschewing “cartooniness,” the series was conceived as an action-adventure show that would be treated and drawn fairly realistically.  Artist/illustrator Doug Wildey basically created the concept and characters of Jonny Quest when Hanna-Barbera’s attempts to secure the rights to Jack Armstrong fell through.  Instead of an animated Jack, Wildey came up with a spirited Jonny!

Anyone forty years old or older (or who watches Boomerang) can probably recall the series’ five regular characters:  Jonny Quest was the adventurous young son of widower Dr. Benton Quest, a scientist/inventor who often worked for the U.S. government.  Hadji, a friend of Jonny’s who was adapted by Dr. Quest, was an Indian-born boy about Jonny’s age.

In addition, intelligence agent “Race” Bannon acted as the boys’ tutor and protector, as well as Dr. Quest’s bodyguard.  Rounding out the regular cast was Bandit, Jonny’s pug-nosed dog, who often got into trouble and provided the show’s comic relief (occasionally acting more anthropomorphic than canine, his antics not dissimilar to the “creature comedy” found in some of Toho’s 1960’s monster movies).  Semi-recurring characters included the resourceful Jade, a former flame of Race Bannon’s, and the villainous Dr. Zin, a Fu Manchu-like evil genius

I well remember catching the first episode of Jonny Quest on the Friday night of Sept. 18, 1964.  Those opening credits promised all kinds of eye-opening action in upcoming episodes.  But although I was hooked by the adventure aspect of the opening montage of scenes, what reeled me in were the clips of animated MONSTERS.  Eight-year-old kids like me were treated to snippets of a screeching pteranodon, a rampaging mummy, a pair of giant lizards on leashes, and a weird cyclopean eye that crept about on spidery legs.  WOW! Jonny Quest had instantly become my favorite TV show!

Of course, the first episode, “Mystery Of The Lizard Men,” didn’t actually feature any monsters, though it did display some nifty stuff about laser beams and heroic derring-do.  However, my wait to see my first JQ monster wasn’t long, as he/it appeared in the third episode!  In all, monsters dominated eight of the series’ twenty-six episodes, meaning about a third of Jonny Quest’s shows were devoted to kaiju both big and small.  So, without further ado, I present “The MONSTERS of JONNY QUEST”:




“THE CURSE OF ANUBIS”

Jonny Quest Monster: Anubis. In Egypt, the villainous Ahmed Karim steals the statue of Anubis; he then invites Dr. Quest and his team to come to Ghiva to search for the stolen artifact.  However, the statue’s theft revives the mummy of Anubis, who promptly sets off in search of the desecrator.  Ahmed schemes to blame Dr. Quest and Race for the theft, but the mummy eventually catches up with him.  Holding a struggling Ahmed over its head, the mummy and Ahmed perish when Ghiva catacombs topple on top of them.

Yes, this plot is straight out of a Universal mummy movie of the 1940s, but so what?  The mummy itself is great – tall, unstoppable, powerful; in one early scene it impressively bursts through a wall.  A close-up of the mummy’s head seen through window blinds reveals a skull-like face behind the bandages, a suitably creepy touch.




“THE ROBOT SPY”

Flying low and evading fighter jets, a strange flying object lands close to a government facility in the Southwestern United States.  Alerted to the object, Dr. Quest and Race tow a large, black globe from the craft back to base.  The latter reveals itself to be a robot spy of Dr. Zin’s; it opens its cyclopean eye, unfolds its spidery legs, and disables a security guard.

Before long, it has recorded the plans for Dr. Quest’s new para-power ray weapon.  The military attempts to stop the metallic emissary, but nothing can halt its implacable stride.  Once the cyclopean spy is back inside the abandoned flying craft in which it arrived, it appears all hope is lost – until Dr. Quest’s para-power gun knocks the object from the sky.

Some might not consider Dr. Zin’s robot spy to be a monster, but if robots aren’t monsters, what were Kronos, Gort, and Mogera?  When I first saw this episode in ’64, I remember thinking that perhaps the flying object had come from outer space, and I was a little disappointed to discover that the cyclops was just a snooping automaton for Dr. Zin.  After all, the thing’s design was unique and strange – one large eye surrounded by arachnid-like legs.  Creepy.  Before seeing this episode, I had thought, based on the JQ opening credits montage, that the eerie creature was alive.  Alas, it wasn’t, but in the pantheon of robot monsters, it makes a pretty fair addition.




“THE DRAGONS OF ASHIDA”

Jonny Quest Monster: Ashida Dragon. The Quest crew visits zoologist Dr. Ashida’s small island and soon wish they hadn’t.  It seems that the not-so-good doctor has turned lizards into fierce dragon-like monsters the size of large horses; Dr. Ashida sometimes stages dragon vs. dragon matches between his reptilian creations.

