Last night on Twitter, legendary graphic artist and comic-book creator Jim Steranko detailed the technique he used to aim his classic Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. series at three distinct audiences: For younger readers that could not yet read but would be interested in the pictures, he made sure the stories could be easily comprehended exclusively through images. For slightly older readers (grade school to mid-teenage years), he made sure each issue was a straight adventure story that provided plenty of action and eye candy. And for the college-aged readers, he “layered on a satirical, over-the-top veneer that neither corrupted the work nor played down to the other two groups.” That narrative approach is a large part of why those S.H.I.E.L.D. issues hold up incredibly well when read today, and that same philosophy is at work in Adventure Time, Cartoon Network’s biggest crossover hit of the past decade.
Pendleton Ward’s series has found immense success across a wide range of age groups, appealing to audiences young and old because of the same storytelling methods outlined by Steranko. While it’s unlikely that Ward specifically had those ideas in mind when creating the series, their influence is apparent in nearly every episode. There may not be any reading involved here, but the slick hand-drawn visuals make the show captivating to viewers that haven’t developed strong language skills. For the next age tier of audience members, each episode tends to have an element of rip-roaring action-adventure. And then there’s the final added level of satire or emotional depth that makes the show grab adults. All those elements are in play in “The Pit,” which starts with a simple conceit—Finn and Lady Rainicorn rescue Jake from a Kee Oth the Blood Demon—and builds from there.
A majority of “The Pit” takes place in Kee Oth’s “broke-up” dimension, a world that is seemingly made from pieces of shattered glass that don’t quite line up correctly. It leads to some very cool visuals—particularly the sequence where Finn and Lady Rainicorn travel to the dimension and the setting around them shatters into little pieces—and creates a feeling of disorientation during all the scenes where Jake is trapped in the titular pit. The “broke-up” effects are where the spectacle is heightened most in this episode, which splits time between Jake’s time in prison and Finn and Lady’s team-up at the treehouse.
The Jake half of the episode is where most of the “straight action” elements come into play, beginning with Kee Oth sucking Jake’s blood to make himself a cute little hat. Later, Jake sits on a rock that turns out to be a “Little Buddy,” a turtle-like creature that has awoken for the first time after 12 years of slumber. When the animal walks into the force field set up around all the things it needs to survive, it blows up and leaves only its shell behind. Rather than deal with the death of his new friend, Jake says, “I’m just going to pretend you’re sleeping.” Then Samantha the dog-goddess (voiced by Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Marina Sirtis) gets thrown into the pit and vows to fight Jake when he refuses to get intimate with her—a duel that fills up the rest of Jake’s time until Finn and Lady arrive to save him.
While Jake is involved with the action side of things, his rescuers are trying to figure out how to find him, in a plot that is more focused on comedy. Lady comes over to the treehouse with a home video created by Finn and Jake’s dad Joshua outlining how they can find and capture Kee Oth, but much of the valuable information has been recorded over by Jake making sexy videos for his favorite Rainicorn. The episode delves into more adult territory, with clips of Jake being seductive on a carpet and taking off a towel in front of a bathtub while saying, “Guess what, Lady? This dirty dog needs a bath.” Finn has no interest in learning about that side of his bro’s personal life, so he begs BMO to skip forward to only the relevant material, which includes the exact cave where Joshua found the entrance to Kee Oth’s dimension and the method he used to subdue and defeat the Blood Demon.
(The home-video scene also features the return of one of my favorite Adventure Time one-liners: Shelby’s “check, please,” which makes me laugh every time for no discernible reason. That phrase is a great non sequitur that always works as a punchline, whether it follows BMO’s speech about losing his submarine crew during a filming of Heat Signature 2 or is Shelby’s way of blessing a sword made of frozen grape juice. It also helps that I love Pendleton Ward’s distorted voice for Shelby, which is just so squeaky and adorable.)
After watching Joshua’s video, Finn and Lady make their way to Kee Oth’s dimension with a sword made of frozen grape juice that has been blessed by Shelby, who is also somehow a priest. They trick the demon into sucking up the holy liquid and defeat him, returning Jake’s blood and ending their mission. They return to the tree house with Samantha in tow, and share a group hug after Samantha heads out into the world, where she will likely cause trouble in the future. Jake and Lady have a brief argument about what he was doing in the embrace of a female dog (at least that’s what I assume, considering I don’t speak Korean), and the episode’s ominous final shot of the treehouse entrance, left open by Samantha, leads me to believe that this is a plot development that will return. Jake has had to go through many of the relationship stages a husband deals with, and dealing with the attractions of another woman is one that seems very possible moving forward. If that becomes a storyline, it will most likely be attached to an episode that also has a mix of more simplistic adventure elements and eye-catching visuals, because that’s just how this show works. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- If you love comics and don't follow Jim Steranko on Twitter, you should really do that. The man has some amazing stories and tricks of the trade.
- Jake making a portrait of Lady with his hand is adorable. Their relationship doesn’t get too much spotlight, so I’m always a bit surprised when I think about how much it’s evolved over the course of the series.
- I’m pretty sure Kee Oth’s yoga obsession was introduced to the story just so the writers could have that “downward, dog!” joke.
- “How does it feel that I’ve juiced your body and turned your blood into man-dazzle?”
- “Man, I can’t believe it. I gotta wee-wee again.” Kent Osborne’s voice work for Joshua is wonderful.
- “Would you like to rate this video?”
- Finn: “Demon blood beats demon.” Jake: “That is not correct.”
- “Yo, guys. I still love Flame Princess.” I’m guessing the rest of this season will involve Finn trying to win back the love of his ex, which should be fun considering she’s now the ruler of the Fire Kingdom.