Jan 14, 2014

[Comics] Adventure Time Vol. 1 - Playing With Fire

The "expanded universe" of the Adventure Time franchise is proving to be a rather interesting one. As much as the various video games don't exactly expand on our concept of "canon", the comic books are doing a tremendous job of developing more back story for the existing cartoon universe of the show. Whether or not we can take all comic book stories as true canon will always be a tricky thing, but for now I'm definitely enjoying whether the comic is going.

But here we have the first of a new series of titles - these being distinct graphic novels whose style seems a lot closer to Japanese manga compared to anything else. I say this because of their slightly smaller size format compared to conventional comics (although still larger than true manga) and the decision to go strictly black and white. As much as the Boom! Studios comics are lovely full-color spreads that help bring the Land of Ooo to life, these graphic novels still manage to tell pretty compelling stories without the need to resort to colored panels.

How they plan to continue to explore the Adventure Time universe in this comic format is a bit of an interesting mystery in itself, but for now let's just enjoy the ride.

Synopsis: Playing With Fire is marked as Volume 1 of the Adventure Time graphic novel series. It was written by Danielle Corsetto with art by Zack Sterling. The book won the Harvey Award for Best Original Graphic Publication for Younger Readers.

While playing a game of "Never Have I Ever" with Jake and Flame Princess, Finn states that he has never lost at a game of Sword and the Slurf. When Flame Princess asks what he means by this, he decides to take her to the Carnival Kingdom so she can see the game itself. Once there, Finn easily wins a stuffed animal  for Flame Princess. When she tries her luck, her temper gets away with her and she ends up burning the tent with the carnival game.

Flame Princess eventually ends up in a Fortune Teller's tent with Finn because of an offer for free fortunes. She has her fortune read and the prediction is that she is going to lose something very valuable to her. True enough, Finn is snatched by some figure in the darkness and the fortune teller quickly packs up his gear and flies off - it's a sneaky self-fulfilled prophecy! Now Flame Princess has to track down the Fortune Teller and rescue Finn.

Oh yeah, and the graphic novel also includes a short story at the end with BMO as the character of focus. It's mostly a wordless story, which is pretty cool.

I have to admit, I'm not 100% clear why they decided to go black and white for this graphic novel in comparison to the vivid full cover comics we've seen from Boom! Studios. Even the other non-comic children's books in the Adventure Time series managed to retain colors. While this format does sort of add a certain degree of inherent drama to things, it's also not quite as fun as the color comics, at least in my opinion.

To be fair, the art in itself is pretty spot on and the different characters are certainly portrayed in a manner consistent with the cartoon series. The lack of color isn't a major hindrance to the graphic novel given the rich shades and hues that are still achieved through various techniques that makes the most of lines and shading. I may not be totally happy about this being in black and white, but I do respect what they managed to achieve with the chosen medium.

The story as a whole was interesting enough, but sort of lacked a compelling narrative focus. Sure, a lot of Adventure Time episodes can come across as pretty random. But when you talk about these types of alternate media channels for Adventure Time stories, a bit more cohesion and flow is pretty important. When you pick up an Adventure Time book, you'll definitely want a good story with a beginning, middle and an end.

This story wasn't exactly bad, but it wasn't great either. It takes a while to really set things up and get to the meat of the story - this being Flame Princess and her efforts at rescuing Finn. This part of the story wasn't too bad and it was certainly worth exploring as Flame Princess tries to deal with things in her own way. Sure we've seen her try to quest together with Finn and Jake in the episode  "Vault of Bones" but it's a different matter for her to resolve things without Finn to sort of talk her through things. Jake is along the ride of course, but you know how he tends to linger in the background as needed in these sorts of stories.

Then again, I concede it's probably a challenge to write anything about Flame Princess given her uncertain status in the show. This graphic novel was released around the time that they were still together and thus is obviously invalidated by the episode "Frost & Fire"

Or you can make the most of the BMO story at the end. He's just so adorable.

Adventure Time Vol. 1 - Playing With Fire is an interesting expansion of the Adventure Time franchise and a decent enough story on its own. I am rather curious to see how they'll continue to build on these graphic novels and make the most of the format. This comic in particular ends up with 3 moments of Flame Princess blowing her top out of 5.

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