I was worried that "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #1
wouldn't live up to regular "Adventure Time" and Ryan North's inventive and offbeat scripts. I should have had a little faith -- "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #1 is written and illustrated by Natasha Allegri, the original creator of Fionna and Cake and a character designer and storyboard revisionist for the "Adventure Time" cartoon.
The opening sequence is a fairy-tale-like story with large, graceful handwritten script that complements Allegri's beautiful images, curved lines and pretty color work. Allegri's palette is limited but complex, with colors ranging from a saturated lapis lazuli-like blue to palest lavender. The fairy tale itself is poignant but also subtly funny, especially in the contented facial expressions of the lava babies.
Then the tale shifts into present time, and the story gets even better. There is verbal humor, with Fionna lamenting the lack of "butt-punching" in Cake's story, and also quiet visual humor, as Fionna is hugging what is clearly a Cake-doll while complaining to the real Cake.
The gender switches work as well in here as in the cartoon, which is to say, very well. It's a daunting task to come up with a different take on an already successful, beloved set of characters and make them more than one-off jokes or imitations. The characters in "Adventure with Fionna and Cake" #1 are superficially very similar (except for gender) to those in regular "Adventure Time" (with Finn and Jake), but Allegri's dialogue and storytelling give Fionna and Cake enough extra dimension to feel stand-alone and refreshing, yet still familiar -- a perfect balance of old and new.
Cake the Cat is scarier the Jake the Dog, with 4 long needle-like teeth and huge eyes. Fionna is just as adventurous as Finn but slightly more eager to fight. Instead of painting everything pink, choices are made in both traditional and subversive directions and serve the story organically rather than trying to make a political statement. One of the best pages is where Cake tries to convince Fionna that she needs a Cake-made sword for battle, and gives her nine options, among them a "Flower Sword" and a "Kitty Litter Sword." Also, Allegri keeps "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #1 in the cartoon's continuity, since Fionna mentions the time that the Ice Queen tricked her with a crystal sword.
The ending cliffhanger is both suspenseful and funny, with Cake's suspicious admonishment to Fionna being one of my favorite lines in the issue. I'm looking forward to enjoying further installments of this story and more of Allegri's wit and imagination.
The backup story, "The Sweater Bandit," is a fun in-print appearance by Noelle Stevenson. Stevenson's humor is also wonderful, and like Allegri, she is adept at producing giggles both verbally and visually. I love how the elastic Cake becomes Fionna's sweater as she rushes into action, and I also love the indignation in Prince Gumball's face as he fumes, "it's too cold for my normal clothes, BUT NOT COLD ENOUGH FOR MY PARKA." Stevenson's fans will be pleased with her work here. The villain is quickly caught and the conflict resolved, but like most of "Adventure Time," the plot is just a means to showcase dialogue and delightful character interactions anyway.
"Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #1 is hilarious, clever and a great time, and if that isn't enough by itself, I've never seen such a successful example of gender-swapping. After reading it, (dare I say it?) I'm fonder of Fionna and Cake than Finn and Jake, and I didn't expect that to be the case.