The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom is the fourth installment in the graphic novelization of The Adventure Zone: Balance Arc created by the McElroy family (Griffin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Justin McElroy, and Clint McElroy). The book is adapted by Clint McElroy and drawn and colored by Carey Pietsch. This installment sees the series’ leading characters, the ‘Tres Horny Boys’ — Magnus Burnsides, Taako, and Merle Highchurch — attempt to collect another Grand Relic, the Philosopher’s Stone.
The graphic novel adaptations of the Balance arc have worked so well because they continue to focus on capturing its audience with a good story. The Crystal Kingdom is no exception — in fact, it is probably the best release so far, because it so masterfully translates a narrative originally told via audio into sequential art. From a technical standpoint, it is impressive how well McElroy and Pietsch have worked together to bring forward appropriate elements of the podcast into this different medium, whilst simultaneously changing various plot points to take advantage of the visuals and text.
This graphic novel adaptation presents the same story originally told in podcast form, but differently. And it is all the better for it. For instance, fans will notice that the introduction of the esoteric Kravitz, and his subsequent interactions with his love interest — Taako — are played out differently. This is understandable, given that the characters’ original dynamics were restrained by the fact that their voice actors were family (to quote Justin: it is “weird to go on imaginary dates with my brother”). In the graphic novel, we get a lot more moments between the two, and Kravitz overall has a greater role in the plot. Kravitz has long been a favorite among the fans, and The Crystal Kingdom will only solidify this status.
The graphic novel also occasionally deviates from the source material in its retelling of pivotal plot points. On a few occasions, The Crystal Kingdom goes for a more emotional tone, rather than sticking to the previous comedic delivery. Again, this works to the book’s advantage, in that it gives more room for the narrative to progress and explore other sides of leading characters. That said, the book maintains the fun tone of the podcast and is able to broaden on many comedic elements through its art.
Indeed, Pietsch’s art does a great deal of storytelling alone and is a testament to how well-done a comic can be when the artist and writer collaborate equally in its creation. Characters are expressive and individually unique — no two models look the same. In every panel, readers are given pieces of detail that are not specified in the text. It is easy to tell that Pietsch is a master of her craft. Her use of color alone is magical: dreamy pink undertones merge with sparkling whites, soft blues, and bold yellows to create a color palette suitable for the charming familiarity of The Adventure Zone.
Between the art, the script, and the section dedicated to fan-works that follows the story, there is no denying that a lot of care has gone into this book. Like its predecessors, The Crystal Kingdom does not feel like a quick cash-grab for those involved. This should be the norm in an increasing industry of adaptations, and nothing to write home about, but this is unfortunately not the case. It has been easy to become jaded about the McElroy family- their seemingly iron-clad monopoly over the podcast industry sometimes feels a bit one-note. Be that as it may, to be stubbornly cynical over The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom would be disingenuous. It is good — very good. The book showcases why the podcast was so popular to begin with: the McElroys are fantastic storytellers, and the addition of Carey Pietsch elevates their story to even greater heights.
At the end of The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom, the stakes are higher and surprise plot points are waiting to be unraveled. And the thing is, I know what these surprises are. By large, I know how the plot is going to play out. Yet I am nonetheless just as enthralled and excited to get to the next installment as I was the first time around. Retelling a story is not easy, but Pietsch and the McElroys have successfully done so in a way that is just as — if not more — compelling than the first time.
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!