"Adventure Time Annual" #1 features six short stories by Roger Langridge, Alex Cox, Dustin Nguyen, Jason Ho, Bryce Carlson, Josh Williamson, Derek Fridolfs, Kory Bing and Sfé Monster.
"A, You're Adventurous!" by Roger Langridge is first up, and it's an odd choice to begin the anthology, because it's a six-page alphabet story for older kids and adults. The art is bouncy and imaginative, but Langridge's word choice is lazy. There is some cheating with the alphabet template, which is typical around X,Y and Z but having "Kliffy" fulfill the K requirement feels lame. Langridge also wanders into some questionable narrative choices to make letters fit, like having Jake call to an Easter Island-like head an "eyesore" (although I supposed the E in Easter Island is a bonus of some kind) and "H is for Harridan," where he illustrates Jake's encounter with a random witch character. "Harridan" is an insult directed at old women. It derives from a French word for "broken-down horse," and it is purely derogatory and does not imply sorcerous powers, although some dictionaries list "witch" as a synonym for harridan. If the partial purpose of "A, You're Adventurous" is to expand kids' vocabularies, Langridge misses the point.
"A Sword Most Awesome" by Alex Cox comes next. It's not really a short story but a parable about friendship leading up to a punchline. The maze element and Cox's watercolor and ink artwork add a lot to the enjoyable look and atmosphere of the piece, but it's too thin on substance to be memorable.
"No Dogs Allowed" by Bryce Carlson and Dustin Nguyen is only two pages, but it's one of two standout pieces in "Adventure Time Annual" #1. Carlson's dialogue and narrative rhythm are charmingly absurd and whimsical, and Nguyen's painted art and even Britt Wilson's lettering play up these characteristics. Fans of Nguyen's "Lil' Gotham" work will enjoy the equally pretty but funkier and vaguely psychedelic imagery here.
"Dungeons and Desserts" by Josh Williamson and Jason Ho is the first story in which Finn and Jake are not the protagonists. Instead, Ice King and his penguin entourage get the stage. The comic moments, such as Ice King's battle with "Finn the Fearful and Jake the Dragon", are strong, and Ho's artwork is joyful and hyperactive-feeling. However, the story mostly stands out from the others because it's an Ice King story.
"The Summiteers" by Derek Fridolfs and Whitney Cogar has the biggest canvas of eight pages. Fridolfs' dialogue and art are good, particularly for Jake's dream sequence. The story is notable in how it addresses the small frustrations and compromises in friendship as well as the joys. Still, short stories are a tough form, and "The Summiteers" doesn't quite achieve the depth or distinctiveness to make to make it stick in the reader's memory.
Last up is "The Lemon Sea" by Kory Bing and Sfé Monster, which is certainly distinctive and memorable. The story is about the Earls of Lemongrab, who are travelling in a land in which all creatures, including themselves, are made of lemons. The baby lemon seals are visually ingenious and cute, which is why it is disturbing when the reader sees how the Earls proceed to make lemon pie, lemon jelly and lemonade from other lemon animals.
Finn shows up, indignant, but his moral outrage fades when he tastes the lemony deliciousness. Essentially, Bing and Monster take a normal human activity, and through a simple substitution of lemon flesh for meat, they made human behavior appear surreal and slightly terrifying, although the colors and the ending are cheerful. I don't think Bing or Monster have a vegetarian agenda, but that's where my mind went. It's a strong, well-executed comic, but young children in the audience (or even some adults) may be mildly freaked when confronted with the brutal truth that certain animals are blithely eaten while others are considered "friends."
Like all anthologies, "Adventure Time Annual" #1 is a mixed bag. However, for those who want to see how other creative teams fare with the "Adventure Time" cast and universe, it's definitely worth a look, particularly for Carlson and Nguyen's "No Dogs Allowed" and Bing and Monster's "The Lemon Sea."