Danielle Corsetto and Zack Sterling reunite under the Adventure Time franchise to bring us back into the world of Oo in a new cyber-fantasy tale. In the same large manga sized format as its predecessor Playing With Fire, Pixel Princesses follow some of the best and most under-appreciated Princess of Oo as they kick some ass and learn about friendship.
Lumpy Space Princess is running through the woods, panting away – she’s late for something. Stumbling across an abandoned barbershop, she bursts in to a surprise party, but not the one she wanted. The hot wings are absent, there isn’t a big showing of Royalty and worst of all Breakfast Princess just has to criticise the fact that LSP threw herself a “surprise” birthday party. The Princesses in attendance are Muscle Princess, the older of the Breakfast Princesses who happened to draw the short straw, Embryo Princess – at the Tarot cards suggestion – Skeleton Princess, and of course LSP’s bestie, Turtle Princess. Turns out Bubblegum has her hands full with changing the molecular structure of the universe.
All that Lumpy Space Princess wanted was to have some fun Princess time, but instead begins to question why she would want to be a Princess anyway. One of the greatest visual jokes of LSP is in her disgustingly deep Princess Gem – in a panel here it slowly “shhlpp”s out of her forehead while the others look on in horror. Meanwhile outside our favourite androgynous robot BMO is sad that he wasn’t invited to the surprise party, and upon seeing the star Gem as it flies out of the window makes a wish: “Whatever it takes to be a princess, I wish I had it inside of me.”
The problem with making wishes in the Land of Oo, is that you never know where a mischievous wizard may be lurking, and unfortunately for the girls Magic Man is listening. In a flash, the Princesses are transported into a cyber world where they fall under attack.
The choice of Princesses is fantastic. Although LSP is a fairly common character, she’s complex like the Ice King; you have to feel a certain amount of pity for her despite her annoying tendencies. She is homeless after all! And while Turtle Princess has never captured my emotions, LSP needs a friend. Embryo Princess has haunted my dreams for some time now, and never said a word in the TV series – in fact they hardly refer to her at all, while Breakfast Princess has made very few appearances. And as for Skeleton Princess, I’m not sure she’s ever been named in the series; Finn once greets her with a vague “Hey…you”, but luckily Danielle Corsetto was a fan so she is finally getting some attention.
The rest of the graphic novel is set like an old arcade-style video game. Corsetto was inspired by the recent film Wreck-It Ralph and experiences as a child playing on her Nintendo, and Sterling includes some of the ridiculous elements from traditional girlie manga for fantastic comedic effect. The Princesses must go through different simulated levels in BMO with his aim being to find out what it takes to be a Princess, although he seems to have lost the user manual and isn’t in any mood to help after being shouted at by the Breakfast Princess.
In the classic tradition of these capers where misfits are thrown together against their will, each of the girls has something unique to bring to the table. They each learn what it means to be not just a Princess, but also a good friend. It also gets rather existential at points – when the Princesses complete a level they are reward with the sign “Congratulations! You’ve saved the princess” and an image of themselves in pixel form. These sections are particularly great to get more of a feel of some of the lesser-known Princesses – for example, Embryo Princess not only outsmarts but manages to guilt-trip the cheat code out of a frog who was deliberately misleading her, and in the process defends Lumpy Space Princess. When she sees the pixelated Embryo Princess blowing a raspberry at her, she calmly meditates “Oh, that was deep”.
In the following round the girls find a fruit tree surrounded by cute fluffy animals, who will turn into monsters and attack unless someone is eating the fruit. While LSP eats, Muscle Princess the obvious warrior takes up a sword to the bunnies, but just can’t bring herself to destroy such adorable creatures. Luckily Skeleton Princess steps in; as she says, “I’m literally dead inside”. She slaughters every last fuzzy animal brutally while the other Princesses look on in horror (don’t worry, it isn’t shown!) and when confronted with her pixel doppelgänger simply shrugs and walks away.
Every now and then BMO appears as a “helping hand” for the Princesses, most notably in Turtle Princesses’ Star Fox-inspired level where he acts as her co-pilot Danger Mommy. Wearing a wig and sunglasses he shouts encouragement in the form of “Go to you room!”, “Pick up your toys!” and “Eat your potatoes”. Upon winning, he dubs her “mommy’s favourite” and promises her dessert. Star Fox isn’t the only video game homage however, as one of the levels includes plants falling from the sky and enemies which shrink the players (à la Mario), and the last level is inspired by Tetris.
In case you were wondering, Breakfast Princess’s power was to make pancakes with Canadian maple syrup. Where does she get it from? “You don’t wanna know.”
LSP eventually learns to stand up for herself and use her own unique talent – puzzle solving – to save her other Princesses, but not before giving Breakfast Princess a good talking to for always putting her down. Go LSP! She doesn’t just save herself however, as next to her pixel copy is a tiny BMO. He ejects them from his game and they make him a Princess crown from what appears to be nachos and doilies, held together with cheese. He’s so happy he wishes he could wet himself.
The comic is more chaotic than the emotional Playing With Fire, and quite similar in arcade tropes to the new Adventure Time video game Explore The Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW. The Princesses are dropped into these levels which can begin immediately and without any indication of how to play the game or what their end goal is for some time. It’s manic but it has a kind of order to it. BMO works as an excellent framing device, as BMO’s gender has never been defined making the wish to be a Princess all the more fun; one of the best things about Adventure Time is the show’s ability to stay above gender stereotyping, and BMO simply shouldn’t need one.
While the next of this series of Adventure Time manga-sized comics is not going to be written by Danielle Corsetto, an equally competent writer in the form of Kate Leth will be running the show. She’s worked before on the Adventure Time comic spin-offs Marceline and the Scream Queens and Fiona and Cake, as well as contributing to Locke & Key and Womanthology. Basically, when you’ve finished Danielle Corsetto’s Girls With Slingshots, please go ahead and check out Kate or Die.
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