"Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #4 by Natasha Allegri at first seems to be following the series' larger story arc involving the Ice Queen and the fire elemental, but five pages in, it takes an unexpected turn into the dreams and mishaps of a character obsessed with physical appearance. Allegri (re-)introduces Lumpy Space Prince (LSP), the gender-swapped version of Lumpy Space Princess from "Adventure Time with Finn and Jake" He first appeared on the "Fionna and Cake" TV Series in Season Three.
At first, I was disappointed. While Fionna is a delightful character by herself, Cake the Cat, Prince Gumball and Marshall Lee the Vampire King were such an important part of the humor, plot and dialogue in previous issues of "Fionna and Cake" that I missed their presence in this issue. In particular, the absence of Cake was startling, since her friendship with Fionna is the heart of the series.
However, Lumpy Space Prince is a hilarious personality, and that compensates for a lot. He has an outsize sense of drama, inherent in how Allegri introduces him with a stark page of ornate text as LSP explains to the reader, "To be on the cusp of IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTY has been my curse since the day I was born." Unlike Prince Gumball or Marshall Lee, however, LSP's preening male vanity is accompanied by greed and haplessness instead of talents or concern for others.
Just as usual in "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake," the gender inversion itself creates opportunity both explicit and implicit commentary on gender roles, but it appropriately takes a back seat to Allegri's plotting and fun dialogue. When Fionna tells a mob, "I know that a beautiful man can turn any lady into a beast," there is a delicious layer of subversion in there for the adult reader to appreciate, but there also isn't anything in those lines that would confuse younger readers.
Along with diminished role of the ensemble cast, the tone and shape of the story also change from an adventure/quest to a fable. On the surface, "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #4 is lighter and sillier than before due to Lumpy Space Prince and the ridiculous hazards that befall him when he obtains his heart's desire. Of course, the fable accommodates Fionna's role saving the day with punches and a great punchline, but fundamentally, the story is a self-contained, succinct moral tale.
Allegri's dialogue is excellent as usual, counter-acting the didacticism inherent in the fable form. I also enjoyed little details she adds like the "squish" written sound effect as Lumpy Space Prince retrieves Fionna's wand from his insides.
The moral for "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #4 is that physical beauty isn't just a ticket to universal admiration having everything you want, and that there are other, less ephemeral ways to win hearts and minds. "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" is targeted at a young, female audience (although it can be enjoyed by anyone, really), and Allegri delivers her message in a fun, relatively non-preachy way. Thus, Allegri pulls off the admirable combination of a fun story with a familiar but still relevant socio-political message.
Allegri's artwork is still attractive and her visual storytelling is as smooth as usual. In "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #4, she doesn't have as much chance to display her talents with composition and coloring, because the story is visually dominated by the color purple and the puffy, blobby lifeforms of LSP and his subjects.
Since "Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake" #4 is a miniseries, it's a surprise that Allegri would choose to use almost a whole issue for a self-contained detour of a moral fable. However, Lumpy Space Prince is an enjoyable, if limited, source of comic relief, and as a whole, the series remains as good as or better than its predecessor and counterpart, "Adventure Time with Finn and Jake."