The clearly mad scientist tells the Quest team that he will keep them prisoner on his island unless Race can take on and beat Ashida’s long-suffering servant Sumi, Ashida’s Oddjob-like lackey.  Race wins the match.  But Dr. Ashida tells the Quests they still cannot leave.  However, the Quests do escape, and the more-than-fed-up Sumi tosses Dr. Ashida to the very beasts the scientist has created.

The Ashida dragons look fairly impressive, resembling fierce, mutated iguanas.  They get to tree Dr. Quest and Race in one scene, but they don’t actually harm anyone until the end when they devour the insane Dr. Ashida – offscreen of course.




“TURU THE TERRIBLE”

Jonny Quest Monster: Turu. En route to a remote South American site that contains trinauxite, a mineral needed by the space program, Dr. Quest and company discover that a mad slaver named Deen has imprisoned natives on a high plateau; there, Deen forces them to mine the same mineral the Quest crew has sailed into the jungle to retrieve.

Deen controls Turu, a huge pteranodon that both kidnaps natives for the mining crew and makes sure none of the natives escape.  After Dr. Quest and Race discover what’s going on, they ascend to the top of the plateau  using rocket belts.

Race and Dr. Quest quickly run afoul of Turu; Deen subsequently orders the flying monster to kill them.  Armed with a bazooka, Race fires several shells at the winged terror until it crashes into a tar pit.  Deen attempts to save his prehistoric companion, but instead perishes along with his pet.

Turu is like a mini-Rodan – he’s big and even somewhat impervious; after all, it takes multiple bazooka blasts to knock him out of the sky.  Turu also sports a fierce screech, and his many swoops and attacks are well-rendered.

In addition, Turu and Deen evoke a certain pathos.  Turu is clearly obedient to Deen, yet Deen consoles the pteranodon when it initially fails to find and kill Dr. Quest and Race.  While obviously evil in other ways, Deen shows, in his nurturing of Turu, that he at least had a little good in him.




“THE INVISIBLE MONSTER”

Jonny Quest Monster: The Invisible Monster. On Cave Island, scientist Isaiah Norman, a colleague of Dr. Quest's, inadvertently creates an invisible energy creature.  The fearful scientist radios Dr. Quest for help, but when the Quest crew arrives, the man’s laboratory looks as though it has been blown to bits.

In short order, Dr. Quest and company discover that a living but transparent energy monster is loose on the island.  Utilizing their rocket belts, the Quest team drops paint bombs on the invisible organism, which is revealed to be a strange, ghost-like creature with one eye and a wide, wavering mouth.  Dr. Quest eventually destroys the monster in a cave by reversing Norman’s means of having created the ogre in the first place.

This episode featured my favorite JQ creature.  Once the Invisible Monster became visible, I remember being really knocked out.  This thing was weird, it was alien, it was -- dare I say it? -- almost scary. Just as effective as its bizarre graphic realization was the weird, Theramin-like cry that wailed from its quivering cave of a mouth.

Of course, the episode did cheat a little.  When the monster is still invisible, we see it leaving distinct footprints a’la the Id Monster in Forbidden Planet.  But when it becomes visible, it leaves no footprints at all since it clearly has no feet!  Still, this is just a minor quibble with an episode that otherwise featured an inspired “little” kaiju.




“TERROR ISLAND”

Jonny Quest Monster: Giant Lizard. The Quest company ventures to Hong Kong, where scientist Chu Sing Ling kidnaps Dr. Quest and spirits him to nearby Moy Tu island.  Ling has developed a method that turns ordinary creatures into giants, and he insists that Dr. Quest help him work out some bugs in his process.  Quest of course refuses.

Meanwhile, Race acquires the help of Jade, a former flame, who agrees to help.  Jonny Quest Monster: Giant Crab. Race subsequently speeds to Moy Tu Island in a hydrofoil; unbeknownst to Race, Johnny and Hadji have stowed on board.

Race disposes of several of Ling’s guards and succeeds in reaching Dr. Quest, only to find a gun at his back.  But Jade rescues Race just as Johnny and Hadji drive a tractor through the lab wall, destroying Ling’s caged giant spider.

Ling tries to escape by boat, but one of his creations, a gigantic lizard, arises from the sea and forces him and his henchmen to flee to shore.  There, the monstrous reptile blunders into a tangle of high-voltage wires, electrocuting both itself and Ling.

From the opening set piece in which a colossal crab breaks out of a building and is fired upon to the scenes of the giant lizard blocking Ling’s escape, this episode most faithfully evokes the sci-fi/horror movies of the 1950s, as well as capturing some of the spirit of Japanese monster epics.

