One of the many great things about being a GeekDad is not having to feign embarrassment (or, even worse, indifference) about enjoying cartoons with your kids. Just like video games and RPGs, animation is something we enjoy together, and many of our favorite shared properties come from the fine folks at Cartoon Network.
Adventure Time continues to impress us with its longevity—seven seasons and still going strong. Plus there’s also the award-winning comic book series, the steady stream of home media releases, and all the related games, toys, and other merch.
The latest addition to our own personal collection of Adventure Time memorabilia is a brand new book from Insight Editions. Hero Time with Finn & Jake, written by Brandon T. Snyder and illustrated by Zachary Sterling, leverages the trademark charm of the champions of Ooo in the format that Insight does best. Basically, it’s a mock scrapbook/how-to guide detailing Finn and Jake’s various heroic deeds combined with all the cool foldouts and extras you’d expect from a pop culture coffee table book.
Written, as the introduction proclaims, “by heroes, for heroes, and about heroes,” it begins with a list of the duo’s accomplishments, must-have gear, and fighting tactics before lovingly detailing the other people, places, and oh-so-many things that make the Land of Ooo an ideal place for the burgeoning adventurer.
There are interviews with Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, case files from the team’s many capers, and a primer on swords, all related in the indubitable style of Finn and Jake. Best of all, the book is packed with fun fold-outs, a poster, a BMO activity wheel, and even some “Wizard Battle” trading cards.
With whimsical writing and gorgeous, glossy art, Adventure Time: Hero Time with Finn & Jake is perfect for fans of all ages—handsome enough for adult collectors but also sturdy enough for younger readers. It is, like the series that inspired it, another perfect piece of family fun.
If Adventure Time represents Cartoon Network’s long-reigning animated champion, then surely Steven Universe, now in its third season, is its promising young upstart. Trading in the retro-future kitsch of Ooo for the more contemporary seaside resort town of Beach City and its two best friend adventurers for a young boy and his three superpowered caregivers, it’s a different kind of coming-of-age story that’s certainly no less entertaining.
In its latest DVD release, Steven Universe: The Return, fans are thrust into the very heart of this fully realized, beautifully relatable franchise. While the previous collection (Gem Glow) established both the cast of characters and the delightful diversity of this new cartoon world with a selection of perfectly-picked early episodes, The Return instead streamlines the somewhat complex cosmology of season one’s latter half into a tight 12-show narrative.
It begins with two-parter “Mirror Gem” and “Ocean Gem,” which introduce the captive rogue Gem Lapis Lazuli, before further establishing the scope of the show’s interstellar storytelling (“Space Race,” “Warp Tour,” “On the Run,” “Marble Madness”) and reiterating the deep emotional connections shared between its principal cast (“Lion 3: Straight to Video,” “Rose’s Scabbard”). And it’s ending sequence—composed of the dire “The Message” and the season-ending “The Return” and “Jailbreak”—ramp up the drama and nicely ties up some of the major plot points.
However, it’s the DVD’s centerpiece, “Alone Together,” on which the entire wheel of this tale turns. This episode takes a previously established series concept, Gem fusion, and drives home its importance. When the hybrid Gem/human Steven accidentally fuses with Connie, his wholly human girlfriend, we see this process for what it is—a clever metaphor for not only physical intimacy but also deep emotional connection.
This is further reflected in the collection’s ultimate episode, both in the tender fusion of Ruby and Sapphire, which is built on true love and respect, and the tragic, coerced fusion of Jasper and Lapis.
Steven Universe continues to win fans with its stellar voice cast, impeccable animation, and its uncanny ability to distill complex issues down to simple, relatable analogs. If you’re looking for an accessible avenue to engage with your kids about mixed families, diversity, or even consent in broad, approachable terms, look no further than Steven Universe: The Return. And if you just want to be entertained by an animated space opera? Steven Universe does that too!