"Adventure Time 2013 Spooktacular" is an anthology of spooky holiday stories by Jones Wiedle, Bryce Carlson, Jay Hosler, Kevin Church, Frazer Irving and Jen Vaughn, who have uniformly produced excellent short stories for this holiday special.
"Costume Party" by Jones Wiedle is an Ice King story that manages to be sentimental and heart-warming without being cloying. The plot climax has a good twist in its show of generosity of spirit from an unlikely quarter. It is the bounciest of all the stories, with a hilarious sequence in which the funniest line is "He even smells like cabbage, just like the real thing." It's only a Halloween story in a casual sense, with a classic or familiar plot, but it feels more fresh and fun that it should, because Wiedle's execution is breezy and charming. It's also a smart choice story to lead into the anthology with because Wiedle's art style is closest to the cartoon's and will be friendly to new readers.
"Secret Stache" by Bryce Carlson and Frazer Irving is an intense story starring a minor character, Starchy, the Candy Kingdom's gravedigger. Irving's soft pastel-like tones combine with Carlson's script for an experience that melds childhood wonder with claustrophobic dreamlike dread. It's a strange tale, but not completely out of left field, since Starchie is one of the weirder "Adventure Time" characters to begin with. He refers to himself in the third person, and in the cartoon, he likes to eat human flesh. The story itself is Kafkaesque, steeped in nightmarish disorientation and the horror of not being recognized by those near and dear. The action has all the classic elements of a Kafka story -- suffering, existential horror and a loss of identity, a fruitless appeal to authority for guidance and relief, and most importantly, not knowing why one suffers -- it's all there. Hints of humor, including a cheese pun, and the bizarre twist at the end are also strongly reminiscent of Nikolai Gogol's short story, "The Nose."
"Secret Stache" is surreal and grotesque, almost too dark to be a kid's story, but Irving's art combines moody softness with mystery to soften the horror. Carlson's script allows for Irving to hit emotional notes that are beautiful in their intensity and quick to transport the reader to another place. Halloween stories seldom dispense this particular flavor of fear. "Secret Stache" achieves much, creating a haunting impression within a five-page comic that is true to the "Adventure Time" universe, the Halloween theme and its influences in Russian and German short fiction. In other words, it's amazing. The anthology is worth buying just for this story's virtuosity.
"Halloween Horticulture" by Jay Hosler is a more conventional but well-done Finn and Jake story. Hosler's thick ink line and bright flat palette are a version of the standard Adventure Time look, but rawer and less finished-feeling. These differences work for the story, which gets its power from a fable-like focus on motivations and trust. The tone feels cute and harmless at first but then gets creepy, and then Hosler zips it right back to being cute again. The changes in tone and the simultaneous twists in the plot are handled with hairpin turns of pacing, and the climax is alarming in a satisfying way.
"Bad Girl Gone Good" by Kevin Church and Jen Vaughn is a Marceline story. Marceline's costume idea for a Halloween club night is to be "sarcastinice." The lettering provides clear cues to the reader about when Marceline shifts from "sarcastinice" to her real feelings. Vaughn's line and color work are rougher than the cartoon, with the color laid in with watercolor-like washes. These qualities combine well with her strong grasp of emotional weight in Marceline's body language and facial expressions. Of course, the danger in ironic costumes or personas is that you may be taken seriously. The story is lighthearted but touches on themes of identity and presentation, and it's a plus that the resolution doesn't take the easy route of having Marceline realize there is value in niceness.
"Adventure Time 2013 Spooktacular" is an unusually strong anthology and is worth a read by any comics fan, but will be particularly fun for readers who want kid-friendly spooky Halloween stories that will also thrill adults.