There’s a real art to making summer blockbusters. It’s easy to dismiss tentpole action franchises in any form of media, and a lot of them deserve it: At their worst, summer blockbusters feature flat characters, stale tropes, and a lot of joyless punching and weaponry, with maybe some time travel now and then. But at their best, they can also be touching, laugh-out-loud funny, and have something to say about the world we live in now.
Bubble falls squarely into the latter category. On the surface, it’s a story about hunting alien monsters in a gig economy, utilizing a bunch of cool technology. But this book digs deeper than that, working through complicated thoughts about family, corporate greed, dating, and embracing your truest self. Protagonist Morgan works a boring desk job doing social media, and shares an apartment with her science-genius best friend, Annie. Fairhaven, the town they live in, is a literal bubble that’s been isolated from the outside world in an attempt to protect the humans inside from a dangerous alien presence. Morgan is a “Brush Baby,” someone raised outside the bubble and brought inside by her maternal-caretaker-turned-boss, Bonnie. Bonnie’s company has just launched a new app to get people paid for dealing with the imps that do break into the bubble, and as soon as she asks Morgan to sign up for the gig, chaos and hilarity ensue.
The book is based on a scripted podcast created by Jordan Morris, who’s on the creative team for the graphic novel as well. He worked with writer Sarah Morgan and artist Tony Cliff to adapt the podcast, and the result is a really great read. Bubble isn’t the first podcast from the Maximum Fun network to be adapted like this—the McElroy brother’s The Adventure Zone has also been published by First Second, and while Adventure Zone fans will enjoy reading Bubble, the chaos here feels more planned. (Presumably because the podcast was scripted, rather than formed by playing Dungeons & Dragons.)
Cliff’s art in this book is part of what makes the whole thing work so well. Readers may be familiar with his Delilah Dirk series, but Bubble gives him a chance to draw something more modern and experiment with different kinds of action sequences. There’s some great visual gags, like Morgan having to physically move a word bubble out of her way at a party, and the comedic beats—especially when Morgan and her crew are fighting monsters—stick almost every landing. Delilah Dirk has some serious issues in terms of story and setting, so it’s refreshing to see just how compelling Cliff’s work is in a different setting. Liberal use of bright pinks (by colorist Natalie Riess) elevate the art even further, and it’s a lovely surprise to find that using sepia tones for flashbacks feels comfortable but not stale.
The best thing about Bubble is that it’s delightfully funny, sometimes to a laugh-out-loud degree. The podcast premiered in 2018, and while some of the references aren’t exactly evergreen, the jokes land fast and easy on the page. It’s delightful that Morgan and her friends talk like real people as they’re stabbing monsters, but also when they’re playing trivia at a bar. The inside jokes come naturally, and the teasing ranges from gentle to downright out of line—just like in actual friendships. Jokes about Frasier, toe shoes, wine moms, and men on the internet (with opinions about nerdy subjects) all humanize the characters, giving them depth without dragging out unnecessary backstory. This book would be just fine even without that quality: It has monsters to punch, and something important to say about the state of the economy, especially the struggle for stability many people in their late twenties go through as they try to build the life and family they want. But with this weird, wonderful sense of humor, Bubble becomes a must-read.