It’s rare that we get surprised anymore. Usually books are previewed and spoilered all over the Internet (and make no mistake there will be SPOILERS here, too) so that by the time you get it home and in front of you, you usually know exactly what you’re going to get when you crack open the cover. Past that, once a few issues have been released you get to know the tone and approach of the book, so even with a great title the latest issue tends to feel like just the most recent installment of an excellent run (see also Jeff Parker’s books, or Jason Aaron’s, or Jonathan Hickman’s).
And so it’s been with Adventure Time, the comic anthology of Cartoon Network’s hit (I have to assume) show. Written by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics) with art by Mike Holmes, it’s been a pretty consistent book. Fun, zany mayhem with the characters you love, chock full of anthropomorphic candy and fist bumps, it’s a breezy read that somewhat betrays exactly how funny it is. I mean, there’s a joke in almost literally every single panel. Plus hidden messages!
When I brought home issue 5 I figured I knew exactly what I was into. In this issue Jake the dog and Finn the human visit their pal BMO, who offers them a cupcake, but since they can’t decide how to share it a contest is devised: whoever can walk in a straight line the longest wins. It doesn’t take long for their friendship (and most likely, laziness) to override their competitiveness so they can work together. Then they stumble across Adventure Tim –a Finn/Jake composite — and his friend ALN. They discover that their friends and adventures are almost exactly the same, but just a tad askew. The Mice King attacks, they team up, and Finn and Jake return home having learned how to share.
Which is amazing. I mean, it just works on all levels. A kid could pick this up and get a funny, self-contained story (it’s a standalone issue) with a nice moral about teamwork and sharing that doesn’t feel overworked or preachy. An adult can read it and stay happily delighted by the gags.
But then — and I apologize if every other reader got this immediately and I’m just slow to arrive — North surprised me. The entire issue was a love letter to fandom.
Finn and Jake’s race in a straight line? That’s a pretty straight homage to the first Superman/Flash race from Superman #199. Adventure Tim is an admitted mashup of Finn and Jake, but it’s also a nice reference to the Composite Superman/Batman. And Tim’s friend? There’s been a long-time theory that when Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, the insane computer HAL 9000 was a reference to IBM because those are the letters you get when you subtract one from each letter of IBM. And when you subtract one letter from BMO it equals ALN.
None of this is done with an overt nod and a wink, but it’s there if you choose to see it and otherwise completely transparent, as it should be. This is an exceptional and amazingly-crafted book, and that’s just the main feature. The second backup is by indie legend Paul Pope, who manages to tell a short four-page story that’s true to both the characters and his own sensibilities. Finally, the last story is a one-pager by Superman savior and Monkeybrain founder Chris Roberson and his 8 year-old daughter Georgia, with art by Lucy Knisley. It’s a nicely-told story, but the involvement of actual children along with their professional parents is such a charming touch I hope kaboom! continues to utilize it.
These days there are so many comics out there that just don’t know how to package and deliver entertainment. All too often a story gets split into 6 issues and winds up stretched so thin that each part feels like the middle, or is bogged down in needless continuity, or frustratingly ignores any continuity whatsoever. It’s so REFRESHING to pick up a comic where every single one of the 22 pages is packed with content, where there are no extraneous panels and every one is a delight. Seriously friends, this is a perfect comic book.