Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brief Thoughts on "Marceline and the Scream Queens"

It's also been hard for me to get back into single-issue comic collecting after so many years of concentrating on trades. To me it always makes more sense to wait for the issues to come out first, but at the same time, I know I'm missing out on a lot as it comes, while the nerd Joneses are always ahead.

To change that, I decided to start small and pick up all six issues of Marceline and the Scream Queens, the Adventure Time
miniseries about Marceline the Vampire Queen and her rock band: vampire Keila, shapeshifter Guy, and ghost Bongo.  And Princess Bubblegum is along as manager while they go out on tour. There will be spoilers here, so tread slowly.

Once again, I have to admit I'm not as up to speed on Adventure Time
as I want to be, so take my impressions lightly if you like. Marceline and Princess Bubblegum (or "Peebles", or "P.B.", and other assorted nicknames), are two of my favourite characters on the show, so it was fun to read a story about them. Furthermore, I just enjoy reading stories about artists, since whatever they actually do, I can relate to a lot of their experiences.

Marceline and the Scream Queens naturally includes some of that, with Marceline's insecurity and rage over getting a bad review being a major plot thread. Her feelings are not overblown or overdone, and there are plenty of other things that happen along the way, so no one needs to worry about Marceline being too angsty—not that I ever would have.

Like everything Adventure Time this comic is fun to look at, with there being so many weird settings and creatures. Meredith Gran's pencils have an appealing childish scrawl, and each issue has a short backup strip illustrated by a different artist, and it's also fun to see their takes on the series's art style.

The previously-established characters act and sound in-character, though I was surprised at the presenting Marceline's father as a stereotypical "goofy dad", when he and Marceline have had such a strained relationship in the TV show.

Where it really does start to come unglued are the lines that seem a little too knowing, a little too adult, like the comic is trying to bring those subversive parts of the TV series closer to the surface to excite older fans.

Writing is a tricky business, but I'm usually not in favour of giving a fan-favourite aspect of a series more attention in order to delight the die-hard audience. Marceline and the Scream Queens just has these moments that make me laugh, but also squirm a little at how much they seem like playing to the older audience. Like this exchange from the final issue, in which we found out who wrote the review that upset Marceline so much:

Princess Bubblegum: Then why couldn't you write a positive review?

Lumpy Space Princess: Um..because that's not how you like something. You like something by telling everyone you hate

It so obviously sounds like something for nerds, for we who have seen so many of our buddies hate what they claim to love, or vice versa, that it makes me roll my eyes a little. I mean, it's funny and on-the-nose, but it just doesn't quite fit with Adventure Time as we know it.

(As proof of my nerd bona fides, I'm the same person who wonders whether Marceline technically being Keila's sovereign has any effect on their relationship. I suck.)

You could say all of this is not as bad as Ice King writing "fanfiction" in the TV show and having it become an entire genderswapped universe, meaning that the TV series is really the leader in fan pandering. However, the famous genderswap universe worked as a neutral experiment, before that "in-story fanfiction" explanation was trotted out. Some of the stuff in this comic doesn't stand out well enough on its own.

(And now the genderswap universe is getting its own comic series, too. Huh.)

The other biggest example of fan pandering I can think of is the Earl of Lemongrab back-up strip, which is largely about the character screaming his catchphrase  "UNACCEPTABLE!" over and over again as he goes through his day and runs into various annoyances. Look, I've clapped like a trained seal at the recitation of nerdy catchphrases, too, but doesn't mean there can't be anything else. Lemongrab had a pretty interesting story they could've played around with.

Besides all that, I couldn't quite buy that Princess Bubblegum would cast aside her royal duties and put Finn and Jake in charge of the Candy Kingdom so that she could follow Marceline on her tour. I realize Marceline and P.B. have a complex, conflicted relationship, which I do enjoy, but I still tilted my head a little.

Since Peebles's decision kicks off the story, I'm not ready to dismiss it as fan pandering, but I can't accept it as something neutral, either. Marceline x Princess Bubblegum is a very popular fan pairing, and I can see why, but it's still not canon, so this comic can't help but feel like it's courting the internet. Nothing explicit happens between the two, but once you know the background it's impossible to not think Bubblegum was written into the story to excite shippers.

But all in all, this is a good comic. Fun characters, fun art, and I'd love to see a trade. Please?

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