The Thrilling Adventure Hour

by Doug Zawisza, Reviewer |

Wed, August 7th, 2013 at 12:52PM (PDT)


In the latest dynamic hardcover offering from Archaia Entertainment under their Black Label line, "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" graphic novel magnificently demonstrates just how perfectly matched co-creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker's stories are to comics. Packed with ten stories written by Acker and Blacker with art from a myriad of wonderful creators, this original graphic novel is about as original as can be. It combines art from a wide array of comic professionals like Chris Moreno, Tom Fowler, Jeff Stokely, Jordie Bellaire, Evan Shaner and many more. The styles range from ridiculously cartoony -- like Lar deSouza's Captain Laserbeam -- to hauntingly realistic (yet visually amusing) as with Tom Fowler's art, colored by Jordie Bellaire for the "Beyond Belief" segment, starring Frank and Sadie Doyle.

Every segment has moments of comedy and adventure, just as they do in the performances/podcasts from Acker, Blacker and the WorkJuice players. The graphic novel opens with Sparks Nevada and features tremendous, energetic artwork from Randy Bishop that plays between classic Warner Bros. animation and Golden Books with modernized flair. Croach the Tracker and the Red Plains Rider are present, making Nevada as ornery and sarcastically self-defensive as the character can be. Bishop manages to make the landscape and population of Mars both familiar and foreign, aided by the vibrant color palette he employs as the "Marshal on Mars" takes on a gang of robots.

Less frequent feature characters also pick up stories in this book. Phillip Fathom, Deep Sea Detective, wearing his San Andreas trenchcoat, has an adventure that pits him against many of the heroes of Apex City. Jeff Stokely's art, with André May's colors fit nicely for the gilled gumshoe as he tries to solve the mystery around him. Acker and Blacker choose to narrate most of Fathom's adventure, which plays out like a classic detective story.

Chris Moreno's interpretation of Colonel Tick-Tock perfectly captures the time-hopping hero as I picture him when I listen to his adventures on "The Thrilling Adventure Hour." Moreno, with colors from Heidi Arnhold, varies his style for various eras throughout his story, always keeping the imagery upbeat and fun as Colonel Tick Tock demands to see a time machine, "before it's even more too late!"

Captain Laserbeam is the lantern-jawed brightly-clad, over-the-top hero as John DiMaggio voices him in the stage show. Lar deSouza makes this character equal parts Buck Rogers, Popeye and Big Boy, with all of the combined fun. As they do in the show, the Adventurekateers play a critical part. One that is woven tighter into the tale with the exclamation: "Dana, come to the Adventurekateer clubhouse! There's math!"

Evan Shaner's work with Cactoid Jim is so spot on that it almost seems expected. Delivering a fun action sequence that involves a curving staircase during a gunfight, it's clear Shaner dialed up the fun for the visuals in this story. It's also not too difficult to imagine more from Cactoid Jim with Shaner pushing the pencils.

Evan Larson presents "Jefferson Reid: Ace American" in a style more apt for independent stories than mainstream and thereby perfect for this tale of the members of the American Victory Commission. Reid's the one character in "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" graphic novel that isn't critical to the book's success, but that doesn't keep this story from being fun.

The allegorical adventures of Gene Peeples and the "Tales of the United Solar System Alliance," drawn by Natalie Nourigat, provide a few chuckles and the most gruesome scene within this book. This spinoff from Sparks Nevada's adventures is growing a life of its own, but clinging tightly to the metaphor of its own existence.

Joanna Estep illustrates the installment that features Banjo Bindlestuff and his mentor, Gummy, in their travails "Down in Moonshine Holler." Estep's art is rustic and rough, perfect for the journey of the hobo apprentice's adventures. I found myself relating much of the imagery to the drawings that would pepper books of my youth, like the stories of "Encyclopedia Brown" and "Pippi Longstocking." Estep's work oozes nostalgia without copping to any forsaken trends.

Joel Priddy climbs into the pilot's seat to draw up "Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer" as the pilot takes on a Nazi Yeti partaking in the Velociraptor Gambit: underhanded double sideways sneak attack. Casey Crowe's colors brighten up Priddy's adventures, making this second-to-last tale bright and fun as Earhart encounters pirates and Priddy serves up a fun "Where's Waldo"-like page that highlights one of the much-loved characters of "Thrilling Adventure Hour."

The "Beyond Belief" segment with Frank and Sadie Doyle proves to be just as enjoyable in print as in performance/podcast. Having never met an adult beverage they don't like, the Doyles agree to help Lord Eamon Darkley, an Irish vampire in his attempts to straighten out his problems with a mob of mummies. Fowler's art is darkly detailed and Jordie Bellaire's colors simply melt into the drawings, making this story a wonderful finale for a great book.

For lovers of a good yarn, a solid tale and enjoyable story, "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" graphic novel is for you. Fans of the show will not want to be without this book. In addition to a fine collection of ten stories, Archaia delivers a gorgeous hardcover collection. "Archaia" and "gorgeous hardcover collection" might become synonymous soon, which would be just as well, considering "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" book has a nice assortment of extras and very high production quality. Hopefully, this is simply "Volume 1" with more "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" graphic novels to come. Whatever the case, this book is a winner, offering more fun and entertainment than most tiles can provide over the course of a year.