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    Making Up Hot Dogs – “Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special” [Review]

    By | April 30th, 2015
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Nerdy but cool, a heavy rocker though inherently sweet, Greg Universe ranks among some of the most caring and supporting of TV dads. Now, for their first “Steven Universe” extra-sized special, kaboom! has gathered up a wide array of talent to give Greg some time at the center of attention and explore what makes him so great.

    Written and Illustrated by Jeremy Sorese, Liz Prince, Rachel Dukes, Chyrstin Garlan, Grace Kraft, Coleman Engle, Kevin Panetta, Jared Morgan, and Kelly Turnbull

    What’s to Love: There’s a lot of heart in Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe, and a big part of that comes from the relationship between Steven and his dad, Greg. We’ve gathered some top indie talent for a collection of Gregcentric shorts that are sure to warm your heart.
    What It Is: Steven Universe and the rest of the Crystal Gems are bonafide heroes, saving Beach City day after day. But you know who else is a hero? Greg Universe! Steven’s dad might not have Crystal Gem powers, but he’s a valuable member of the team, too! This collection of shorts features father-and-son fun, as Greg teaches Steven some valuable life lessons.

    I love Steven Universe, but I’ve been mostly disappointed by the comic. I think one of the biggest problems I’ve had with the main series is that when it came out, the show hadn’t really started digging into its mythology. There had been plenty of hints, sure, nuances and nudges that later made sense in the grand scheme of things, but the show felt too new, too unexplored to me to justify a spin-off comic series, unlike, say, when Ryan North, Shelli Paoline, and Braden Lamb originally launched the “Adventure Time” comic. So the creative teams had to rely on easy jokes and gags to be able to situations to keep the story going. Also, I don’t think a lot of the jokes and gags landed that well.

    “Steven Universe: The Greg Universe Special” shucks off a lot of the myth attached to the series and narrows the focus to just Steven’s good ole dad, with his long ring of remaining hair, his Homer Simpson five o’clock shadow, and those tan lines. It follows the usual kaboom! extra-sized special series, where a bunch of indie artists, plucked from the world of animation and webcomics, are free to use the characters in whatever way they like most. This collection features entries from series regular, Jeremy Sorese, as well as Liz Prince, Rachel Dukes, Chyrstin Garlan, Grace Kraft, Coleman Engle, Kevin Panetta, Jared Morgan, and Kelly Turnbull.

    Greg is the most grounded of the characters and is definitely the backbone of Steven’s universe. He doesn’t have any magic powers, he lives out of his van, he doesn’t understand what’s going on the majority of the time, but he’s there for his son, he’s supportive of everything he sees and tries to make sure that Steven at least has someone he can turn to away from all that gem biz. At their core, the stories in this collection center around that.

    The first one is by one of the main creators of the series, and it’s definitely among the weaker stories. It kind of casts Greg in the role of that annoying lightning bug in The Princess & the Frog, though here he’s infatuated a bit with the moon and with Garnet. His behavior feels reductive to his usual characterization, overly impressed and sentimental in a context that doesn’t make sense for what he’s seen and experienced. I do like Sorese’s renditions of the characters though. The dark pencil linework and elastic anatomy give it a cool sort of vibe.

    A lot of the other stories are small gags and jokes involving Greg in some way (sometimes small and almost incidental). The car wash episode, ‘Pink Elephant in the Room’ from Rachel Dukes is cute, ‘By Heart’ by Grace Kraft goes right for the feels, and Coleman Engle’s ‘Gregarious Gamers’ is charming enough. The one page ‘Slam Buddies’ written by Kevin Panetta with art by Jared Morgan feels like it exists to pad the page count.

    Chrystin Garland’s ‘Now in 3D’ and “Snap Shots” by Grace Kraft and Kelly Turnbull are the real standouts of the collection. ‘Now in 3D’ is a straight up farce, centering around the Gems going to see the latest reboot of Cookie Cat — now in 3D — with Steven and Greg, and playing off their hopeless misunderstanding of the human world. It’s like Steven Universe by way of a Marx Brothers film. Normally, Steven Universe is a quieter, more slower paced entity and sometimes moments of over-the-top energy and zaniness conflict with overarching tone, but Garland finds a nice balance in her section. Her frames aren’t packed with visual information but you can still tell this is a big event movie. Yeah, okay, none of these are jokes you haven’t seen before, but Garland delivers them well and with aplomb. I also dug the sparkles the floated around the characters’ eyes when they had on their 3D glasses.

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    But it’s that final story that hits you right in the feel zone. ‘Snap Shots’ is a montage of post-adventure conversations between Steven and his dad. It’s in this one that Kraft and Turnball figure out what makes Greg so great. His rock star career might never have taken off; he might live out of a van and work at a car wash; he might be a bit schlubby, but he obviously loves his son and supports him for all these gem adventures. He delivers sage advice and comfort and it’s here we also get a sense of his life beyond the Gems and how empty it was before Rose Quartz showed up. Turnbull gives him some fantastic expressions, like his worry when Steven describes Pearl destroying something or his shock at seeing how powerful his son has become.

    Greg is the fantasy character who we ultimately see all the other characters through: he’s so much like us, and his ambitions are so much more akin to ours, that his reactions and actions in these bananas situations help give give a feeling of the tension and turmoil. He’s also the part that helps us come down and reminds us that there are people out there to care. He’s the backbone, the constant support, the non-understanding and lovable figure who tries to do what’s best, and this collection does a nice job at exploring that.

    Final Verdict: 7.0 — A mixed bag of stories, but two of them make this collection well worth browsing.

    Matthew Garcia

    Matt hails from Colorado. He can be found on Twitter as @MattSG or over on his Tumblr. He is also responsible for the comic Oakley Rushie Down to the Bay.