Review: The Thrilling Adventure Hour / Author: Ben Blacker, Ben Acker / Artist: Various / Publisher: Archia Entertainment / Release Date: Out Now
The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a long-running stage production presented in the style of old-fashioned radio show. Essentially a skit-show, it's divided into a series of small retro-style adventure stories, acted in a scenery-chewing and hammy way. The Thrilling Adventure Hour graphic novel tries damned hard to capture the anarchic fun of its source material, and comes very close to achieving it.
Much like the show itself, the book is not one coherent narrative, but is instead split into individual stories, each with a retro feel. Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars begins the anthology with a silly mix of cowboy western and pulp space adventure. Randy Bishop’s artwork is suitably cartoony and it feels like a very special episode of Futurama at key points. Next up is the gritty (but not really) Phillip Fathom: Deep Sea Detective which mixes noir-esque clichés with a lighthearted poke at the superhero genre. Jeff Stokely's art finds the perfect balance between homage and parody.
The Cross-Time Adventures of Colonel Tick-Tock is a steampunk joy, filled with clever puns and an incredibly dumb plot involving the invention of time travel, the wheel and fire, and is incredibly evocative of the show. Similarly silly is the square-jawed action adventure featuring Captain Laserbeam. It’s a tale filled with maths puns and thigh-slapping silliness, and benefits from Lar “Least I Could Do” deSouza’s trademark larger than life style.
Not all the stories channel the stage production as well as they should. Both Jefferson Reid: Ace American and Cactoid Jim: King of the Martian Frontier fail in terms of storytelling, art and humour. In both cases, too much detail is crammed into a small space, making a confusing mess for the reader. Both also rely on gags that work well in audio, but fall flat when presented as sequential art.
Tales of the USSA adapts nicely onto the page, trading the overblown acting style of the show for broad art and a yarn that directly parodies American sci-fi TV. Somehow, the mind still adds the Shatner-like dialogue delivery. It’s a very American tale, as is Down in Moonshine Holler, a Huckleberry Finn-style tale filled with hobo-magic and slightly dubious humour. Though all of the stories in The Thrilling Adventure Hour require the reader to have at least some frame of reference with American humour, this is perhaps the most extreme example, and some may find it slightly distasteful. The collection finishes with Beyond Belief, a charming tale of ghosts, vampires, mummies and booze. Overall, this is a book that will appeal to fans of tall tales and silly fun.