Written by NATASHA ALLEGRI/ Art by NATASHA ALLEGRI, PATRICK SEERY, and BETTY LIANG/ Letters by BRITT WILSON/ Published by BOOM! STUDIOS
Gender-swapping a popular cartoon character for a one-off special was a risky move, but it’s paid off tremendously well for the Cartoon Network series, Adventure Time. The imaginative Land of Ooo was already crawling with the weird and wonderful, but Fionna and Cake allow creator Natasha Allegri to explore slightly more mature themes in a way that’s still incredibly fun.
Though Finn and Jake’s beloved potty-humor is gone, Fionna and Cake’s adventures are still plenty silly, yet Allegri manages more refined storytelling. In this final issue of Fionna and Cake’s first comic mini-series, Fionna grapples with holding on to what she wants and protecting those she cares for. Not necessarily something you wouldn’t see from Finn, but Fionna handles the situation with more finesse. In one scene, with her hair aflame and trying not to extinguish the fire for fear of hurting the little flame elemental, Fionna quickly and deftly cuts it off; realizing she can’t protect everything, if she want to protect what’s most important.
As she proceeds to confront The Ice Queen, she and Cake are trapped, and denied the chance to resolve this conflict with butt-kicking. Something almost unimaginable in Finn and Jake’s world. And while in the end it becomes clear a good butt kicking isn’t what’s needed to defeat The Ice Queen, the unexpected story resolution and Fionna’s sacrifice illustrate that Adventure Time With Fionna & Cake is so much more than simply a girl version of Adventure Time With Finn & Jake.
The Ice Queen, for instance, may initially seem just as power and prince hungry as The Ice King is princess mad, but her motives turn out to be more complex. By issue’s end, the reader is led to believe she was once the water nymph from Betty Liang’s beautiful prologue; who sacrificed herself and was later rewarded with immortality, but at a terrible price. To free herself from the curse, The Ice Queen retrieves a powerful salt crystal from Flame Prince, and melts. In her final moments warning, “There’s so much strange magic in this world, be careful with it, Fionna.” She reminds Fionna to be wary of using magic to solve her problems, continuing to hammer home that theme of self reliance.
Within the world of Finn and Jake the adventures of Fionna and Cake are creations of The Ice King – though this story in particular is a tale Gunter, his penguin, tells. Knowing this and The Ice Queen’s warning about relying too heavily on magic, one has to wonder if this lesson isn’t so much for Fionna, but the tragically insane Ice King.
The influence of magical girl anime/manga is everywhere. In the characters’ development, conflicts, lessons learned, and the artwork. Liang’s prologue could easily have been ripped straight from the pages of Sailor Moon. As could Fionna’s wand/sword weapon, complete with transformative ribbons. Even her bunny hat is a not-so-subtle nod to the sailor soldier of love and justice. And those magical girl animes, Sailor Moon in particular, rely heavily on empowering girls not only through strength, but through love, and friendship, and sacrifice. All of which is exemplified here.
Fans of Adventure Time will recognize the similar designs and vibrant colors of the television series as they translate to the page quite nicely. Often, backgrounds are barely detailed or even included, but this doesn’t detract as the strength of Adventure Time’s art style has always been the unique character design. You wouldn’t think such simple character work could convey a complex range of emotions, but you’d be wrong. Readers can tell when Fionna is happy, angered, or saddened, and all with only a few pen strokes.
And speaking of conveying emotions, too often a book’s lettering is easily overlooked, but Britt Wilson invokes the words with such flair they can’t be missed! Cake especially, with her doting and mothering of Fionna, benefits from a good letterer as her tone can change in an instant. The text isn’t simply there to be read, but read with emotion and intent. It also doesn’t just lie there on the page, but works in tandem with the artwork.
Some may disagree, but Fionna & Cake is a more complex and therefore more enriching tale than its boys club predecessor. The comic has allowed Allegri to develop her only little slice of Adventure Time into an interesting and rewarding experience. And its lessons of self reliance and sacrifice aren’t only important for kids, but adults as well, who will find much to learn and enjoy from this series.