Indeed, one can easily imagine this episode “Asianized” into a 1960’s Toho SFantasy film.  For example, the huge lizard at the end looks as though it’s about as big as Frankenstein Conquers the World’s Baragon, and the villain is not unlike King Kong Escapes’ Dr. Who.  This episode even features two dueling kaiju -- a gigantic crab and a king-sized spider who engage in creature combat on Moy Tu Island.




“MONSTER IN THE MONASTERY”

Jonny Quest Monster: Yeti! In the Himalayan Mountains, abominable snowmen are terrorizing a hapless village.  Raj Guru, one of Dr. Quest’s friends, tells the Quest team that he believes the Yeti are attempting to overcome the village.  As it turns out, the so-called Yeti are actually the henchmen of the conniving Osom, who wants to take over the village for his own purposes.

Jonny and Hadji discover Osom’s ruse and expose it to Dr. Quest, Race, and Raj Guru.  However, it proves unnecessary to combat Osom’s treacherous gang, for the real Yeti shows up and wipes out the fake abominable snowmen.

This episode featured a good twist by at first making the viewer think the Yeti were fakes -- and as a kid I never liked it when “monsters” were exposed as fakes -- then revealing at the end that real abominable snowmen exist after all.  The finale is also interesting and (for an animated TV show in ’64) dark in that shows the apparent corpses of Osom’s men, the result of the genuine Yeti’s wrath.  (And yes, this could bring to mind the fury of the abominable snowman of Half Human.)




“THE SEA HAUNT”

Jonny Quest Monster: Sea Monster. The Dutch ship the Star of Borneo is besieged by a bipedal, goggle-eyed sea monster.  Dr. Quest and company spot the Star of Borneo and, using the Quest vertical take-off jet, land on the deserted ship.  From the captain’s log, Dr. Quest learns about the sea monster shortly before the creature wrecks the Quest team’s plane.

The Quests discover Charlie, a Chinese cook, hiding in a freezer locker, as well as the fact that the marauding monster is deterred only by fire and strong light.  Race and Dr. Quest use search lights and blow torches to hold the creature at bay, but Charlie saves the day by causing the monster to fall from the mast into the ocean below.  At the end, Quest and company are rescued while the sea monster swims deeper and deeper into the dark ocean depths.

The sea creature, which Dr. Quest describes as a cross between the mythical beasts the manticore and hippocampus, makes for a suitably scaly opponent.  Its reptilian look, more fish- and dinosaur-like than Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, is well-designed, though its roars – obviously provided by a normal human voice – fail to convince.  Like “Terror Island,” this episode is also highly reminiscent of fifties sci-fi/horror movies.



*****

Regrettably, the original Jonny Quest, monsters and all, lasted for only one season.  However, the series found new life via reruns.  In 1967, CBS picked up the show for their Saturday morning lineup and kept it on their schedule until 1970.  Then, ABC ran it on Saturdays from 1970-1972.  Finally, NBC got hold of the show in 1979.

In 1986, Hanna-Barbera produced thirteen new episodes of Jonny Quest and teamed them with the original twenty-six episodes in a single syndication package.  However, many Quest fans didn’t care for the results.  Some felt that the ’86 JQ shows, in an attempt to be more “modern,” went over the top.  For example, the Quest team gained Hardrok, a sort of superhero made of stone, and Hadji’s magic, a minor element in the original show, became almost as powerful as that of Marvel Comics’ Dr. Strange.  These elements clashed with the more restrained aspects of the original twenty-six episodes.

In fact, believe it or not, the ’86 shows may have had too many monsters!  The original series knew it was wise to include a monster maybe every two or three weeks so as not to run the creature feature well dry, but the ’86 Quests apparently had a monster or monsters virtually every week.  Little wonder that the ’86 Quests are rarely seen today, though the original 1960s series still thrives on the Cartoon Network’s sister channel Boomerang.

Two TV-movies revived Jonny Quest in the 1990s – Jonny’s Golden Quest (1993) and Jonny Quest Vs. The Cyber Insects (1995).  Later, Jonny Quest saw a further incarnation with the advent of The Real Adventures Of Jonny Quest in 1996.  The show simultaneously aired on TNT, TBS, and the Cartoon Network; a revamping of the original series, The Real Adventures lasted two first-run seasons.

As for the Jonny Quest of the 1960s, it still evokes fond memories for many a Monster Kid.  I mean, what seven-to-twelve year old boy in the mid-sixties wouldn’t have been captivated by the show’s combination of action, intrigue, and (of course) monsters?  Brimming with spirited adventure and creepy creatures, Jonny Quest lives on in the ten-year-old hearts of many a fortysomething adult.



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