Last week, I purchased the trade paperback collection of the Marceline Gone Adrift comic series. In the vein of previous Adventure Time Presents series like Fionna and Cake and Marceline and the Scream Queens, Gone Adrift is a six-issue story with a finite beginning and end. I missed the first few issues of it when it was coming out, so when I saw it was finally out as a trade I immediately snatched it up. And while part of me enjoyed it, I was left in the long run wondering why I’m still so invested in a relationship that’s constantly hinted at and doesn’t look, at this point, like it will ever be canon.
Spoilers below the jump.
The plot of the series runs thusly: when Marceline is possessed by a strange force that sends her on a rampage through the Candy Kingdom, Bubblegum is forced to use the tool she has at hand—a gun that shoots things into space—to stop her. The Candy Kingdom is safe again, but at great cost: Bubblegum is wracked with guilt and decides she has to go bring Marceline back. Out in space, Marcy touches down on a colonized planet and gets chummy with the locals, who, it turns out, had sent out the signal that scrambled her brains in the first place as a last ditch effort to get help in their bid for independence.
Meanwhile, Bubblegum, who had to invent space travel just to get into orbit, has to ally with the planet’s colonizers in order to get to Marceline. This puts them at odds yet again, but when the colonizers turn on Bonnie, she and Marcy team up to help the planet’s native inhabitants and get home. The Candy Kingdom has once again fallen into disarray during PB’s absence, but her quite-literally-meteoric return gets things back in order, and she and Marceline, reconciled by their near-death experience, return to a fragile state of peaceful friendship.
And therein lies the problem. This comic book is so, so gay. The queerness is honestly off the charts. Bubblegum looks so hurt when she makes the call to fire the orbital cannon. No matter where she turns after that, she is so haunted by her memories of good times with Marceline that she literally invents space travel to go get her back. The whole comic is interspersed with flashbacks to these good times, including one where Bonnie went to a concert of Marcy’s and Marceline tells her after the show that she was the only one she could see in the audience from the stage, and that she basically played the whole show just for her. When they finally get back to Ooo and it looks like their shoddy space capsule might combust in the atmosphere, we’re treated to a panel where they look like they’re about to kiss in their final moments.
Instead they just hug it out as they fly down and crash into the surface, where, when we see them again, they’re still holding hands. The blushing, emotional looks, and cautious affection that they display throughout the book are so romantically coded to me that I struggle to see their relationship as simply platonic. But as with every other time Adventure Time has skirted the are-they-aren’t-they line, we end up settling down firmly on the side of gals being pals. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with a complex female friendship, but it’s been years since we first smelled queer coding on these two, and I’m getting exhausted of waiting around and throwing my time and money at a show and its comics hoping to see that, finally, all that smoke means fire.
It’s hard for me to come down hard on Adventure Time, because I do still love the show and I love Bubblegum and Marceline and as a queer woman the canonization of their relationship would mean so much to me. I don’t know if I’m more willing to forgive the queerbaiting because it focuses on a f/f relationship, or because it seems like it comes from a less antagonistic-toward-fans place than, say, Supernatural’s long-term queerbaiting does, but it’s really getting kind of hard for me to dig down and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Last time I wrote about Bubbline, I had just watched the Stakes miniseries, and I was feeling confident about the direction their relationship was taking. It seemed to me then that more than ever, Bubbline was endgame, and I was excited to see where the rest of the season took us. Then real life intervened again, and I fell behind on new episodes, so when I started to write this post, I hit up the wiki to see if any of the remaining episodes in the season focused/will focus on Bubblegum and Marceline at all. I want to say I was surprised to discover the answer was no, but I was less shocked and more just disappointed. I know they’re not the main characters, but Adventure Time has never shied away from devoting episodes to the supporting cast, and it makes it seem like they’re willing to keep baiting the audience as long as it keeps people watching and buying comics.
In the end, I don’t know if I’d even want Bubbline’s canonicity to come from a comic—it’s not something that’s super accessible to the wider range of younger Adventure Time fans, to whom meaningful queer representation is so important, and it’s too easy to write off a spinoff comic as apocryphal. But as I’ve said before, it’s time it happened somewhere. At this point all three major cartoon networks have given us a same-sex couple, including Cartoon Network itself via Steven Universe, and so the “we want to do it but the network won’t let us” argument no longer holds the water it once did. I want to say I liked Marceline Gone Adrift, and if I pretend they did kiss at the end then I can say I really did. But I’m tired of pretending that there’s ever going to be more than longing looks and loaded conversations. I started watching Adventure Time because of the potential-canon-queers hype that followed the “I’m Just Your Problem” episode so long ago, and I’m beginning to think that the lack of followup on what that episode gave us will be the reason I stop.