Steven Universe #1: A Great Comic (For Someone Younger than Me)

Gentle readers, you may or may not know that I love me some Steven Universe. You may or may not also know that a new Steven Universe ongoing comic series debuted earlier this week.

I’m usually not that interested in comics series that are directly tied to ongoing series—for example, although I liked the various six-issue Adventure Time series that delved into the backgrounds of characters who might never get a lot of showtime, I never really felt the urge to pick up the actual Adventure Time comic. However, I broke with my personal tradition this week to try out the new Steven Universe series, because, well, I love me some Steven Universe.

Spoilers for #1 below the jump!

The first issue of the series surprisingly does not feature the classic Crystal Gem trio of Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl at all. Rather, it follows Steven, Lapis, and Peridot as they try to help an orphaned baby bird. This positions the series around the time period of the current television arc, as it’s set out on the farm and Lapis and Peridot have clearly become used to their roommate sitch.

The story in this issue is pretty simple and straightforward. When Steven finds a baby bird and is unable to locate the right nest to put it back into, he strongarms Lapis and Peridot into helping him care for it. The bird, whom they name Susan, grows up and becomes stronger as the issue progresses, and eventually gets big and grown enough to fly away. Steven is depressed to see that Susan apparently doesn’t need him or their other two moms anymore, but is pleasantly surprised when they reappear from a flock of birds, clearly showing affection to their former parental figures.

The characterization in this issue is spot-on and quite funny. Steven is the soft-hearted, empathetic rebel; when the Beach City animal rescue tells him that not only will they not take songbirds, it would be illegal for Steven to take said bird in and care for it, Steven refuses to abandon the orphaned chick. Peridot is excited at the opportunity of raising a bird because she wants to train it tactically, and is gravely disappointed that Susan grows into a songbird and doesn’t turn into some kind of predatory raptor no matter how much she feeds them. Lapis isn’t interested in helping at first, but eventually comes around thanks to Steven’s example, and helps teach the smallest member of their little found family how to fly.

I thought a particularly interesting aspect of the comic was the decision to refer to Susan the bird with “they/them” throughout. Steven and the others consistently use these gender-neutral pronouns for Susan throughout the issue even though the trio give them a traditionally female-gendered name. Given that the primary audience for both the parent show and this comic is kids, this was a nice way to help normalize the use of the singular they. It also helped send the message that one oughtn’t assume gender based on traditional gender markers like a female-coded name.

Ultimately, though, while this was a cute debut, I felt pretty strongly upon finishing the issue that the series as a whole will not be for me. What I mean is, the comic seems to be leaning hard into the show’s actual, intended target audience, aka actual children. Without a longer plot arc or hints at interesting character background or interaction like the kind Adventure Time gave us in series like Marceline and the Scream Queens or Marceline Gone Adrift, I don’t know how long it will hold my attention. That’s fine, of course—I’m not the kind of person who’s going to throw a Brony-style temper tantrum about not being pandered to.

I don’t particularly blame them for opting to go with this one-and-done format, either. With the show’s notoriously spotty episode release schedule, I’d be concerned that a regular monthly comic would inevitably get tangled up in continuity if it were to try to get into any of the more meaty Gemworld drama. And honestly, I’d be kind of annoyed if it did—major plot and character developments shouldn’t be relegated to what is essentially apocrypha. If it’s something that will have a major effect on the story being told in the show, it shouldn’t be introduced or developed solely in something most viewers may not ever see.

I’ll probably pick up a few more issues of this series just to see if my intuition holds true, but I have a strong feeling that this series will be more focused on telling the kind of simple, one-shot stories shown in this debut issue. In the end, while I would highly recommend this for a younger reader audience or an adult just looking for a pleasant palate cleanser, it didn’t have the kick of something deeper and darker that keeps my attention tied to the show itself.


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