Writers: Roger Langridge, Alex Cox, Bryce Carlson, Josh Williamson, Derek Fridolfs, Kory Bing, Sfé Monster
Artists: Roger Langridge, Alex Cox, Dustin Nguyen, Jason Ho, Derek Fridolfs, Kory Bing, Sfé Monster
Release Date: May 29, 2013
Here’s the crucial question about the acclaimed and popular Cartoon Network series Adventure Time and its recent foray into comics: is it Coors Water or is it the Doritos Locos Taco? Brand extension is a dangerous game that can easily dilute a powerful and well-constructed property. This annual, which crams a lot into 32 pages, doesn’t provide a definitive answer, but it does point the way to possible success.
One huge component of Adventure Time’s appeal as an animated series is its voice work, which remains fresh, funny, and often surprising. John DiMaggio’s skillful work as shape-shifter Jake the Dog, who often strays from gruff to gleeful, is inseparable from the appeal of the character. Translating these characters into ones whose voices emerge only from the reader’s head is a tough job, and if fans rely solely on sensorial familiarity with the existing product, publisher Boom! risks eliminating a large segment of the televised AT audience.
Luckily, the show’s loopy, candy-colored visuals translate easily to the print medium, and all seven artists do a passable job at the very least. Dustin Nguyen’s watercolors are probably the furthest removed from creator Pendleton Ward’s distinctive style. It also doesn’t help that Bryce Carlson’s story is only two pages long (not a lot of time for character development), but the segment’s reliance on one-hit wonder Cleopatra (of “Cleopatra’s Theme”) is the kind of left-field choice that sustains the show. Roger Langridge starts the annual off, and although his piece has an interesting conceit (an alphabet that drives the plot), his recognizable style is too obviously distinct from the show’s aesthetic. Alex Cox’s board game story features good facial expressions, but ends too soon to feel fleshed out. Kory Bing and Sfé Monster team up on the book’s last tale, which — at six pages — holds enough panels to establish a set-up and then follow through with a joke. Josh Williamson and Jason Ho do the same in only four pages, a more impressive feat. They’re also the only team to take on a side character from the show’s mythology, and they capture the Ice King’s combination of peacocking and impotence just right.
Best of all is Derek Fridolfs’ “The Summiteers,” the longest story in the book that therefore has the space to develop an actual adventure; that is, after all, the point of Adventure Time. Heroes need quests, even if they have to make them up. The balance of surrealism, enthusiasm, mood swings, and magic that Ward perfected is almost equally present in Fridolfs’ tale, and suggests that the next annual would be improved with fewer cooks in the kitchen and more elbow room for all involved.