Despite its appealing joie de vivre, “Steven Universe” #1 is a disjointed and underdeveloped first issue. New readers will struggle to figure out the status quo, as none of the characters are introduced, and fans of the show won’t find much story to keep them entertained. While the art and enthusiasm give some hope for future issues, there are significant storytelling problems in issue #1 that need to be overcome.
In many ways, these problems stem from the structure. “Steven Universe” #1 is split between four different stories, none of which gets enough page space to pick up steam. This slice-of-life setup could work in principle, but it isn’t well-suited to a zany cartoon.
The first and longest story, concerning a gem that’s gone rogue, gets the most time to develop, but it doesn’t quite land. Jeremy Sorese’s script doesn’t do a whole lot to cultivate the characters’ distinct voices, so they all feel a bit disembodied. The plot is full of action and neatly circular, but neither the jokes nor the arc are plainly laid out. Though it’s all pleasant enough, I came away from the story confused.
Coleman Engle’s art is bustling and imaginative, but it can be distractingly tricky to follow the action. I had to go back and reexamine quite a few panels to understand the simple physicality of them; basic plot elements, such as where characters are running or what they’re fighting, don’t read. He’s doing some fun things with angles and perspective that help to capture the wackiness of the cartoon, but that experimentation should be tempered by a consideration for clarity. Readability is especially important for an all-ages comic like this one.
“Lars and Sadie” and “Steven Chewniverse” are the shortest stories, at only a page each. Their inclusion gives ‘Steven Universe” #1 an almost zine-like feel, and I appreciated the light break in the middle. However, “Lars and Sadie” feels somewhat stuffed into its length. It’s a story about getting lost in which the reader doesn’t get to see the characters do much wandering. Raven Molisee does convey confusion very well, with a cramped and meandering layout, but this story really would have benefited from another page of movement. “Steven Chewniverse,” however, feels complete and gets a giggle.
Given my issues with voice in the first story, I probably enjoyed Josceline Fenton’s “Birthday Bake Off” best because it demonstrated a clear difference between the characters. New readers get to see the personalities of Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl develop, and the ending is a cutesy surprise. In addition, Fenton’s artwork is easy and enjoyable. The funny facial expressions and over-the-top scenarios are bouncy and entertaining.
In many ways, “Steven Universe” #1 felt like a preview for the series to come rather than an issue in its own right. Each of the stories presented has its strengths, and I smiled at a number of the panels, but when a comic is based off a well-established and well-imagined series like “Steven Universe,” I’d like a little more.