Finn, Jake And Marceline Hack The Planet In ‘Adventure Time’ #13 [Review]
At this point, I seriously doubt that anyone really needs to be told that Ryan North, Shelly Paroline and Braden Lamb's Adventure Time comic is really, really good. It's been a smash hit since it debuted, and made appearances on almost everyone's Best Of 2012 lists, with good reason. It's consistently great, to the point where it's probably a little tiresome to always be hearing about how great it is. I recognize this.
But seriously, you guys? This week's issue is so great. So great, in fact, that it might just be my favorite of the series so far.Admittedly, it's not quite the technical accomplishment of the "Choose Your Own Adventure Time" story from a few months back, but it has something far more important: References to the 90s computer hacking action film genre defined by 1995's Hackers, a movie that I have a deep and abiding love for. And, you know, if that doesn't do it for you, it also has some of the sharpest writing and and most well-crafted comics that you're likely to find on the stands.
On the off chance that you haven't been keeping up, the current Adventure Time story goes a little something like this: Marceline (the Vampire Queen) comes over to Finn and Jake's to play video games because BMO has recently unearthed a copy of Super Guts Punch 3, a legendarily difficult video game that looks an awful lot like Battletoads, but set in a digestive system. The gang zaps into BMO expecting a tough but rewarding experience, only to find that they breeze right through. It's very disappointing, and to make things worse, they return to the real world to find that BMO has been hacked and is now suffering from a virus that's driving him crazy.
The hacker in question is "ewlbo," and in the second issue of the arc, Finn, Jake and Marceline set up a fake wizard tournament to find him, because they assume that he's a wizard. This, of course, is a pretty logical assumption in the world of Adventure Time, but it turns out that it's not entirely correct, and BMO ends up dragging them all to a mysterious computer lab that hasn't been touched in a thousand years, revealing that the virus is a leftover product of the world from before the Great Mushroom War, a benevolent Game Genie-esque code mutated into something thoroughly destructive.
Just from all that, one of the reasons that I love this issue so much should be obvious: This thing moves. In three issues, we've bounced around from being inside a video game to a fake wizard duel (three fake wizard duels, actually, since Finn, Jake and Marceline each have their own) and now to a pretty thrilling post-apocalyptic battle against possessed robots. These are all pieces that would've worked as their own stories, but combining them all into one makes for the kind of comic that I feel like should leave me out of breath after I finish reading an issue.
I wonder how much of that is a product of North doing Dinosaur Comics and having to tell an entire story (of a sort) in six panels every day for the past ten years. With that behind him, I imagine being able to spend an entire sixteen-page comic on a single idea -- let alone one that's part of a story that runs four or five issues -- feels downright decadent. It works, though: It moves fast, but it never feels rushed. Everything hits with the kind of timing that makes me feel like we should be studying this comic in order to reverse engineer jokes this good.
The dialogue is about as sharp as it can be, too, and again, you can see the influence of Dinosaur Comics working in how well the words are put together. North is one of the most genuinely funny dudes working in comics -- his extended breakdown of the novelization of Back to the Future ended up being one of my favorite books of 2012 -- but the practice he's had making the same six panels interesting and funny every single day has made his dialogue a science in how none of it's wasted.
But while it's distinctly his, it's also always in the voices of the characters, especially in bits like Marceline in last month's issue delivering the greatest response to someone catching up the reader that I've ever read:
That's not to take anything away from Paroline and Lamb, either. Like Adventure Time the cartoon, Adventure Time the comic is deceptively beautiful and expressive, and they handle all the weird concepts being thrown around -- this issue's depiction of Jake growing super-huge legs and enveloping Finn and Marceline in them to protect them from an army of possessed robots is a pretty good/bizarre example -- beautifully. There's a sight gag in this issue that leads to the panel at the top of this review that I don't even want to spoil because it's so great.
But really, you can scratch a few of those details and say all that about every issue. What makes this one so great isn't just how it's done, but what it's doing.
As mentioned above, the climax of this story goes pretty deep into Adventure Time's post-apocalyptic backstory of the Mushroom War. This is something the TV show has done too -- especially recently -- but for me, there's always a pretty definitive line between the regular funny episodes and the ones that deal with the more serious stuff, like the Lich and the fact that this is a show taking place after actual nuclear armageddon. They still have their fair share of jokes, and they're still good -- the one with the Ice King's tragic backstory, for example, is really awesome television, but it's as far from the goofy fun of the episode about how he collects ninja weapons as anything could be.
I don't think that's a problem, really. In fact, I like how that show's willing to take chances and not be funny all the time in order to make its characters more than just two-dimensional gags. But at the same time, I do think it throws things out of balance. There are Funny Episodes and Serious Episodes, and there's not a lot of middle ground.
North, Paroline and Lamb don't have that problem. With this story more than any other, they've managed to hit that balance. The background of the virus and its purpose are serious, and the danger that it represents to Ooo feels real. There's scary stuff going on here that feels like a piece of Fallout 3 fell into Adventure Time. But at the same time, it never gets in the way of jokes about hacking the database or goofy jokes about how bad it smells to be wrapped up in a magic dog.
Nothing feels disjointed or out of place. It all works together to tell its story, and that story is hands down one of my favorite things going in comics today.