By: Jeremy Sorese (Writer), Coleman Engle (Artist), Bridget Underwood (Cover A Artist), Raven M. Molisee, Kali Ciesemier, Josceline Fenton, Zac Gorman (Supplemental Stories/Material)

The Story: Behind every gray cloud is a rainbow cloud monster.

The Review: In case you didn’t notice, this really is a good time for kids’ animated cartoons. One of the latest contenders is Steven Universe, a quirky, not-quite-adventure/not-quite-coming-of-age kind of show coming from the mind of one of the writers of Adventure Time, Rebecca Sugar. And in case you didn’t notice, Boom! Comics/Kaboom! has been putting out quality Cartoon Network licensed comics that embrace the creativity and wonder in these unique properties, and so it was perhaps only a matter of time before we got a Steven Universe comic.

Steven Universe #1 hits all the right notes you’d want, and the best praise is that you can hear all the voices perfectly and envision this as an episode in its own right. Now, you should understand that this could also mean that you might pick up this this book and not “get it.” The story set-up about Steven, the nature of the Crystal Gems (the trio of other heroes), and the threats they face is not explained at all. Which, to be fair, is also a feature/flaw of the show itself, depending on your perspective. The current aesthetic of kids’ shows seem to feature a level of absurdity and surrealism that is creeping into traditional plot structure and the story engines themselves. I would recommend the book for fans of Steven Universe already or for those who like jumping into ongoing conversations and trying to keep up.

The book is broken up into two Steven Universe stories, a one-page gag strip, a one-page recipe, and a two-page gag/preview for a new comic based on the cartoon Uncle Grandpa, all of which display a mix of experimental art styles (such as the second story being completely black and white with liberal use of gradient textures.)

The main story seems perfect for a Steven Universe cartoon– Steven is more interested in wearing crazy sunglasses and enjoying a beach day even though there’s an evil gem that needs to be contained. Part of the fun of Steven Universe is how the characters deal with the craziness as if it’s completely normal. Or sub-normal, even, and this is no exception.

However, other elements seem completely forced. There are few attempts to provide humor in the squabbling between the Crystal Gems but it doesn’t “read” right away and comes off as being overly deliberate and unnatural. Likewise, there’s a bit of disconnect between the words and pictures, such as Amethyst yelling to the monster “Is five the best you got? I can count to five on one hand!” After some studying of the page, the reader realizes this must be in responce to the previous panel of the monster displaying five hands. As this is the first time the monster is really seen in nearly full-body pose, you might not realize that this was somehow surprising. When a modern comic feels like you need the Golden Age style of characters who narrate what’s happening as it’s happening, you know the visuals are not carrying their narrative weight.

The main story art has a deliberate style that works well at times and at other times fails completely. The lettering is more organic and free-form, including the shape and placement of balloons, lending a quirky quality, but then there are times the when the balloons crowd the panel almost entirely (page 3) and even overlap one another, confusing who is speaking. Thankfully, everything here is “done-in-one,” avoiding the unsatisfying feeling that often appear in Kaboom’s licensed comics.

The Bottom Line: It’s a good offer for an all-ages comic featuring a fun property. It embraces the zaniness of Steven’s, ahem, universe, especially in the experimental nature of the art. However, that same tone leads into some pretty significant artistic errors that disrupt the reading experience from being truly memorable.

The Grade: B-

by Danny Wall